Great ski design keeps me on the hill in my old age

Even though it’s terribly cold outside I am looking forward to my next opportunity to get out on the ski slopes. The feature story in this month’s newsletter is focused on the way ski design has changed in a way that allows an old guy to keep on skiing after 32 years.

Stay warm. Enjoy the story, and let me know if there is anything I can do for you or the organizations you’re engaged with.

In this issue:

New Skis:

I started my 32nd season of downhill skiing on January 6th. Ski design has changed quite a bit since I started skiing. One thing that seems to be a constant in the evolution of ski design is that the very first run down the hill on new skis ends with the statement: “These are a great pair of skis.”

My first skis were straight boards that curled up at one end. Faster skis were longer skis. Skis are now shaped like an hour glass. The length of the skis doesn’t seem to be as important as it once was. The most impressive thing about how skis have changed over the years is that they continuously improve in the ways that are most important to me.

As a recreational skier I don’t need to know what goes into ski research and design. I’d love the opportunity to spend a day with a ski design team but I doubt it would change my skiing experience. I only need to have my skis inspected and waxed occasionally in order to safely enjoy them. The rest can be like magic to me.

Unpacking a new product often involves a “quick start guide” that includes the web address of a long and complicated operating manual. It can take weeks just to figure out the features of a new product. Mastery of those features often takes months or never happens. At some point a commitment was made to make recreational skis a low maintenance product that is accessible to people of a wide variety of capabilities. This commitment has shaped the direction of the industry and is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

I learned everything I know about skiing from the instructors who volunteer their time with the Southeast Wisconsin BOLD program for blind/visually impaired persons. I’ve gained a great deal of experience in 30 years but I’ve also gotten 30 years older. Advances in ski design have allowed me to continue to enjoy my time on the ski hill.

Lessons learned:

I try to pay attention to the many things that are outside of my consciousness on a regular basis. The design and engineering of downhill skis fits the bill as something I enjoy but know little about. Here are just a few of the things I noticed in reflecting on the changes in my skis over the last 32 years:

  • I thoroughly enjoy The physical and technical challenges of downhill skiing. As a recreational skier, I don’t feel a need to know all of the details of how I came to own a set of well designed skis.
  • I don’t mind paying for the value I receive from well designed products and services. Ski equipment is not cheap. The fact that I can still enjoy skiing at my age justifies the price I pay for my ski equipment.
  • Excellence is not an accident. Recreational skis are accessible, safe, and reliable. It seems very unlikely that this is a simple coincidence. Someone, most likely a group of people, took a leadership role in setting the standards for recreational ski equipment. It doesn’t bother me at all if they made a lot of money in the process.

Applying the lessons:

Reflecting on ski design has reminded me that even though I may say: “That can be magic to me,” I realize that innovation is most often the result of creative people working in a supportive environment. Here are some thoughts that come to mind as I look at supporting creative people who make the magic around us in our everyday lives:

  • Simplicity is elegance. I taught systems analysis and design at a local college. The course included a unit on data flow diagrams. Data flows are the glue that connect entities, processes and data stores. Creating a data flow diagram for a system requires the designer to view the system as a whole while focusing on the individual components of the system. Our ability to recognize the ways in which small things affect the system as a whole has a direct impact on the effectiveness of the system.
  • The meaning in the message: Whenever I engage with others, I am either interpreting the messages I receive or conveying a message to others. When both parties agree on the meaning of the message it’s a win for everyone. My skis do exactly what I hoped they would do. I couldn’t be happier. My phone, not so much.
  • The meaning at the edges: Frederick Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory distinguishes motivators (the things that draw our attention) from hygiene factors (the things we take for granted until they are absent). We appreciate a great meal at a fine restaurant but don’t notice how clean the dishes are – unless they’re not. Very often the subtle elements of great design and great service are those things that melt into the background like so many hygiene factors.

Food for thought:

  • Where do you find evidence of great service and/or design hiding in plain sight?
  • How do you acknowledge/recognize the ways you are treated to service/design excellence?
  • How do you support others who provide excellent service to others?

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For more information:

Dan Lococo, PhD

Barrier Knocker Downer


Twitter: @danlococo

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Copyright 2019, Dan Lococo, All rights reserved

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