The Virgin Way

The Virgin Way

How to Listen, Learn, and Lead

Richard Branson

Summary in 100 words or less

You have to enjoy what you do to do it not just well, but great. As an entrepreneur, you need to stay curious and courageous. Listen more than you speak, and listen carefully. Make it a habit to capture your thoughts and observations in notes. Smaller companies that put their employees and customers ahead of shareholder interests usually do better. Good design matters. You must look cool and do cool, to give customers both rational and emotional reasons to invest in a brand. Trust the process, trust your instincts and trust your team.


My Highlights

The simple fact is that if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing and the people with whom you’re doing it, then there is no possible way that you are ever going to do it as well as something that you do enjoy.

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever. – Mahatma Gandhi

As fallible human beings we all make our share of mistakes and get ourselves into the kind of predicaments that result from making the wrong choices, but in the vast majority of such situations we all have the ability to pause, take stock and say, “Sorry, but I’m really not happy with this so I’m out of here.” This may be easier said than done and taking any such drastic action usually calls for a lot of courage. However, as the old adage goes, when you make mistakes at least try to make them quickly.

If you live every day like it’s your last, someday you’ll almost certainly be right. – Steve Jobs

If your vision is to reach a distant beach where, because of the reefs surrounding it, no one has ever set foot, then the chances are that reading the same old charts as everyone else has used isn’t going to get you there either.

Never cry over spilled milk. If an item didn’t sell, write it off, learn from the experience and quite dispassionately move on and try something else.

You may have seen the “Three Wise Monkeys” – that embody the proverbial principle of “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” Well, while there wasn’t a lot we could do about the “see no evil” part, we definitely can control ourselves to never think or speak badly of others.

Any outward displays of anger or rudeness never serve any useful purpose and if anything plays only to your disadvantage.

We are all very much the product of our upbringing and our environment.

The maturation of companies as being very much like that of young people. When they are newborn or toddlers they tend to get away with all kinds of stuff on the basis that they are just finding their feet and so they generally enjoy a higher forgiveness factor. If companies survive this stage (many do not), like teenagers they then start to develop acne and other character blemishes while they get a little bit cocky and know-it-all. After that there comes a more mature stage: they have hopefully learned from their mistakes and settled down, but this period is filled with very different kinds of risks, with complacency possibly being the biggest. And once a company reaches the mid-life crises stage it easily gets lazy, overweight, set in its ways and, like adults, can spend more time looking in the rear-view mirror than forging new ways forward and trying to see what’s around the next corner.

You’re guaranteed to miss every shot you don’t take.

The most common human failings – listening too little and talking too much.

Richard Branson’s lifetime habit: capturing my thoughts, observations and just about anything of interest that someone said or did in my hard-backed lined notebooks.

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.

Rather than constantly interrupting a speaker with self-serving questions, it is a whole lot smarter (and better table manners) to note down comments and questions and save them for later – if indeed the issues haven’t been covered by the time everyone gets to ask questions.

A really skillful listener not only takes in what has been said but will also hear what has not been said. Paying close attention to not just what someone says but the way in which they say it can help you to read between the lines – a place where the real story is often dramatically different to what the casual listener might understand is being said “on the lines.”

Actively creating meaningful ad hoc or semi-formal opportunities to speak with rather than at your people, and then actually listening attentively to their responses, achieves some incredibly positive outcomes.

Making the commitment every week to spend some quality time with your most important assets – your people – is every bit as critical as any other entry in your diary.

Stop issuing edicts to “come unto me” and instead get out there, walk about and change a few lives. It’s hard to imagine the impact of a “C” level heavyweight showing up unannounced at a mid-level manager’s or front-line staffer’s workplace and saying, “Hey, it’s Mario, right? I’m Maggie Cohen, the chief information officer, and I just came down here to see if you can spare me a few minutes to talk about your great idea for the new distribution software” – and then sitting down and listening and taking notes.

Nobody has ever learned anything by listening to themselves speak.

Always try to look at what we are doing from the customer’s perspective. Often the case, with the best will in the world, one can simply get too wrapped up in the creative process and forget to step back and see how whatever you’re working on is going to look from the customer’s perspective.

A problem is handled quickly and effectively will almost always serve to generate more long-term customer loyalty then when the original service was delivered satisfactorily.

Having senior people who demonstrably care enough to pay attention to customer-focused nitty-gritty details – as opposed to just the stock price – serves to encourage everyone in the organization to get into the habit of seeing what you look like from the outside in.

Don’t spend all your time obsessing over what the competition is up to – divert some of that energy to looking in the mirror to see how you appear to your employees, your competition and your customers.

Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand. – Colin Powell

Say what you mean and mean what you say.

A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt: long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.”

The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.

When a leader displays the self-confidence to effectively say, “Hey, I can’t be expected to have all the answers, so I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject”, it not only has a very humanizing effect, but it also tells the employees that their opinions are respected and considered to be of value.

Before anyone even tries to come up with a mission statement, however, there is the little matter of actually considering your company’s commitment and ability to live up to it.

One of the primary roles of a mission statement has to be explaining the core purpose of a company and outlining expectations for internal and external clients alike.

If you must have a mission statement, keep it real, make it unique to your company and keep it concise.

Leadership is the ability to hide your panic from others. – Lao Tzu

The modern definition of leadership is how it is becoming much less about power vested in a single person or role, and more about a collective process in which the authority and power is shared by a group with a shared interest.

To stand still today is to go backward – and quickly!

“Delegation” is handing on the responsibility for a situation together with the authority to resolve it. “Relegation” on the other hand is simply pushing a problem away but without including the power to really do anything much about it – except perhaps to shoulder the blame.

