Robert Frost once wrote, “I took the road less traveled and that has made all the difference.”
As we approach the New Year, I can’t think of a more fitting theme for the watershaping industry. If we consider where we were just ten years ago and compare that situation to the world in which we live and work today, it’s clear that the industry as a whole has changed immeasurably – and, I think, for the good.
I can say further and without fear of contradiction that those who have embraced the “road less traveled” and faced the future with creativity, hope and optimism have flourished, while those who have clung to the paradigms of the past are not so well positioned to face what’s already happened and what is to come.
The fall season is well suited for the kind of reflection that leads to personal and professional growth. It’s also “trade show season,” a time when many of us invest time and energy and money in seeking information and discovering new ways to move forward into the months and years to come. It’s a good time to step back and size things up – so let’s jump into a bit of that here.
As I engage in my own process of personal and professional assessment – a process that really should be ongoing and constant rather than annual or seasonal (something I’m working on still) – I think back over my career and try to understand how I arrived at a place where I not only design watershapes but also write this column, participate in the development of educational programs, conduct seminars for a variety of groups and generally keep pushing into new and ever more exciting ventures.
My first thought, of course, is that it’s all because I’ve been blessed with great looks, tremendous charisma and unyielding modesty. Beyond that fantasy, it also occurs to me that I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate in the company I keep: There are so many wonderful people I’ve known who’ve been a part of my journey that it’s difficult to keep track of them all – which leads me to conclude that the value of having terrific friends and associates can never be underestimated.
Beyond the riches of good fellowship, another thought that occurs to me is that my greatest growth has resulted when I’ve stepped beyond my comfort zone and tried something new. The very first time I conducted a seminar – for Region 7 of what was then the National Spa & Pool Institute – I was terrified and completely unsure of my qualifications or ability to teach anybody anything. As it turned out, the response was quite positive and I’ve continued down that path ever since.
For a long time, however, whenever I’d stand up in front of an audience, I’d fight my nervousness and the fear of failure each and every time. When I finished, however, I’d have the thrilling sense that I’d done something valuable for others – and enjoy the accompanying satisfaction of facing a stressful situation and overcoming my own anxiety.
That path eventually led me to a long-time gig as a radio-show host – and let me say that if you ever want to experience a real case of the butterflies, sit down in front of an open microphone and start talking over the airwaves. It was incredibly nerve-wracking at first, but ultimately it became great fun and eventually led to all sorts of wonderful (and unanticipated) experiences and opportunities.
These days, I’m extremely comfortable in front of audiences and actually look forward to public speaking. I can’t even imagine the wealth of experiences I would’ve missed had I not made the effort and found the strength to face what was initially a very uncertain and, frankly, uncomfortable situation.
Facing the natural fear of public speaking is just one feature of my life, but it’s amazing to me to think how different things would have been, both personal and professional, had I stayed on the familiar road. I’m certain that I would’ve missed out on all sorts of fun and prosperity.
The same principles apply to most anyone who finds success in his or her field: There is simply no way to become an expert or an authority in any type of pursuit without tackling situations that make us uncomfortable, even if only temporarily.
In my case, I started out in pool service and today design high-end custom watershapes for all sorts of customers over a huge geographical area in this country and internationally. Every step in that long journey has involved doing things I hadn’t tried before.
When you stop and consider how far the watershaping industry has come in the last decade or so, it’s evident that a great many of us have taken up the challenge of breaking new ground. Sure, we’ve benefited from a number of huge social and economic trends that have essentially set the table for our industry’s growth and creative expansion, but without a population of adventurous souls willing to take the up the journey, things would’ve stayed the same and might have even moved backward.
It’s a lesson in the fact that, for most businesses, change is the only constant. In that light, it’s is crucial to keep your eyes on what’s ahead. You can’t predict the future, but you can do everything in your power to position yourself to respond. This is why, whenever I find myself being drawn in a new direction, I step back and take the time to consider the broader implications.
As one example, for the past few months I’ve been involved in a big project on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, joining with my friend and Genesis 3 partner Skip Phillips, who has done most of the hydraulics and design. The project is unlike anything I’ve ever seen and involves development of 24 luxury suites, each with a spectacular view of the ocean or the island’s famous Pitons – or both.
