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Richard Branson on the Best Places to Find Inspiration

My best sources of inspiration come from the everyday frustrations I encounter at work and in my personal life.

Richard Branson

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Q: Where do you go to find inspiration?

Most entrepreneurs dream of having an idea that changes the world – of inspiration that comes in a flash, like Sir Isaac Newton and his apple, and results in a business that transforms an industry. And a few ideas have come to me out of nowhere, as if someone had flicked on a light switch, but I’ve learned over time that most good ideas take a lot longer to formulate and are the result of steady observation.

My best sources of inspiration come from the everyday frustrations I encounter at work and in my personal life. Simply taking note of them can lead to great ideas, because if you follow up and find that you can offer consumers a better solution than the ones currently on the market, you may soon be running a successful business.

When a group of friends and I were running Student magazine in the ’60s, we all loved music and didn’t have much money, and since we knew that many of our readers were in a similar position, we rather casually started offering a mail-order record service in the back pages.

The service was not a test case for a larger business – we were too inexperienced at that point to have such an idea – but over many months it became clear that there was a great demand among our readers for a record distribution service. We were offering cash-stricken students a better deal than they could get in the shops, and they didn’t mind the wait to receive their records by mail.

The new business we created, Virgin Mail Order Records, quickly took off. Although the business was almost paralysed by a postal strike in 1971, our knowledge about the strength of the market gave us the courage to push ahead. That first idea led to the discovery of more problems, along with the confidence to follow through on our solutions.

Soon we opened our first Virgin Records store in London, which provided people with a place to hang out and talk about music. Our contacts in the music industry increased, and when we heard that musicians needed a place to stay when they were recording an album and no one seemed to be providing one, we created Britain’s first residential recording studio, the Manor in the Oxfordshire countryside.

After we made that investment, we were approached by a young, unknown artist named Mike Oldfield, whose hit album, “Tubular Bells,” would launch our label. The rest is history.

Inspiration is everywhere

That’s not to say that you will never be struck by sudden inspiration, but you can’t predict when it will happen. Richard Reed, the co-founder of Innocent Drinks, walks through Shepherd’s Bush in London each morning on his way to work.

One day he noticed that a billboard had been covered with a beautiful picture, without any logo or branding. The picture stayed up for a month before it was replaced, during which time Reed noticed how great he felt after seeing it each morning. He soon realised that this was something a lot of people would love to see and the idea for Art Everywhere was born.

On 10 August the Art Everywhere project will flood the nation with huge reproductions of classic British masterpieces displayed on billboards, effectively turning the country into one big art gallery. Corporate sponsors quickly signed on because the project will increase foot traffic and highlight and beautify spaces that wouldn’t otherwise get attention. Reed’s experience just goes to show that even a routine commute to work can result in a great idea.

Write down your ideas

I have mentioned before in this column that I always keep a notebook handy to jot down ideas for improving our businesses; the same applies for starting them. Whatever you use to record your questions and observations, the important thing is to make a practice of it, preferably every day.

Curiosity is a great quality in an entrepreneur: Since there are countless problems to solve, we are all exposed to many different opportunities throughout the day — all you have to do is follow up.

Solve a problem

If you are looking for an idea for a business, consider: Is there something at work or at home that frustrates you? How much time do you spend on solving it? Is there an even better way of doing things? Why hasn’t it been done before? If the answer is “Because that’s the way it has always been done,” pay close attention. Take notes.

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Where do you go to find inspiration? Tell us in the comments 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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Leading

How To Make Speedy Decisions As A Leader

Whom of us has not been held prisoner by our own devices of procrastination and fear? Whom has not used delaying tactics purely to play for time only to learn the true practical meaning of Shakespeares words: “I wasted time and now time doth waste me”?

Dirk Coetsee

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“Trusting one another, however can never mean trusting with the lip and mistrusting in the heart.” – Mahatma Gandhi


“Self-trust is the first secret of success” – Ralph Waldo Emmerson

Whom of us has not been held prisoner by our own devices of procrastination and fear? Whom has not used delaying tactics purely to play for time only to learn the true practical meaning of Shakespeares words: “I wasted time and now time doth waste me”?

Rapid decision-making

Harvard research has identified amongst other key traits of the most successful CEOs’ of Fortune 500 companies the ability to make decisions quickly and act on them at a rapid speed albeit with the inherent acknowledgement that they might get it wrong forty percent of the time.

Related: 7 Strategies For Development As An Entrepreneur

Why is speedy decision making and a rapid pace of execution so critical? Top leaders know that making quick decisions combined with swift execution creates a much better chance of success as opposed to very slow and bureaucratic verdicts underpinned by little or no action.

When there is a high level of distrust amongst the stakeholders in any entrepreneurial venture literally everything slows down as negative arguments ensue and takes up an enormous amount of precious time. Forced action underpinned by distrust loses quality and speed and can potentially bring a business to its knees.

“The speed of trust” is therefore an extremely valuable principle that all Leaders should live by, that is if they wish to serve a higher purpose than themselves and others. Those Leaders whom have developed a high level of self-trust and have earned the trust of their team members have put themselves in the very advantageous position of being empowered to move towards their vision at a rapid pace through quickfire decisions positively multiplied by confident and competent execution.

“The speed of trust” does not mean that decisions are made without careful consideration and stakeholder input putting the level of quality of execution at imminent risk. It simply means that the decision-making process is quicker than most as mistrust does not cast unnecessary shadows of doubt over the intentions and ambitions of all the stakeholders.

