One of the central frameworks we work with in TomorrowToday is TIDES where we use
this acronym to consider the main change disruptors to be considered in the modern world.  The acronym stands for:

Surfing tides
T – Technology

I – Institutional shifts

D – Demographics

E – Environment & Ethics

S – Societal values

Using the TIDES perspectives we are able to examine issues like augmented reality, 3D printing, Digital demographics, Retirement vs Re-tyre-ment, Impact of legislation, and a number of other important areas that will impact our present, and future, effectiveness. True effectiveness comes not only from knowing what is out there and how it may impact us, but also from being able to make effective and informed decisions based on this information.  In this article we will briefly consider a metaphor for such effective action.

The tides in the ocean are extremely powerful, and for those not used to them, they are also terrifying.  I live a few blocks from the ocean and I’m often intrigued by the reaction of people to the pounding surf, ocean currents, and the ebb and flow of the tides.  Some rush in without fear only to be beaten back by the waves as they just stand there like they would in a swimming pool.  Others, stand on the beach in wide eyed terror as they see and feel the power of the ocean and consider themselves in mortal danger should they venture in.  There is, however, also a third group – those who go into the ocean with an intelligent and informed understanding of what it is capable of, but also how they can use that capability to enjoy the water, waves, currents, and tides. This third group harness this knowledge and can be seen surfing the waves, whether on their own, or on a surfboard or bodyboard.

The same possible reactions are possible to the TIDES of Change.

We may respond with strategic ignorance and run into new areas without a clear understanding of the implications of what we see.  In so doing, we end up battered by the very forces we wish to embrace.

We may respond with fear and end up standing on the shores of future progress and watch as others enjoy the opportunities offered by the TIDES.

Or, we can understand the ocean of change and surf the TIDES to a better tomorrow.

Surfers need to be aware of external and internal influences that generate the conditions needed for a good surf session.

External Influences


Without swell to become a wave there is nothing to surf, there are several factors that work together to generate swell.

The spin of the earth aligned with the gravitational influence are the most high level influencers of swell.  If the earth was stationary, spun slower / faster, or if the moon was closer / further away from the earth the movement of the water in the oceans would be considerably different.  With just the smallest shift either way the water could become to still, or conversely too rough for any effective harnessing of the waves.

One of the most significant generators of waves though are storms that are generated far offshore in the deep ocean.  As these storms rage far away from land they disturb the water and transfer energy from the sky to the ocean.  This energy radiates out from the point of origin and powers toward the land.  When these waves of energy, barely discernible in the deep water between the storm and coast, arrive at land they rise up and become swell that eventually breaks as waves upon the beach.

Depending on the time of day, whether the tide is low or high, and if there is a spring tide or not, the swell generated in the ocean may be better or less good for surfing.

When it comes to surfing the TIDES of Change we, just like a surfer, need to be aware not only of what is happening in our immediate vicinity but also the dynamics far over the horizon where few are aware of them.  Surfers use weather radar and online satellite imagery of the oceans to track these factors.  In the world of change and strategy we need to use futurists, conversations with thought leaders, read books and magazines, and ultimately seek out those who have understanding of environments different to ours who will expose us to things we would otherwise not have seen.  Cross-disciplinary interaction with people in diverse spheres assists with developing a broad understanding of what is happening on the other side of our horizon.


At the simplest level wind blows onshore, offshore, or cross-shore.

Onshore wind kills waves for surfing.  The energy in the air blows the top off the wave as the swell crests and instead of a nice clean face on the wave it breaks down into fluffy white water.  This white water still has lots of energy in it but is difficult to surf on and tends to engulf the surfer and pull them under, or else frustrate with the diffusion of the deep sea energy so that the surfer quickly pulls out of the wave.

Cross-shore winds are just frustrating.  It is possible to surf in these conditions, but the conditions are not ideal and make the water choppy.  Choppy water is not pleasant to sit in waiting for a wave, it is difficult to paddle in to catch a wave, and generally makes the face of the wave messy.  Waves often close out in this wind too – this means that rather than the white water peeling across the face of the wave whole sections of the waves collapse into white water at the same time.

Offshore winds are the surfer’s friend.  The energy in offshore winds meets the energy in the swell as it crests into a wave.  The meeting of these two energies causes the wave to sit up and as the wind curls up the face and over the top it creates a perfect crest that holds the wave’s energy perfectly for the surfer to paddle in and get pushed along the water by the force of the storm from the deep ocean.

The TIDES of change are also effected by metaphorical wind.  What are the environmental factors present that interact with the forces driving toward us from the changes started across the horizon?  We need to list and examine these contextual forces to understand their impact on what we see coming.

Is it like an onshore wind that would rob these forces of their power? If so, why, and what will the force look like after this interaction?

Are you experiencing local forces that are similar to cross-shore winds?  These forces need to be understood because you still need to harness the TIDES and plan to go out and surf but these will cause frustration and will be limiting factors that need to be accommodated.  It must also be remembered that one of the areas that needs to be negotiated with extra energy and care is the process of “paddling into the wave” as the disrupting effect of the cross-wind will make this tougher than expected.

Are there “ideal world” circumstances at play like an offshore wind?  Yet, even these need to be examined.  A strong offshore can overcome the wave energy generated by a weak storm front. Or, if the wind is really strong and the waves too big it may be impossible to paddle into the wave and external support (like a jetski) may be needed to tow you in to the wave.  Even ideal circumstances require a surfer to make appropriate decisions so that the surf session is safe, fun, and exciting.

The third external factor that creates a good surfing session is the shape of the land.

