Resist, Surrender, or Ride It Like There’s No Tomorrow
“The Great Wave” is the theme of this year’s annual gathering of the House of Beautiful Business, taking place from October 31 through November 3, 2020 in Lisbon.
by Till Grusche, Monika Jiang und Tim Leberecht
In the early 1960s, when 16-year-old Eddie Aikau got his first paycheck from the pineapple cannery where he worked, he bought a surfboard. It was the start of his career as a legendary surfer and the first official lifeguard at Waimea Bay, a beach on the North Shore of Oahu. That stretch of coast is regularly hit by winter storms, and launched the phenomenon of big wave surfing, which continued to reign there for many years. Not one life was lost under Eddie’s watch, and he saved hundreds of lives from the North Shore’s treacherous waters.
During the first The Eddie — a surf contest organized in his honor after he died — the waves were huge and the conditions extremely dangerous. There was debate among the organizers about whether or not the contest should be held, until a fellow big wave surfer who overheard the conversation commented simply: “Eddie would go.” The contest was held, the phrase stuck, and eventually Eddie Aikau became a meme in the surf community, appearing on T-Shirts and bumper stickers, and forever inspiring those who desire to tackle the big waves of their lives with some bravado.
Scary and beautiful
Big waves are so obviously symbolic it almost hurts. They are the perfect metaphors for the ups and downs in our everyday lives, economies, and of larger societal shifts and trends. Waves represent joy: playing in waves at the shoreline is a happy memory of many childhoods. And what simple group choreography do football fans in any stadium around the world start when they want to celebrate? Right, La Ola, the wave.
At the same time, waves can inspire fear. Once they turn into a tsunami, they become an uncontrollable threat that sweeps away everything before them.
It all starts with complexity. From climate change to the crisis of capitalism to the ongoing popularity of populism, we’re not facing several separate existential threats to our humanity, society, and economies, we’re dealing with interrelated, reinforcing dynamics that have long been building into one giant wave. And this is a scary wave, already forming a curl and ready to break. We need to both surrender and resist it: surrender because complex systems can only be changed and managed if we embrace their complexity — which yes, takes time — and resist because we’re just so damn out of time to act on anything at all.
So how do you both resist and surrender to a great wave at the same time? One answer might be by becoming an equally Great Wave ourselves, one of beauty and of dedication to humanizing business. What would that look like? Showing leadership that inspires passion; communing and creating community; designing organizations that emulate the resourcefulness and elegance of nature; and running businesses devoted to human and planetary wellbeing in a way that merits being named a movement.
The ultimate answer as to how to deal with a great wave can only, of course, be to ride it. That is why we chose “The Great Wave” as the theme for this year’s House of Beautiful Business, our annual gathering in Lisbon devoted to humanizing business and technology. In truth, the theme really chose us, and we recognized its arrival as our collective longing for something that will put us in our place — and reconnect us with the home we have abandoned and betrayed.
For the Great Wave can also be experienced as a new form of communion, a force of nature that both crushes and lifts our spirits, that breaks us and then rebuilds us from scratch. It requires us to plumb the depths of “the deep blue sea,” and get back in touch with the forces that shape waves in order to form a new collective consciousness.
As we witness the agony of failing systems and narratives, and the emergence of new ones, we must look to inspirational figures like Greta; Sanna Marin, the new prime minister of Finland; Emmanuel Faber, the CEO of Danone; or Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona. All of them embody the coming change in the way we work, live, and lead.
A new fluidity
The pain of this transition is palpable. The stubborn rise of populism, nationalism, and all the other -isms that deny the beautiful diversity of life — coupled with the reckless myths of unconditional growth, the power of digital technology, and “optimization” as a way of life — are converging and threatening to become the singular philosophy of the “winners,” dismantling the delicacy of humanity.
In response, we believe in asserting and celebrating a new fluidity of identities and interpretations of the world around us to counter simple truths, stereotypes, and digital reductionism. We must embrace a complex, multi-polar, non-binary, and anti-reductionist perspective that considers all ideologies, minds and beliefs, cultural and gender identities as streams, not paths, flowing with and into each other instead of following distinct routes. “The ocean refuses no river,” as the saying goes.
At the House20, we will explore new technologies and techniques that embrace and enable this kind of fluidity, from cognitive psychology to shamanism, from blockchain and AI-based “Nature 2.0” (self-governed biological systems) to quantum computing, from marine biology to synthetic biology. Whether it is connected mobility, geo-engineering, or green energy, The Great Wave could usher in a more optimistic but grounded post-techlash stage in our relationship to technology, understanding it not as the enemy of humanity, but as its vanguard.
The House20 programming will be fluid, too: there will be talks, debates, masterclasses, and workshops, but also music, dance, and flash mobs, above and perhaps even under water. There will be swim lanes, for your convenience, but you may also dive in anytime, anywhere you want.
As we seek to build beautiful businesses, The Great Wave of House20 is an invitation to go deeper and further, by designing companies that become waves themselves: fluid movements and organic systems instead of edgy sharp-elbowed tech start-ups devoted to disruption, or soulless corporations breeding monotony. It is an invitation to explore how we can fundamentally rethink the idea of value: how to define and measure it, and how to use its power to create lasting impact, much as waves shape rock.
The final day of the House of Beautiful Business 2020, November 3, will coincide with the presidential election in the United States, one of the most important elections of our times. The election surely is a Great Wave itself: whatever the outcome, it will change everything.
We will await the results together during an (for those who want) all-night program. When the sun rises on the morning of November 4th, the world will have changed. One Great Wave will have broken, but the next one will already be forming.
All of that will be what the House of Beautiful Business 2020 will be made of: a “not-a-conference business conference” (as Mathieu Lefèvre, one of our House19 speakers put it) from October 31 — November 3 in Lisbon. Four days dedicated to The Great Wave and how we resist it, surrender to it, and ride it. An experience for people who know there’s more and continually seek it, even as others can’t or don’t want to push further.
We don’t know if the House is the right place for you, but we do know one thing:
Eddie would go.
Founded in 2017, the House of Beautiful Business is a global think tank and community with the mission to humanize business beyond efficiency and relentless growth. Our annual flagship event in Lisbon, House20, is a four-day transformative gathering that will bring together 500 leaders from business, technology, science, the humanities, and the arts. It will feature more than 50 speakers and performers, immersive experiences, workshops, field trips, experiments, art installations, music, dance, silent parties, the US presidential election (on November 3), and much more.
To join the House of Beautiful Business 2020 (“The Great Wave”) from October 31 to November 3 in Lisbon, please apply for House Residency here.