Surfing a Wave of Razorblades

A friend of mine recently broke his neck surfing. He caught a wave, rode it the distance, and essentially forgot to stop. The thrill captivated, carried and ultimately ejected him headfirst into the sand like a javelin. I still imagine the inertia of his body folding around his ears as he goes limp in the shallow water.

It’s horrible, really.

He lived though. And is walking and proudly telling the story of checking his own heart rate in the ambulance. “I’m in control,” he says.

What a guy?

Last night I plopped into my recliner and said to my wife, “I love my job but sometimes it feels like I’m surfing a wave of razor blades. It’s exhilarating but also frightening.”

Probably a year ago I read a story about how the Wright brothers invented the airplane. They were inspired by the bicycle. And the key ingredient of their recipe was the embrace of instability. Cycling is a controlled fall. It’s a human powered gyroscope. Between stories like this and Nassim Taleb’s Anti-fragile (embrace positive optionality/get stronger as things go awry) a guy like me is at risk of getting carried away.

And then reality meets my skull like a projectile hurled from a day dream.

There are a number of ways to fall off the surfboard. A bicycle will easily topple over without a rider in motion. Flight is imperfect in its motion. These are complex and adaptive systems governed by a few simple rules. Buying multiple businesses per year is similar. Yet, the wave of razor blades is imagined. It’s a dramatization for effect. I probably just wanted my wife to tell me I’m awesome.

Frankly, our partnership is a lot more like a bicycle. It’s simple. It’s fast (relative to the energy applied) and if you wreck, the bloodied knees and palms will not prevent you from riding home.

Steve Jobs called the personal computer a “bicycle for the mind.” I sometimes liken Little Engine Ventures to flocking jet-skis. The group is guided by a few simple rules but is only moderately mechanized. The behavior is quite organic, and dependent on the individuals involved.

A few rules:

Rule #1: Stay in motion. Make small, frequent changes as close to the customer as possible.

Rule #2: Strike swiftly when there is margin for error. Increase boldness relative to the amplitude of the margin.

Rule #3: Seek balance. Be in proportion to your present reality. Yet, err on the side of a bit more capacity. Carry less debt. Remain flexible.

An eagle cruises over the water, scanning. A coyote trots through the meadow. An ant scurries along. Food is gathered. Energy is optimized. Our engine is our people, scanning.

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