I recently had a chance to catch up with my friend Ben for a quick coffee while I was traveling through Seattle. As usual, our discussion was great, covering all kinds of ideas. At one point, he said something I loved:
Mountain bikers always say ‘if you look at rocks, you hit rocks.’
It’s a simple idea, but it strikes me as profound. The follow up to that is that if you see space, you hit space.
It reminded of some research by my colleagues John Steen, Jerad Ford and Martie-Louise Verreynne, working with Ernst & Young, in a report called Adapt to win: How Australian oil and gas companies improve productivity in challenging times. They’ve been studying productivity in the oil & gas sector for a few years now, and this is their second report to come from that work.
One of their findings jumped out at me – a question they asked is “what are your barriers to business success?” Here are the answers for three groups of firms: those that don’t innovate on the left, those that do some innovation in the middle, and the novel innovators – the ones that come up with completely new to the industry innovations – on the right.
For the non-innovators, everything gets in the way. All they see are rocks, so they hit rocks.
But for the general innovators, the main barriers are learning challenges and contracting constraints. The big finding is that for the novel innovators, there are no external barriers. They don’t see rocks – they see space.
As Rita Gunther McGrath said last year at the Drucker Forum – all of our innovation barriers are self-inflicted. We can choose to focus on rocks or space. As John, Jerad and Martie-Louise show, what we focus on has a lot to do with how we perform.
If we look at rocks, we hit rocks.