InnovaBuzz Episode #94 – Model the Masters: Colin Gooch
Model the Masters – Colin Gooch, Resene Paints
In this episode of our Model the Masters series, our featured Master is Colin Gooch, the Technical Director of Resene Paints. Colin was a valued customer in my previous corporate career, but much more than that, Colin is a person whom I admire greatly, who has been an inspiration to me in my career, who became a friend and mentor in the time we worked together. He was instrumental in all of the innovative technical developments at Resene Paints and positioning them as a leader in the industry over the past 45 years.
I had the privilege of interviewing Colin in the early days of the InnovaBuzz Podcast, but unfortunately, the technology let us down and the recording wasn’t usable. So now, with the technology sorted out, I’m hugely excited to present this Model the Masters’ special episode of the InnovaBuzz Podcast.
Our question today is “What would Colin Gooch do?”
Listen to the Podcast
Lessons from our Master, Colin Gooch:
In 1963, Colin Gooch came to New Zealand from the United Kingdom and joined the then Polymer Corporation in a Technical Service role, having left school at 16 and up to that stage, not completed a tertiary education. He loved New Zealand and loved his job – in technical service he learned about the range of products the company produced and sold and he had to deal with problems customers had in using those products. Colin’s insatiable curiosity, his thirst for knowledge and learning, saw him become the Technical Service Manager for the newly named Resene company and he quickly set about turning both ideas and also problems into real products that were both innovative and practical.
Resene pioneered water-based paint technology, environmentally sustainable coatings, colour tinting systems for water-based systems, particularly ones that enable both light and dark, very bold colours (which had been a huge challenge before this development). There are many other paints and paint related innovations that have come from Resene and from Colin’s team or his protegés.
So, what makes Colin Gooch successful?
What drives him? What can we learn from his success, from his approach?
Let’s begin by examining some values and beliefs I attribute to Colin. What do we know about his vision as articulated for him and for his business?
I did have the privilege of working with Colin for many years. In all that time, I came to appreciate his insatiable curiosity and also the intensity to follow up that curiosity. I can hear him now in my ears:
“Yes, I understand that’s what happens, BUT WHY?” and if I answered that, he’d respond with “But Why? What makes it do that?” and keep asking those questions until I reached the point of admitting that I could no longer answer. Which, of course, is where the discovery and the possibilities opened up.
Colin was always focused on real problems or needs and on finding better ways to deliver solutions to those problems or needs for his customers. Of course, Resene, was a company that has a culture of innovation that provided a perfect environment for Colin’s curiosity and innovative drive. Listen and watch Colin describing the development of the Resene Colour Tinting systems here – the relevant parts are between the 14:45 and 17:45-minute mark.
One of the many things I admire about Colin, is his ability to take fundamental technical studies from the scientific community and translate the findings from simple laboratory experiments into complex painting systems and situations to provide innovative and practical solutions to specific needs or problems. Often, his inspiration would be well outside the chemistry of painting or indeed traditional chemistry – he would study and model something that might be happening in nature, or in pharmaceuticals to name a couple of examples, and apply the core principles to paint chemistry.
When I was working for a raw material supplier, and Resene was one of our customers, Colin was the only person outside the organisation, that we shared highly confidential technical information – so called trade secrets – with. Colin had early access to our latest technology and the reward for us was we got exceptionally valuable feedback on how the product worked in real practical applications in the hands of a real customer. We did that in the knowledge that Resene would often be first adopters, but more than that, Colin’s team often turned products that we ourselves had given up on commercialising, into real commercial successes – on many occasions, in different applications that we’d envisioned. He definitely is a lateral thinker.
Of course, it took time to build the relationship between our research department, our commercial and business groups and Colin’s team to this point. Three factors were critical in bringing this about – a high level of trust and empathy, a belief in Colin and his team based on their track record and a level of faith from Colin in the abilities of our research community, and a shared goal and vision – which was to be the leader in our fields, to be innovative and first to market.
Colin often said, “it’s good to be best, but it’s best to be first.” One of his favourite quotes was from Lewis Grizzard, who remarked about a dog-sled team: “Only the lead dog gets a change of scenery.” and Colin would oftern ask “imagine the view of the second, third and fourth dogs!”
