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Richard Branson on Embracing Failure

Richard Branson on embracing fear in business.

Richard Branson

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Q: I have always been fearless, and gone after everything I wanted. I launched a business selling my designs a few years ago, and it succeeded, but I had to close it due to the recession. Now, having just earned a master’s degree, I have decided to launch my own design firm rather than look for a job, and for the first time in my life I find that I am paralysed with fear. How can I face down this fear in order to go after my dreams?

Fear is something everyone must learn to cope with when tackling life’s challenges, but this is especially important for entrepreneurs, who are likely to face many hard choices in the process of getting a business off the ground. And in the early stages of running a new enterprise, the way you handle pressure can often make the difference in whether it survives.

Making tough decisions

You may need to make some tough calls. During Virgin’s early years, one difficult decision we had to make involved Virgin Records, which at one point was in desperate need of cash to sign bigger artists.

My partners, Nik Powell and Simon Draper, were split on what to do: Nik wanted to conserve our resources and slowly collect money through our retail operations; Simon wanted to invest heavily in Virgin Records, betting on the notion that we could find the next big artists that way. We needed quick growth, so I took the riskier gamble, following Simon’s advice over Nik’s. It turned out to be the right decision, but it took a lot of courage – and not just from me, but everyone on staff.

I’ve always found that the first step in overcoming fear is figuring out exactly what you’re afraid of. In your case, I wonder: Is your anxiety a reflection of doubts about your business plan? Or is it rooted in your experience with your previous venture?

Face your fears

If it is the former, and you are having doubts about your idea, why not take your concerns to a key friend or mentor and carefully run through your business plan?

Talking everything through with a trusted confidant, from your business’ unique selling points to how it will stand out among competitors, is a good way to help calm fears and give you some perspective and confidence. Sometimes even the simple act of discussing your plan will highlight things you’re unsure about – often, small, unresolved issues can be at the root of an entrepreneur’s anxieties.

But if your previous venture’s end is what is making you so hesitant, try to take some comfort in the fact that most entrepreneurs fail when they launch their first businesses. Failing doesn’t mean that you’re not cut out to run your own business.

In fact, many venture capital investors evaluate potential partners on how they reacted to a failed business, seeing it as a test of character, rather than a mark against them. The key to bouncing back is to learn whatever lessons you can from the experience so that you can avoid making the same mistakes in the next launch. This will help you to overcome your fear, take a leap of faith and try again.

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Are You a Terrible Leader? Here are the Signs

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Learn from the experience

The experience of launching one of your first businesses reminds me of the adventures and challenges I have embarked on over the years to promote Virgin and put our businesses on the map. There were countless times during our record-breaking hot-air balloon trips when I wondered whether we were going to make it back down to earth alive. But every time, I learned lessons from making mistakes during previous trips and was able to adapt.

Another example: A few years ago I was helping to launch Virgin America’s new route from San Francisco to Las Vegas – and upon arriving at our casino hotel, I was taken to the top floor, given a harness and told I was going to jump off the side of the building.

It was dark and windy, and I knew I should go back inside and tell everyone we needed to postpone the jump. Instead, I was persuaded to go through with it. The wind was up, and within seconds I found myself banging down the side of the building, ripping my trousers and bruising my backside.

It was an extremely painful lesson, learned the hard way. But learning from mistakes (and a combination of good fortune and adrenalin) is what has gotten me through on many occasions.

Get back on the horse

Overcoming fear is not necessarily as easy as jumping off a building, but it might be easier than what you’ve done: Watching a business fail after putting your heart and soul into trying to make it succeed. But don’t be too hard on yourself.

Starting a new enterprise from scratch and gathering the nerve to take risks that are similar to those you took last time can be daunting for any entrepreneur. Just remember that picking yourself up from a failed business in order to try again is the bravest choice you can make.

Have you had a business fail? What did you learn from the experience? Let us know in the comment section below…

Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. He is the author of "Business Stripped Bare: Adventures of a Global Entrepreneur."

