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Richard Branson on Smiling as a Competitive Advantage

When you meet somebody new, the natural thing to do is smile.

Richard Branson

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When you hear good news, your likely reaction is to grin. After you’ve suffered a misfortune, you know you’re on the way to recovery when you can share a smile.

Granted, smiling can’t solve every problem, but it can make almost any situation a little better. When our house on Necker Island burned down in the middle of the night, it wasn’t long before a humorous story had everybody laughing – my wife and I were sleeping in a cabin nearby, and I ran stark naked into a cactus while rushing toward the fire!

Our next step was to start planning the even more special home we would build on the ashes.

In business, a smile can often defuse a difficult situation. If you are negotiating with a tough investor or discussing issues with a customer, a smile will show that you are willing to listen and eager to help. Smiling is infectious, so your smile may have just brightened up the day for many other people too.

Some business leaders take their work very seriously indeed; they think they have to be stern in order to get things done. This can create a culture of control and fear that trickles all the way down through the company, because if the boss is scary, senior managers will be scary, and so on.

In this solemn environment, people will be afraid to fail – rather than trying to do new things, they’ll play it safe. If you smile, you’ll encourage your employees to be more open, communicative and innovative too.

When an entrepreneur creates a culture of openness at a new company, it can make a big difference to employees’ and customers’ enthusiasm. This is especially true in environments where stiff upper lips and reserve are common.

While spending time in Russia recently, I was struck by the austere atmosphere dominant in business there. However, times are changing and entrepreneurs like Oleg Tinkov, who made his fortune selling premium beer in Russia and has now set up a credit card business, are launching companies where staff and customers can expect smiles, friendly greetings and relaxed settings.

If this trend catches on, we may see more inventive business ideas coming from that part of the world.

When you enter a store, if a saleswoman smiles and asks how you are doing, you are more likely to be open to looking around, asking questions and making a purchase. At Virgin, we all know that our smiles make a difference.

When you get onto a Virgin plane, it’s the smiles from our staff that make you feel good – that touch of heartfelt service that says “We give a damn.” After Virgin Trains lost its franchise this fall, over 170 000 people signed an e-petition to the British government to keep our trains running.

We received lots of tweets and messages from people who told us they wanted to support a company with such happy, helpful staff.

As I’ve mentioned in this column before, back in the `60s, our friendly approach helped us to sign the Rolling Stones to Virgin Records. We often joked around as we worked together, and so Mick Jagger and the rest of the band saw us as being like themselves, rather than just stuffy coin counters in suits and ties.

One day, when we were having dinner in London to celebrate completing the record deal, Mick Jagger and I kept grinning at each other. Quick as a flash, Bill Wyman said: “Look at you two. I wouldn’t fancy being an apple between those two sets of gnashers!”

Who would have believed that we’d still be working together five decades later – now on their amazing 50th anniversary shows. Something to do with those grins, perhaps? (Over the years I have become known as the smiley man with the beard. It could be worse!)

These days, a lot of my time is spent traveling to different countries around the world meeting people on behalf of our non-profit foundation, Virgin Unite. Communicating can sometimes be a little challenging, but it is a truism that everyone smiles in the same language.

I learned from two brilliant diplomats, the Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Jose Maria Figueres, the former president of Costa Rica, who do wonderful work for two of our Virgin Unite-incubated organisations, The Elders and the Carbon War Room. They are always smiling as they bring about change.

If you’re looking for the next big investment for your business, but don’t have much money to spend, start by looking at yourself in the mirror. A smile won’t cost you anything, and the returns to your business will start right away.

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. Chris San Filippo

    Dec 11, 2012 at 05:01

    1st point, Richard Branson is the man…
    2nd point, a smile can make a really big difference. I try to smile at each time I speak with someone! When that person remembers me, he/she will probably have a positive memory of the time we met.

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Self Development

Fear As Foe And Friend: How To Master This Important Relationship

Our beliefs direct our behaviour and decision making. To conquer you fears, face them.

Erik Kruger

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There is a story that I love. It goes something like this: A long time ago a man was sitting in a bar in Damascus having a beer. As he finished his last sip he looked over to the corner and staring back at him was Death. The man froze. It was widely known that the day you see death is the day you die.

A few seconds later the man regained composure and ran out of the bar. Without looking back he jumped on a horse and rode as quickly and as far away as he could. Later that day he arrived in a town called Samarra.

The man checked into a motel, rushed up to his room, locked the door, and as he turned around, sitting in the corner was Death. Noting the man’s surprise, Death said to him, “You think that you’re surprised? Just imagine how surprised I was this morning when I saw you in the bar in Damascus knowing that I had an appointment with you here, tonight, in Samarra.”

This is a story about the inevitability of death. No matter how hard we try, it’s the fate that we cannot escape. However, that’s not the focus of this article.