Colin was always challenging us, as a supplier to Resene, in a way to make us better and to make our products and services better. More than that, he wanted us to challenge him too – as he believes that it’s by being challenged that we grow, learn and improve.
I mentioned earlier that Colin did not allow himself to be defeated – he always said (with a touch of self-deprecation), “I don’t have a competitive bone in my body”. I remember fondly, when we toured the research facilities of our company together on technology discovery and understanding missions, how he’d teach me to play Pétanque on the Coté d’Azure after hours. Pétanque was one of his many sporting passions and he is very good at it. Of course, it was boring to play against me as a rank novice, so he’d teach me just enough to make me competitive and challenge him, but I suspect that there were a few tricks that he kept up his sleeve, just to keep the advantage. Of course, all the while, we’d be reflecting on the technical information that we’d covered during the day and always, I’d hear that “Yes, but why?” question repeated. The insatiable curiosity and desire to take a new knowledge and apply it to a specific situation were ever present.
Let’s take a look at Colin’s behaviour and what he does, that makes him successful. This is broken down into the Five Success Principles that I’ve spoken about before, particularly in Episode 66 of the InnovaBuzz podcast.
- First Success Principle is Know your Outcome
- Resene has a clear vision of producing the highest quality products in the New Zealand paint market with a company dynamic of continuous improvement and Colin certainly embodies that. In working on specific projects, Colin would focus on solving a particular practical problem, such as paint adhesion to concrete or galvanized iron or on filling a specific need, such as fulfilling a customer desire for colour in painting. He would then seek to understand both the underlying causes of the problem and the possibilities of products that might provide the solution, and seek to understand the fundamentals of how those products worked.
- He is driven to deliver the best solution for the customer and also deliver it quickly – first to market.
- Second Success Principle is Take Massive Action
- Being first and being a leader is definitely part of Colin’s make-up – refer the dog-sled analogy.
- One thing he said in the interview we did, in answer to advice on leadership, was “Dare to be different.” That has been a trademark of his career at Resene and proved very effective for him.
- Colin’s insatiable curiosity, his need to know why things behave as they do, did not prevent him from taking action – even when things were not fully understood, taking action and testing a hypothesis was quickly undertaken.
- Third Success Principle is Calibrate your Progress
- As a scientist, Colin’s natural instinct is to conduct experiments, measure the outcomes and work out next steps from there. A major factor in his success, has in my opinion, been the willingness to get products into the hands of customers quickly and to gather feedback and improve from there. In this calibration of progress, Colin used his curiosity to understand the fundamentals to help guide next steps and actions to further both the understanding and progress towards the outcome.
- Fourth Success Principle is Behavioural Flexibility
- Colin is a driver of change, but also displayed great flexibility in situations like when low Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) legislation was introduced for paints – legislation, that much of the industry thought unreasonable. Colin and Resene decided that this change was inevitable and represented both a challenge (which Colin loves!) and an opportunity to be first to market with a complete range of Low VOC or even Zero VOC paints.
- Fifth Success Principle is the Mindset of Excellence
- I’ve already spoken about Colin’s “play to win” attitude, his love of a challenge, his desire to be always improving and not rest on past achievements – all attributes displaying the mindset of excellence.
One of Colin’s strongest values is Joy – joy in everything you do. He’s built a team around him at Resene, and an extended team of support people from suppliers and partner organisations with three key attributes – imagination (about what could be), curiosity and enthusiasm.
Five Tips from our Master – Colin Gooch
What would Colin Gooch do?
- Cultivate an insatiable curiosity combined with an image of what could be – always ask why and always challenge yourself and any assumptions made.
- Treat challenges that are outside your control as opportunities – opportunities to develop innovative products and be first to market with those products.
- If you don’t enjoy what you do – change what you do! Enthusiasm is one of the keys to success.
- Avoid becoming complacent, don’t rest on your laurels. Always be improving to keep ahead of the competition (stay the lead dog!). When you are ahead is still the time to keep improving.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously (if you watch the whole Youtube video, you’ll get what I mean!)
- Resene Paints
- Colin Presenting at the Resene Paints Annual Dinner
- Colin on the early days at Resene
- Colin’s LinkedIn profile