Can You “Adapt” Like Richard Branson?
I’m not a fan-boy by nature – leaders are real people, and they’re all imperfect. I just don’t have it in me to fawn over another person’s brilliance, at least not more than a little. Respect? Absolutely. Even admire. But the very concept of celebrity seems a silly conceit to me.
Having said that, I’ve admired Richard Branson for some time now. He’s bold, and brash, quite successful, and he looks like he’s always having fun. Not just by himself, either. Far from it! From what I’ve gathered, Branson is pretty much the life of the party. People enjoy working for him, and I am absolutely convinced that is why his Virgin brands are so successful – happy, inspired people perform. They stay, they give their all; they’re invested. What leader doesn’t pine for that?
I read a few articles he’s written recently, and I think I’m on to at least one more of his tricks that had eluded me: smallness. The Virgin companies employ about 50,000 people across 400 brands. Sounds huge, right? Not so fast. That means his average firm has just 125 employees. He is a small business owner, albeit times four-hundred.
Whether Branson puts a name to it or not, he practices the central tenet of Tim Hartford’s new book, Adapt – Why success always starts with failure. In the early pages of Adapt, Hartford introduces us to what he calls The Palchinsky Principles. I’ll let you read for yourself where he got the name (it’s a remarkable story), but here they are:
- Variation – Seek out new ideas and try new things.
- Survivability – When trying out something new, do it on a scale where failure is survivable.
- Selection – Seek out feedback and learn from your mistakes as you go along.
The big mistake of most sizable companies is that they avoid and discourage the first of these principles, variation. Instead, they move very slowly, take few risks, and only make huge gambles – they do exactly the opposite of Palchinsky’s second principle. And by punishing fault for errors made, they make the third, selection, almost impossible. Often, when a big company fails with a project, all they learn is that new directions are to be avoided.
As I said, I’m not a fan boy. But this is my second post on this remarkable unCEO in just a few months. Perhaps it’s time I made an effort to meet him before I get too far into the writing of my own book.
This post first appeared on Ted’s previous blog.
Graphic by Shawn Murphy