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Salome

    Jan 15, 2014 at 09:45

    I failed. And I learnt a lot from that experience. To keep it short: If
    it is not your ‘passion’, leave it. If you don’t have the knowledge,
    ‘get it’, if you only know one side of the business and leave the rest
    entirely up to the other partner, ‘get to know it’! It took me a long
    time to ‘get over it’ after, but I brushed myself off, started
    ‘studying’ (after I learnt where my shortfalls lie) and got the guts to
    start again. I have a LOT of studying to still do, but you’ve got to
    start somewhere! You only ‘fail’, when you give up. Never give up! Start
    again!

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Leading

Why Elon Musk’s Vision Should Change Your Business

If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward, there’s no sitting on the fence, its one or the other.

Craig Johnston

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It’s about the big picture

Elon Musk is the kind of guy who probably divides the room wherever he goes; in the same way that people either prefer Superman or Batman, soccer or rugby, maybe summer or winter. There’s no sitting on the fence. It’s one or the other. You either like Elon Musk or you don’t. But this article is not about him, its about you and how you are leading your business.

Love him or hate him, I don’t believe any business leader can get away from the fact that Elon Musk, possibly more than any other contemporary entrepreneur, is going to have an influence over your business. And if he doesn’t, he should, not as an individual as much as an archetype.

In the early 2000s another famous South African born entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth was the first South African to become a space tourist. We were all proud, and asked ourselves what we would do if we had billions of Rands… how would you spend it? Mark’s rigorous preparation and orbit in space riveted the nation, from coffee break conversations to television documentaries and Grade 5 school projects. Everyone was talking about it. Mark’s trip was ultimately the fulfilment of one man’s personal ambition, a dream long-held and finally fulfilled.

Related: What Elon Musk Can Teach You About Getting Funding for Your Start-up

Aligning the planets

Elon Musk seems to be a different kind of dreamer. He does not only dream for himself, he dreams for humanity and that is rare. It is also why I think that his vision is something that every business leader should take note of. Look at any Start-up:101 Pitch Deck and you’ll likely see Guy Kawasaki’s famous 10, 20, 30 format and the first slide trying to answer the question, “What problem are you solving?”

Imagine setting yourself the problem of transitioning humanity into becoming a “multi-planetary species”, as Musk famously declared in a 2017 TED interview, and if that’s not enough, you are also working to revolutionise transport and save the environment through clean energy. In my view, Elon Musk (flawed as he may be) represents, two essential qualities that are absolutely indispensable for leaders and businesses of the future: Hope and Vision.

The lever that Musk has chosen to crank open the future, restore hope and unlock his vision, is technology. Misunderstood and much maligned, technology; like Musk, also instantly divides a room.

Technophiles on the one side, technophobes on the other and you must choose. You cannot half use technology, you either opt in or you opt out. The only choice is whether you will use technology responsibly or not. This is no small question and something that many business leaders (including Musk) have shown some commitment to by adding their support to organisations such as the Future of Life Institute.

Ships are not built to stay in the harbour

Technology is agnostic, it is neither good or bad. It’s influence lies in how you choose to use it. With so much talk about the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), and how it is going to impact our lives and, in a business context, the lives of our employees it seems prudent that, as leaders, we establish a clear vision for technology in our businesses with due cognisance of how it is likely to impact our staff and our customers alike.

A business that integrates machine learning and AI into its business management system, for example, may in future have unprecedented access to information, provide intuitive robotic support 24/7, and the power to influence behaviour. This goes beyond ‘old-school’ marketing and advertising, heading into untested waters.

While we should rightly rely on our policy makers and legislators to put regulatory frameworks in place to guide how we use technology, as business leaders we should already be taking the first steps towards developing a technology-use policy in our businesses.

Related: Elon Musk’s Formula For Successfully Growing Companies Faster

Like Musk, our aim should be to bring hope and share a vision. A hope that, even with the threat of diminishing resources in our businesses, we are up to the task of conceiving novel and exciting alternatives that, even if it looks different than in the past, are able to meet the needs of our people. And a vision, not just to increase shareholder value or to be the leaders in our field, but something aspirational.

