Tag Archives: Richard Branson

The Power of Simple Courtesy

I cringed took when I heard Richard Branson ask the film’s media rep, “Is there any way we can combine these last two interviews?”

I was waiting in the lobby of Virgin’s New York offices to talk with Richard Branson about “Don’t Look Down,” the documentary about his record-breaking transatlantic and transpacific hot air balloon voyages. Already that morning he had appeared on “CBS This Morning,” exercised with NYC school children, met with the Virgin team and conducted a series of other interviews.

“We could,” she said, “but Jeff Haden from Inc. magazine is next…”

“Oh,” he said. “I’ve been looking forward to speaking with Jeff. Let’s not combine them after all.”

Do I believe Branson actually knew who I was? Heck no. But I do believe, out of the corner of his eye, he glimpsed me standing there, and chose courtesy over expediency.

Classy move.

A couple of minutes later I was ushered into a conference room. Branson stood to introduce himself and then sank heavily back into his chair. As I took my seat, a staffer placed a sandwich beside him.

He smiled and looked apologetic. “It’s been a long day, and I’m famished,” he said.

“Please, feel free,” I said. “I totally understand. In fact, I once brought my lunch to a job interview.” (I actually did.)

He smiled. “Did you get the job?” he asked.

“Oh, hell no,” I said, and we both laughed.

See also: The Unicorn Hiding in Plain Sight  

“Well, I would like to eat, but I can’t unless you join me,” he said, offering me half of his sandwich.

“No thanks,” I said. “I’m fine. But I would love for you to go ahead, because I wanted our conversation to be casual and not feel like an interview.”

He paused. “I really must insist,” he said. “I won’t be able to eat unless you join me.”

Who says “no” twice to Sir Richard? Not me. So I took small bites of my half, while he dug in to his.

For a moment, imagine you’re Richard Branson. You run dozens of different companies. (Shoot, you’re creating a commercial spaceline.) You correspond with world leaders. You’re a philanthropist and humanitarian and adventurer. You’re near the top of every business writer’s interview wish list.

Hundreds of people need, and thousands of people want, a moment of your time.

Yet one day you notice a guy you don’t know in your peripheral vision, and no matter how busy or tired you feel and no matter how pressing other matters may be, you decide to be gracious — not because you have to, not because you’re expected to, but simply because you want to.

The next time a person asks for your help, offer to do a little more than requested. The next time you see a person who seems unsure, hesitant or feeling out of place, take the time to help the person feel more comfortable.

As Maya Angelou says, “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I still remember what we talked about… but what I remember most about Sir Richard is how he made me feel.

If you want to make a great impression on the people you meet, that’s the perfect place to start.

See also: What the 3 Little Pigs Teach Us  

My new book, The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up To Win, will be published on Jan. 9 by Penguin Random House. It overturns the idea that motivation leads to success; instead, small successes lead to constant motivation and let you achieve your biggest goals — while also having more fun. And it lays out strategies guaranteed to create those successes. Pre-order it now, and you’ll be my new best friend.

How Diversity Can Stoke Innovation

In an age of increasing technological disruption to business around the world, almost every organization is looking for ways to keep on top of innovation. A classic Forbes study found workforce diversity and inclusion to be a key driver of internal innovation, as alternative perspectives challenge assumptions and lead to new approaches. Numerous other studies have had similar findings. Diversity has also been proven to be good for business, with a recent McKinsey study finding that gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their competitors, with ethnically diverse companies 35% more likely to do better.

However, simply hiring people from different backgrounds — or setting quotas for the number of women or people of different ethnic backgrounds — is not enough to benefit the company. If your company culture ends up treating all employees the same way, they will soon become assimilated into your existing working patterns, and the benefits of their diverse perspectives can be lost.

How do you encourage the continuance of the alternative approaches that diverse teams bring while sustaining the advantages of diversity for the long term? Getting the balance right is increasingly a challenge — efforts to support diversity, if implemented poorly, can seem at best patronizing, and at worst insulting and discriminatory.

In Depth

The work world is changing fast. The concept of a job for life has disappeared, with employees more likely to switch jobs than ever before. Generations are shifting as baby boomers retire and millennials seek rewarding work. The rise of the internet has made the world — and our workforce — more globalized than ever. New technologies continue to disrupt and threaten further disruption to a broad range of industries. Emerging markets are growing fast, and their rising businesses could overtake previous industry-leaders in the developed world.

As the business world has become more global, so too has the value of workforce diversity increasingly been recognized; a broader mixture of employees has demonstrated to have multiple benefits in terms of productivity, innovation and adaptability in an ever-shifting economy. But how can we maximize the advantages of a diverse workforce?

