During the five years I’ve been writing this column for WaterShapes, I’ve been asked by a number of people how I manage to find the time to write this column, make presentations at trade shows, teach at Genesis 3 schools and conduct my own design/consulting business.
I get the distinct impression that these questions have much less to do with curiosity about the power of time management than with questions about why I’d even bother to extend my focus beyond my primary business of designing swimming pools. Whatever the intent, it’s a valid question – and I’ll do my best to answer it here.
The easy answer is that my desire to work in educational settings is not that different from my desire to act as a designer and consultant. The teaching gets me involved with a broader range of professional contacts than I’d have access to in any other way, and it also affords me the opportunity to learn from other people at the same time they learn something from me.
But the easy answer runs too quickly over the path that led me to operate the way I do, so let’s dig a bit deeper.
A PERSONAL ODYSSEY
As is the case with many people who get involved in the information-sharing business, it was someone else’s interest in helping me along that first sent me down this path.
Back in 1984, I was running a pool retail/service business with a small construction division. To keep my clients interested, I began publishing a newsletter, which was at that time the “latest thing” in building and maintaining customer loyalty.
One of my clients back then was Jack Gainey, who worked for WKAT, a Miami radio station. He told me how much he enjoyed the newsletter and asked me if I’d be interested in doing a radio show on swimming pools for his station. Not having the slightest clue what I might be getting myself into, I said, “Sure, why not?”
I saw Jack’s offer as an opportunity to reach more people and share more information that would help me win and retain even more clients, so I went in for an interview at the station. (I recall thinking that I would be a guest on someone else’s show in some sort of special segment about pools.) After a while, I did a brief audition tape. When I came back for a second meeting, the station’s owner, Howard Premer, reviewed the tape and said, “Sounds good. Let’s start this Saturday.”
I asked what he meant by that exactly, at which point he informed me that they wanted me to host a weekly 30-minute radio show about swimming pools starting at 8:30 a.m. every Saturday. When I asked who was going to be on the show, he said, “You.”
Once I got over my shock, I began preparing myself for “All About Pools and Spas with Brian Van Bower.” To say that I was nervous when the “On Air” light was lit for the first time would be something of an understatement. I’d called everyone I knew and asked them call in, all the while wondering how I could possibly fill 30 minutes of airtime.
Needless to say, I made it through that first day and kept on hosting the show for the next four years. I worked with Premer, who became my mentor and eventually a friend, and a producer, a former on-air personality who helped me through the mechanics and fine point of being on radio.
As I worked on the show, I soon started to appreciate a wonderful and unexpected benefit: I had branched out of my regular, workaday life and had begun to research topics I wouldn’t have dreamed of considering otherwise – such things as synchronized swimming, party planning around pools, competitive swimming and diving and the health benefits of swimming.
One of these radio-show discussions led me to deeper study of water exercise and therapy, and for a time I worked seriously in the hydrotherapy business. And as I’ve mentioned in a couple of past columns, my experience also led me to co-host a radio show on food and wine with my brother, Guy Bower – which led me in turn to my continuing involvement in the wonderful world of the culinary arts.
All of this started because someone perceived that I had ability and was willing to help me. In all my radio work, both Jack Gainey and Howard Premer coached me and taught me what communicating with people was really all about. More important, they helped me understand what it really meant to share what I know with other people.
A great by-product of my work on both shows was meeting all sorts of interesting people. On the pool show, for example, I spoke with Olympic swimmers, fitness experts, authors, pool contractors and other industry professionals of all sorts, and we talked about everything from water ballet and flotation devices to more technical subjects such as hydraulics, materials, water chemistry, fountains and waterfeatures. With the food and wine show, my brother and I had the pleasure of working with a diverse and wonderful set of people, including many winemakers and famous chefs.
Doing that first radio show set me on a path that involves communicating what I know to others. That’s important, but while the on-air work was great fun and often very exciting, what mattered most was that it took me beyond the confines of the life I had been leading. Had I simply stayed in my comfort zone, running a company with 20 employees, a vast realm of information and experiences would probably still be foreign to me.
I see my work on this column and all the teaching activities I pursue as extensions of a career-long exploration of sharing ideas and information and learning things as a result of that process. It’s been rewarding in a great many ways, and now, as a consultant, that process of give and take has come to define what most would describe as my primary business.
As I’ve thought about this, it strikes me as well that this process of teaching and learning goes on with a huge number of people in their daily professional and personal lives. It’s a matter of how we approach what we do. In addition, it’s a matter of how we define what our “primary” business is.
