By Steve Wilson, Vice President of Logistics Engineering, Redwood Logistics
With Black Friday and Cyber Monday now a predictable feature in November along with cold temperatures and overcast skies, it makes sense to consider an area of human endeavor that can teach us logistics professionals a thing or two about coping with the high volumes of the season.
Of course, I’m speaking about giant wave surfing.
No, really, I mean it. We can learn a lot from those stalwart souls who show up on YouTube or your Facebook feed who surf giant ocean waves. Known by their intimidating names – Jaws, Mavericks, or my favorite, Teahupoo (also spelled Teahupo'o, and pronounced “Cho-Po”) – these giant waves appear in the winter months in the Pacific Ocean and can reach 50-plus feet high. For years, no one dared to surf them – it was thought to be suicidal to even try.
Then came Laird Hamilton, an American surfer who perfected the art of using a Jet Ski to tow him into the entry. Surfers who paddle out can’t go fast enough to catch these giant waves. It takes a powered vehicle to get surfers up to speed so that they’re not run over by several hundred tons of water.
OK, that’s interesting enough, but how does that relate to us logistics professionals?
Think of Black Friday or Cyber Monday as giant waves. Instead of surges of water, these events are surges in volume, which often dwarf the volumes normally experienced. Also, just like giant wave surfers without the right equipment, logisticians who aren’t properly prepared get no glory. Instead, they wipeout and risk being completely crushed or drowned. Given the size of these events, the stakes are high. Companies whose supply chains fail them in the start of the holiday season often have their entire year’s financial performance ruined. So, what can Laird Hamilton and other giant wave surfers teach us?
- Continuously prepare for the season. Hamilton trains year-round with a focus on preparing for the big wave season. He follows a rigorous training schedule and adheres to a strict diet. For logistics professionals, preparation means keeping the holiday surge in mind during the entire year. This translates into year-round planning for the big event. Amazon has been known to utilize promotions and sales throughout the year to prepare for the Cyber Monday event. It makes sense to test your system during the year, as well.
- Let fear do its job. While panic is never a good strategy, a healthy dose of fear will keep you focused on the task at hand and motivate you to prepare.
- Study the details. Giant wave surfers study the currents, ocean bottom and wave peaks before paddling out. For logistics professionals, we need to understand how the upstream order process works, from customer to release. Also key is to understand your organization’s promotional plans as well as your competitors’.
- Learn to wipeout. Sometimes things go wrong, keep your head cool and your eyes open. Don’t forget contingency plans.
- Learn from others. Among the innovations Hamilton has brought to surfing, he pioneered the use of smaller surfboards with foot straps (which provide superior board control – vital when you are flying down the face of a giant wave at 50 mph). He got the idea for foot straps from sailboarding and snowboarding. If he had never participated in activities beyond surfing, those insights would have been lost to him. Logistics professionals need to get outside the proverbial box to get new ideas. Conferences, industry roundtables and tradeshows are where these insights are found.
- Don’t be afraid to use outside help. Hamilton realized that without the tow from a powered watercraft, he’d never be able to paddle fast enough to catch a giant wave. Surfing purists decried the use of power tows, but it was the key enabler for his ultimate success. Logistics professionals should not hesitate to reach out to their trusted services providers to get the additional expertise and capabilities needed to meet the surge in demand.
I’ll end with a quote from Hamilton himself:
“We lay it all down, including what others call sanity, for just a few moments on waves larger than life. We do this because we know there is still something greater than all of us. Something that inspires us spiritually. We start going downhill, when we stop taking risks.”