The Water Slide Effect – Inspiration from a Public Swimming Pool

Recently, we took the kids to a public indoor swimming pool. While those trips are usually fun, I did not expect it to have such an impact –  there was a water slide. I am usually somewhat hesitant when it comes to such attractions. I have never been on a roller coaster in my life, and I would only touch a bungee jumping rope if I had the chance to upcycle it on the ground. But this water slide ride taught me a few valuable lessons about making, and I want to share them with you.

Before I get into what I felt, let me describe this particular water slide for you. At the base, you pick what looks like a huge orange tire with two handles from a pile. Then, you carry it up three stories worth of staircases that spiral up to the entrance of the slide. There, you place the tire on a flat spot, behind which the actual ride begins.

It is constructed from large fiberglass pieces (or so I reckon) that create a tube about one and a half meters high and a bit wider than that. Starting just behind the “launch pad”, several spouts of water create a constant flow on which the tires will ride, until at the end, you “crash” into a small pond that slows you down and ends in a small slope for an easy exit right next to the pile of tires.

On the Way Up the Water Slide

Let’s begin with the why. I was going to take the ride because Nina, who already knew the water slide, asked me if I wanted to. Kids, you know? You have to put your best foot forward, so I did not want to back out of that – and possibly instill fear or hesitation into my kids. I guess I am overthinking this because after all it is just a water slide and my older kids ride it without issues. But still…

On my way up, I was feeling a bit squeamish. And cold, in that one spot where the air conditioning was a bit overzealous. It is quite a long way up – three stories – and longer for someone not quite certain whether what they are doing is a good idea. It was at that point that I realized that this feeling is a rather familiar one, although I had never pegged it as such.

I never felt it as intensely before, although condensed is probably a better term. I have had job interviews that I was not really at ease at, and don’t get me started about PE in school, but this was different. And as I climbed up the slip-resistant stone steps I realized that this was what held me back in my shop.

I did not mean to go this deep but bear with me. It was this feeling that, to an extent, kept me from starting so many projects that I have on my list. Call it the fear of the unknown, and I use the term fear loosely here. But actually, I think it is more the fear of the known. The fear of something that you think you know and/or put a lot of thought into. The fear of all the things that you think could go wrong.

It clicked then, but when I wrote this it actually clicked again. I have two types of projects. The first one is long-term. It starts with an idea or a set of ideas, and I start planning them out. I put thought into what techniques I could use, how to add a quirky element to the video, and even whether there would be potential for follow-ups or sequels (so no pressure). I try to go through the process in my mind to avoid pitfalls, and to make sure that I have an idea of what I need to pull the project off when I get there. Spoiler alert, I hardly ever do. Many of those projects end up on hold, or never even get started. (If you are curious, one of those few that made it, after months, is the peanut bowl from cloth).

And then there are these other projects, those that I start based on an idea, something fresh and un-overthought (that should be a word). Those I tend to finish within a couple of hours or days. And I am usually more happy with the video they turn into. Here, the Coin Flask would be a prime example.

So what am I aiming for? I was squeamish because of all the things I thought could go wrong on a water slide ride. I thought these things could go wrong not because they ever happened to me, nor because I had done extensive research. I just thought I knew. Frankly, a second to think about what those problems would have yielded that they are very unlikely or outright bogus.

Same with the first type of projects. I think I know what could go wrong, so I am reluctant to try. If I would just get started and keep on going, it would work out right – or end on the scrap heap, which in a way would be preferable to being on hold indefinitely.

This is the first takeaway, right here. Thinking things through is okay, but do not assume that you know anything just because you thought about it for a bit. Don’t overthink. Plan, but don’t plan a project to death.

What I felt on that Ride

But wait, there’s more! Eventually, the staircase ended. As I described earlier, we reached the pad where you are to place your tire, climb in, and off you go. Once you get off the platform, there is no way back. The water slide is fully enclosed. There is no other way to go but forward, either. And thanks to the slope and the constant flow of water, you go forward at what I would consider a decent speed.

The first few meters, that rush of speed paired with the rush of adrenalin gave me what despite my attempts to portray myself in a good light could probably be called fear. That quick, frantic burst of “What have I gotten myself into and how can I escape”. And the answer is obvious. At this point, a couple of meters from the starting pad, gravity is as unforgiving as the architect’s choice not to incorporate handholds, safety nets or emergency exits into their design. The only way out is through.

