Holly Ransom on all things disruptive

Holly Ransom is a serial overachiever. At 26, she is CEO of Emergent, a company specialising in high performance intergenerational engagement, chaired the G20 Youth Summit in 2014 and was MC for the sixth Virgin Disruptors event. And she’s only just getting started.

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What you can learn by reading this article:

  • Why you shouldn’t wait to start disrupting
  • Why you should reframe failure
  • Why you should view disruption as a journey, not a destination

On why there’s never a right time to disrupt

One of the questions the first panel of the day got their teeth into is whether there’s a right time to disrupt. Ransom is of the opinion that a lot of people are wrongly waiting for things to fall into place, referring to it as “a mirage of readiness”.

“You’ve got to get out there and just start… if you’re waiting for that magical point, you’re holding on too long. Start small, even at a micro-level,” she says.

Starting out might seem daunting but from experience Ransom has found that it’s key to surround yourself with the right people. Not just those who will challenge ideas and ways of thinking, but a supportive tribe who are doing similar things and whose encouragement will push you further.

Another question covered in the morning session was whether disruptors are born or can be made. Ransom is firmly in the camp of the latter. Once you understand that “you’re born with innate characteristics that can make you have a great proclivity to be a disruptor” and “you’re prepared to do the work” then you’ll put and find yourself in positions where you’ll flourish.

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On the fear of failing to disrupt

Many start-up and business owners may not get going simply because they’re scared of failing or getting it wrong.

In the last session of the day, Dr Andy Walshe, head of performance at Red Bull, spoke a lot about how we reframe things, or as Ransom puts it reflecting on his talk, “how we view a threat as a challenge and in that challenge we see an opportunity”. She argues this principle should apply to how failure is addressed.

“One of the best things I did a few years ago was I reframed what failure meant. Failure [now] means for me that I fail when I stop trying. It doesn’t matter how many mistakes there are, as long as I pick myself up and keep going, then I haven’t failed.”

Ransom adds that it’s essential that “you hack your way around whatever you do to in order to build your comfort with being uncomfortable”. Working and leading in this age and period of disruptive change is not linear and so it’s critical that you have the conditions to be able to persevere and keep going.

On being a female business leader

Being a woman in business can present unique challenges that perhaps male counterparts won’t come across, says Ransom, but, just like starting out, having the right people around helps. They can act as a “support network and sounding board”.

The business case for increased diversity has already been made, she adds, but what needs to happen next is that more needs to be done to make an emotional connection.

“There’s an interesting difference between male CEOs who have daughters and those that don’t. Those that do seem to have more of direct appreciation of the barriers and challenges she’ll face.”

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On disrupting male-dominated industries

Earlier this year, Ransom was appointed to the board of the Australian Football Club, Port Adelaide, becoming the youngest ever female director in the sport. She’s extremely passionate about growing the game and how this could have an influence further afield.

“If you move that sport, you can move the country – that’s how important it is culturally. So there’s a lot of symbolic significance in increased female representation on boards and in management [in AFL], as much as there is in participation.

“For me, one of metrics of my success, as a board director, will be I have failed if I haven’t created the opportunities for more women to be involved in leadership.”

On her most disruptive moment

Ransom says that the point of her short career so far that she’s most proud of is “disrupting [her] way to the table and getting a seat at every single meeting in that G20 calendar year” as Youth Summit chair in 2014. It was the first summit to secure its policy demands.

“When you look at that landscape, that’s something where young people had never been able to successfully influence world leaders’ agenda before.”

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On why being a disruptor isn’t a single story

Whether you attended the Disruptors event, streamed it from your office or home or are catching up through these articles, taking inspiration is not just a case of having an idea, going away and applying it to your business next week or month and then forgetting about it. Disruption is about having a continual ability to find opportunities, to add value and shake the world up, says Ransom.

“Disruption is definitely a journey and not a destination. Each and every one of us, in order to make the planet a better place, needs to see our lives as [part of] that journey of disrupting for the greater good.”

If you joined us in London and would like to share your highlights and how you've been inspired to make a change in your world, drop us an email on social.media@virgin.com with the subject Virgin Disruptors 2016.

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