Super funds need to find their ‘beautiful question’ and let it drive their strategy, or else they’ll join a litany of businesses on the scrapheap of history, a strategy expert warned.

Meeting best-practice guidelines has been the primary driver of strategy in the superannuation sector for years, but simply copying others in the same industry is not sufficient in an increasingly complex world, warned Conversant global partner and regional boss Colin Pidd. Conversant is a strategy consultancy to clients such as Australia Post, National Australia Bank and the State Government of Victoria.

“To sit in confusion and sit in complexity with colleagues, to really start to see what’s emerging and what the patterns are, is significant in terms of thinking strategically,” Pidd said. “That’s a very interesting challenge, because you then start thinking about the difference between continuous improvement and innovation.”

He pointed to Coca-Cola as one of the first companies to have their strategy powered by a beautiful question. At the turn of the 20th century, the strategic question the iconic organisation asked itself was: ‘How do we get Coke within an arm’s length of desire?’

“That’s a brilliant question, because from that question came cans, bottles, bar fridges, vending machines. If you start thinking about what is required for that be true, that is an amazing question.”

Most organisations get excited about small changes they think are innovative and strategic but often the changes they make do no more than please the current customer. Blockbuster, Kodak and Nokia are well-known examples of companies that have done this.

“It’s very easy in technically savvy businesses – and superannuation is technically savvy – to get caught up in that savviness,” Pidd said.

He added that, to prosper, super funds need to go beyond logic when putting themselves into customers’ shoes, as “superannuation has got nothing to do with money; it’s all to do with fears and dreams”.

“Rather than thinking, ‘What is our strategy?’ Super funds need to be prepared to sit and think, ‘What is our beautiful question?’ ”

Pidd spoke to Investment Magazine ahead of the Conference of Major Superannuation Funds, taking place on the Gold Coast, March 22-24, 2017, where he delivered a keynote titled, ‘So You Think You’re Strategic?’

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