Facing your fears

Instead, consider the way the man reacted to death. More specifically, how he reacted to fear. That’s something I’m sure you can relate to.

The life of an entrepreneur is filled with fear. The fear of failure, the fear of losing it all, the fear of judgement, the fear of rejection, the list goes on. We can never eliminate these fears. Trust me, I’ve worked with the best and they still struggle with many of these fears. The thing about entrepreneurs at the top of their game is that they are better at dealing with fear.

Related: 8 TED Talks To Help You Overcome Your Fear Of Failure

Imagine if instead of running away, the man in our story decided to embrace his fear. Imagine he calmly (while shaking inside) walked over to death and asked him why he was staring at him. Death might have told him about their inevitable appointment. The man could have left the bar to get his affairs in order. He could have had a final meal with family and friends. He could have gone for a last swim in the ocean. And then, when the time was right, met death as an old friend.

Does that not sound like a much better approach than to run away and hide? But how you can embrace fear? The answer to that is simple but by no means easy. Dealing with fear is all about the context and meaning we assign to it.

Unpacking context

When you’re working in your office, how scared are you of being bitten by a shark? Fear is very much dependent on the context. In many instances we have (some) control over context.

So, how can you control your context or environment? What can you do to actively decrease the fear becoming manifested? Fear of public speaking? Control the context by preparing well, getting coaching, dressing well, being ready. Fear of rejection? Control the context by understanding your prospect well, being prepared, showing up early so that you aren’t rushed, being friendly and welcoming.

Finding meaning

This is always one of my favourite areas to play in as coach. It has to do with the meaning we assign to situations in our lives. More simply put, the beliefs that we have and how they direct our behaviour and decision-making.

Back to our shark example, and this time you find yourself in the ocean. How worried are you now about a shark attack? Much more. However, next to you is a shark expert frolicking around. Happy as can be. How worried is he about the shark attack? Not at all. Why? Because he understands shark behaviour, he knows the statistics and miniscule chances of a shark attack occurring. Same context, different beliefs, resulting in different levels of fear.

This means that another way of dealing with fear is to examine the belief you have that creates the fear. Perhaps it’s an outdated or untested belief. The only way you will know is by looking at it.

Through the fear

Fear is a dark passenger. Ready to tell you stories of doom and gloom. Ready to make you forget about the big dreams that you have. But it does not have to be. You journey. Your rules.

Learn to master your feelings and the approach that you take towards the challenges and risks in your life, and you will not only feel lighter, but able to embrace fear as an old friend without becoming consumed by it.

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Self Development

Peak Performance: Multiply Personal And Team Business Performance

Anyone can be a ‘Peak Performer’ and that includes you!

Dirk Coetsee

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‘Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection‘ – Mark Twain

As a Peak Performance coach my purpose is to make others successful, fulfilled and happy

The universal Principles of Peak Performance applies to Entrepreneurs, career orientated individuals, business teams, sports teams and individual performers such as public speakers and musicians.

Do you want to learn how to multiply your performance as an entrepreneur, career orientated individual, musician, public speaker, or sportsperson and reach the peak of your industry or sport? If you answered yes to the aforementioned question, then this article is meant for you.

The outputs of ‘Peak Performance’ coaching varies due to its universal application but includes multiplying profits and productivity, drastically increase team performance in business or in sport , and dramatically improve your performance as an artist, musician, or individual sports person.

A Peak Performance is described by psychologydictionary.org as:

“A performance at the best level of a person’s physical and cognitive abilities’

  • Which leads me to the ancient Chinese philosophical concept of ‘wu-wei’ meaning ‘effortless-effort’. It is truly awe inspiring to bare witness to an entrepreneur or athlete delivering a supreme performance with joy emanating from their being as proof of them being in a ‘peak mental state’.

‘Peak performance is not only about achieving a wonderful result it is also about experiencing the joy bubbling from your heart as you let go of all your fears , doubts and procrastination and just enjoy the moment as a soulful experience’.

Related: Peak Performance: How Do I Build A Culture Of Sustainable Growth?

Those entrepreneurs or performers that have not released the peer pressure, doubts and fears that circumvent their thinking and feelings place limitations on the fulfilment , happiness and joy that they could have experienced should they have let go of all ‘mental baggage’ that they carry. One of the keys to unlock your potential is to leave your past baggage behind as you go through the door of positive change and development.

This article will highlight three prominent barriers to your ultimate ‘Peak Performance’ yet will reveal three key principles that when consistently applied will empower you towards unleashing your potential and become a ‘Peak Performer’ in any area of your life.

1. Barrier to Peak Performance: Limiting beliefs

When you entertain such limiting beliefs as ‘I am not worthy’, ‘I do not possess the resources to succeed’, ‘I am not intelligent enough’, it will limit your performance within any area of your life within which you entertain those beliefs.

