Disrupt or be Disrupted: Key takeaways from Virgin Disruptors 2016.


What happens when you get world leading disruptive thinkers in a room and ask them to share their cutting edge insights? You get an action-packed, ideas-filled and high-octane energy experience also known as Virgin Disruptors. Check out the highlight reel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAm--WBBDBo&sns=tw

I was fortunate to be asked to MC and moderate the event- acting as chief navigator and forensic questioner as our 600-strong crowd sought to reach a conclusion on the event's overarching question: Are disruptors born or made? With the day's proceedings examining this from four perspectives: purpose, planet, people and performance.

While it's near impossible to summarise the incredible breadth and depth of content covered by all of our speakers over the course of the day, I did want to share the three big themes of the day that I came away thinking about:

1) The magic happens outside of your comfort zone-

Sir Richard Branson is 66 this year and (extraordinarily) has had a brush with death for every year of his life. While most would say that's 66 too many, Richard believes it’s key to his success. Richard spoke at length in our opening session about the importance of continually putting yourself outside of your comfort zone in order to challenge yourself to achieve your true potential.

Building on this, Andy Walshe (Head of High Performance at Red Bull) spoke about the work his team does to develop athletes’ capacity to thrive in the face of adversity. His team work continually put their world champion athletes in situations of high perceived threat (low actual threat) in order to build the threshold and tolerance of the athletes when faced with real pressure/threat. For example, he put a whole raft of their squad in a dark room with an enormous number of giant pythons and required them to make it from one side of the room to the other- the perceived threat might be high but the actual threat was low. In building resilience in the face of perceived threat, the athletes dramatically enhanced their ability to do it in the face of actual threat. Andy spoke at length about neuroplasticity and the encouraging results of their research- while people can start with a variety of risk/threat tolerances and resilience levels, all their studies show this competency can be built in anyone who’s prepared to do the work.

Food for thought: when was the last time you stepped outside your comfort zone?

2) Find the 80%, then put it live and let the wisdom of the crowd tell you if it works or not-

This was the comment from Dom Price, Atlassian's Head of R&D, who stressed the importance of disrupting from within in order to avoid being disrupted. Dom was one of number of speakers that talked about the importance of inviting external feedback and engagement from relative stakeholders (staff, customers etc) as early in the process as possible. To quote Pete Smith, the CEO of Blokchain “if your code doesn’t embarrass you when you first release it, you’ve waited too long”. Over the course of the event, it was mentioned several times that a failure to “live-test” ideas and to open concepts up to constructive feedback early was at the root of peoples' biggest missteps and failings.

It takes leaders with growth mindset to be open to operating with such an open and rapid feedback loop but all the best disruptors credit this approach with their success. They’re also of the belief that learning, insight and value can come from anywhere and anyone- not just people who have deep subject matter experience in their relevant area or discipline.

Food for thought: how often do you seek feedback and input (particularly for an idea or project that's not wholly complete)? And how widely do you seek it?

3) You might want it, but do you deeply understand what's stopping you from getting it?

Matt Walleart, the head of Microsoft’s growth ventures spoke about the fact that we can often fail to understand that our inability to produce a result stems from an inability to understand and overcome inhibiting behavioural pressures. He sighted the example of gender pay inequity, saying it’s not a case of whether women want to get paid more (who doesn't?!), but 'asking' (and several stages of the process of asking) serve as inhibiting pressures. He believes if we want to truly drive change, we need to have a deep understanding of understanding inhibiting and encouraging behavioural pressures. So Matt's team developed a start-up (called GetRaised) to address this inhibiting behaviour, that allowed women to input some basic information that would then output for them not only the amount they should be asking for but also generated the letter they could provide to their boss. 70% of the people that used GetRaised’s services got a raise and the company has helped women earn $2.3 billion more!

Matt made the point that so often we want to do the right thing or we want to do something different to our present reality but inhibiting pressures prevent us from making it happen.

Food for thought: is there a result in your personal or professional life that you haven't been able to attain? What inhibiting pressures might be in the way and how could you address them?

** Thanks to Sir Richard Branson and the team at Virgin for having me to host this remarkable day, and to all our phenomenal speakers for making Virgin Disruptors 2016 one of the most content-rich and engaging programs I've ever been involved with.