If I had to summarise this book in one word I would use the sentence, ‘Just do it, but do it considerately.’ The book issues a serious challenge and warning to entrepreneurs which is that business is not all about profit and that going forward we all need to work on balancing the equation of profit and both environmental and social responsibility, otherwise we are just selfishly creating a long term mess of this beautiful earth for everyone and everything in it, at the cost of a short life time of profit. While I thought the book would be a medley of financial tricks and clever business negotiations, it took my mindset on innovation in a completely different direction! When we think of innovation, we tend to think ‘new, faster, slicker, more sophisticated’, however this book redefines it (for me) as ‘creative means by which we benefit ourselves, those around us and the environment.’ It’s quite an inspiring book really. Richard Branson definitely has his finger on the pulse of socially and environmentally conscious businesses and shows his efforts to model his Virgin business along this line . The book is riddled with narrations of people he knows personally making a difference in ‘sustainable ways’ around the world. I am blown away by the details of his involvement in social enterprises across South Africa and Asia. We know there exists a high level of poverty in these parts of the world but the book also shows that there also exists a high level of creativity and opportunity in these areas and this perspective is what offers an opportunity to create the shift in purpose of entrepreneurship Richard is talking about. It offers behind the scenes stories of several sustainable initiatives, from concept to fruition for example; Grameen Danone, a social business enterprise in Bangladesh that was the brainchild of Franck Riboud, CEO of french multinational food production corporation, Danone, and a social entrepreneur and later, a Nobel Prize winner, Muhammad Yunus. An idea conceived during lunch at a restaurant that has gone on to change the lives of adults and children in Bangladesh. It makes a fantastic case for responsible entrepreneurship. It’s not just a just about profits any more a.k.a business as usual.
Here’s six lesson I learnt.
- Business is not just about money or profits. Rewards can and should be much bigger than money. It is about the people between the money and the product or service, in one case in the book, it was about giving a great employee who is dyslexic an opportunity to be manager at a very lucrative restaurant and shifting responsibilities about to make things work.
- Entrepreneurship is more of an answer to poverty than aid handouts. He narrates a different vehicle all together for doing charity. Which is by equipping entrepreneurs to kick start the economy and also utilise their creative talents. Through finance, support and guidance, we read of several individuals in South Africa achieving self sufficiency this way.
- Together is better. When I read how he is involved in some 400 companies and manages to have enough time for family and fun, my immediate question is, ’How?’ Does this guy have 72 hours in a day?! Upon reading through the book, I realise he cleverly makes use of partnerships and collaborations. It’s amazing that for almost every idea he mentions in the book, he manages to almost serendipitously connect with someone with a similar idea, or a close enough idea for them to work together on, birthing another venture.
- Just do it. The number of times he has agreed to an idea at early stage of the concept in the book is shocking. People at this level tend to be overly pendantic. Hello Dragon’s Den. Lol! According to Richard, ‘Being overly cautious doesn’t make for a good business man or woman. You have to be bold while not being foolish. Quickly weigh up the odds , but don’t gamble is the best advice I can give to a new entrepreneur.’
- Innovation in business is not just about how we can provide the latest and sophisticated. It’s also about innovating ways to deliver in the most environmentally friendly way and disposing of waste. Take that Silicon Valley and Fast Fashion Chains! Currently, there is a huge furore (apparently not huge enough) about the damage fast fashion brands are doing to the environment. I watched an eye opening documentary on BBC (Stacey Dooley Investigates Fashion’s Dirty Secrets) two weeks ago that showed factories that big brands use for production in Indonesia, are pouring chemicals in a river that locals rely on to bathe their children and cook food. Pollution in this particular river is causing incurable skin diseases so much so that a local said she has to buy water to bathe her baby. Further more, it revealed that a staggering amount of water, over 15,523 litres of water is required to produce one pair of jeans! Currently, our British High Street alone churns out a new season almost every three weeks. Imagine the impact of a number of stores worldwide and the number of products involved in this ridiculous level of unnecessary production.
- Use your ‘business voice’ to speak up. One of the several inspiring moments in the book, is when Richard Branson speaks out against then president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki’s stance on the HIV/AIDS endemic in South Africa. At the time, Virgin had several ongoing ventures in the country and doing so could have caused a shutdown and excommunication of his various teams from South Africa. Instead it opened up a dialogue with Thabo Mbeki.
The book is very much an interesting portfolio and in the hands of an entrepreneur will inspire some serious ‘business soul searching’. Incase you feel overwhelmed by the current state of events, Richard Branson also shines a light on other fantastic initiatives and business leaders making an effort in various sectors such as; Shell (Oil), Ben & Jerry’s(Ice-cream), and Innocent smoothies who trace their water footprint and work with farmers in Spain were they source strawberries and Kenya where they source mangoes to reduce the amount of water used. There are in fact, entrepreneurs at every level all over the world, working to use their businesses as avenues of community and worldwide contribution in many innovative ways. You could be part of them or you could join the business as usual for profit squad. Entrepreneur, you decide!
It also means we have to question the businesses we interact with in our day to day lives. More on this later. 🙂
‘You can let the overwhelming odds defeat you, or you can see it as a challenge with a solution’- Richard Branson.