Are We Innovators?

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Scott WebbWe planned the Innovation section of this issue as a brief exploration of both what we’ve accomplished as creative professionals — we recap some of the big ideas and turning points in the evolution of the industry — but also how we’re doing at the task.

That is, looking at what we’ve done in the last 60 years or so, do we lean toward Albert Einstein or Patrick the Starfish? If our industry was a pool light, would it be a beacon shining up into the night sky? Or would you be squinting into the gloom, wondering why somebody put a 50-watt bulb down there.

On that question, we gathered your thoughts. In a straight up poll, 55 percent of you said that, taking all factors into consideration, we’re pretty smart. Forty-five percent think we’re actually kind of dumb.

I think we’ve done about as well as our resources and circumstance have allowed. The kinds of products people think of as innovative are usually the happy result of very large R&D budgets, but the amount of money the world can spend on recreational water has always been very limited.

And what some people have called a certain “backwardness” to our industry I recognize as an independent spirit. A lot of us are scrappers who found a place where we can make a living, and a scrapper’s inventiveness usually takes place on a small scale. Like figuring out how to clean 10 pools in the time it used to take to do five, or how to retail in a strip mall down the street from Wal-Mart and under pressure from the Internet. That takes imagination, the same as inventing the iPhone.

Perhaps we’ve never dazzled the world with our brilliance, but our industry is different. We give people the fundamental experience of water, and no one can improve on that — the feel of it on your skin, the transport of immersion, the way light moves across its surface. The experience of a Chippewa Indian in one of my Wisconsin lakes on a summer’s evening 5,000 years ago has never been bettered — not in all of our elaborate constructs. We just bring it a little closer to home, and make it more convenient.

Scott Webb

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