Innovation and Rope Access

Hey Ropers,

One of the most consistent patterns in business is the failure of leading companies to stay at the top of their industries when technologies, common practice, or markets change. Because many companies centralize their focus on of-the-moment operations and immediate day-to-day consumer demands, they can often lose focus on the most pressing question of successful businesses: “What’s next?”

Read here to learn more and innovate your kit, company or mindset!

From all of us at Pacific Ropes,

See you on the Ropes!


“Progress always involves risk; you can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.”

– Fredrick Wilcox

“Stay Hungry. Stay foolish.”

 – Steve Jobs


One of the most consistent patterns in business is the failure of leading companies to stay at the top of their industries when technologies, common practice, or markets change. Because many companies centralize their focus on of-the-moment operations and immediate day-to-day consumer demands, they can often lose focus on the most pressing question of successful businesses: “What’s next?”

Innovation has become a key facet of successful business and a thought characteristic of extraordinary employees. Canadian and US private companies are keenly aware that innovation is not a choice, it is an imperative and a critical means of staying in the game. If you are a business owner or individual that isn’t consistently thinking about active innovation, more than likely you are already behind the real game changers out there or you’re just managing to maintain the status quo. So, although innovation is one of those business buzzwords being exchanged and debated among professionals and developers today, it is important to think about what it means to truly innovate. And, how do we as a Rope Access community- of training facilities, contractors, and rope techs- continue to move forward with innovative ideas, approaches and practices?

We began this blog entry with the question, “Is it risky for businesses to innovate?”. The more I read and thought about this question, however, the more obvious the answer was: Innovation is first and foremost a process synonymous with taking risks. Period. And while many businesses see innovation as too risky to undertake when thinking about undergoing a change, the truth of the matter is, the alternative is riskier: standing still while innovative companies or people race past you. Innovation doesn’t come after company growth today, innovation is growth. So, the better question we want to propose is: “Is innovation worth the risk?” And, “what does it mean to truly innovate in practice when considering the industry of Rope Access?”

Innovation: Some Scope of Thought for Thinking about Innovation and Rope Access

There are several almost exhaustive definitions of what innovation means, but I have taken some of my favorite ways of thinking about innovation to apply to Rope Access (See the citations at the end of this article). The components of this framework include some primary characteristics of innovation, the theory of an ‘open mindset’, and the Tao of Grit.

First and foremost innovation is about solving a problem and/or implementing a significant positive change. So, innovation is not just a word you implement into your Rope Access company or team mandate to have the right to say, “We’re innovating everyday”; instead, it is constantly in action and actionable. Innovation is real work and it can and should be managed like any other corporate and team function. It is the business of learning, knowing, doing, and calling into action questions about what can be done next to enact improvements and change; a commitment to the systemic practice of discovery and innovation.

Innovators share some very similar characteristics: For one, innovators are constantly associating. They use all of their experiences and knowledge to make as many connections as the brain makes possible. Fresh inputs (new conversations, images, readings, experiences, new knowledge) trigger new associations, and for some, lead to novel ideas. As Steve Jobs frequently observed, “Creativity is connecting things.” They are always questioning. They can’t stand the status quo so they spend a lot of time contemplating how to change the world they are constantly engaged in—“if I (we) did this, what would happen?” They always ask “Why?” “Why not?” and “What if?” They think beyond what is typical (how to just improve small already existing processes) and instead challenge assumptions to create something new. They can think with diametrically opposed thoughts. Without panicking or simply settling for one alternative or the other, they are able to produce a synthesis or new ideas based on the two opposites to create something totally new. They appreciate constraints. They think“what if I could simply not, or it was suddenly prohibited, to operate this business or practice as it is now—what would our business look like?” They are always observing. True innovators are always on beat with what is currently happening in common practice and they ruthlessly dissect what they see going wrong in an attempt to come up with something better. They experiment and it is central to everything they do. Creating room for play and dismantling common practice is a great activity to entice innovation. They network and they collaborate. Devoting time and energy to find and test new ideas through a diverse network can provide radically different ideas, and collaboration with external partners can ensure these ideas reach new limits with helpful support. They practice, practice, practice. They rehearse and put into action all of the previous actions and they put aside the time to do so personally and with their professional teams.


Fixed VS. Growth Mindset

One particular theory offers a great way to assess this as a training company, contractor or tech. It is the ‘Fixed vs. Growth Mindset’ theory.

The fixed mindset assumes that our character, intelligence and creative ability are static and can’t change in a meaningful way; striving for success according to a set of unchangeable characteristics while strongly avoiding change to avoid failure at all costs is the way of maintaining a sense of being skilled. Success is static. Challenge is frowned upon. My favorite example of this is a group of students who were given a puzzle. After each student completed the puzzle, at various rates, they were asked if they wanted a harder puzzle or the same puzzle to complete again. The fixed mindset students asked for the same puzzle again. Taking on a harder puzzle was at risk of failure and it was considered safer to be the BEST at the same puzzle, by repeating its completion many times over.

The growth mindset on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of being unintelligent but as a springboard for growth and “STRETCHING” our existing abilities. The growth mindset is winsome because it celebrates learning instead of just being hungry for approval. The growth mindset students asked for a more challenging puzzle to complete, they had already finished one puzzle, there is no true risk to take on a newer, more challenging puzzle. Risk for fixed minds is dangerous and unpredictable, and most importantly, liable for failure. Risk for growth minds is an uplifting challenge to see through and the trust is in the process. They believe in calculated risk, not just riskiness for risks’ sake.

Growth mindset keywords are “stretching” and “sticking with it”. Growth minds are always stretching their abilities, reaching higher. And, even when things feel too high up, they persist in reaching their goal.


The Teo of Grit

This is where the Tao of Grit fits in nicely when thinking about innovation. It’s a wonderful concept to apply to Rope Access as it conjures the idea that grit underpins everything we do, shapes and guides our community, and moves us forward as thinkers and innovators. Success in truly sustainable innovation includes passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is sticking with your future, day in and day out – not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and the hard work that is necessary to make that future a reality is never abandoned. Grit is an unwielding motivation to stay the course and have the ability to sustain this when things get uncomfortable. Grit means that we continually acknowledge and accept how far we have to go, how little we really know, how much we still have to learn, and it represents the confidence we have in always moving forward. It is embodying the upmost strength in character and being conscientiousness. It is upholding and consistently representing the highest standards available as an employer, business, employee and person.

Grit is courage and the ability to shape your goals in a ways that are achievement-oriented. It is a tireless intensity, a forward moving direction, and limitless “stretching” that allows for a lifetime of goal achievement. It is resilience, the ability of people, communities, and systems to maintain their core purpose and integrity even among unforeseen shocks and surprises. It is having the ability to strive for excellence, NOT perfection, and knowing the difference between the two.

Grit is truly the nitty-gritty of innovation in the Rope Access industry.

So, what does this definition of innovation mean when we try and answer the question “Is innovation worth the risk in Rope Access?”

This article was inspired by the following articles:

Angela Lee Duckworth and her academic study of Grit:

Innovation theory in the Harvard Business Review

Jeffrey H. Dyer, Hal Gregersen, Clayton M. Christensen:

Carol Dweck and her study of Fixed Vs. Growth Mindset, Stanford University:

Innovation, Risk, and Rope Access