A Leader or Leaders whom has fostered self-trust within themselves will not go through lengthy spells of procrastination that those whom lack self -awareness and suffer from severe self- doubt has to go through.

How do I execute at the speed of trust?

How do I practically bring the principle of the “speed of trust” to fruition within my business? Firstly, ensure that this critical principal is applied throughout all business processes which starts with hiring trustworthy people and by working those out of the business whom cannot be trusted.  Secondly, as  a Leader your actions and words echo throughout every aspect of the business therefore do what you say you are going to do. Admit to your mistakes and fix them.

Thirdly be authentic in your pursuit of the vision of your business. One of the possible ways to achieve that is by being a visible and living example of the business values that you advocate as a leader.

Related: Sales Leadership: The New Frontier

Lastly in order for you to be trusted as a leader you must first show trust in others. Trust others by giving them more responsibility and verbalise your high level of trust in your team members. Passionately speak about this principle and its positive fruits at every opportunity. Make the practical display of this principle by employees or any other stakeholders known to all stakeholders and be lavish with your praise when anyone is willing to earn the trust of other team members.

A very good example of this principle in action was embodied by the Supreme Russian commander, Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov whom never lost a battle and was respected by both his men and his enemies. He earned the trust of his men by being amongst them as often as he could, by sharing their hardships and by offering them the most authentic and quality military training known to man within that period of history.

Suvorov was a humble student of warfare and documented every detail of his learning experiences which included setbacks that he faced. He observed the morale of his men first hand and ensured that he inspired them not only through his inspiring speeches but by being a living example of discipline and bravery.

I will leave the reader with an important question to ponder, one that has echoed throughout history: Do you trust enough to be trusted?

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What Kind Of Leader Are You?

Your effectiveness in scaling your business starts with the kind of leader you are. Here’s how you can build yourself up into a leader others will follow.

Nicholas Haralambous

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When you are in start-up mode it’s tough to take a step back and think about the kind of leader you are or want to be. Most of the time you’re fighting to keep your business alive, never mind think about how you lead.

This is especially challenging when it’s faster and more efficient to just step up and do things yourself. It’s easier for you to make the decisions, do the work, check the work, follow up on the work, etc. However, it’s this situation that prevents young companies from scaling to the next level.

Ask More Questions

I work really hard every day to be quieter. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail so dismally that I actually do more damage than good. You see, I like to talk. I like to hear other people talk and I like to bash around ideas until they become something bigger, something better and something that can move from idea into action.

Related: Your Leadership Journey Starts Now… And Go!

Coupled with liking to talk, I also like being right. Who doesn’t? Add onto these two things the fact that I like to read and research and then throw in a teeny bit of ego or pride and it’s a recipe for leadership disaster.

If I am the most well-read, loudest and most opinionated person in a meeting then all that happens is that I end up pitching an idea, getting everyone to agree with this idea and then assigning the work on the idea to become a reality. Basically, I am working with, for and amongst myself. It’s an echo chamber that leads to bad ideas surviving and an unhappy team leaving.

The Collective Is More Intelligent Than the Individual

As a leader and founder, you probably feel like you are the person with the best understanding of the problem you are trying to solve and the best person to solve the problem. This can lead to a dictatorial approach to leadership, team inclusion and problem solving. You have an idea, you tell your team and they do what you tell them.

If this is how you do it then I have to ask you a simple question: Why did you hire smart people? Just so you could tell them what to do? If that’s the case rather hire capable but cheap people, not the best.

Your best people are there to help you scale your business beyond your own thinking and time. There are a set amount of hours in the day. There are only so many emails you can answer in your day.

A good example in my business is customer support. We pride ourselves in our impeccable customer service online and offline. I can’t physically answer every question posed by customers but I can hire incredible colleagues, entrust them with my vision and views on our customers and then trust them to go out and use their good judgement.

Work With The Best

Here’s the kicker to being a good leader: You need to work with the best people.

This is not something I say as a passing statement. I want you to stop reading right now and think about the ten people you interact with at your company every day. Are they the best people you could be working with? If not, why not? How do you find the best people and bring them into your business? Go and do that.

Related: You’re The Boss, So Be The Boss

It’s important to work with the best for two very simple reasons.

Working with the best people pushes you to be better. If you are literally the smartest person in the room in every aspect of your business it means that you are surrounded by subpar players and you are not learning anything. The people around you are meant to educate you and push your business into places you didn’t even know were there.

Second, working with the best people attracts other incredible people. If you have a business full of average team members, can you guess what kind of people they pull towards your business? More average or less than average people. Why? Because average people don’t want to be surrounded by incredible people. If they are, they look worse and not better.

It’s incredibly difficult to be a good leader all of the time. In fact, it’s close to impossible. What you can do is try to be a leader who communicates, learns and grows with your team in an open manner.

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All The Business Wisdom You Need From 4 Famous Entrepreneurs

Combine the knowledge of the greatest entrepreneurs with your own hard earned lessons.

Brian Hamilton

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There’s a lot of deification of entrepreneur “personalities.” The truth is that a few entrepreneurs, in my opinion, are probably luckier than good. But, some of the praise and deification is warranted. There have been some fantastic business leaders in this country, and one can learn a ton from studying them. Below, I’ve compiled a list of the four entrepreneurs who have taught me the most over the years.

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