What amazed me is what happened then, after the first bend. I felt myself relax. Either I was accepting the fact that I could not change anything about what was going to happen at this point, or… that is pretty much the only thing I can think of that makes sense. No matter, I could enjoy the rest of the ride in a way that I never thought I would be able to. After the anxiety of the climb up, my body did not only go back to baseline but actually dropped below that. It was meditative.

To take this back to the making analogy, this ride illustrated one point that, while I knew it, in theory, I had not experienced to this extent. That point is that the first step on any journey is the hardest. We all know that. But on that water slide, I felt it. We will see how well it will stick with me in the future when I tackle the next projects, but it is a whole new level compared to simply “knowing”.

The Intention to Get Started

The more I think about this water slide ride, the more I find there are more layers to the making analogy than I first realized. One thing that felt very familiar in retrospect is actually a property of the starting pad. While it is quite flat and generally damp, it sits before the inlets that spout water to propel you downward. So in order to start down that spiraling slope, you need to get the tire with you sitting in it over the ledge. Which is completely doable. If you know what to do and how to do it.

A couple of times, I was riding the slide together with one of my girls on a single tire, which did not make things easier. Time and again, we found ourselves sitting in the tire on the pad with no way to move forward. We were stuck. Like the proverbial turtle on the back. And yes, more than once. Mainly fueled by the fear of not going over the edge before we were ready.

I actually at one point thought that setting the tire to one side so I could reach one of the two big handlebars would not be a good idea because then I could not reach the one on the other side. But setting down smack in the middle left both of them firmly out of reach. So more, often than I’d like to admit, we had to get out of the tire and reposition ourselves.

What I am going for here is what we had not adhered to another adage in the business world, “set yourself up for success“. Of course, we did not think about it that way at the time. But that simple idea made the following rides a lot easier.

Translating this to making is a little tricky, but it all comes down to learning from experience. Which is something that is easy when it comes to a single skill. But it gets a lot harder when you generalize it and try to apply what you already know to something new. And yes, I am aware that just a few paragraphs ago I did caution against thinking you know too much. But leave me a teddy – which is a fancy way of saying “bear with me”.

When going on a waterless slide, you would never sit down too far back for you to push yourself over the edge. That is assuming you have been on slides before, which for the sake of the argument I will assume. I, for one, have been since an early age. But I did not make the connection that this would apply to the water slide as well. It makes sense, and looking back I probably should have considered it, but right at that moment, I did not.

So, up to this point, this water slide ride yielded that you should not overthink things, that the first step is usually the hardest, and that you should try to consider lessons learned across projects and, more importantly, across skills. Disregarding the contradiction that could be constructed out of point one and three, and the fact that I might simply be overthinking a simple fun activity here, there is one more idea to cram in there.

Bonus: Going Blind

There is another element of this ride that I neglected to share with you up to this point. It was the coolest part. Like I said, the slide is completely enclosed. As you start out, there are some LED lights lighting the way. Then, a few bends later, these lights are off, and for a few bends, you ride through the perfect blackness.

There are two more points I want to make here. Three if you consider that it was an awesome experience after already feeling kinda meditative. And four if you are into Stranger Things, the series (blackness and water on the ground…).

The first point is that going blind can yield better results than any amount of planning. Not knowing where a project will go but going anyway, can, at times, be a great way to get inspired and try new things you did not know could solve your problem. You will probably run into these phases in most projects, but they can just as easily stop them in their tracks if you are not ready for them.

And that leads me to the second point, based on another thing you do not yet know about because I did not tell you yet. Just before the section of blackness, there were a few lights that were almost strobing. I did not think much of them, although they struck me as odd. Looking at the whole thing as an engineer, I assume that the intention of these strobe lights is to get your eyes to go in bright-light-mode, thus making the blackness that followed more complete. The point here is that it is not just okay to have spots of blindness in your project plans, but that sometimes, it is okay to leave them in intentionally just to see where they take you.

What do you think?

I am completely aware that I interpreted the heck out of this innocent water slide ride, and that with a little effort, you could probably do the same and arrive at completely opposite conclusions. So what do you think? Do you agree with my points, or would you make different ones? Let me know!

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(Featured Image by Kiana Bosman on Unsplash)

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