Beach and Ocean floor

It is the shallowing of the ocean floor that causes the swell to become a surfable wave.  The storm’s energy is locked inside the water, but as the water becomes shallower on the way to the shore there is increasingly less water to hold the same amount of energy.  This causes the energy to bunch up and eventually to accelerate and rise above the water level as a wave.

Sometimes, though, the wave is not confronted by a gradual shallowing of the ocean floor but with the immediate effect of a reef.  Many of the “Big Wave” spots around the world that are in iconic surfing photos are at reefs.  The suddenness of the reef’s impact on the swell energy causes the waves to rear up, often as monsters that are in excess of 30 feet.  Only the most experienced, courageous, and slightly insane extreme surfers head out into these conditions for a surf.  But, at the same time, once they catch these waves other waves become less significant and these surfers chase storm fronts around the world as the hit the most surfable reefs.

The shape of the beach also has an impact on the wave.  If the beach is long and straight like Muizenberg in Cape Town the waves tend to break in a line.  But if the beach curves and sticks into the ocean as a little bluff or point of sand it is called a point break.  Point breaks are easier to get to as you don’t always have to paddle through the breakwater to get to the surfable waves. Waves on a point break also tend to break progressively across the face of the wave allowing for long rides.

Surfing the TIDES of Change requires that we know the shape and space of where we are today.  What does your organisation look like?  What are the strong foundational elements that will not be moved by the TIDES, but will rather form the way the TIDES break within your world?  Where are the anchor points in your culture that while they may be buffet will hold you together and form the way the TIDES roll into your environment?  Not everything in your context will fall victim to the TIDES of Change, you will be positioned to effectively surf the TIDES if you know what within you will force the TIDES themselves to bend, and to then move yourself into place to benefit from these effects.

A good surfer not only knows the environment within which he [she] will be surfing, but she [he] is also aware of internal factors within him [her] that will enable them to have a good surf.

Internal factors

Personal Ability

A beginner surfer will stay within the gentle white water on a soft foam board, a more experienced surfer will move out to the line up beyond the breakers on a short or long hardboard with a fin set up specific to their ability.  An extreme surfer will board a boat and head out to an offshore reef with a board called a “Gun” and a full support crew on jetskis.  All of them will be in conditions that they know they have the ability to enjoy, and survive.

As they gain experience, fitness, and ultimately courage they will push the envelope a little further to try something new and more exciting.  As they do this there will be wipe outs, possibly snapped boards, definitely bruises, and possibly broken bones.  But, they will accept these as the consequences of trying to become better surfers.  This bravado will, however, always be balanced out with a keen understanding and awareness of personal ability and limitations.

As some surfers look to get better they will need to hone their ability by working in non-surfing areas.  They may need to go to gym to strengthen their arms, shoulders, or core muscles.  They may need to go for runs on the beach or road to develop fitness for long sessions.  Some big wave surfers spend time under the water holding rocks so that they can expand their lung capacity for when they are dragged underwater by big waves dumping tonnes of water, foam, and deep sea energy onto them.

What internal factors do we need to be aware of within ourselves and our people that need to be considered if we are to surf the TIDES of Change?  Some may be obvious, others may only come to mind when we are overwhelmed by a wave of change and realisation dawns that their is an internal factor lacking.  In order to work on these factors we need to consider that some development work may need very unorthodox approaches.  The fact that the TIDES of Change develop in storms over the horizon of what is “normal” indicates that development activity required to meet and harness these TIDES probably needs to happen in ways that have never been done before.  If one of the internal factors is a response that says “We have never done it like that before”, or, “We don’t do it that way around here…” – prepare to be engulfed by the TIDES of Change moving your way.

Knowing how to use Tools Appropriate to the Environment

As mentioned above there are different types of surfboards for different conditions.  Different boards for different types of surfers, and different surf styles.  But, there are also other things a surfer needs to have and know when / how to use.  Surfboards need wax rubbed on the top so that the surfer has a sticky surface upon which to stand because fiberglass is very slippery when it gets wet.  The wax needs to be appropriate to the water temperature.  Wax for warm water will be hard and lack tact in cold water, while cold water wax will be too soft and tend to melt and be rubbed off in warm water.  A surfer also needs to know when and how to use a wetsuit, booties, and surfing hood, or board shorts, rash vest, and suntan lotion.  All of these allow the surfer to know within themselves that they are perfectly equipped to deal with the conditions within which they will surf.

In surfing the TIDES of Change there will be industry, country, culture, and organisation specific tools that are needed.  These will not only need to be identified and present to harness the energy of the TIDES, but also understood with the knowledge to use them.

In our Leading in Changing Times framework we discuss the benefit of having a “balcony perspective”.  In surfing the TIDES of Change sometimes the most appropriate, and safest place to be is on the shore watching the TIDES roll in.  Rather than being in the water confronted by currents, waves, and TIDES that are too powerful for us to handle, being on the shore allows safety with the benefit of perspective.  Sometimes this allows us to stand on the shore and from the higher vantage point it offers to use this “balcony perspective” to direct those who are able to surf the TIDES towards the place where the next set of waves is rolling in.  Alternatively, a benefit of watching from the shore is the ability to see those who ventured into the water unwisely be overwhelmed by the TIDES and to learn from their experiences for when you are ready to venture in.

If we know ourselves, our context, and our tools we are ready to swim out into the ocean of opportunity and paddle in to the waves generated by the TIDES of Change.

Speak to our team to have one of our presenters facilitate an upcoming meeting or conference addressing the TIDES of change, or chat to us for more information about our experiential learning opportunities for teams using this framework.

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