Screw It, Let’s Do It: Lessons In Life And Business

Book: Screw It, Let’s Do It: Lessons In Life And Business

Author – Richard Branson
Genre – Management, Self-Help, Autobiography

Sir Richard Branson is one of my few role-models in business. Consider his life:

♣  One of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, with a personal net worth of US$5bn. Started Virgin Group which has 50,000 employees now. Owns an island (Necker Island near Florida, US).

♣  Born to a rather poor village household, suffered from dyslexia (reading disorder) as a kid and yet overcame it all to be so successful. His first venture, Student magazine, was launched when he was sixteen and a school drop-out.

♣  Very cerebral, has written half a dozen books, almost all of them best sellers. And a morning reader like Bill Gates.

♣  Adventurist to the core. First human to cross Atlantic Ocean on a Hot Air Balloon. Also, won the prize for fastest ocean crossing on a boat. In both attempts, had multiple near death experiences, but persevered.

♣  Highly conscious of his social responsibility. Started Group of Elders (with Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter and other luminaries) to remove politics from policy and give wise advice to the world.

♣  A maverick who sets his own rules. Will often come in the media in ‘inappropriate’ poses (e.g. hung from a crane at Times Square apparently naked to publicize the ‘nothing-to-hide’ costs of Virgin Mobile).

I have been mesmerized by the sheer magnitude of his vast, multi-dimensional successes. I have always lamented that most Corporate CXOs often lack academic intellect, and, on the other hand, most academicians often lack business acumen. There are few who manage both but often they become too dry or elitist. So when Branson comes with corporate success, academic curiosity, social responsibility, life threatening adventures, and an unending zest for life, we should all take a bow!

And, when such a man tries to condense his life’s lessons – ideas and secrets of his success in a short book, we all need to queue up and imbibe every page.

Branson first chronicles the early childhood lessons he learnt from his mother. In the world war, she wanted to be a pilot but in that era, only men could become pilots. So, she disguised herself as a man, learnt flying and became a very successful pilot and training instructor. A thoroughly can do attitude which gives Branson the title of this book (Branson himself is known as Dr. Yes, for his positive attitude and default yes to most ideas). He also chronicles how he himself dropped out from school to start his first venture, Student magazine, and we will all marvel on how a kid can achieve so much with so limited resources.

He outlines his efforts to first win the America-Ireland boat contest and then fly in a balloon over Atlantic. In both attempts, the first 1-2 times he fails and almost dies. But continues and eventually succeeds handsomely. Lot of lessons for today’s youth on thinking big, collaborating with experts, gaining knowledge and not stopping till the goal is achieved.

His other big lesson is Do No Harm. He quotes how his first attempt to cheat ended up in jail, and he realized it is not worth it to try and do something unethical:

“One of the best lessons I have ever learned was when I did something illegal. I got caught and paid for it (he was jailed). At that time, … it seemed to be a game. I thought I was being bold – but I was also being foolish. Some risks just aren’t worth it… Your reputation is everything… be fair in all your dealings. Don’t cheat but aim to win. This rule should extend to your private life. My motto is, ‘Never do anything if you can’t sleep at night.’ It’s a good rule to follow.”

He also gives multiple examples of how family and friends are the rock behind one’s success. He is a famous delegator and magnet for talent (e.g. he spotted a brilliant clerk in one of Virgin Music’s office, and eventually promoted him to be the very successful CEO of Virgin Music):

I have learned always to reward talent. Even if someone is hired to do one thing, if they have good ideas, or can handle something else, just let them do it. This is why I walk around, asking people’s advice in the street, on a plane or on a train.”

His philosophy on wealth has become my own mantra: Money is important because it helps get things done, but beyond that we all eat only one lunch and one dinner!

He talks a lot on Sex appeal and using it to create a lasting brand image. And having fun at work. At 66, and as Chairman of one of the world’s largest private companies, he still wears rugged jeans to work. And has never really worn a tie (in fact physically cuts the ties of people around him!). We have one life which needs to be lived fully.

He also talks a lot on Gaia Capitalism, the concept that Mother Earth and all living and non-living organisms are connected. He has partnered with Al Gore against global warming, deforestation (amazon rainforests are like the lungs to our planet giving us 20% of our oxygen), CO2 emissions and other pertinent issues. The story of how he partnered with Nelson Mandela and Kofi Annan to avoid the Iraq war is very inspiring. His philosophy is:

“People in business and the very wealthy are in a unique position. They can connect with everyone, whether high or low, in any country, through a network of goodwill… Businessmen (also) have that sense of continuity that politicians don’t have. I believe they can use that power wisely, for the good of the world.”

Richard Branson, with his contrarian views and hunger for publicity, is not for everyone. He himself says that the PR gives his group much-needed brand awareness at very low cost. Read also about how his wife-swapping experiment with a musician couple in the swinging 60s cost him his first wife! Learning from that (what he considered fun as a hippie, his wife took as lack of commitment), he has been married to his second wife for 28 years now. Love him or hate him, you can’t ignore him.

The other criticism about the book is that it is a little bit all over the place, and I wish Branson had done a better job in distilling his life’s lessons.

Why should you read the book: To learn and be inspired from an absolute genius. On the rare occasions when I do feel enervated and tired, I simply open up one of his books and remember humbly that what we are doing is but a small drop in a very big ocean. Read his autobiography (Losing My Virginity) too. Both books fill us with an instant euphoria and a can-do attitude.