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AFFAIRS OF THE HART | IN DEFENCE OF A SMALL INDUSTRY

06/04/2020
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Harty poses the question of how, in a modern world, does windsurfing stack up against other industries?

You absolutely can’t stand your little brother, who since he was 2 years old has found ways to push your buttons relentlessly. Then one day you hear someone you don’t know, speaking ill of him. How dare they? The demon rises within you and with a mild threat of violence you find yourself defending the virtue of this person you’d travel to Timbuktu to avoid at the Christmas table. So strong is the family bond that to trash one of us is to trash us all. The truth is that your brother may well be an odious little sh*t, but you’re way too close to make an objective judgement.

I sometimes feel equally defensive about the windsurfing family who I’ve been in and around for the past 40 years. If it were that little brother I would concede that, yes, he had once been deeply annoying, but he’s now a fine, honest likeable (if somewhat quirky), member of society … but I’m way too involved to opine.

Well served?
In a post sailing chat, I recently asked a group I was coaching if they felt they were well served by the windsurfing industry. You can frame a question to get the answer you’re hoping for. We’d had a great day in glorious conditions, people had improved, no one had broken anything despite numerous whitewater falls and one bloke in particular had fallen deeply in love with his new board. It was sure to be a love fest. The initial responses were mildly positive: “better than it used to be … really robust … massive choice … etc.”

But then as the second beer loosened the inhibitions, the comments got more trenchant. One guy who worked in design and manufacturing said it still felt a bit amateurish – driven mostly by enthusiasts. Elements of kit and rigging were still confusing and annoying; and he wondered what the sport would look like if a major player, like an America’s cup syndicate, got hold of it with an unlimited budget to hire the best design brains and use the very latest technologies.

I had an answer to that.

In industry it’s now accepted the best approach to formulating an efficient design is ‘from the bottom up.’ Rather than paying millions to teams to come up with theoretically the most efficient design, you make a prototype, then test it and tweak it and keep testing and tweaking until it works. The most celebrated case of this is James Dyson who made 5,126 versions of his revolutionary dual cyclone vacuum cleaner until he got one to work properly. But to succeed in that manner, you have to celebrate and learn from failure.

Failing continuously and gloriously is exactly how our industry operates (it’s just unfortunate that on rare occasions the buying public have been the testers.) I mentioned before in these pages an interview I had with the owner of Multifin, John Dudgeon, back in the 80s. When I asked him (a qualified engineer) how he went about creating a design, he said: “I make a load, hand them to the boys to try. And when they find one they like, I give it a name and make up a reason why it works.”

In the modern era, there’s still very little theorising. It’s development by stealth – lots of prototypes and tiny tweaks. Why does the newer model work better? No one really knows or cares – it just does. The continual crashing, burning and feedback of Victor, Philip and Jaeger are worth a lot more than a million dollar CAD program.

So that quelled that little rebellion.

“Homogeneity – surrounding yourself with people who think like you – is death to innovation.”

Diverse?
But then one of the ladies in the group entered the ring. “It’s not very diverse is it?” Silence. She made it immediately clear that although she’d like to see more minorities windsurfing, she wasn’t playing the feminist card. What she was referring to was a lack of outside influences. The sport seems to operate in a bubble. A lot of the brands are based in the same place (and on Maui, in the same building), test on the same water and so there’s little diversity of ideas with regards not just to design, but also to training, coaching and performing.

Good point.

This really chimed with me. I was in the middle of reading ‘Rebel Ideas’ by Times journalist Matthew Syed, where he speaks at length about the advantages to be gained from diversity, not just in sport but also in business, politics and … everything. (His research made the news recently when he linked the failure to uncover the 9/11 plot with the lack of religious and cultural diversity in the CIA.)

Over the past few years the English football team has gained a new-found popularity. The players not only perform with a greater freedom, but also seem to actually like each other. They play with a smile on their faces. Many factors were involved, but an important influence was a new FA steering committee. In a bold move, it was decided to include mostly people outside of football, including David Brailsford from cycling, an Asian founder of tech start-up companies and a female army officer who was a specialist in mental fortitude and team building.

Sayed says that a panel of just football experts would have produced a lot of  ‘mirroring’ – where you say something and have your view ‘mirrored’ back to you, which in turn makes you increasingly confident about a position that may be wrong. The more people of the same opinion you have in the same environment, the more they get drilled into accepting certain prejudices and practices, which may mean the same way of coaching, training, and designing equipment.  In brief, we could have been getting it wrong for years and there’s been no one to tell us. Windsurfing has benefitted from outside influences – Scott Sanchez who trains many of the pros in Maui came from skiing and has brought a new voice and a fresh approach to training – but it could certainly do with a few more.

I’ll give Gareth Southgate a call and see if I can get him to help me on my next clinic…   Peter Hart31ST October 2019

 


Ideas can come from many sources. Harty tests a prototype in India.
Photo Hart Photography.

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