surf2If I had to come up with one killer marketing skill you need in order to succeed in our rapidly-changing, technology-fueled, information-overloaded world, it would be the ability to surf. Before I explain, just know that while surfing looks like a lot of fun, it can be frustrating, not to mention dangerous.

My first – and last – time surfing was a painful experience. I called it quits after taking a board to the side of the head and then enduring a bumpy ride across the ocean floor, turning several flips before emerging with a desperate gasp for air. Bleeding from the elbows and knees, a small gash just above my ear, I felt as if the water was laughing at me. Tiny remnants of the once massive wave lapped at my kneecaps, as I watched with utter confusion as real surfer dudes magically and effortlessly glided toward the shore.

Thankfully, the surfing I’m talking about here is figurative, not literal. Otherwise, I’d be doomed as a marketer and as a business owner. But the figurative brand of surfing can leave scars just as easily, and can scare some right out of the water. What will separate those who thrive from those who don’t survive is the ability to keep climbing back on the board.

Innovation is upon us and all around us, all the time. We can no longer wait until concepts have been fully baked and then benefit from the early adopters, and those wacky futurist types. Reward without the risk. Nope. Today, there’s so much innovation to be had, that if you’re standing there waiting for the water to calm down, you’ll eventually realize it never does. Not until all the surfers have gone home to catch some shuteye, and you’re left alone with people who are scouring for seashells.  Innovation no longer births new, finite solutions as much as it breeds continuous learning and iterative responses that get better every step of the way.

Additionally, today’s consumer rewards creativity and “newness” like never before. If you aren’t on the bleeding edge, or at least leading edge, you might as well be at the end of the pack. Not quite as brutal as Ricky Bobby’s view of the world. You know, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” But if you’re like 15th, that’s definitely not good enough.

As a result, you have to wade into the water, get your board ready and try to catch some waves.

It won’t always have a positive result.

Sometimes a wave looks really big but doesn’t break as soon as you anticipated. Many early adopters have probably felt that way about Google+. Although later than some would have predicted, that wave is looking okay now, with added help from the mothership.

Sometimes a wave just peters out and leaves you bobbing in the middle of the ocean. It looked really big there for a moment, but then just as quickly as it was formed, it was gone.

Sometimes you realize what a big wave it is, and you rush headlong into the water to catch it, only to have it crash down on top of you. Too late. You missed it. Anyone considering cashing in on the novelty of crowd sourcing may face this fate. Seems that wave may be hitting its apex at the moment.

Sometimes you try to ride a wave, and you simply fail. I see this often. Companies and individuals trying to be hip and use the latest and greatest tool or technology. Using it horribly wrong. And getting poor results. I commend you for trying, and before you think I’m lecturing, let me say that I’ve fallen off my fair share of waves. And it’s ok. At least while you’re learning. There comes a time when you shouldn’t use Pinterest if you don’t know how to use Pinterest. I digress.

But there are positive things that can happen as well.

You can catch a wave just at the right time and ride it to great success. I was on LinkedIn before it was particularly cool. Way before it was a must do for anyone in the corporate world. I’ve benefited many times by catching that wave on the front end, as my network has grown and my relationships have deepened.

You can be riding a wave and not even know it. Not sure if you should be commended for riding a wave you didn’t know was there, or be labeled as lucky, since you didn’t really know what you were doing. Well, my team was lucky and/or good several years ago. We were basically operating an inbound marketing strategy when the concept was just starting to get major traction. We weren’t calling it inbound marketing, and to be honest, at the time we didn’t even know TO call it inbound marketing. We were just trying to be smart. Turns out we could have been smarter, and cooler, had we labeled what we were doing. Nevertheless, we were riding the wave.

Crash and burn or ride to glory, surfing makes you stronger. It keeps you alert. So, try your hand at Vine. Learn all you can about Big Data. Test new ways to share content with your constituents, and new ways to tell your story. If you’re out there every day trying to catch waves, you’ll get your fair share and you’ll keep your business fresh and relevant. I promise.

If, on the other hand, you’re sitting on the beach playing the wait and see game, just know this. Only the biggest waves make it all the way to the sand. And even then, they are only shells of their former selves once they make it that far.

Surfs up dude. You coming?

This post was originally featured at Currents, a blog by Good.Must.Grow.