Enabling the future

Noted author, poet and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery, in the English translation of his book “The Wisdom of the Sands,” professed that, “As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it.”

If the Marine Design Resource Alliance remained true to this, its guiding philosophy, in merely developing the content for its 12th annual Creative Conference, it would have been more than enough. This year’s event, held last spring at The Cloister in Sea Island, Ga., featured an all-star line-up of speakers.

But the event has been designed around far more than just the content. The Alliance, which stands on a series of pillars that have been developed to advance the marine industry by focusing on the future, uses the Creative Conference to develop a one-of-a-kind atmosphere in the marine industry, a setting that caters to the executives of its supplier members and the boat builder community.

The topics, content and networking opportunities enhance the first-class accommodations found at these events. It was at this event four years ago, for example, that industry executives debated and furthered the concept-turned-reality of a Grow Boating effort. At this year’s event, MDRA organizers coupled keynote speakers Dr. Barry Asmus and Daniel Burrus with an economic overview and forecast from Wachovia Corp.’s Anika Khan.

Asmus, who has been ranked by USA Today as one of the top five most sought after speakers in the United States, and Burrus, author of “Technotrends,” shared great insight into the most critical factors affecting our economy and trends that are changing the way businesses will operate in the future, respectively. And, as a late addition to the line-up, Khan offered in-depth analysis of the current economic situation, along with Wachovia’s view of when the marine industry will begin its recovery.

But still, a steady downturn in boat sales, plenty of doom and gloom in the media and the talk of a looming recession — which was, indeed, the reason Khan was added to the line-up — did not deter the MDRA from realizing a record turnout at this year’s gathering.

“I think what inspired a strong turnout,” explains Don Zirkelbach, president of Ameritex Technologies, “is that it’s a group of professionals getting together to talk about the challenges the industry is having. Everyone, in some fashion, wants to be part of the solution, rather than just riding a wave. And the only way we can accomplish that is to work together to make that happen.”

Creative relationships
The Marine Design Resource Alliance, as a non-profit organization, is a collaborative effort of industry suppliers that seek to advance the future of recreational boating. Its supplier members, which includes eight full members and nine associate members, volunteer their time and efforts to create and implement programs they believe will have a positive long-term impact on the marine industry.

The Alliance hosts two events each year, the Creative Conference and the Business of Color Conference, hosted at the International Boatbuilder Exhibition and Conference; it publishes CEO Magazine; and fuels future industry efforts through its Boating Leaders Scholarship Program, aimed at identifying and educating design students for careers in marine design.

This year’s Creative Conference hosted nearly two-dozen boat builder executives, in addition to the MDRA members and a few special guests, for the two-and-a-half-day event. While the speakers provided plenty of talking points, the attendees took full advantage of the myriad networking opportunities available, including a golf outing, cocktail receptions and dinners.

“When we see each other at boat shows, we’re very deliberate in why we’re there: We’re supporting the dealers and the product,” explains MDRA President Peter Granata. “Here, the environment is different. It’s far more relaxed. You have an opportunity to get together and discuss ideas collectively. That may spur some creative that they may take back to their teams.”

“We’re not there to sell business,” adds Zirkelbach. “We’re there to interact with industry peers. It’s about focusing on the industry, on innovations and on what’s going to take the industry to the next level as a whole.”

The speakers and their insights presented a wealth of ideas for attendees to take back to their teams. The economists predicted industry sales would turn around anywhere from six months to three years after the conference. But no matter the timeframe, Asmus and Burrus both presented great fodder for consideration and debate.
Asmus, for example, urged the audience to think twice about believing everything the media proclaims. He suggested that today’s media would have used the headline, “Tragedy strikes candle industry,” when Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity, and he urged the audience to question, in that same vein, how “tragedy” is striking their industry. And as one of his pillars of unstoppable trends directing America’s economic future, he proclaimed that the planet is becoming the relevant market through globalization.
“The marine industry in the U.S. is fine,” he said. “But the world is the market. We ended the 20th century with half the world’s population in poverty. We’ll end the 21st century with everyone in prosperity.”

Burrus offered a similarly optimistic approach in his presentation, “Accelerating growth: Leading with Strategic Foresight and Certainty.” He outlined how he sees an “absolute perfect storm of technological change headed our way right now,” by demonstrating how computer processing power doubles every 18 months and prices drop by half; bandwidth is increasing faster than processing power; storage space is increasing exponentially; and there’s a proliferation of electronic devices.

He urged attendees to consider that there are many things that we could do; there are few things that we should do; and we need to focus on the things we must do.

“Let’s not get sucked into crisis, into the recession,” he concluded. “Let’s go back and look at the opportunity. It’s up to us to create the good news.”

Think tank
Much of that good news could be developed through this conference. For those two-and-a-half days, hidden away among the magical oaks along the shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean at The Cloister, Sea Island, Ga., one of the most exclusive resorts in the nation, news of a potential recession seemed all but forgotten.

At this event, attendance soared and opportunity seemed to follow. Relationships strengthened, and the industry’s future seemed to grow a little bit brighter – all in the relaxed environment of a no-pressure, high-level, think-tank setting.

“It’s not about telling you what you should do,” Granata explains. “It’s giving you ideas. It’s not about having the right answer; it’s about asking the right questions. If there were one or two great nuggets that came out of that that each one of these manufacturers can take back to their teams, well that’s what this is about — to get them to think.

“The whole job here is not to predict the future but to allow people to enable the future.”

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