If you want to be inspired to innovate, then high-achieving social entrepreneur, change agent and marketing-to-millennials specialist Holly Ransom is just the person to do that, and the “stayers” who belied the 4:45– 5:40 PM “graveyard shift” – Ransom’s words – at the SMSF Association conference yesterday afternoon certainly got a high-energy and inspirational tour through the modern innovation culture.

Ransom, the holder of law and economics degrees and CEO of Emergent Solutions, a company specialising in high performance intergenerational engagement and leadership, is certainly a dynamo. In 2012, she became the world’s youngest ever President of a Rotary Club and was named one of Australia’s 100 Most Influential Women by Westpac and the AFR.

In 2016, Ransom was appointed to Co-Chair of the United Nations Global Coalition of Young Women Entrepreneurs and became the youngest ever female Director of an AFL club with her appointment to the board of the Port Adelaide Football Club.

Ransom came out firing, pointing out to the SMSF Association delegates that their very success – both in building their professional body and in fostering a sector of the superannuation industry that holds $650 billion in assets – had actually brought them to a dangerous place: the point where it’s possible to be “trapped in the mindset of success.”

Ransom calls this a “patent office moment,” referring to the famous quote attributed to Charles Holland Duell, the Commissioner of the US Patent Office in 1899, to whom is attributed the famous utterance, “everything that can be invented has been invented.”

When you’re thinking like that, she said, it is easy to be seduced into thinking, “we’re doing this the best it can be done.”

Which is fatal.

LEGO fell victim to this, in the late 1990s, said Ransom. After dominating the toy market for almost six decades, six years of slowing sales and falling profits culminated in a US$240 million loss in 2003.

What had happened was that LEGO had gone on a binge of innovation, adding on LEGO-branded electronics, amusement parks, interactive video games, jewellery, education centres, and alliances with the Harry Potter franchise and the Star Wars movies.

LEGO solved its problem by going back to its core vision. It didn’t stop innovating, but any innovation had to prove to be consistent with the products.

In short, LEGO reality-checked – which Ransom said was very difficult to do.

It got back to its “why.”

“What does our product do? That’s the way that business thinks,” said Ransom. “It’s better to think of, ‘How does it add value.’ It’s even better to think of ‘Why does this matter?’”

The “why” flicks on the limbic system – it’s what gets people out of bed in the morning. Whatever you’re doing, you’ve got to give people a ‘why’ – they have to be able to touch, see and feel the why.”

Ransom talked of contacting former Australian Army chief David Morrison, because she was so impressed by his efforts to build gender equality, diversity and inclusion into the Australian Army.

“He tripled the number of women in leadership roles in the army. I went to an army base to have lunch with him, and I asked him, ‘what was the single biggest thing that helped you to bring this about?’ He answered, ‘I made sure every single person my organisation could see my why in their why.’

That’s how you drive engagement, said Ransom – leading with ‘why.’

The major problem is, that each person has a ‘why’ hurdle – they are scared of change, or want to protect their role.

“You need to invite opinion, involvement and commitment. You’ve got to create the space that people need to push out of their comfort zone, and move into their courage zone. Ideas need traction in the organisation before they can get traction in the marketplace,” she said.

It gets back to the “patent office moment,” she said. “The most important question you can ask is, ‘where next?’ If you’re not asking that, you have a problem.”

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