5 things I have learned from Richard Branson

Everyone you meet will give you different life advice. Some of it will be very good, but most of it will be very bad, so sometimes it’s best to just go and find your own way through life. No matter what course you take, dozens or thousands will tell you that you’re doing it wrong, unless you prove them all wrong. Those who set off to explore the unknown always meet resistance, and many will turn back and follow the normal route through life. But there are those brave few who keep pushing, keep believing in the visions and dreams that brought them there, and they’ll find success that others only dream or talk about.

Richard Branson is one such man. He founded Virgin at the age of 20, and has kept a relentless pace forward in his enterprising career. Not only has he been successful once, but he’s repeated his success over and over again on a worldwide scale. He’s the only entrepreneur to build eight distinct billion dollar companies in eight different industries. Not only has he been wildly successful at everything he touches, but he did it all without receiving a degree, let alone one specialising in business. From the last forty years of success, he’s given a fair amount of business advice to those hopeful and daring enough to listen. Here are a few of the most important ones.

1. Don’t do it if you don’t enjoy it.

Sounds obvious, but it’s a fundamental piece of advice that pops up again and again with people who have found immense success. The very simple advice makes perfect sense. If you’re going to do something for most of your life, you might as well enjoy it. While not everything you enjoy doing will be economically advantageous, there’s certainly some skill or ability or activity that you can use to build your own form of success. When Branson started, he didn’t have a plan, just a desire to make a difference in people’s lives and the world. It’s that kind of drive and belief that’s necessary to succeed.

2. Take risks.

Another simple piece of advice that sounds obvious but can become one of the scariest things you’ll ever do. It’s also another piece of advice that rises over and over again from those who know. If you’re not breaking the rules, doing things in new and interesting ways, than why are you doing it at all? Why waste people’s time by being like everyone else, by doing what everyone else is doing? One of Branson’s favorite sayings is, ‘The brave may not live forever but the cautious do not live at all!’

3. Perfection is unattainable.

Nothing is ever perfect. Every product or service can be improved. Rather than congratulate yourself on finally reaching that level of perfection you’ve always dreamt of, start rethinking and re-imagining your company. Seek to improve upon this alleged perfection, and find ways to make it better. If you settle for what you have or what you’ve made, then you’re already losing. You may have the best product the industry’s ever seen, but that only lasts as long as it takes the competition to improve it. So keep pushing ahead of them. Keep being better.

4. Explore new territory.

Branson treats business like science or geography, like an explorer finding uncharted islands and rivers. There are so many opportunities left to find in business, and so many new ways to achieve. Ideas are out there that haven’t been discovered, invented, or even thought of yet, so push past the boundaries and go to where no one’s gone before.

5. Build a comfortable corporate environment.

Employees need to feel comfortable and encouraged to express themselves openly. They’ll do better work and make better decisions if they’re not rigidly watched and scrutinised. In addition, make a collaborative environment rather than a competitive one, or an ‘us versus them’ one, where the boss and employees are in an adversarial relationship. Communicate well and work together to solve the company’s problems.

While there’s much more to learn from Richard Branson, these are some of the best pieces of advice you’ll get from anyone anywhere. He’s an invaluable resource when striking out on your own or when roaming the corporate world you’re already in.

Can Akdeniz

Can Akdeniz is the author of seven books and founder of Business Hacker, a popular business blog. His books such as Go Nuts, Cool Boss, Happy Company and MBA 2.0 have changed how people think about business, productivity and work.