Learning to say no can feel incredibly liberating, and can help busy entrepreneurs avoid overcommitting their time, energy and finances to every project they come across. But, for Sir Richard Branson, the most worthwhile adventures in his career have arisen from saying yes.
“I keep on saying ‘yes’, and sometimes I suspect I do that too often, but it’s made life far more interesting than it would have been to have kept saying ‘no,’” Branson told moderator Richard Quest at Nordic Business Forum 2017 in Helsinki.
Whether it’s growing the Virgin brand from an indie record company to a transportation leader to a major player in the consumer space race, or extending his nonprofit Virgin Unite to take on a new cause, or flying his hot air balloon around the world, Branson said he would hate to give up the opportunity to be the first to accomplish something.
But with saying yes comes responsibility. In talking about the variety of issues Virgin Unite undertakes, Branson said he carefully considers each cause to make the largest impact.
“I can’t resist a challenge when I see there’s a need to jump in and try to help, which is why Virgin Unite spans quite a lot of different areas,” he explained.
Creating things that make a difference
In Branson’s mind, an entrepreneur is “someone who creates something that makes a difference in other people’s lives,” but he says he didn’t think of himself as an entrepreneur when he started Virgin Records. He just wanted to create things and make a difference. When no other record companies would put out the music he loved, he started his own company.
“My favorite phrase to tell the people around me is: ‘Screw it. Let’s do it,’” Branson told the audience.
As an entrepreneur, Branson explained, taking responsibility includes hiring the right team that can bring ideas to fruition. He looks for people who work well with others, who care about other people, and who praise rather than criticize.
“I don’t think business leaders need to trample over other people to get their success. In fact, I think that’s a complete fallacy,” Branson said. “I think the business leaders that are successful in this day and age are people who get on well with people, who like people, who are decent with people so people want to come back and deal with them again and again and again.”
With a trusted team, it’s easier to follow Branson’s number-one piece of advice: delegate.
“The most important bit of advice I could give any entrepreneur in this room is to spend the time to find someone better than you, or as good as you, and give them the freedom to make mistakes. Give them the freedom to do good things for your company and let them get on with it,” he said. “They’re not going to do everything exactly as you do it. They’ll do some things better. They’ll do some things not quite as well. But that enables you to move on and challenge yourself in other areas.”
This article is a part of the Executive Summary of Nordic Business Forum 2017. Get your digital copy of the summary from the link below.