The different types of diversity

The Society for Human Resource Management, a global professional organization operating in 140 countries, notes that while most people will think of gender and ethnicity when they think of diversity, there are plenty of other traits that should be factored in. They can be split into two types: visible diversity traits and invisible diversity traits, with some falling into either category depending on the individual.

  • Visible: Skin colour, gender, age, body size/type, physical abilities, physical traits
  • Possibly invisible: ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status, marital status
  • Invisible: Sexual orientation, native-born or non-native, nationality, parental status, level in organization, education, work background, culture, functional specialty, beliefs, values, habits, personality, military experience, geographic location

Each of these diversity traits can give their owners alternative perspectives that can be valuable for business — but some approaches to diversity and inclusiveness have sought to downplay rather than acknowledge differences.

The importance of differences

As the concept of diversity has gained traction over the last couple of decades, many companies around the world have made concerted efforts to avoid discrimination and embrace the hiring and promotion of people from less traditional backgrounds. Much of the language has been around emphasizing similarities, rather than differences — trying to create harmony by encouraging employees to see what they have in common.

However, the benefits of diversity come from the very differences this approach can seek to downplay. “As hard as getting the mix in the workforce is, most companies have gotten used to the idea that we need the mix,” says Andrés Tapia, author of The Inclusion Paradox: The Obama Era and the Transformation of Global Diversity (and the former chief diversity officer at Aon Hewitt), “but they have not been ready for making the mix work, or how difficult it is. Because the more diverse a workforce is, the more difficult it is to manage … It’s not just about people looking differently, but thinking and behaving differently.”

Diversity of thought

This is why we are increasingly seeing an emphasis on encouraging and accepting diversity of thought as the most important aspect of diversity initiatives, rather than the traditional focus on simply opening up the workplace to people from different genders, ethnicities and disabilities.

“Diversity is the mix, and inclusion is making the mix work,” Tapia says. By adopting an inclusive approach to diversity, where cross-cultural differences as well as similarities are celebrated, the advantages of a diverse team can be sustained over the long haul.

Building trust

Of course, encouraging employees to express their different opinions presents another challenge: building the trust needed for them to feel comfortable to speak up. The key is to encourage acceptance of and respect for differences in approach, which can be incredibly complex and nuanced depending on the mix of visible and invisible diversity traits that make up your team’s background.

Rewarding ideas, praising suggestions and cross-cultural team-building exercises can all play a part, and there are too many approaches to fostering inclusiveness and acceptance of diversity to list here (see further reading, below, for a few overviews).

However, absolutely vital to success is ensuring there are clear feedback channels to help shift approaches to encouraging inclusiveness of diversity if any employees feel them to be inappropriate. Because, while it’s unlikely you’ll ever be as excruciatingly bad as Michael Scott of The Office in his attempts to celebrate diversity, the delight of appreciating and encouraging diversity of thought is that you can be sure that you won’t be able to please everyone all the time. The key is to ensure that you acknowledge and learn from this and use any inadvertent missteps to progress. The biggest benefit of workplace diversity, after all, is in learning from and adapting to alternative viewpoints.

Talking Points

“Employing people from different backgrounds and who have various skills, viewpoints and personalities will help you to spot opportunities, anticipate problems and come up with original solutions before your competitors do.” – Richard Branson, founder, Virgin Group

“Ideas from women, people of color, LGBTs and Generation Ys are less likely to win the endorsement they need to go forward, because 56% of leaders don’t value ideas they don’t personally see a need for… the data strongly suggest that homogeneity stifles innovation.” – Center for Talent and Innovation

“Multi-cultural teams produce different results depending on the level of inclusiveness. When a company has diverse talents but leaders ignore or suppress cultural difference, the cultural differences become obstacles to performance… When a company has diverse talents and leaders acknowledge and support cultural difference, the cultural difference becomes an asset” – Park Gyone-me, CEO, Aon Hewitt Korea

“The world is evolving at an unparalleled pace… The most successful leaders will be those who possess cross-cultural competence, a deep understanding of various peoples and a sincere appreciation for diversity.” – Donna Shalala, President, University of Miami

This article originally appeared on TheOneBrief.com, Aon’s weekly guide to the most important issues affecting business, the economy and people’s lives in the world today.”

Further Reading


15 Habits of Ultra-Productive People

I recently interviewed more than 200 ultra-productive people: seven billionaires, 13 Olympians, 20 straight-A students and more than 200 successful entrepreneurs. I asked them a simple, open-ended question: “What is your No. 1 secret to productivity?” After analyzing their responses, I coded their answers into 15 unique ideas.

