"Camila and I have both been shaped by dyslexia. I've never regarded it as a disability, but as something that has forced me to engage with the world in a special way."
Serial entrepreneur, Sir Richard Branson (founder of all things ‘Virgin’ branded), knows a thing or two about telling stories. His first business venture, Student (a magazine, which he launched at age 17), was about collecting and sharing stories. His four books are loaded with stories of people exemplifying his messages. Perhaps it was his dyslexia that first put him down the path of collecting stories (versus facts). Perhaps he’s always just had a knack for engaging hearts and minds through story. Whatever the impetus, one of Branson’s many gifts is his ability to tell a good tale.
His latest work, Screw Business As Usual is no exception. The message is simple – “that every single business person has the responsibility for taking care of the people and planet that make up our global village, all 24,902 circumferential miles of it” (page 19). Branson expounds that message through story after story after story – of people, companies and organizations that are living and breathing it every day.
It's all about the story
"The science behind global warming is solid - but it's the stories of ordinary people which engage your attention when you're half an ear to the radio and you're racing to pack your kids off to school. It's their stories that stick in your mind clearly enough that you can deliver them with confidence over a drink with a friend."
Branson believes (as I do) that there’s a global shift occurring in the way we do business. His latest book is littered with examples of business leaders turning conventional capitalist wisdom on its head; companies and people that are doing good first, and making a tidy profit as a result.
Possibly one of my favorite examples (buried in the back of the book under the cheeky title “I Rest My Case Studies”) is of Blake Mycoskie and his “Shoes for Tomorrow” project, more commonly known as TOMS shoes.
Blake tells a good story. When you buy a pair of TOMS shoes, an identical pair is donated to a child in need. Their website tells the story brilliantly. They use video, photos and testimonials. TOMS’ story is integrated into their marketing, but more than that, it’s firmly integrated into their business model. TOMS “one-for-one” model isn’t a marketing gimmick; it’s at the core of who they are and why they exist as a company.
For me, TOMS is a quintessential success case of a 21st century business; what Branson refers to as a shining example of “Capitalism 24902”. They have a purpose larger than simply generating a profit, and they explain that purpose through story – story after story after story. Their shoes aren’t the cheapest, and they’re not the most well made. But they come with an important story – one that’s easy to share, and easy to feel good about.
Stories can't be boring
"For those who think business exists to make a profit, I suggest they think again. Business makes a profit to exist. Surely it must exist for some higher, nobler purpose than that."
If you’ve ever sat (or likely stood) through a dry, never ending story that never seems to end (often at a cocktail party, for some reason), you know what I mean when I say a story can’t be impactful and boring. They simply can’t co-exist. Good stories engage our hearts and minds. A well told story captures the imagination. It allows us to feel something, and to imagine the world as a better place.
How many times have you asked what someone “does”, and immediately felt your eyes glazing over as you realize the answer is dry, dull and typical? How many times have you been the one telling the boring story?
I would like to suggest that you have the power to tell an engaging, inspiring story when you talk about what you do. I say this with confidence because I believe two things to be true: (1) either your company is doing something powerful to change the world, and that story is interesting, and (2) if your company is honestly not doing anything interesting, you have the power to change that, if only in some small way. I humbly suggest that (particularly at cocktail parties) people most don’t actually care what you do in your professional pursuits, but that almost everyone is interested in the change you are making in the world.
To have an interesting story, you need to be involved in something interesting. Making the world a better place is always an interesting story. Think about how you’re impacting your world (in a big or small way), and start telling that story. You’ll be more interesting, I promise you.
"You know the expression, ‘It’s not personal; it’s business’? We sneer at such rot. All business is personal, all the time."
Who are you working for? What change are you and your company trying to make in this world? I don’t care what industry you work in, or how big your company is (Chris Kilham, quoted above, works in pharmaceuticals). Consumers, investors and the public at large are starting to put their support (and dollars) behind those companies that are working to make a positive change in the world.
People buy from Virgin because (a) Virgin makes them feel special (a big change unto itself) and (b), Branson (and Virgin by extension) is dedicated to using its corporate strength to do good. (If you want truly amazing examples of this, check out The Elders, Virgin Unite, The Carbon War Room and Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship.)
As a company, Virgin has purpose. Branson owns businesses (The Virgin Group consists of 400+ companies at this time), each business working to contribute to the betterment of society and our planet, either directly through their core business, or through the charitable and passion projects lead by their employees. And they’re better for it – both from a sense of accomplishment and from a bottom line profitability stand point.
Stop hiding behind the line “this is business, not a charity”, and start looking for ways to improve the world around you through your business, or by utilizing the professional strengths you’ve developed.
I really do love reading Branson’s books. His passion for life, his “nothing is impossible” attitude, and his great willingness to share the stories of others is engrained in every page. All of his books are inspiring and entertaining but, while I’ve enjoyed them all, Screw Business As Usual is something all together different. This is a call to action. It’s a starting point. Yes, the book is a great source of inspiration and enthusiasm, but Branson’s top priority is to give you the tools and the insight to start something; to make a positive difference in the world, regardless of whether that difference is big or small.
I believe that, in addition to being an entertaining read, this book (and the included resources at www.virginunite.com/screwbusinessasusual) exists so that we can all take that first step to screw business as usual and, in doing so, start to make this world of ours a better place; for us, and for generations to come.