A commitment to lift eyes and hearts with a big vision, maybe not for interplanetary travel, but at least to let your Enterprise boldly go where it has not gone before, not as a tourist, but as the captain of your ship. Because if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward, there’s no sitting on the fence, its one or the other.

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6 Ways To Lead In The Multi-leader Economy

Why business leaders today compete for mindshare among their employees, and how they can lead.

Don Packett

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I recently attended an event where a CEO delivered the company’s annual results and outlined its future strategy. He closed the talk with some inspirational content to get the team excited about the year ahead.

While I listened to this business leader speak, I also had my eye on the audience. While the content was relevant and inspiring, the narrative and delivery was off. This was evident in the audience, who seemed disengaged – most had their faces in their phones. These employees, who should be inspired by their leader, were simply biding their time, waiting for the next speaker.

Was it because they’re generally rude, disengaged people? Not at all. In fact, they were a phenomenally switched-on crowd when we presented to them. So why weren’t they listening intently to the proverbial captain of the ship?

Leadership competition hotting up

I believe it’s because leaders today are competing for the attention of those they lead. People are exposed to hundreds of potential leaders in their daily lives, and that number grows daily as the internet brings a whole host of outside influence into reach.

While many of these influencers are not tasked with leading, per se, great leaders seldom have to force a following. They naturally build one through an innate ability. They achieve this by delivering inspiring and engaging content on a regular basis via platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, podcasts or TED.com.

And it’s not just inspirational visionaries like Jobs or Branson who people listen to today. Anyone with a strong message can self-publish to spark debate, inspire or influence.

Related: 21 Tanks: Don Packett and Richard Mulholland

Understand the new dynamic

will-smith

Accordingly, whenever a leader steps up to deliver something relevant to their team, they need to be aware that in the past 24 hours their audience has probably watched people like Simon Sinek, Mel Robbins or Will Smith deliver a message that could spark a different way of thinking.

If you’re a business leader and have not considered the possibility that your team is also being influenced and, often, led by a host of other leaders, then you’re in for a tough time. The reality is that leaders now face fierce competition, and as the head of an organisation you need to take charge and own that space.

Here’s how you can take the lead in leadership:

1. Maintain face-to-face engagements

This is still the best way to work, especially when talking about important matters. I have a standing one-hour meeting with my team every three weeks. I open this session with a 10-15 minute talk on a specific topic I feel is important. The remaining time is used for open discussion. These sessions have been incredibly powerful, because it’s an opportunity for everyone to have their say, share their views and contribute to growing the business and the team, together.

2. Write narrative that catalyses conversation

This pertains to the content of your engagements. This needs to be something that’s not only on your agenda, but also on your employees’ agenda. People need both answers and guidance, but when leaders and teams can work on both aspects together, magic happens.

3. Deliver with conviction

Leaders often throw out a concern, hoping that it gets resolved. You can’t do that. Leaders need to stand up and deliver with passion to galvanise their teams. Sure, be part of the conversation, and ensure that your team knows how important it this, but understand that it’s more than just a conversation.

4. Get them to challenge you

The proverbial ‘open door policy’ requires employees to walk up to the door. Our regular team session offers me the opportunity to ask everyone, collectively, about their thoughts on a subject. I’m basically standing at the open door and asking them to come in, and not just randomly, but to discuss something pertinent.

Related: Rich Mulholland Reveals His Secrets To Success And How He Plans To Stay There

5. Make the changes required

After listening to your team, take action. Due to the influence of social media, society today is plagued by “ask-holes” – people who ask for advice or ideas, but never action them. Leaders need to listen and take action. Not that you should do everything you team asks, of course, but listening is the first step to understanding, and action needs to follow.

6. Rinse, repeat

Effective leadership is not an annual speaking engagement. It requires constant work to keep teams focused on the business. The biggest failure in most businesses is a lack of communication, which is something leaders need to constantly work on.