SECRET #1: They focus on minutes, not hours

Average performers default to hour and half-hour blocks on their calendar. Highly successful people know where each of the 1,440 minutes in a day goes, and they know there is nothing more valuable than time. Money can be lost and made again, but time spent can never be reclaimed. Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller told me, “To this day, I keep a schedule that is almost minute by minute.” You must master your minutes to master your life.

SECRET #2: They focus only on one thing

Ultra-productive people know their Most Important Task (MIT) and work on it for one to two hours each morning, without interruptions. Tom Ziglar, CEO of Ziglar Inc., shared, “Invest the first part of your day working on your No. 1 priority that will help build your business.” What task will have the biggest impact on reaching your goal? What accomplishment will get you promoted at work?

SECRET #3: They don’t use to-do lists

Throw away your to-do list; instead, schedule everything on your calendar. It turns out only 41% of items on to-do lists are ever actually done. And all those items that aren’t done lead to stress and insomnia because of the Zeigarnik effect. Highly productive people put everything on their calendar and work and live from that calendar. Jordan Harbinger, co-founder of The Art of Charm, advises, “Use a calendar and schedule your entire day into 15-minute blocks. It sounds like a pain, but this will set you up in the 95th percentile.”

SECRET #4: They beat procrastination with time travel

Your future self can’t be trusted. That’s because we are “time inconsistent.” We buy veggies today because we think we’ll eat healthy salads all week, then we throw out rotting green mush in the future. I bought P90x because I thought I would start exercising vigorously, yet the box sits unopened one year later. What can you do right now to make sure your future self does the right thing? Anticipate how you will self-sabotage in the future and come up with a solution to defeat your future self.

SECRET #5: They make it home for dinner

I first learned this secret from Intel’s Andy Grove, who told me, “There is always more to be done, more that should be done, always more than can be done.” Highly successful people know what they value in life. Yes, they value work, but what else should they value? There is no right answer, but, for many, values include family time, exercise and giving back. They allocate their 1,440 minutes a day to every area they value (i.e., they put it on their calendar), and then they stick to the schedule.

SECRET #6: They use a notebook

Richard Branson has said on more than one occasion that he wouldn’t have been able to build Virgin without a simple notebook, which he takes with him wherever he goes. In one interview, Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis said, “Always carry a notebook. Write everything down…That is a million-dollar lesson they don’t teach you in business school!” Ultra-productive people free their mind by writing everything down.

SECRET #7: They process email only a few times a day

Ultra-productive people don’t check their email throughout the day. They don’t respond to each vibration or ding to see who has intruded into their inbox. Instead, like everything else, they schedule time to process their email quickly and efficiently. For some, that’s only once a day; for me, it’s morning, noon and night.

SECRET #8: They avoid meetings at all costs

When I asked Mark Cuban to give me his best productivity advice, he quickly responded, “Never take meetings unless someone is writing a check.” Meetings are notorious time killers. They start late, have the wrong people in them, meander in their topics and run long. You should get out of meetings whenever you can and hold fewer of them yourself. If you do run a meeting, keep it short.

SECRET #9: They say “no” to almost everything

Billionaire Warren Buffett once said, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.” James Altucher colorfully gave me this tip: “If something is not a ‘hell, yeah!’, then it’s a ‘no!’ ” Remember, you only have 1,440 minutes in every day. Don’t give them away easily.

SECRET #10: They follow the 80/20 rule

Known as the Pareto Principle, in most cases 80% of outcomes come from 20% of activities. Ultra-productive people know which activities drive the greatest results, and they focus on those and ignore the rest.

SECRET #11: They delegate almost everything

Ultra-productive people don’t ask, “How can I do this task?” Instead, they ask, “How can this task get done?” They take the “I” out of situations as much as possible. Ultra-productive people don’t have control issues and are not micro-managers. In many cases, good enough is, well, good enough.

SECRET #12: They create themes for days of the week

Highly successful people often “theme” days of the week to focus on major areas. For decades, I’ve had “Mondays for Meetings” to make sure I’m doing one-on-one check-ins with each direct report. My Friday afternoons are themed around financials and general administrative items I want to clean up before the new week starts. I’ve previously written about Jack Dorsey’s work themes, which enable him to run two companies at once. Batch your work to maximize your efficiency and effectiveness.

SECRET #13: They touch things only once

How many times have you opened a piece of regular mail—a bill, perhaps—and put it down, only to deal with it again later? How often do you read an email and close it, leaving it in your inbox to deal with later? Highly successful people try to “touch it once.” If it takes less than five or 10 minutes—whatever it may be—they’ll deal with it right then and there. This reduces stress because it isn’t in the back of their mind, and it is more efficient because they won’t have to re-read or reevaluate the item in the future.