Management guru Peter Drucker deftly defines an entrepreneur as, “Someone who searches for change, responds to it and exploits opportunities. Innovation is a specific tool of an entrepreneur hence an effective entrepreneur converts a source into a recourse.”

Sometimes not knowing enough about the “correct way to do things” and doing them anyway can open up the most amazing new doorways.

The harder I practice, the luckier I get. – Gary Player, one of the all-time golf greats

A combination of good luck and good judgment: two elements that the sum of which will always be greater than the whole.

Smart leaders and clever entrepreneurs have the knack of engineering their luck – it’s also known as risk-taking.

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. – Seneca, Roman philosopher

Curiosity may not be good for cats, for business leaders, it is a very healthy and often a very productive trait.

A good example of finding better solutions for the same or less cost simply by always asking how it can be done differently. The irrefutable fact is that no matter how good something might be, there is always room for improvement.

True customer loyalty is not something that can be bought and retained with bribes like frequent flier miles or occasional discount coupons.

Generating employee and customer loyalty are both about the same thing – creating a level of engagement that supersedes what’s in the paycheck or the bonus loyalty plan points.

Sometimes, rather than sitting back and complaining about lousy service, it really pays to get out there and find a way to improve upon it by reinventing it yourself.

Smaller companies that have the freedom to turn the traditional corporate pyramid of stockholders first, employees last, on its head and put their employees and customers ahead of shareholder interests are usually doing the latter a far greater service.

One of the greatest advantages to being the little dog in a big dog pound is the ability to react quickly and ride every competitive coat-tail that comes your way.

All ideas are second-hand, consciously or unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily used by the garner with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them. – Mark Twain

Firings are much more of an indictment on the company’s failure than that of the employee – no matter what the circumstances behind it might be.

My first big business lesson was that you have simply got to delegate your duties if you want your venture to survive and (ideally) grow.

An interview is a game of figuring out whether or not the character of a candidate will be a good fit with the culture of the company.

While you may need to hire specialists for some positions, take a close look at people who have thrived in different industries and jobs – are usually more versatile, have transferable skills, and can potentially tackle problems creatively.

Don’t jump to the conclusion that someone that has worked for five different companies in the last five years “cannot hold down a job” – it could just be that job couldn’t hold them!

It’s not the hours you put into that matter, it’s what you put into the hours.

Don’t worry about profit. Think about customer service. Profit is a by-product of good customer service. It’s not an end in and of itself.

Everything begins and ends with our people. If we keep our employees happy and engaged, they will keep our customers happy who will then reward us with their loyalty. That repeat business helps our bottom line and creates value for our shareholders.

In any cases, Elon Musk’s successes at Tesla, PayPal, and Space-X only serve to demonstrate the incredible results that can flow from vision and leadership coming together on one inspired individual with the assistance of an army of equally inspired followers.

Everything that’s really worthwhile in life usually involves some degree of risk.

When we are more positive our brains are more engaged, more energized, creative, motivated, healthier, resilient and productive.

Ninety percent of one’s happiness is generated from within, not by external factors like fat bank accounts and expensive possessions.

A sense of humor and the ability not to take oneself too seriously are critically important attributes for any healthy corporate culture.

Business doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game, where some win and others lose. When done properly, everybody stands to gains: companies, communities, and the beautiful planet on which we are privileged to live.

Our educational systems need to give young people the opportunity to plug into curriculums that encourage them to raise to their full potential, take risks, embrace failure, and challenge the established norms wherever and whenever they can.

Secondary education should be encouraged to place greater emphasis on developing emotional intelligence, critical thinking, and real-life problem-solving skills.

A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could. – Zig Ziglar

No matter how incredibly smart you think you are, or how brilliant, disruptive or plain off-the-wall your new concept might be, every startup team needs at least one good mentor.

You’ll never make even a dent in their armor with traditional marketing methods. You have got to get yourself out there. Be visible, take risks, get creative, make yourself heard and take the fight to them before they bring it to you.

Collaboration, whether external or internal, is a vital component in building a healthy company, as well as integral constituent of any entrepreneur’s life.

Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow’ and soon you’re cocking up all sorts of ideas. – Steve Jobs

It is almost certainly the fear that if they are pushed into making a quick decision, there is always a change that it could turn out to be the wrong one.

If on first hearing an idea strikes you as a really good one, you may well be correct, but you mustn’t allow that first reaction to influence your ability to objectively weigh the cons as well as all the pros when they are presented.

Just because no significant cons are presented it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Nothing is perfect, so work hard at uncovering whatever hidden warts the thing might have and by removing them you’ll only make it better still.

Avoid making decisions in isolation.

Do everything you can to protect the downside.

When the going gets tough, though, as in the case of a major accident involving your company, as the leader your job is to gather as much reliable up-to the minute information as is available, step up and take the bull by the horns. Whatever the situation, indecision is not an option, and in most cases ninety percent of life is just showing up.

Value and purpose-driven entrepreneurs stand a much better chance of succeeding in a global marketplace.

Business and government must encourage established entrepreneurs and young talent to focus on problem areas like health, education, climate change and social care.

In today’s euphoria, nobody remembers how at one stage Apple couldn’t sell iPods and had to resort to giving a free one to every student at Duke University to get it going. It can be a long, lonely, and often painful process to build a company.

Good design is incredibly important. You must look cool and do cool. This gives customers both rational and emotional reasons to invest in a brand.

Trust the process, trust your instincts and trust your team. Don’t start second-guessing yourself or worrying about a few mistakes along the way – you will only learn from them.

More book notes

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth
The 4-Hour Work Week
The Narrow Road
The E-Myth Revisited

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