Doing the impossible

9 06 2012


Richard Branson arrives at the British Grand Prix
photo credit: Richard Smith, licensed under Creative Commons.

“Life is a helluva lot more fun if you say yes rather than no”

My step-son and his friend have produced a musical. They wrote it, set it to music, choreographed it, sold tickets and put it on for a season in a theatre. They are 22 years old. The son of a friend of mine made a movie – full length. He is 18. Clearly no-one told these boys that this was impossible.

You might say this is the up-side of Gen Y. They see the world as full of possibilities, they understand technology and how it can be used to overcome the barriers that stop others. And luckily, they haven’t been taught what is not possible and told not to strive for the impossible.

But there have always been people who saw the opportunity instead of the barriers, took the risks, aimed for the giant goals instead of the small ones, did things that seem to be impossible, but somehow achieved them anyway.

Which brings me to Richard Branson.

Now admittedly, it was the swinging sixties in England, when youth culture suddenly took off and opportunities that didn’t really exist in the staid, respectable and conservative 1950s suddenly opened up. Youth became a market – a very lucrative market, and a market that wasn’t already dominated by established labels.

But still… what made a dyslexic student with poor grades think he could start a magazine at age 16? Or a mail-order record company at 20? Or a record company at 22?

“You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.”

“Although my spelling is still sometimes poor, I have managed to overcome the worst of my difficulties through training myself to concentrate.”

“My biggest motivation? Just to keep challenging myself. I see life almost like one long university education that I never had – every day I’m learning something new.”

And who in their right minds thinks they’ll start an international airline to compete with the likes of British Airways and Qantas?

picture credit Richard Humphrey, licensed under Creative Commons

“What does the name Virgin mean? We are a company that likes to take on the giants. In too many businesses, these giants have had things their own way. We are going to have fun competing with them.”

“I’ve had great fun turning quite a lot of different industries on their head and making sure those industries will never be the same again, because Virgin went in and took them on.”

Yes, the answer is Richard Branson, now the 4th richest man in the UK and worth an estimated $4.2billion US. The man who brought us The Sex Pistols (arguably better known for their on-stage antics and off-stage murders than their music, although God Save the Queen has had a bit of a revival in this Jubilee year by those who want to be seen as alternative and retro at the same time) and Culture Club with the androgynous Boy George.

And along the way he has attempted world-record balloon flights around the world, bought an island, socialised with Princess Di, worked with nelson Mandela on peace projects, and been photographed in all sorts of PR stunts.

And generally, it would seem, had a lot of fun.

“Above all, you want to create something you are proud of. That’s always been my philosophy of business. I can honestly say that I have never gone into any business purely to make money. If that is the sole motive, then I believe you are better off doing nothing.”

Have all his ventures been successes? Probably not, although if you believe the hype, you wouldn’t know it.

“I am prepared to try anything once.”

“My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them.”

“You never know with these things when you’re trying something new what can happen. This is all experimental.”

“We’d love to be involved with the creation of something very special, something quite large and something quite exciting.”

Reading Branson’s autobiography, various quotes and articles that have been written about him, there are a couple of strong themes that come through.

1. fun – he does all this because he enjoys it
2. risk-taking, almost fearlessness in the business sense
3. barriers, challenges and competitors are seen as exciting, not intimidating

“My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them…from the perspective of wanting to live life to the full, I felt that I had to attempt it.”

Your life is the result of the decisions you make. If you aren’t happy with the life you have, then make some other decisions. You are limited only by yourself.

That’s what Gen Y knows.

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9 06 2012
Steve Jobs’ 11 Rules of Success « Mud Map to Life in the Modern Age

[…] in some more salient life lessons for the business world? Try…. Doing the Impossible – the Richard Branson story The Parable of the Flying Frog Swimming with Sharks Share […]

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