For those of you who haven’t heard of Richard Branson before, he is an exceptional entrepreneur and the founder of the Virgin group of companies. Business life for Richard Branson started at the age of 17 when he started to publish a magazine Student. He aimed high: he chased down Mick Jagger, John Lennon and the likes to get interviews, he phoned major companies to sell advertisements, and he targeted a nationwide audience. It took a year or so to take off, but he succeeded. Student magazine eventually lead to a music record mail ordering business, music shops, a studio and eventually the Virgin Music record label.
Richard did not stop there, Virgin Music has reinvented itself over and over. At first is was a record label with a hippy image (Mike Oldfield‘s Tubular Bells was the big breakthrough), but after signing the Sex Pistols this image changed. After this Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Sting, Janet Jackson, The Rolling Stones and many many others were signed by Virgin. In the meantime though Richard got a bit “bored” as he lost the challenge in the game of contracting another pop group. So he started an airline to compete against British Airways. To cut a long story short, he succeeded in running it successful, despite the dirty tricks from BA and despite the fact that he “lost” Virgin Music in the process. Nowadays, Virgin has a wide variety of companies, and they target markets where customers are getting a raw deal, or where there is a market dominance by one or two players.
Last week I finished his autobiography Losing My Virginity. It’s a recommended read, his story is a remarkable one, that I find very inspirational. In his book Richard tells about his life from the very start, including the successes, the screw-ups, the record attempts, his marriages, having children, losing a child, buying an island, battling BA and banks and so on.
My interest in life comes from …
Richard repeats several times that his life’s motto is to “Live life to the full”. Somewhere in the book, when he describes an argument between some of the key people at Virgin he states the following: “My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them.”. This is true for him from a business perspective (starting in a business and competing heads-on with BA or Coca Cola definitely comply to that), but also from a personal perspective (doing several record attempts at crossing the Atlantic by boat and balloon).
The record attempts are dangerous, and several times Richard thought he was going to die in the attempt. Becoming a father did not stop him in doing these record attempts, however he started writing goodbye notes to his wife and children as if he was about to die. Thinking you are about to die, or preparing yourself for the possibility are very emotional experiences. They make you focus on what’s important, and to what legacy you want to leave. As an exercise this is very powerful, and you don’t need the record attempts to do the exercise. Visualizing your funeral, or writing your will or writing a goodbye note to your spouse and children will focus you on what’s important.
Fun is at the core of …
If you read the book, you’ll find that Richard Branson works a lot! You can just imagine him being at the phone for hours and hours, no matter what location he is in. Apparently he misses out on lots of fun activities while he does that. However in the book there’s a passage where he describes his feelings about work. This is just after he sold Virgin Music to EMI:
“Times had changed and we had 500 million pounds in the bank. But I didn’t believe in leaving it there. At this point I could of course have retired and concentrated my energies on learning how to paint water colours or how to beat my mum at golf. People asked me: ‘Why don’t you have some fun now?’ but they were missing the point. As far as I was concerned, this was fun. Fun is at the core of the way I like to do business and it has been key to everything I’ve done from the outset. More than any other element, fun is the secret of Virgin’s success.”
And later in an interview in a magazine I found the following quote:
“Look, if you can indulge in your passion, life will be far more interesting than if you’re just working. You’ll work harder at it, and you’ll know more about it, but first you must go out and educate yourself on whatever it is that you’ve decided to do, know more about kite surfing than anyone else. That’s where the work comes in, but if you’re doing things you’re passionate about, that will come naturally.”
This is so true. Find your passion and indulge in it. Make the most of it, and you will be able to earn a living doing it. You may not see it right away, but I believe this to be true.
Lists, lists and some more lists
Running a single company is a challenge, running a group of companies might look like an unachievable challenge (remember: Richard likes it that way). To get through the day, you got to have a productivity system, right? As with most successful systems, Richard Branson’s system is simple. He takes notes in a standard notebook, and writes everything down. He states that he worked his way through a bookcase full of them. And there’s this quote in his book as well:
“I have always lived my life by making lists: lists of people to call, lists of ideas, lists of companies to start, lists of people who can make things happen. Each day I work through these lists and it is that sequence of calls that propels me forward.”
Simply lists. That’s what it all boils down to, well including the discipline to work through them of course. But that’s where the passion comes in again, work on the right stuff, and working through the lists gets fun! And basically GTD is all about lists as well.
Hmm, a list of companies to start, hadn’t thought of that one before…