Every one of these suites is to have its own vanishing-edge pool, all of which are to be connected by a common overflow trough that will feed a number of decorative waterfeatures. The hydraulics for this project are intimidating enough on their own before you consider the need for precise planning, construction and serviceability on a grand scale.
ONE THING TO ANOTHER
On a recent visit to this project, which is nearing completion, I had the opportunity to meet the husband of the woman who’s supervising the entire project. He seems like a bright guy and asked me to take a look at a master plan he has in the works for a housing development. Without going into too much detail, his concept is to create luxury homes that are all completely energy efficient and environmentally sound.
What I saw blew my mind. When I consider “green” lifestyles, my tendency is to think of devout environmentalists who, as a group, are not generally given to leading lives of extreme luxury. In this case, however, the idea is to build homes that are beautifully appointed and use technologies such as hydrogen energy plants and state-of-the-art, energy-efficient materials without sacrificing an iota of comfort, luxury or elegance.
What excited me most is that each home is to feature a glass-enclosed solarium filled with watershapes and landscaping that will warm the homes through winter and cool them in the summer. Furthermore, the systems will run on reclaimed water or rainwater.
This particular project is still on the drawing boards, but it caused me to think about where we might be headed as an industry and has filled my usual year-end ponderings.
It’s no secret that energy consumption and the creation and preservation of healthy environments are issues that are going to be with us for the rest of our lives. Once the focus for a fairly small group of partisan advocates, it seems pretty obvious that these are concepts that are quickly cutting across all political and social lines.
What intrigues me most about this luxury housing concept is that it will have broad appeal: Heck, I imagine most of us would be in favor of conserving energy and preserving the environment so long as we didn’t have to sacrifice comfort, convenience or luxury to do it.
This is exactly why hybrid automobiles are gaining so much attention with their fuel efficiency and increasingly passable styling and performance. It’s happening because the world is changing and the people who design and manufacture cars are desperately trying to get ahead of the curve. And I’ll wager that this general trend will be among those defining the future of watershape design and construction as well.
It’s easy to imagine a time when there will be a demand for systems that provide the same benefits as today’s watershapes with respect to beauty, exercise value, entertainment and luxury, but will do so with an entirely different set of technical solutions.
Perhaps this will mean ultra-efficient hydraulic and filtration systems that run only a fraction of the time that current systems must operate. It may involve the use of captured rainwater, or development of landscaping substrates that filter water. Heating systems may change dramatically, as might chemical treatments, lighting systems and maybe our entire concept of how watershapes are plumbed and powered.
Fact is, these trends are already gathering steam. I know of systems that include cisterns designed to capture rainwater. I’ve also designed a perimeter-overflow pool with a surge tank oversized by 4,000 gallons to capture and store rainwater. For years, of course, people in the trade have been advocating the use of small pumps and large plumbing as a way to increase efficiency and decrease operating costs, and we’ve already seen a variety of products featuring recycled materials.
Something tells me that this is only the beginning of what may well turn out to be one of the most dynamic and fertile trends affecting our businesses for generations to come – and it has already started.
I bring up this example of efficiency trends because this is precisely the sort of focus that separates people who embrace the future and are willing to step out of their comfort zones and those who rely on conventional thinking as a way of life. To the forward-looking professional, such a trend represents opportunity and perhaps even a chance to develop an entirely new specialty.
In the not-too-distant future, there will be new products, new applications, new design concepts, new ways of talking about the product and, indeed, new ways of thinking about the very nature watershapes’ roles in our daily lives. I foresee a time when water reclamation and the use of bodies of water to heat and cool interior spaces will affect everything we do as watershapers.
If so, there will be those among us who will blaze new trails and flourish and establish ourselves as authorities within the industry. On the flip side, there will be those who see this new sensibility as a threat to the status quo and will drag their feet or even work to disrupt its progress in one way or another.
If you ask me, it’s pretty obvious which side will fare better: We all know the future is coming, and it’s up to each of us to decide whether to turn our backs to the inevitability of change or face tomorrow fearlessly, with open hearts and open minds. I believe, in other words, that Robert Frost was right: The road we choose makes all the difference.
Brian Van Bower runs Aquatic Consultants, a design firm based in Miami, Fla., and is a co-founder of Genesis 3, A Design Group; dedicated to top-of-the-line performance in aquatic design and construction, this organization conducts schools for like-minded pool designers and builders. He can be reached at [email protected].