Surfing with heart
An interview with Robert Mock
InnoSenT GmbH has been riding a wave of success for 20 years. On the occasion of the company’s anniversary, the company’s corporate culture and its team’s mentality have a name: ‘wir sind #wellenreiter!’ (Translation: we are surfes). At first glance, that seems a bit unusual. There are no sea or surfers to be seen on the company premises in Donnersdorf (in Lower Franconia, Germany). What is the connection between radar experts and water sports? We asked the Managing Director Robert Mock.
‘We are surfers’ – an unusual motto for a radar technology company. What does surfing have to do with InnoSenT?
RM: More than you would think. It plays on the way radar operates as well as our work at InnoSenT: radar detection works with signals in the gigahertz range. These consist of electromagnetic waves which continuously spread and repeat. If they hit an object, the signal changes. Similar to waves at the sea.
The past years at InnoSenT were akin to a wild ride on the radar wave. Just like the swell thrusts surfers up and down, companies also go up and down. To be successful, we show the courage of a dynamic and passionate surfer.
Could you explain that in more detail?
RM: We work in a constantly changing world. I find the comparison with surfing fitting. Imagine the sea. It is vast, powerful and never calm. People cannot influence it. Things are similar for InnoSenT. The business changes daily, even hourly. And we operate globally. As an individual company we have hardly any influence. We swim in this sea. We gradually learned to ride the waves.
How did you opt for the theme of ‘surfing’? When did you have the idea of using metaphors for InnoSenT?
RM: For a long time already, we had pondering how we could establish a sort of ‘anchor’ at the company for all employees in order to provide them with guidance. We were just lacking the right idea. We sought a way to give a name to and emphasise the team’s particular mentality and work. In order to further promote the community feeling. How we finally came up with surfing was more or less a coincidence. Because it is something I have a personal bond with.
I like the sea a lot and I often go sailing. During my last holiday, I went surfing for the first time. The experience left a lasting impression. I discovered the similarities between my experience and activities at InnoSenT. The surfer philosophy is in harmony with our spirit of entrepreneurship and everyone knows exactly what it’s about. The comparison enables feelings and values to be expressed and incorporated into the company’s day-to-day work more easily. Surfing proved such a fitting theme that we had to put it to use at our company.
What a fortunate coincidence for InnoSenT. Had you ever considered trying out surfing before?
RM: No, in fact not. On holiday, I was exploring the island of Lanzarote with a rental car. We were driving along between dunes towards the sea. The wind was howling so hard that the sand was being blown around. Once I arrived at the beach, I saw the waves, the breakers, and a few surfers. That’s when it hit me.
I saw the surfers and I knew: ‘awesome, I absolutely have to give that a go.’
What does it mean to be a surfer at InnoSenT?
RM: As a surfer, you are capable of changing your frequencies. That means being flexible and adjusting to changed surroundings. Some waves look small and then turn out to be real beasts. Others seem perfect and then suddenly peter out. Here, a surfer considers how to best adapt. Especially in recent years, this has been a big topic for each employee. We must constantly readjust our business models, products and working methods.
Surfing at InnoSenT also means developing trust and not being held back by setbacks. You make ambition plans to implement something and just get going, without delay. Because it’s no big deal if it doesn’t just work out.
Initially, I often just lay in the water when surfing. On the beach, there were many surfers, doing the same. From beginners to professionals – everyone frequently got off the board. That is part of the experience and it gradually gets better. It helps to know that nobody is perfect. They just go out and do it. If we internalise this way of thinking and approach to surfing, that is wonderful.
Surfers focus on the goal: standing on the board and riding a wave. My ambition helped me to keep getting back up and try again. Until I achieved my goal. It was very tiring. But me personally drives it to solve problems. This allows you to develop self-confidence and self-motivation.
Every surfer at InnoSenT has this inner drive. They send signals to colleagues and spur on the whole team. They are role models and the company’s driving force. ‘We are surfers’ is more than just a motto for InnoSenT – it is our philosophy.
How was your first attempt at surfing?
RM: Like with radar development, I first started with the theory and then warmed up on the beach. The warm-up phase is challenging and athletically demanding. Of course, we used the right equipment, such as a neoprene suit. They looked quite funny during the dry exercises.
Then things got started straight away. I paddled out to put a bit of distance between myself and the beach. New breakers came rolling in again and again. The waves were huge that day. When the water comes at you like that, it really elicits respect.
I had to decide on a wave. Suddenly, one came steaming in at me from behind. From that moment on, there was no way back. That’s when the most difficult part came: I watched for the ideal time to stand up.
