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14 Inspiring Life and Business Lessons From Richard Branson

A few months back when I was at Blogworld New York, my friend Dave Ursillo and I wandered into a book store to find some social media book.  It turned out they didn’t have it but I stumbled upon Richard Branson’s book Business Stripped Bare. If there’s one guy I’d want to trade lives with for a day it would probably be Richard Branson. He’s made  a fortune, has had a blast doing it, and still seems to be going strong.  These are just 14 incredible life and business lessons from him that really inspired me.

1.You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing and by falling over and it’s because you fall over that you learn to save yourself from falling over

I think it’s safe to say most of you know already how I feel about breaking rules. If you’re wondering how to move in this direction, start by breaking these 5 rules today. If we didn’t learn to walk by following rules, then we must question why it is we’re so hell bent on following rules, formulas, prescriptions and recommendations to do everything else in life.

2. Entrepreneurship is not about getting one over on the customer. It’s not about working on your own. It’s not about looking out for number one. It’s not necessarily about making  a lot of money. On the contrary, it’s about turning what excites you in life into capital, so that you can do more of it and move forward.

This is a rather interesting take on entrepreneurship that might cause you to take a step back and evaluate exactly why you’re doing the things you are. When I look at why I’ve spent the last three years attempting to build what I have, it is because I absolutely wake up everyday thrilled to do it. Turning it into capital would just be icing on the cake.

3.Having savvy is far more important than formal education.

Given that I’ve received a fairly extensive formal education and found it to be of little practical use in the real world, it’s safe to say I agree. If you’re new here then you might not know you can easily give yourself and education that kicks the crap out of the one you got in school.  It doesn’t have to replace the one that you got in school, it can just be amplify it significantly.

4. Circumstances and opportunities change. The only constant is change itself

Life is quite a bit like the ocean and it’s waves. If there’s anything 33 years on this planet has taught me it’s that nothing is permanent so there’s no sense in getting too caught up in the bullshit.

5. Befriending one’s enemy is a good rule for life and business

I admit this is not my strong suit. If I don’t like somebody, I don’t have an easy time hiding it. But sometimes the people you don’t like also happened to be really smart and can teach you quite a bit.  I think we can start simply by not labeling them as enemies.

6. Publicity is Absolutely Critical

As a blogger you have to learn this lesson. You should never town down a chance to do an interview with anybody or contribute to anything. Always say yes. You simply never who know who your message is going to reach. That’s why I always say yes when somebody wants to interview me.

7. Don’t Promise What You Can’t Deliver and deliver everything your promise.

I’ve experienced first hand what happens when you don’t follow this. I’ve failed a hand full of times with products and services and it call came down to delivery.  It’s far easier to under promise and overdeliver.

8. If you’re running an airline, restaurant, or any other company, it’s attention to detail that defines great delivery

I’ve been a big picture guy for as long as I can remember. In running BlogcastFM I’ve distanced myself from the details until recently. When I was staying with a friend on a recent visit to San Francisco he showed me that we BlogcastFM was in the wrong category in iTunes. I couldn’t help but think how many 1000’s of listeners we probably missed out on because of this. Fortunately we fixed it immediately. I also recently ran a  focus group for the listeners, and  was amazed at how much detail they provided in what  I could do to improve their experience. The devil is in the details, but so is the goldmine.

9. Success one day doesn’t give you a free lunch everyday thereafter

Success is a dangerous trap because it can cause you to stop working hard once you’ve achieved your goal. But  the people who really push the limits know the importance of continually reaching higher and making improvements in their lives.

10. Every risk is worth taking as long as it’s in a good cause and contributes to a good life

I’ve said before that your tolerance for risk will impact your potential for success.  Why we teach people to be more risk averse as they get older is beyond me. If anything we should continually be increasing our tolerance for risk throughout the course of our lives. That’s how we become extraordinary.

11. When you’re first thinking through an idea it’s important not to get bogged down in complexity. Any fool can make something complex. It’s hard to make something simple.

A few years ago, before we could easily watch the videos from our computers on our television, a friend of mine was trying to figure out the best way to do it. The guy was an MIT engineer. So he though the best thing he could do was to create an RFID remote control that would allow him to control the computer in his bedroom from the living room. One evening while drinking some beers, I said “why don’t you just use a wireless mouse and keyboard?.”  We both had a good laugh at how much work had gone into his solution.

12. Never do anything that means you can’t sleep at night

When I was in business school I made a terrible error in judgement. I wanted to create a website that would allow MBA students to find internships. I was discussing it with 3 other guys who were friends at the time.  Two of them had said they wanted to wait, build it and enter the business plan competition. I was impatient and told one of the 3 that I could get the site built in two months and we should just proceed. I had cut out the other two and as a result I eventually destroyed all the friendships. To add to that, I developed a reputation of a guy who couldn’t be trusted. It was a painful but important lesson which is why I’ve always made it a point to be transparent in my business dealings, even if it might mean forgoing opportunities.  Businesses can be rebuilt, friendships are much harder to salvage.

13. Failure is not giving things a go in the first place

When Sid Savara came to me with the idea that, what you know today as BlogcastFM could exist as a separate site, I wasn’t crazy about starting another blog.  But I also saw possibility. Sometimes you just have to take the first step in order for opportunity to reveal itself.

14. Success for me is whether or not you have created something you can be proud of

Early in life we spend a good amount of time building things. In fact kindergarteners are taught to how to build things and be as creative as possible, while seniors in high school are busy regurgitating nothing original. I think part of the reason so many people have embraced blogging and social media is because it gives them that opportunity to reconnect with their inner child and build something with their own two hands. Whatever happens with this blog and BlogcastFM, I can say I’ve built them with my own two hands. You can’t really put a price on that.

If you enjoyed this post and want to explore these ideas in detail, I recommend Richard Branson’s book Business Stripped Bare. 

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