Some top sport performers believe that only the seriously talented can be at the top and that talent means you do not have to work hard. For sure it is possible to reach the top based on superior talent alone but you will not be a sustainable success. Those with the potent combination of talent, mental strength and the willing ness to work hard will eventually catch up and dramatically outperform those with the limiting belief that my talent alone is enough.

2. Barrier to Peak Performance: Procrastination

If you are a serial procrastinator as an entrepreneur by the time you have actually executed a decision the ‘Peak Performer’ has already executed, failed and corrected his/her mistakes several times and is outperforming you.

3. Barrier to Peak Performance: Perfectionism

“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection” – Mark Twain

Perfectionists often suffer from a fixed mind-set which is revealed thoroughly when the face glaring imperfections. This fixed mind-set dictates that perfectionists will rather walk away from the situation than aim to continuously improve which is a key driver to Peak performance. It is perfectly ok to fail as long as you apply the learnings of the failure and grow.

Be open to the fact that more often than not you are going to face imperfect conditions and timing in business, bad weather and facility conditions in sport, and ups and downs in any career.  The discipline and willingness to continuously work hard even for small improvements removes the focus on perfectionism to learning and growing continuously.

The above three barriers to ‘Peak Performance’ are very prominent ones but not the only ones that you will have to break through on your journey towards being a ‘Peak Performer’.

When you google who was the mentor of Nelson Mandela Oliver Tambo’s’ name will pop up. Tony Robbins had a mentor. Ray Dalio has been coached by Tony Robbins in return. And that brings the good news – you can be coached or mentored to break through the barriers that limits your performance.

Related: The Anatomy Of Peak Performance

The key questions here are:

“Are you coachable?” and “Do you want success and happiness badly enough?”

1. Empowering belief towards Peak Performance: Purpose

Clarity of purpose is a key driver towards ‘Peak Performance’. Purpose is ‘your why’, that very good reason why you do what you do. Two entrepreneurs of equal intelligence, resources, talent and skill start a venture within the same industry, whom will outperform the other?

The one does not really love the industry and is not truly inspired by what he is doing, the other has a real sense of Purpose and truly loves the industry. Logic dictates that the one with the real sense of purpose will more easily overcome obstacles and will truly be inspired towards Peak Performance.

The fine print to Purpose is that Purpose is a powerful belief but yet is just a belief. Underpinning purpose you must consistently do what is required to actualise your purpose and do so with patience and discipline.

2. Empowering belief towards Peak Performance: Peak mental state

We all know from personal experience that when you are de-motivated and negative thoughts dominate your mind that a very good performance is unlikely to result from that state.

You can train yourself or be trained to almost always be in a peak mental state where you are anchored in positive beliefs and in strong positive emotions about those beliefs. From this state a Peak performance is much more likely.

3. Empowering belief: Take immediate, consistent and disciplined action

When we feel overwhelmed we either do nothing or very little in general. We also tend to procrastinate when we are unsure of the course of action we should be taking or when we doubt our abilities. When we know exactly what our purpose is we do know what our priorities are and once we are sure of our priorities when know how to allocate the right amount of time to our activities that serves our purpose.

We all feel overwhelmed and or fearful at some point. The key here is to still take action in the face of being overwhelmed and fearful. When overwhelmed and fearful a critical question to ask yourself is: What is the smallest and easiest thing I can do right now to start improving the situation? Once you have taken action it creates momentum and it gives you confidence to take the next action required.

Use your fears and doubts as triggers to take action. Small actions at first to train yourself and to give you more confidence to gradually take bolder steps. The Navy seals in general are not fearless human beings they were just trained to use their fears as ‘triggers’ to take action and this is possible for everyone.

Here is an empowering belief for you:

Anyone can be a ‘Peak Performer’ and that includes you!

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Self Development

Research: The Power Of Meditation That Will Blow Your Mind

How transcendental meditation can improve your life and help you achieve the highest levels of success. Don’t believe us? Keep reading and find out

Nicole Crampton

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the-power-of-meditation-that-will-blow-your-mind

If I told you a group of meditators could stop a war, eradicate violence, reduce infant mortality and increase primary school attendance rates – would you believe me?

This exact scenario happened in our neighbouring country Mozambique. In 1992, the civil war that lasted 15 years came to an end. Joachim Chissano the leader of the winning forces took control of the country, instead of enacting revenge on the rebel forces, he promised there would be no prosecution or punishment.

He even went so far as to offer them half of the positions in the Mozambican army, and he gave them a chance to gain power through political means. Two years later, Mozambique’s had her first ever multiparty election, Chissano and the former rebel leader were up against each other in the polls.

After winning, he focused on reducing poverty to establish lasting peace. Between 1997 and 2003, 3 million people, out of a population of 20 million, were rescued from extreme poverty. This led to a 35% decrease in infant mortality and a 65% increase in the number of children attending primary school.

The following sections will help you on your journey to find your personal “woosah”:

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