Posted on 20 April, 2016  |  4 min

By Mark Estall, CEO and co-founder of 9 Spokes.

Being successful is about being able to see a smarter way of doing something. To do this, we have to be open to the fact that someone else might have developed a solution, if not in our own industry, then perhaps in another. I have to always be open to learning from someone else and applying those learnings to my own business.

When I'm not at work, I love to spend time with my son riding mountain bikes. He is pretty good and getting better all the time - the joys of youth, I guess. He recently told me that he spends a lot of time following better riders - studying their lines and their speed into corners to learn what he needs to do and how he should approach different situations.

We spend much of our youth watching, listening and learning from others because we know that we still have a lot to learn, but most of us stop doing this at some stage. Perhaps it's because we think we know all the answers already, but essentially we stop learning. That means we start to fall behind and it's probably why my son is leaving me in the dust.

Business owners in today's world of global competition, innovation and technology often think that there are very few unique situations or opportunities that have not yet been addressed, by someone, in some industry, in some part of the world. The large majority of every generation think the same, but as sure as day turns to night, progress marches on relentlessly, it is the only constant.

I recall hearing a story that Southwest Airlines visited a Formula One Pit Crew to learn how to turn their planes around quicker. This example points to an important insight: you might be doing ok, or even very well, in your own business, in your own market, but you could be doing even better if you looked for better practices. Does your buggy have square wheels when someone else has already developed a round wheel?

This is where we suddenly find that we are in a unique space. Technology now allows us to learn from the very best. The internet has come along and it lets us explore the world to find innovative practices that you can learn from.

Things, like our businesses, are becoming easier and easier to compare. How are you tracking against peers in your industry, and what is being achieved in other industries? When you start working on your business, rather than in your business, you can afford the time to learn from others to get the best results possible.

There will still be quantum leaps, game changers and breakthroughs in innovation, productivity and efficiency. Between these seismic shifts, we need to ensure that we consistently refine and improve our businesses. I like to look for a 10% improvement in what I do and if you can achieve that, you will make significant gains.

Each week my son and I look and learn from the best - on YouTube, blogs, at race meets, or just talking to the best riders around us - and each week we'll look to try something different, improving how we ride and the performance we achieve.