Shawn Parr: Don’t Let Big Ideas Get Caught Between A Rock & A Hard Place

Shawn Parr: Don’t Let Big Ideas Get Caught Between A Rock & A Hard Place

The CEO of innovation consultancy Bulldog Drummond discusses how the process of learning to surf gave him the courage to suggest 'impossible' ideas to businesses.

Shawn Parr, Bulldog Drummond
  • 14 october 2012

5 Uncommon Sense Personality Traits Needed for Innovation Teams

I started surfing about 10 months ago, and it has been one of the most challenging and rewarding learning journeys of my life. Technically, I’m a little past the age to become the next Kelly Slater, but my 15 year-old son had asked me continuously for three years to start surfing with him so we could spend time together and go on surf trips. We’d studied martial arts together for ten years, got our black belts together, traveled and competed nationally, and had a common bond that was very special for a father and son. We hung our belts up about three years ago and he started surfing and became very good. I continually sat on the beach, watching and wishing I could be out there with him, but I found myself using every excuse to avoid giving it a try. I had tried many years before and nearly drowned in six foot waves on a nine foot board. I was afraid of getting back in, trying, and failing again.

Last summer, I was at a Board meeting and a member from New York was talking about how much he loved surfing, and asked me if I surfed. A week later I was with a friend in Boulder and surfing came up again. I live in one of the world’s best surf spots and my answer was always “No, I don’t surf.” Frustrated at my own answer, I got in the water the next weekend, got up on my second wave (being pushed), and have been surfing every possible day since.

Fast forward to last week when I was sitting in between continuous 10ft sets at Witches Rock during my son’s and my first surf trip. We’d taken an hour-long boat ride to get to waves that were 8-10ft and breaking with a powerful intensity that I hadn’t experienced before. I was nervous, so I sat and watched my son take the biggest waves I’d ever been in with courage and a skill that made me proud, concerned, and thankful I was with him. He caught wave after wave, waves that can kill you if you don’t know what you’re doing, and waves that on that day I just didn’t have the courage to charge into. Even though I got enormous satisfaction watching him, and while he validated my decision to sit them out, I looked up at the rock and felt like I was literally sitting between a rock and a hard place.

I just didn’t have the courage to charge the most powerful waves I had ever encountered. When we got back to our hotel, I was totally frustrated and disappointed with my lack of courage, because I had the chance to ride some of the best waves in the world, and I ditched. Needless to say, we went back out the next day on one of the roughest boat rides I’ve ever encountered. When we arrived at Witches Rock and later Ollie’s Point, I was determined to ride the waves, so I found the courage and charged, albeit they were smaller.

Sitting on my board between the sets, I began thinking about this journey of learning to surf and what it takes to do something new for the first time. They say it takes 1,000 waves, or 10,000 hours, to become a master at anything, and this experience validated that. It’s also analogous to the innovation work we do with large companies and the ingredients required to bring disruptive and breakthrough solutions to market. Oftentimes, we work with highly motivated and very talented small teams who have to navigate the powerful and unpredictable waves of executive management. It takes a special combination of the following personality traits for an individual or a team to succeed at innovation:


1. The Courage to Charge the Big Waves

There is no shortage of new ideas in the world, and ideas without execution are just that, ideas. It’s vital to have the courage to champion your idea with passion and conviction, take the appropriate risks to ensure that it goes from a sketch to a finished product, and the tenacity to ensure that nothing gets in the way of seeing it to commercialization.

2. The Skills to Ride the Waves

You can have an idea but lack the skills needed to bring it to life. Map a plan to ensure you acquire the skills, or you are able to bring people onto the team who have the skills, needed to bring your idea to life in a timely manner. Some of the best ideas languish because of founder pride or a team trying to do things they’re not qualified to do. Time is one of innovation’s biggest enemies.

3. The Patience to Keep Going

Original thinking and disruptive solutions take incredible patience. Patience is vital, because dealing with enormous barriers to entry, such as giant egos, and ridiculous internal hoops and regulations, can make it feel impossible to see the finish line.

4. The Humility to Listen to Others

Innovators are oftentimes single-minded visionaries, and innovation teams often live outside of the everyday business. While it’s important to tune out the noise and distractions, it is also important to listen to the input of trusted advisors and experts around you. Have the humility to know when you’re stuck, admit when you don’t know the answers, and find experts who can help.

