What I Learnt from Chairing Today’s Chat with Sir Richard Branson

What an incredible morning.


This morning I had the absolute honour of chairing a discussion about disruption and intrapreneurship for The Virgin Way Co-Lab Australia, with an incredible line-up of speakers including none other than Sir Richard Branson. There will be a lot of exciting things happening in the next few days but, in the meantime, here’s a taster of what everyone had to say.


Sir Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin

Listen to your staff’s ideas or risk them leaving

I often find, particularly when I was working hands-on working companies that, talking to staff, the thing that upset them most was when they came up with a disruptive idea and nobody would listen. And quite often they would leave the company because of it. In order to continue to disrupt the marketplace we need every single person… coming up with disruptive ideas and being heard and we need management to be able to take those ideas on board and put them into action if they’re good ideas.”


Dominic Price, Head of R&D Program Management, Atlassian

It’s not disruption unless you’re solving a problem for someone in particular

“A lot of people get carried away about the buzzwords of smart, disruption and innovation and frankly when I hear those in with collaboration and a few other words, I start to fall asleep because I hear them every day and they don’t actually mean anything. So when I think about ‘smart’, its kind of simple – ‘are you solving a problem?’ So what I’ve seen in my lifetime, in a lot of organisations, is people trying to do disruption, trying to do something different, for absolutely no reason whatsoever. So they spend hours and hours creating a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist, call it disruption and then get really pissed off when no one buys it. The smart part for me is, is there a problem you’re solving? Is there something you’ve identified either as a problem or as an opportunity? And then who are you solving it for? If you don’t know who that person is, not necessarily the individual but the persona of who you’re solving for, you’re likely going to build the wrong thing.”


Holly Ransom, CEO, Emergent

Don’t just know the problem and the customer – really understand them

“I was working in Kenya, building a microfinance project over there. When we arrived in the slums we’d been told that… there was about a 2.5km walk to get the closest source of fresh water. And this particular day we were coming from a different part of the slum and about 400m from where we teach every afternoon we stumbled upon what looked like a brand spanking new well. And so in a Christopher Columbus moment, embarrassingly, I kind of thought I’d discovered something and I went, ‘Hey, isn’t that a well?’ And the interpreter came back ‘Yeh’. And I was like, ‘Is the well broken?’ ‘No.’

I said ‘Why aren’t we drinking from that well?’ And the answer came back, ‘That well is built on ancient battlegrounds and there’s bad spirits in the ground so we can’t drink the water from that well or we’ll get bad spirits in us and die.’ Don’t get me wrong, if I had a million guesses as to why we weren’t drinking water from that well, I never would have guessed that was why… It’s that importance of understanding of who your customer is, or who you’re seeking to serve, and engaging them with the process is absolutely key.”


Jessica Timmins, Interim CEO, AIME

Before you create bigger change, you need to be comfortable with breaking little rules

“A couple of weeks ago we created a new role called the Fresh Prince or Princess of Fundraising. And we went through our whole standard recruitment process and got through to the morning of the panel interviews and… our founder Jack walked in and he said ‘Okay, we’re throwing the process out the window. I’ve got one question to ask them, leave it with me.’ And in that moment you feel really anxious and terrified, you’re like ‘What’s the question? We have this whole process for a reason, why are we doing this?’ But because we’re comfortable [outside the normal comfort zone] we know he is doing it for a reason, we’re going to see a better out come if you go with him on it. So you know the first candidate came in, he said, ‘Sell me something.’ That’s all he said. The first candidate didn’t really say anything at all. The second candidate talked really deeply about the theory of marketing and sales but didn’t actually answer the question. The final candidate picked her old ratty water bottle in front of her and convinced us that the water inside it had been on this remarkable journey. You know which one got the role. That learning from that moment was just honing in on what’s the one make or break question that’s going to make that role [in an interview]. That’s going to filter right back through our recruitment system and it only happens because we’re comfortable throwing out the rule book every now and again.”

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