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Want To Achieve Greatness? Force Everyone Out Of Their Comfort Zones

Diverse teams are better performing teams, but only when they are inclusive.

Rob Jardine

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Working in a diverse team feels uncomfortable and that’s why we perform better. Discomfort arouses our brain, which leads to better performance.

Diverse teams are smarter teams. They have higher rates of innovation, error detection and creative problem solving. In environments that possess diverse stakeholders, being able to have different perspectives in the room may even enable more alignment with varied customer needs.

Being able to think from different perspectives actually lights up areas of the brain, such as the emotional centres needed for perspective taking that would previously not be activated in similar or non-diverse groups.

In a nutshell, you use more of your brain when you encourage different perspectives by including different views in the room. However, work done at the NeuroLeadership Institute has proven that this only works when diverse teams are inclusive, and this still remains a key challenge in business today.

When we consider the amount of diversity present in the modern workplace and the addition of more diverse thinking as a result of globalisation and the use of virtual work teams, it’s clear that the ability to unlock the power of diversity is just waiting to be unleashed.

Here’s how you can unlock this powerful performance driver.

The Social Brain

Despite the rich sources of diversity present in most workplaces, companies are still often unable to leverage the different perspectives available to them in driving business goals. Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience have enabled us to understand why. The major breakthrough has centred around the basic needs of the social brain.

We have an instinctual need to continually define whether we are within an in-group or an out-group. This is an evolutionary remnant of the brain that enabled us to strive to remain within a herd or group where we had access to social support structures, food and potential mates. If we were part of the out-group it could literally have meant life or death. We are therefore hypersensitive to feelings of exclusion as it affected our survival.

The brain is further hardwired for threat and unconsciously scans our environments for threats five times a second. This means, coupled with our life or death need for group affiliation, we are hypersensitive to finding sameness and a need for in-group inclusion.

When we heard a rustle in a bush it was safer to assume that it may be a lion than a gust of wind. It is this threat detection network that has kept us alive until today. The challenge is that society has developed faster than our brains. In times of uncertainty we often jump to what is more threatening.

Some of the ways that this plays out is when we leave someone out of an email and they begin to wonder why they were left out. The problem is that it’s easy to unconsciously exclude someone if we are not actively including. The trouble occurs when we incorrectly use physical proxies to define in-group and out-group, as this is the most readily available evidence used unconsciously by the brain.

Barriers to Inclusion

A study done between a diverse group and non-diverse group demonstrates how this plays out in the work place. Both groups completed a challenging task and were asked how they felt they did as a team after the exercise.

The effectiveness of the team and how they perceived effectiveness were both measured in the study. It’s no surprise that the diverse team did better in the completion of the problem-solving task, but what is surprising is that they felt they did not do well. In contrast, the non-diverse team did worse, but felt that they had done well.

Working in a diverse team feels uncomfortable and that’s why we perform better. Discomfort arouses our brain, which leads to better performance. It feels easier to work in a team where we feel at ease in sameness, but in that environment we are more prone to groupthink and are less effective.

Creating Inclusion

We can’t assume that when we place diverse teams together we will automatically reap the rewards of higher team performance. As discussed, we’re hardwired for sameness and if we’re not actively including, we may be unconsciously excluding.

If we want diversity to become a silver bullet, we need to actively make efforts to find common ground amongst disparate team members. This in turn will build team cohesion and create a sense of unity, including reminders of a shared purpose and shared goals. Many global businesses put an emphasis on a shared corporate culture that supersedes individual difference.

It’s the same mechanism that is used in science fiction films that bond individuals together against a common alien invasion. It can also be used to describe why we felt such a great sense of accomplishment during the 2010 World Cup as we banded together as a nation.

We must also make sure we uplift all team members by sharing credit widely when available and recognising performance. The last thing we can do to further inclusion is to create clarity for teams. By removing ambiguity, we allow individuals to not jump to conclusions about their membership within groups and calm their minds so they can use their mental capacity to focus on the task at hand.

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