Richard Branson on the Importance of Creative Thinking
Q: Do you feel that your personal traits and behaviors play a key part in your continuing success as an entrepreneur?
-- Clare, Entrepreneur reader
Every successful entrepreneur’s story is different, because when you build a company from the ground up, its culture and purpose usually reflects your personality and principles. That may be why the Virgin Group is so diverse, with so many businesses in so many different industries: I’ve always been a lifelong learner, interested in discovering how things work, and the people I work with tend to be similar.
I’m extremely fortunate in that I am able to occasionally host gatherings on Necker Island, bringing in innovative thinkers to help us expand our horizons. The discussions are wide-ranging, covering a variety of topics -- most people would be surprised at just how broad the parameters are. Just recently, with our not-for-profit foundation, Virgin Unite, we hosted a group of scientists from the University of Oxford. Led by Ian Goldin, who heads the Oxford Martin School, the researchers shared their thoughts on ways to manage the increasing human population and the resulting impact on the planet’s resources, despite the current lack of political leadership on both issues.
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The importance of biodiversity isn’t a topic that would appear to have immediate applicability in the business world, but we were all fascinated. The researchers’ work focuses on mapping biodiversity and ecosystem services, from entire landscapes down to individual species. Their goal is to create effective technological tools to identify species and evaluate conservation locations. Kathy Willis, who is director of the Biodiversity Institute at Oxford, told us about their remarkable land mapping project, which will help businesses and other organizations to make more informed decisions about land use.
These may seem like lofty concepts, but this discussion got us thinking about how companies will need to adopt practices like land mapping if they are going to thrive in the coming years. Consumers are becoming increasingly frustrated with corporations that are only out for themselves, rather than helping their communities and the planet. Our group and other companies are going to need to know the answers to such questions as: Where is the most suitable and sustainable location to position our new factory? What impact will our new offices have on the surrounding ecosystem?
Everyone was energized by this challenge of envisioning and creating a sustainable future -- after all, who doesn’t have a vested interest in finding a solution? This is an area we are going to continue to explore, tackling the problems together. And as I was listening to the researchers and my team, I was reminded that learning is not just a luxury, but integral to the growth of our group and the health of our company.
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If you are trying to grow a diverse, creative team, you don't need to bring your employees to the Caribbean to keep them learning. Invite guest speakers to your office. Go to events focusing on topics that are not strictly related to your industry and bring some of your employees along. Watch a few of the many incredible TED talks online. Remember, one of the best ways to learn is by taking your team members out of their comfort zone and embracing new ideas -- and you’ll see results. Focusing on a topic out of the norm can bring renewed vigor to everyday activities.
One of the results of this and other discussions on the topic of sustainability is that we are looking at ways to better account for the impacts our activities are having on the natural resources on which we rely. We’ve decided that we want our company to be around for a long time -- 100, 200, 500 years or more. That will only be possible if we build on the insight that doing good for our environment is good for business.
Our approach to growth won't work for everyone. As I've written before, if you want to be an entrepreneur, you should always build on your strengths and pursue ideas that interest you. While my talents and traits are certainly helping me with my work at Virgin, your own talents, goals and aspirations are likely quite different -- and will play a key part in your success too.