Launch Your Big Idea by Starting With Why
Entrepreneur's New Year’s Guide
Every business starts with an idea. It’s the thing that keeps you up late at night and gets you up early in the morning. Sometimes it’s never been done before. Other times it’s been done, but it can still be improved upon. Thinking big, recognizing that business ideas and breakthroughs may be right under your feet, and taking risks are all part of turning dreaming into doing. That’s what will take you from sitting on the sidelines to launching a business and making your dreams come true.
As you’re searching for the business idea that best suits you, it's important to look for those “aha” moments, those pieces of the puzzle that have the power to create breakthroughs in your life and business. One of the keys to harnessing the power of a breakthrough is believing that anything is possible, even when it seems unfathomable.
A few years ago, I was in the Caribbean with the Virgin Group’s global leadership team and about 40 Virgin CEOs from around the world for “The Gathering,” as Richard Branson called it, to share information and grow from one another’s experiences. With night falling, we all climbed into small boats and shoved off from Necker Island, which had been Richard’s private retreat for about 20 years, heading toward the nearby island he had just purchased.
Unlike Necker Island, Moskito Island was no resort. It was completely deserted, and by the time we got there, the sky was pitch black. As we approached the island, no lights greeted us until we circled around to the opposite side, where we saw torches flickering on the lone strip of beach.
We went ashore and grabbed dinner at a small buffet. Looking for a place to sit and eat, I came across Richard and a group of Virgin executives eating and talking passionately about something Richard apparently wanted to buy.
I sat down next to Richard and asked him what he was interested in buying.
“The rain forest,” he said.
“Which one?” I asked.
“The Amazon,” he replied.
Then I said what I suspected everyone else was thinking: “That’s impossible.”
Richard got a look in his eyes that I’d never seen there before. It said: How can you get in the way of possibility?
I’ve come to understand that this way of thinking is absolutely invaluable for any entrepreneur who wants to build a successful business. Not one of the successful people I know started with everything they needed, but they understood that if you have the right mindset, people, and resources, you can achieve virtually anything.
Back at Moskito Island, Branson responded to me by saying, “If you want to learn how to buy a rain forest, I’ll teach you how to do it.”
Always start with your “why.” Why are you doing this? Because building a successful business is hard work. And if you’re not strongly rooted in why you’re doing it, when times are tough, it’s too easy to quit.
All of us on the island knew Richard’s “why.” He wanted to stop the slashing and burning that was destroying the rain forest and protect the indigenous animals. So if we think like Branson, now that we know our “why,” the next question is: “How” are we going to do it?
“First of all,” Branson said back on Moskito Island, “Imagine you wanted to buy the rain forest. How would you do it?” In less than five minutes, Richard Branson made buying the rain forest sound easier than eating a bowl of soup. That’s part of the difference between business rock stars like Richard and everyone else. They’ve opened themselves up to true possibility. Richard helped me understand that if we have the right mindset and the right people, and are truly resourceful, given enough time there’s nothing that he—or, when I thought about it, any of us—can’t achieve.
But Richard is far from alone in setting lofty goals and doing something to accomplish them. There are dozens of entrepreneurs who’ve succeeded with revolutionary ideas that at first seemed so big as to be impossible for mere mortals. They saw openings, they came up with solutions, and they applied them. Sometimes the solutions seemed crazy, but the entrepreneurs didn’t let that stop them. They paid attention to those “aha” moments.
Indeed, if you look at the history of capitalism, you’ll see that while there are myriad ways to make a fortune, the real mega-fortunes are held by the entrepreneurs and innovators. These folks don’t just think outside the box; they don’t even recognize there was a box.
Many of the most successful entrepreneurs of our age achieved their success because they were the first to grasp the potential applications of new technology. Bill Gates became Bill Gates because the Mother’s Club at his school bought an early computer with the proceeds from a rummage sale. In the eighth grade, young Bill started writing code when virtually no one else his age even knew what a computer was. He saw this as an opportunity: If only he could make it easier for the average person to use one of these machines, they could be very useful. MS-DOS was born.
Many of the most successful entrepreneurs had breakthroughs that began as either “crazy ideas” or as improvements on what someone else had tried. They did it first, or they did it better. In fact, many of these business legends simply came up with a better way to do what was already being done.
So the next time someone throws out a wacky idea—like, say, printing books on a press, using electricity to light a house, broadcasting radio waves, watching moving pictures on a TV, surfing the internet, developing commercial spaceflight, or buying a rain forest—know that there’s someone out there who thinks with no limitations, is assembling the right resources, and is intent upon making his or her dream come true. That person might even be you.