There’s a lot of talk about innovation but in practice, we know that actions speak louder than words. Entrepreneurs have gained a daredevil mystique through their high stakes approach to business, which often fails - but can also pay off spectacularly.
Richard Branson recently told the story of his ‘biggest light bulb moment’. He located it very near the beginning of his career, when he realised that the cut-price records he was selling through his struggling youth culture magazine Student provided a greater opportunity than the magazine itself. Through this revelation, Student was shelved, and Virgin Records was born.
In fact, the ‘light bulb’ that came on for Branson illuminated something that he was already doing. Having tested various other ways to make the magazine profitable and failed, he tried an experiment that turned out to be highly successful and used that prototype to take the next step.
The other key point is that he took a risk. A big one. By shutting down the operation he knew and banking everything on a new idea, Branson paved the way for a brand that would ultimately be defined by the breadth of its portfolio and adventurous spirit.
And there’s one more crucial element in Branson’s story of cross-industry switching: the people who went on the journeys with him. The entrepreneur credits his team for working with him through Virgin’s various adventures, and rightly so. Virgin is not Richard Branson, but an organisation of people who are galvanised by him into following him into the unknown.
Branson has said of his management style, “if you take care of your employees, your employees will take care of your customers and your customers will take care of your shareholders.” And of starting such a wide portfolio of businesses, he claims that it’s all about hiring the right people, giving them the freedom they need and stepping back. For Branson, disruption is a people skill.
And it’s not only entrepreneurs who shake things up, agitating to improve their organisations and their industries. Netflix has transformed not just the rental industry, but now also the film production industry. When Google launched Google Maps, it marked the inevitable decline of printed street maps. And British energy firm Octopus Energy is already challenging the “big six” suppliers by publishing the wholesale price that it pays for energy, identifying what it sees as the main issue for consumers that the industry has failed to address - consumer trust.
At Potential Squared, we believe that innovation is driven by culture. Join us in London on Thursday 7 March 2019 for a free event where we’ll be delving into the business case for innovation and hearing insights from innovating organisations who are successfully transforming their cultures.