5. The Determination to Keep Going

Innovation is hard, because it means finding new and original ways to solve a problem, or inventing something completely new. There are always significant barriers and people in the way, and the journey is always laden with challenges, reasons to quit, and opportunities to take the easy way out. It takes incredible determination to do something new for the first time and overcome the obstacles to success.

Shawn Parr is the Guvner & CEO of Bulldog Drummond, an innovation and design consultancy headquartered in San Diego whose clients and partners have included Starbucks, Diageo, Jack in the Box, Adidas, MTV, Nestle, Pinkberry, American Eagle Outfitters, Ideo, Virgin, Disney, Nike, Mattel, Heineken, Annie’s Homegrown, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, CleanWell, The Honest Kitchen, and World Vision. Follow the conversation at @BULLDOGDRUMMOND.



How Indiegogo Is Becoming An Adult Product Destination

Home september 23, 2016

Watch This Fire Pit Dance Along To Your Favorite Song

Music City Fire is a system that is designed to flicker in time to ambient music

Automotive september 23, 2016

Slick GPS Navigator Gives Directions To Moped Riders

This small, round device attaches to a sideview mirror to display maps for safer traveling


Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Work

See All
Home september 23, 2016

A Clock That Beautifully Manages Your Information Overload

The wall-mounted timekeeper is made to help people maintain focus and stay up to date with their appointments

Arts & Culture september 23, 2016

Performance Piece Blends Dancers Into Folds Of Light

The work provides commentary on the increasing connection between programmed and analog dimensions

Related Expert

Noah Brier

Advertising Revisionist

Design & Architecture september 23, 2016

Design Firm Adapts Childhood Homes For Unemployed Young Adults

The studio has unveiled three prototypes of transformed living spaces for people forced to move back in with their families

Health september 23, 2016

These Chocolate Squares Claim To Reverse The Aging Process

A group of researchers from Cambridge University have developed a candy bar that promises to give you a youthful glow

Cities september 23, 2016

Food-Producing Architecture Competition Seeks To Better Feed Cities

A design challenge in Copenhagen highlights the need and beauty of urban farming


Future Of Automotive
Scenarios Driving The Digital Transformation Of An Industry

PSFK Op-Ed september 21, 2016

Creative Agency Founder: Using VR As A Race Relationship Tool

Maurice Bernstein, CEO and Founder of Giant Step, explores the value in transforming headsets from high-tech entertainment tools into empathy machines

PSFK Labs september 22, 2016

The Future Of Work: Why Innovation Is Every Employee’s Job

PSFK Labs sits down with management at Johnson & Johnson to learn how the company comes up with their next ‘big idea’

Health september 23, 2016

Wearable Monitors Sun Exposure To Prevent Sunburn

The clip monitors UV rays to make sure you're not receiving too much sunlight

Op-Ed september 23, 2016

Productivity Expert: The Magic Of The Five-Hour Workday

Stephan Aarstol, Founder of Tower Paddle Boards, explains why the modern notion of office hours needs to evolve

Culture september 23, 2016

This Exhibition’s Crowning Jewel Is An 18k Gold-Plated Toilet

The piece, titled 'America,' is meant to raise questions about the country's wealth inequality

Culture september 23, 2016

Match Up With Dates On Tinder Based On Your Music Preferences

A new partnership with Spotify lets people pair up based on shared tastes in artists

Entertainment september 23, 2016

Capture, Cut Up, And Configure Your World In 360 Degrees

To meet a booming 360 and VR video-capturing industry, a multimedia software company bolstered its media editing suite for 360-video creation


Future Of Work
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Leaders

Advertising september 23, 2016

These Trucks Drove Around In Circles For 24 Hours To Keep Time

The giant ticking clock was created by 14 Scania vehicles in a deserted airfield

Advertising september 23, 2016

Buy Movie Tickets Directly From Your Facebook Profile

The new feature is part of a campaign from Fandango to further imbed social media into the ticket vendor's digital presence

Asia september 23, 2016

Co-Working Space Brings The Calming Atmosphere Of Nature Indoors

An architectural firm in China has designed a new type of shared office that prioritizes the natural environment

No search results found.