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After speaking with our group, Branson sat on a panel with industry experts to talk about the future of business. As everyone around him was filling the air with business buzzwords and talking about complex ideas for mapping out our future, Branson was saying things like: “Screw it, just get on and do it.” Which was closely followed by: “Why can’t we mine asteroids?”
As I looked up at that panel, I realized that the person who sounded the most simplistic was also the only one who was a billionaire. Which prompted me to wonder, “What’s the difference between Branson and everyone else in the room?”
Here’s what I think makes all the difference:
Branson doesn’t merely say things like, “Screw it, just get on and do it.” He actually lives his life that way. He drops out of school and starts a business. He signs the Sex Pistols to his record label when everyone else says they are too controversial. He charters a plane when he doesn’t have the money.
When everyone else balks or comes up with a good reason for why the time isn’t right, Branson gets started.
Branson is an extreme example, but we could all learn something from his approach.
If you want to summarize the habits of successful people into one phrase, it’s this: successful people start before they feel ready.
If there was ever someone who embodied the idea of starting before they felt ready to do so, it’s Branson. The very name of his business empire, Virgin, was chosen because when Branson and his partners started they were “virgins” when it came to business.
Branson has started so many businesses, ventures, charities, and expeditions that it’s simply not possible for him to have felt prepared, qualified, and ready to start all of them. In fact, it’s unlikely that he was qualified or prepared to start any of them. He had never flown a plane and didn’t know anything about the engineering of planes, but he started an airline company anyway.
If you’re working on something important, then you’ll never feel ready. A side effect of doing challenging work is that you’re pulled by excitement and pushed by confusion at the same time.
You’re bound to feel uncertain, unprepared, and unqualified. But let me assure you of this: what you have right now is enough. You can plan, delay, and revise all you want, but trust me, what you have now is enough to start.
It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to start a business, lose weight, write a book, or achieve any number of goals… who you are, what you have, and what you know right now is good enough to get going.
We all start in the same place: no money, no resources, no contacts, no experience. The difference is that some people — the winners — choose to start anyway.
1. No matter how busy you are, give others the time of day they deserve.
During the official press conference in Detroit with the CEOs of Virgin Atlantic, Delta, Wayne County Airport, and the Mayor of Detroit, a young woman raised her hand, introduced herself as an entrepreneur, and asked her question, Cramer says. “Sir Richard didn’t just answer it — but also invited her to tell him more about his business, giving her the opportunity to pitch it to the room of top-tier journalists and business owners.”
This level of “genuine interest in startup businesses, although initially startling,” was incredibly insightful into how Branson has earned the respect and admiration of so many people, she says.
“It wasn’t surprising that the woman, content with the response, followed with ‘I just want to say I think you’re an amazing person.'”
2. Find solutions to problems. It can help you change the world.
It’s no secret that Branson is a big advocate of businesses that solve problems, Cramer says. “After all, that’s how Virgin Atlantic was born: a chartered flight to satisfy the disgruntled customers of a flight, the last of the day that had been cancelled.”
She says Branson passionately explained: “You might as well stick your neck out and do something to make people’s lives better!”
“The journey of an entrepreneur is a bumpy one at best, and if you’re going to stick with it and see your business through to success then it better go some way to make the world, in some tiny way, a better place,” Cramer says. “Branson’s emphasis on entrepreneurialism as a means for social impact shed light on something far greater in his motivations: a respectable and influential approach to what we should be creating in the world we live in.”
3. Know yourself, your strengths, and your weaknesses.
“Having had the opportunity to meet those who manage a number of the Virgin businesses, it was clear that Sir Richard is good at concentrating on his strengths and employing the best talent to fulfill the other roles,” she explains.
“He told us to become aware of what we’re good at — likely coming up with new ideas — and stressed the value of handing over the general management of the business to have the headspace to innovate,” Cramer recalls.
Of course, she says, a degree of groundwork needs to be done initially, “but it felt worth bearing in mind that we should be on the lookout for someone with the skills to manage our business day-to-day better than we ever could, ultimately giving us the time to dream of the future without being tied down by the daily challenges.”
4. Ask for the things you want — and give others what they ask for, when you can.
“We were sitting in the audience of the ‘Ain’t Too Proud to Pitch’ event, which brought together over 500 people and businesses — four of which were pitching their ideas to a panel of famous judges,” she explains. “One of the businesses was called Merit. It’s a Detroit-branded clothing company that contributes 20% of its profits to college scholarships for Detroit students, and helps ensure that they don’t drop out.
“In the middle of their pitch they brought on stage a girl who was part of their program and she half-jokingly said that she wanted to visit London,” Cramer says. “Branson immediately said, ‘You’ve got two tickets to London.'”
“It taught me that when you want something, ask for it. And Branson showed that he can, and will, help wherever he can. And when he did, it became clear that he is impeccably in-tune with who he is and how he is perceived. In doing this he is able to play to his strengths with the dexterity and talent of an orchestral conductor: not only creating a thing of beauty but also winning the love and applause of the crowds.”