By Jim McCloskey
As I’m certain was the case when many of us heard the news, I was caught off guard by the announcement in August of the formation of Watershape University. The fact that it was happening beyond the bounds of the Genesis organization and followed so soon after the emergence of the also-independent Ask the Masters program made everything even more intriguing.
“What’s happening here?” is a question I still have after speaking with several of the principals in both new entities before and during an Ask the Masters event in southern California late in August. Just so you know, I’m not as much interested in the politics of all this as I am in broader implications and what this might mean for watershaping as both an industry and a profession.
My initial reaction to Ask the Masters, which emerged in April 2019 as a Facebook page promising informative podcasts that have popped up steadily for months now, was strongly positive: To me, it was as though top-flight watershaping had jumped directly onstage in the modern media space for the very first time. Co-founder Dave Penton spoke of it more modestly as an outgrowth of the interactive Forum concept that had been so beneficial on the Genesis web site for many years – but which had slowed down considerably as its most active participants found other ways to share their knowledge.
The objective with ATM, he said, was to rekindle a Forum-type dialogue in more direct, accessible, personal ways by creating podcasts and events that push faces and voices into the mix and give him and his fellow masters in the Society of Watershape Designers a means of speaking directly with more people than they could ever reach while teaching classes or chatting with folks at trade shows and meetings.
Beyond having what I selfishly consider to be a great name, Watershape University is dedicated to changing the way craft-related information flows through the industry. So alongside an existing system that mostly teaches a company’s top brass how to do a better job at watershaping and then relies on those individuals to push education, information and governing philosophies down into company ranks, WU co-founders Bill Drakeley and Dave Peterson intend to teach whole companies how to get things right on a job site.
As I told them, this top-to-bottom approach was a core principle for us in starting WaterShapes: Our objective from the beginning has been to democratize information and make it accessible to anyone who had an interest in how the best practitioners put pools, ponds, fountains and other waterfeatures together. Anyone in the trades could subscribe to our dearly-departed magazine or visit our still-burgeoning web site, and we’ve always seen our primary mission as education.
A nice side benefit of the WU approach to education is that it promises to give operatives within companies a greater sense of involvement in their companies’ goals – a buy-in that creates loyalty and dedication while also injecting superior ambitions into companies that can become far healthier and more integrated as a result.
Of course, these recent events have implications that have yet to play out, but let me say this: I see both the launching of Ask the Masters and the announcement of Watershape University as inevitabilities. It is time, in other words, for next steps to be taken and for the process that began when Genesis took form to keep branching out.
Back in 1998, Genesis was indisputably revolutionary. The rest of all this – the Society of Watershape Designers within Genesis and Ask the Masters and Watershape University beyond it – has been evolutionary. It’s about momentum, not mutiny. But my labeling of this as inevitable doesn’t diminish the boldness or achievements of those who’ve stepped up to drive change within and around the Genesis organization. It’s just to say that those who didn’t see something like this coming just haven’t been following the ball.
I am not clairvoyant and have no set ideas about where all of this is heading, but I have to say my interest is piqued and I’ll be following these developments with an animation I haven’t mustered in quite some time. Change can be challenging and will doubtless be painful for some. But it can also be exhilarating – and great fun to watch!