For me, in other words, everything has become integrated and seamless: Writing this column is the same as consulting is the same as teaching, and all of them are what I see collectively as my function, my “job,” if that’s how it should be described.
WE’RE ALL LEARNING
In my own little corner of the watershaping universe, communicating and sharing are the means I use to have a positive effect on an industry that has been very good to me. You hear that sentiment a lot from people who contribute their time to good causes, and in my case the desire to give something back is important for all sorts of reasons, most having to do with what I get in exchange.
The rewards I receive as I “give something back” are often small, and sometimes they’re not readily apparent. Perhaps I’ll share information with a contractor in such a way that, for example, he or she comes to appreciate the value of working with detailed hydraulic designs and see them as a way to increase the value and reliability of the work he or she does. In this case, I benefit from working in an industry where contractors perform to higher standards – and that’s good for everyone in the industry.
A Phrase to Forget
When I ask someone how they’re doing and the response is, “Oh, you know – same old same old,” it really gets me going: If there is a more dreary, dreadful, dismal response possible in the English language, then I’ve yet to hear it!
Even said as a sort of vague and muttered jest, I can’t imagine anything more depressing than the notion that each day might be exactly the same as the last. My heart goes out to those who actually feel that way, because it tells everyone that life is just passing them by without the benefit or reward of new experiences.
I don’t mean to get too wrapped around the axle about such a cliché catch phrase, but if you find yourself honestly feeling that way, it’s time to try something new!
The rewards I get from writing this column are similarly diverse and often quite subtle. The feedback I receive – brief e-mails and phone messages – is never voluminous and infrequently profound, but it comes from real people who’ve take the time to get in touch with me, and I always find it affirming and informative. I take it as confirmation that what I’m doing is meaningful and helpful to others; I also appreciate the fact that I learn something from everyone with whom I come in contact.
I’ll go so far as to say that this process of exchange – in the context of projects, writing or teaching – proves over and over again to be very much its own reward. I act as a mentor to others in the way others have served (and who still serve) as mine.
To be sure, the concept of mentoring suffers because of an antiquated image of the apprentice slaving away at the foot of the master. In using the term, I’m talking about mentoring as a positive, two-way exercise that has tremendous value for both participants. In this way, mentoring itself is woven through the fabric of our everyday lives, much more a function of attitude and approach than a formal program or policy.
As a consultant, I derive great satisfaction from knowing that clients hire me to help them do something they didn’t think they could do on their own. When the process goes through its various steps and in fact results in a beautiful watershape, a satisfied client and another contractor or two who have learned a little bit more about some aspect of their own work, then the rewards are such that money and commercial interest is only one among many reasons I get involved.
It’s a fact of life: No matter who you are and where you are in your career, there are always going to be people who know more than you as well as those who know less than you. Yes, I enjoy mentoring and getting to share what I know with others and influencing the way they do things. Equal to that in my mind is the thought that, to be a good teacher, you must also be a good student.
STRETCHING INTO THE AIR
We recently received a letter from a Genesis 3 student, a young pool builder from Port Charlotte, Fla., named Colin McTigue. After attending a Level 1 school last year, he felt encouraged to attempt his first-ever vanishing-edge design.
He sent a picture of the pool (which won two local awards), and it looked beautiful. He wrote that we’d given him the confidence to proceed, and I felt good about that because it helped me see that all the work we’d put into the vanishing-edge portion of our program was panning out the way we wanted. The mentoring had come full circle, with us being encouraged to carry on for future classes and students.
In other words, the exchange of technical information in an educational setting had benefited everyone involved, not just the student. I see that same two-way street in the other professional activities I pursue, from consulting to writing this column. The key in most any context is recognizing, whether you’re the sender or receiver of information, that information has value, that more of it is always needed and that discovering new things is its own reward.
For me, these exchanges of information are now part and parcel of my business life and of every serious and not-so-serious avocation I pursue. The value of teaching and learning is so profound that I’ve come to believe that it really does extend into everyday life and that, no matter our role in society, we all have the opportunity to participate in the process. We do so with our employees, clients, friends, family and children.
So, to double back and answer the initial question about why I write this column, let me say that I do so because I know the process of learning and communicating will always lead me somewhere I’ve never been before. And I’m honored that you’ve helped me on my way.
Brian Van Bower runs Aquatic Consultants, a design firm based in Miami, Fla., and is a co-founder of the Genesis 3 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].