Otter Surfboards (Otter) is a unique business, started by James Otter six years ago. Since then it has developed a presence and reputation that far exceeds its scale. On the face of it, Otter runs workshops at which people hand build wooden surfboards, belly boards and hand planes for bodysurfing. Earlier this year, I attended one of those workshops. Generated by the experience and enriched by a dinner conversation, it became apparent that Otter was about much more than building boards.

I explained a bit about MindplayTM and we agreed that a one day workshop to uncover and explore the real Purpose of Otter and a Vision of what the future might look like could be interesting, valuable and fun. James and the rest of the team at Otter gathered for a day in August 2016 to do just that …

After a cup of tea, reconnecting and a bit of set-up we got down to serious business play. The initial focus was on exploring the real purpose of Otter. We looked at the extensive range of activities at Otter, from the obvious ones of building boards to skilful use of hand tools and very human ones of stimulating emotions – a list that ran to three pages of flipchart paper. The team examined these activities through a variety of lenses ranging from their individual perspectives to the global view. In the normal rhythm of a MindplayTM workshop they generated an expanded perspective that we later synthesised.

After lunch we changed tempo and used a collection of visual images to create a Vision of Otter in three years’ time. The team went from a collection of 400 images to 10 that they felt best represented Otter three years ahead. As ever with this process, it is the conversation that happens during the selection process that is as important as the choice of images. We posted the images on a flipchart and the team added the key words that had emerged during the activity. To bring another dimension, each member of the team developed six word stories to capture how they would talk about Otter three years hence.

Sharing the stories, viewing the images and the words linked to the images allowed the team to develop a concise, engaging and meaningful Vision to guide them into creating the future of Otter.

We returned to the wealth of narrative that had been generated during the earlier work on the Purpose. The team identified the strongest emerging themes, used them to draft a Purpose statement and with some judicious wordsmithing, developed a short, powerful and heartfelt Purpose statement that encapsulated and went way beyond the making of wooden boards.

By around four in the afternoon, we had substantive outputs that provided clarity of Purpose and a compelling Vision of the future of Otter three years from now. The team were buzzing, aligned and well placed to invest that energy in taking Otter to the next stage of its development. The MindplayTM process had worked well and the team’s engagement, positive approach, willingness to relax into it and have fun was a vital part of the magic.

I cannot wait to see how the future of Otter unfolds.

1 Comment

  • James Otter  — 21st September 2016

    It was a really great experience to have Chris join us for the day. He helped us redefine our purpose and allowed us to explore some great ideas on where we all feel the company is going. It was really beneficial to take a day out of the normal routine to give us all a better understanding of what the future could look like and to make sure that we are all doing what we do because we believe in the same things.

    It has given us a great kick-start into moving on to the next stage of growth and development and we’re all very excited about where that will take us.

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