SECRET #14: They practice a consistent morning routine

My single greatest surprise while interviewing these more than 200 highly successful people was how many of them wanted to share their morning ritual with me. Hal Elrod, author of The Miracle Morning, told me, “While most people focus on ‘doing’ more to achieve more, The Miracle Morning is about focusing on ‘becoming’ more so that you can start doing less, to achieve more.” While I heard about a wide variety of habits, most people I interviewed nurtured their body in the morning with water, a healthy breakfast and light exercise. They nurtured their mind with meditation or prayer, inspirational reading and journaling.

SECRET #15: Energy is everything

You can’t make more minutes in the day, but you can increase your energy—which will increase your attention, focus, decision-making and overall productivity. Highly successful people don’t skip meals, sleep or take breaks in the pursuit of more, more, more. Instead, they view food as fuel and sleep as recovery, and they pause with “work sprints.”

Tying It All Together

You might not be an entrepreneur, Olympian or millionaire—or even want to be—but their secrets just might help you get more done in less time and help you to stop feeling so overworked and overwhelmed.

Why To-Do Lists Don’t Work

Do you really think Richard Branson and Bill Gates write a long to-do list with prioritized items as A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and on and on?

In my research into time management and productivity best practices, I’ve interviewed more than 200 billionaires, Olympians, straight-A students and entrepreneurs. I always ask them to give me their best time management and productivity advice. And none of them has ever mentioned a to-do list.

There are three big problems with to-do lists:

First, a to-do list doesn’t account for time. When we have a long list of tasks, we tend to tackle those that can be completed quickly, leaving the longer items left undone. Research from the company iDoneThis indicates that 41% of all to-do list items are never completed!

Second, a to-do list doesn’t distinguish between urgent and important. Once again, our impulse is to fight the urgent and ignore the important. (Are you overdue for your next colonoscopy or mammogram?)

Third, to-do lists contribute to stress. In what’s known in psychology as the Zeigarnik effect, unfinished tasks contribute to intrusive, uncontrolled thoughts. It’s no wonder we feel so overwhelmed in the day but fight insomnia at night.

In all my research, there is one consistent theme that keeps coming up:

Ultra-productive people don’t work from a to-do list, but they do live and work from their calendar.

Shannon Miller won seven Olympic medals as a member of the 1992 and 1996 U.S. Olympic gymnastics team, and today she is a busy entrepreneur and author of It’s Not About Perfect. In a recent interview, she told me:

“During training, I balanced family time, chores, schoolwork, Olympic training, appearances and other obligations by outlining a very specific schedule. I was forced to prioritize…To this day, I keep a schedule that is almost minute-by-minute.”

Dave Kerpen is the cofounder of two successful start-ups and a New York Times-best-selling author. When I asked him to reveal his secrets for getting things done, he replied:

“If it’s not in my calendar, it won’t get done. But if it is in my calendar, it will get done. I schedule out every 15 minutes of every day to conduct meetings, review materials, write and do any activities I need to get done. And while I take meetings with just about anyone who wants to meet with me, I reserve just one hour a week for these ‘office hours.'”

Chris Ducker successfully juggles multiple roles as an entrepreneur, best-selling author and host of the New Business Podcast. What did he tell me his secret was?

“I simply put everything on my schedule. That’s it. Everything I do on a day-to-day basis gets put on my schedule. Thirty minutes of social media–on the schedule. Forty-five minutes of email management–on the schedule. Catching up with my virtual team–on the schedule…Bottom line, if it doesn’t get scheduled, it doesn’t get done.”

There are several key concepts to managing your life using your calendar instead of a to-do list:

First, make the default event duration in your calendar only 15 minutes. If you use Google Calendar or the calendar in Outlook, it’s likely that when you add an event to your calendar it is automatically scheduled for 30 or even 60 minutes. Ultra-productive people only spend as much time as is necessary for each task. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is notorious for conducting meetings with colleagues in as little as five minutes. When your default setting is 15 minutes, you’ll automatically discover that you can fit more tasks into each day.

Second, time-block the most important things in your life, first. Don’t let your calendar fill up randomly by accepting every request that comes your way. You should first get clear on your life and career priorities and pre-schedule sacred time-blocks for these items. That might include two hours each morning to work on the strategic plan your boss asked you for. But your calendar should also include time blocks for things like exercise, date night or other items that align with your core life values.

Third, schedule everything. Instead of checking email every few minutes, schedule three times a day to process it. Instead of writing “Call back my sister” on your to-do list, go ahead and put it on your calendar or even better establish a recurring time block each afternoon to “return phone calls.”

That which is scheduled actually gets done.

How much less stress would you feel, and more productive would you be, if you could rip up your to-do list and work from your calendar instead?