The wave and the surfer

3 min.

For a few months, I tried to leave ‘my signature’ wherever I inspire people. I’d draw “the wave and the surfer” with a marker on a whiteboard, a flip chart, a napkin, a wall, or even better with chalk on a good old-fashioned chalkboard. 

(Who can give me an old chalkboard as a present, you’ll be my friend for life.)

The story of that signature starts with a line I read in an article about James “Jamie’ Dimon and digital disruption in banking back in 2015. “They didn’t see the digital Tsunami coming”. 

I have never ever delivered the same keynote once. I am constantly making new slides, new stories and new ‘loops’ (they come and go) and so it is extremely exceptional that a slide has survived since 2015, but the “Beach Chair Syndrome” slide, which was my answer to that devastating statement about banking, has always been in my keynotes.

Rik Vera tekening tekening handtekening

My story goes as follows:

They did not see the digital Tsunami coming, because they were too busy putting and renting beach chairs, focusing on competition and optimizing operational excellence to even notice that the unexpected extra beach was not an opportunity, but the first sign that something devastating was making its way: a Tsunami. They saw that small wave on the horizon, but the extra beach was too tempting, and so they minimized the wave, underestimated the impact and told themselves to solve it when it would happen. They didn’t see a threat, they didn’t see an opportunity. They just asked, “Where is the business case? We make money renting beach chairs. Don’t tell us the beach is going to be destroyed.”

Nothing has changed since 2015. I posted a whitepaper about blockchain, web3 and the metaverse only a few weeks ago and to my surprise quite a lot of people reacted saying that it is all a hype and “they don’t see a business case”. They see no threat, no opportunity. 

I didn’t put all this time and energy in that 60 pager to scare people with a horror story, I just wanted to warn people to look up and see the wave. Surf it! Yes, I need to introduce the surfer…

In 2018, I did a keynote for Johnson and Johnson near New York. I was the one and only external contribution to a global convention that announced radical innovation. I mean really radical. Radical as in switching to a completely new business model. 

In my keynote I used the Beach Chair Syndrome and I congratulated the people in the audience for having the guts to not ignore the tsunami at the horizon, but to go out into that wide ocean and start surfing the waves. I used the Surfer Analogy for the first time, and it has become another classic in my speeches:

‘You have the choice. Either you keep busy with your beach chairs until one day you will look up, see the Tsunami in front of you, scream and run, or you start surfing the waves of change. The longer you wait, the bigger the wave and the more difficult it will be to still surf it.’

On my way back home, I visited the MET in New York to see one of my favorite paintings, ‘Autumn Rythm: number 30’  by Jackson Pollock. Walking through the museum I bumped into ‘The Great Wave” by Hokusai, and later I bought a dark blue MET t-shirt with the Great Wave in the museum shop that I started to wear at every stage, together with my Zappos All-Stars. Both the shirt and the All-Stars are completely worn out and are now attributes in my home studio. 

Writing my book “The Guide To The Ecosystem Economy” during the Global Standstill of 2020, I decided to draw my own illustrations and I discovered that I liked to make my own versions of The Great Wave. There are many versions in the book.

I launched the book at the end of 2021 in Utrecht and when I was signing the first copies, somebody asked me to make a drawing and I drew The Wave with a Surfer on top, writing “This is NOT a Tsunami. It is just a Great Wave. Be a crazy Surfer Dude.” The wave and the surfer merged into one picture and became my signature.