Ignore Most Waves

October 14 2014 – 09:00am

Suddenly, I was being pushed with little effort. Ripples of blue-tinted coral were speeding by underneath me, with speckles of sunlight cheering me on. I knew now that I had picked the right wave, and it was ON.

I swear this wave was actually really huge.

I swear this wave was actually really huge.

I followed the four easy steps for getting to my feet “cobra pose, knees, left foot, pivot.” Suddenly, I was surfing like – like someone who had some clue what he was doing. And, I was surfing on the famous North Shore of O’ahu, Hawaii, no less.

Fortunately, the waves that day were relatively small. I’ve spent most of my life in land-locked states, mind you, so the lessons I took were a good investment.

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But, later in the week, I was confined to the shore. Just a spectator.

The waves had made it up to their famous North Shore proportions. Only the very best surfers were out there.

Success is about catching the right wave

So many things in business are like surfing. Your success depends a great deal upon which “waves” you choose to take. Waves of demographic, technological, and market trends present themselves. Your position, by way of your talents, resources, and season in life, dictate which waves are best for you to ride.

I noticed something important about the best surfers I saw out there. They didn’t surf many waves.

Beautiful towers of turquoise would roll towards the surfers, and people watching from shore would speculate about whether they would take them.

“Oh, that’s a good one!” the retiree from Indiana might shout from behind his BluBlockers.

But most of the time, the surfers wouldn’t take the waves. They’d all just duck right under them, as we watched, confused, and disappointed.


As I watched more closely, I started to notice patterns. Whether or not a surfer took a wave seemed to depend upon a number of different factors.

“How close is it to breaking? Where, along the top edge of the wave, is it going to break first? Has someone already caught this wave? Will this wave throw me into the nearby rocks?”


To us amateurs on shore, it seemed like they were missing lots of opportunities. But the best surfers were calculating the potential cost, in wasted energy, of each attempt to catch a wave.

“I’d have to turn my board around in time to catch this wave. I’d have to paddle hard. If I catch this wave, it will break on me too fast. I’d have to paddle back out to a good spot, so it’s just not worth it.”


They didn’t want to take just any wave. They wanted to take THE wave.

Why you take the wrong waves

Would you take this wave? Flickr: stevenworster

Would you take this wave?
Flickr: stevenworster

We naturally hate to miss out on opportunities. It’s called “loss aversion.” Our little brain calculators for measuring what it costs to do something are more sensitive than our little brain calculators for measuring what we’ll gain from it.

Do you waste your energy on any “waves” like this?

The best surfers knew which waves to take because of experience. Their little brain calculators were sifting through thousands of previously-taken waves to decide which ones were worth taking. Surely, they had taken waves that weren’t worth taking before.

A wave analysis framework

You could just expect wisdom like this to grow from haphazard experimentation, but if you had a framework on which to bind your experiences, that wisdom could fill in faster.

Whenever you consider taking a wave, ask yourself these questions:

How “ignore most waves” helped me 5x my email list & become a best-seller

I’ve used this framework to catch the big wins I’ve wanted, while ignoring the small wins I could do without.

Have you learned from taking any waves that didn’t turn out to be worthwhile? Are there waves you’re considering taking? What factors are you considering? Share in the comments!

My latest: "Ignore Most Waves" A thought framework for success http://t.co/88TpjSdqBB pic.twitter.com/7AEQh0OTr3

— David Kadavy (@kadavy) October 14, 2014

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This post is filed under Entrepreneurship.