After a few failed attempts I had gotten the hang of it and pounced at the right moment to get up. I caught my balance and kept on the board as long as possible. Even if it was just a short bit at first: when I finally made it, the feeling of happiness was amazing.
The experience of success is insane, particularly since you fall into the water so often and it saps your energy. If it were ‘easy peasy’ to stand on the board, the emotion would much more subdued.
Are there comparable experiences at InnoSenT?
RM: I think that at the company, we have such fantastic moments on a regular basis. We have already faced a number of challenges. The good feeling of having finally overcome them gives you back so much energy. Especially if not everything had been running smoothly before.
At the beginning, we managed to stay afloat as a company and get InnoSenT over the crest of the wave. We then built up new structures to keep growing.
Now we are in the perhaps most demanding phase: maintaining the success achieved so far and building upon it. Because being really good is one thing, but it is another to manage to preserve that status.
At this point, I also come back to the comparison with surfing.
Each wave is different; the sea is in constant flux. Sometimes there is more wind, sometimes less. So I cannot say: ‘I will do that tomorrow’, because tomorrow the winds might be different. Constantly having to readjust is a real challenge, but it’s what makes working at InnoSenT so exciting.
Did you celebrate your experience of success?
RM: Yes. I was there with my family. We delighted together in having made it. But I must confess that my children were a lot better. The next day, we went right back and rented boards again.
We also honour success stories together at InnoSenT. It was only recently that we celebrated the fulfilment of a major order, which a huge team had toiled away on for a really long time. Once you have successfully implemented a project, the feeling is incredible. I think these are the moments we work for. However, success is defined differently by each person, and it starts with really small things at the job.
What does ‘surfing’ mean to you? What do you associate with it?
RM: Surfers have a cool and elegant vibe. That is, of course, a matter of opinion. I associate a great deal of positive elements with it, such as the sea, good weather, the beach, a great atmosphere.
Surfers are really fit and agile. They have a lot of experience and keep training. They are specialists who know exactly what they are doing. It is always interesting to watch an expert.
Including at InnoSenT. You quickly think to yourself: ‘I will never achieve that.’ But that is wrong. These people work in a concentrated manner and with great dedication. That is important both in everyday work and in surfing. I do my job passionately and with pleasure.
Sometimes I am so filled with enthusiasm, I do not even think of failure as a possibility. And that’s a good thing. Because if I think too much about it, I run the risk of not making it. Even difficult circumstances do hold me back. You challenge me. The downside of bad weather, for example, is much less of a trouble than what surfing gives back to you. The moments of happiness make a strong impression. It’s just a shame that the sea is so far away. I’d like to get right back out there.
How do you become a surfer at InnoSenT and what use is the philosophy?
RM: I am convinced that anyone can become a surfer at InnoSenT. It’s more about a way of thought to me. It’s about how you take on your tasks and challenges. It helps in coming out of an extremely tough situation stronger.
And in times that sap your energy, you have to visualise the ‘hang loose’ mindset. In these kinds of hot phases, it is sometimes important to look at things from a top view and keep cool. For example, this might mean cracking a joke at an in-house meeting to convey the message, ‘We currently have a problem, but it will pass.’ Otherwise, you end up getting too bogged down by the issue. Of course, I am not talking about underestimating of forgetting the matter. Sometimes maybe just approaching the problem differently.
That is difficult, but our surfer philosophy is a method that can be learned. This way, you don’t get crushed under the waves, but ride on top of them.
Anyone can learn to do it. Not just at sea, but also at InnoSenT.
Looking back on 20 years of successfully surfing on the ‘radar wave’ and now as a ‘trained’ surfer – can you give us a glimpse of what the future holds? How will things go on with the ‘radar surfers’ at InnoSenT?
RM: I think in the near future, things will get even more intense at the company. The continuous changes will remain. Just like with surfing, this requires a lot of flexibility. And it concerns us all.
Everyone has different, demanding tasks in the company and deals with different topics. That’s why each person finds different aspects more important. Some employees would prefer to deal with setbacks on their own, while for others, teamwork takes priority. Each of us in our team decides individually to what extent surfing empowers them. The ‘Surfer’ guiding principle bring us together. It is like the DNA of InnoSenT. The way we deal with developments and changes.
The company will grow in the future. Not only the company, but also the employees will continue developing. The surfer philosophy is the InnoSenT way of fostering this personal development on the part of the employees and the company with positive energy and fun.
Thanks a lot for the interview!