“Getting your face on the front pages of newspapers or social media timelines is a very effective way of getting your brand out there.” That was Richard Branson’s answer to my question, ‘Why are challenges so important to you as an entrepreneur?’
Successful entrepreneurs are often defined by their attitude to risk and danger, and the Virgin founder has certainly blazed a trail of going to extremes, even putting his own neck on the line, to promote his brand. He is still a firm believer in the merits of stepping outside your comfort zone for the benefit of your business.
“The spirit of adventure has always run through yours truly and it’s something we wanted to come across in the Virgin brand,” he says. “Making challenges, such as attempting to cross the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in a hot air balloon, a Virgin event, rather than a personal crusade, made all the more sense.”
His famous balloon exploits, the subject of a new film ‘Don’t Look Down’, have also included a near-death experience. During the 1987 trans-Atlantic attempt on the Virgin Atlantic Flyer, a balloon malfunction forced co-pilot Per Lindstrand to jump into the sea, leaving Branson all alone in the balloon capsule that suddenly rocketed skyward to 12,000 feet. The harrowing experience did little to quench his thirst for adventure, but it did change his attitude to risk.
He says: “I can safely say I’ve never felt more alone than when I was in the balloon capsule at 12,000 feet. Coming so close to death didn’t deter my appetite for adventure, but it did make me think twice about the type of risks I was willing to take. In that respect, it’s a similar approach that hardened entrepreneurs take to business. We’ve had plenty of Virgin businesses that didn’t work out and had to be closed down, but it hasn’t put us off trying new things or taking further risks. When things don’t go to plan you need to assess what went wrong and make sure you don’t repeat the mistake, but a true entrepreneur – or adventurer – won’t let it put them off for good.”
Tackling extreme physical and mental challenges has helped entrepreneur Vaughan Rowsell, founder of software company Vend, discover coping mechanisms he never knew he had.
He says: “I’ve just finished cycling around the ‘skinny bits’ of the world, circumnavigating the globe in 60 days, and at times the only thing that kept me going was staring at the blurry white line on the road taking me to my destination. You learn strange lessons that translate into business and tough situations later on; don’t get distracted, don’t panic, just stay focused and appreciate the small wins, and you’ll get through.”
Challenges also provide perspective. “Going on a crazy adventure allows you to work through problems, clear your mind, and appreciate other great things in life, so you can come back re-energised,” he says. “That makes a big difference to how you can lead your people and your company.”
Challenges that test people’s physical limits can also help to build strong teams and create a culture of trust and camaraderie that pays dividends in the workplace.
The team at Y.CO, a challenger brand of the super yacht industry, are constantly encouraged to do things beyond their normal reach. These have ranged from surviving a 100km trek from the Barneo Ice Camp to the North Pole, traversing shifting sea walls, ice walls and ice mazes, to cycling 1,000km from Saigon, Vietnam to Angkor Watt, Cambodia, in 10 days, on a route that takes in steep mountain climbs and dense jungles, and temperatures of 35 degrees C.
“An important reason for taking on these challenges is to inspire everyone at Y.CO to push themselves outside their comfort zone,” says co-founder and CEO Charlie Birkett. “During extreme challenges, you rely solely on teamwork and team strategy to get you through. During the challenge to the North Pole last year, each of us had to completely rely on the other eight people. The team was essentially responsible for saving your life if it came down to it. It’s a huge responsibility for the rest of the team.”
Back at work, the Y.CO team work together and look after one another in a similar way. “Being in a team is about much more than the bottom line,” says Birkett.
Pushing the boundaries of your physical endurance can make you a better business leader; at least that’s the reasoning behind the decision of Rose Ross, founder of Omarketing, to join the army reserves and train as a recovery mechanic with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.
She says: “I’m an entrepreneur, a single mum, founder of a tech startup awards programme and co-founder of a technology news-site. To say this is outside my comfort zone is an understatement. It is physically challenging; at 49 years of age I am daunted by the run time and other physical tests, but I believe that it is also great way to hone my leadership and people management skills.
“I’m only at the beginning of the journey but I already feel calmer and more confident, and that I can remain cool and calm even in a tough business situation. Sometimes a situation can become overwhelming, but being overwhelmed is never a good time to make decisions and move even the trickiest of situations forward.”
Facing and overcoming physical risks and potential danger can also put the trials and tribulations of running a business into perspective.
Branson adds: “There have been some terrifying moments in the history of Virgin. I remember the bank manager coming to my home on a Friday and telling us he was going to close the Virgin Group down on the Monday morning. Spending a whole weekend scrambling around to avoid going bankrupt is an overwhelming experience, but nothing can quite match up to the fear and adrenaline I faced trying to cross the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in a hot air balloon. Those adventures help put things in perspective.”
This article was written by Alison Coleman from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.