The Advantages of Being Disadvantaged

Richard Branson is one of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs, not because he is successful or worth about $5 billion, but because he is tenacious and has, unlike most, a no-quit attitude. When a person demonstrates consistent perseverance, imagination and courage, even in the face of defeat, public ridicule, ruin or loss, as Richard has, the world stands up and takes notice… and the odds of that person one day becoming successful are through the roof.

As a youth, Branson was the quintessential slacker. He didn’t conform to society’s expectations of an obedient teen. His mind vibrated to the beat of a different drum. He had an independent spirit which allowed him to see things in a way that others couldn’t, or wouldn’t. And, he had one other advantage: Dyslexia. Advantage? YES.

Strength does not come to those sitting down, or to those who were granted right of passage without paying their dues. You don’t develop a deep hunger for success by being mollycoddled by your parents and teachers throughout adolescence. You develop a hunger by experiencing loss, missed opportunity, being on the outside looking in and learning to deal with handicaps.

Mistakes, misfortunes and trials provide the credentials needed for entrepreneurial success. Such credentials, only gained through experiences that many would consider devastating or frustrating, can give one the tenacity to keep pushing forward and the ability to stay calm when most would succumb to the stress of uncertainty. That headstrong tenacity is a pre-requisite for entrepreneurial success. And that is exactly what Richard Branson has.

Richard’s tenacity, only developed by learning to battle through life with dyslexia, allowed him to not give up early on in his entrepreneurial career when bankruptcy looked certain. His dyslexia, to most an impediment, was a godsend; it forced him, at a very young age, to draw from his handicap and learn different ways of achieving results. His so called handicap taught him to tap into a part of himself that all of us have, but usually lay to waste: our imagination.

Most academic systems, including the one that I went through, touted the benefits of logical reasoning and thorough critical analysis of a step by step approach. Basically, we are taught to try and mitigate risk as much as possible. Risk is bad, or so we are taught.

But, it’s not always about the numbers that make businesses work. How could you possibly model the benefit of a micro blogging product like Twitter, before it took the world by storm? There are some things we just can’t put into a spreadsheet, and usually that’s where the entrepreneurial treasure map is hidden.

By living with dyslexia, Branson honed his visual learning skills, gut feelings, imagination and other internal skills to a point that he can feel what’s going to happen with a company. And because he learned to live with a handicap, and realized it gave him strengths others hadn’t tapped, Branson enjoys taking risk. That has been one of the veins of his success.

His tenacity also got him to a point where he refused to stay down after a loss. To cherry pick just one example in his life as an entrepreneur, many years ago, when Branson was leasing his first airplane to start an airline, he was on a check ride with the authorities to certify the aircraft before he could be granted the necessary permits. He didn’t have insurance just yet, which would only come after the certification; and the certification would only come after the successful check ride. During the ride, a few weeks before the scheduled opening of his airline and its maiden flight, the plane took off only to fly into some birds, totally destroying one of the engines.

[Tweet “some things we just can’t put into a spreadsheet – that’s where the entrepreneurial treasure map is hidden.”]

The cost to replace the engine was his alone to bear, and at the time he was far from the billionaire he is today. An average jet engine ranges from $2 to $5 million. This was a heavy burden and scary financial decision, but Branson’s gut told him to stay the course. In most cases, lesser entrepreneurs would have packed up and called it quits. Others would have claimed it to be an omen portending a tumultuous future. All Richard did, however, was put his nose to the grindstone to raise the money needed to fix the engine. He was successful. The engine was replaced. The check ride passed. And the maiden flight went off without a hitch – no delays.

Today, Virgin Airlines is one of the top in the world, propelling Branson to once again get out of his comfort zone and reach for the stars, literally, with Virgin Galactic.

You cannot fit tenacity and imagination into a cell of a spreadsheet. You cannot box it in to the corners of a proposal. Branson grabs uncertainty, and what many of us would consider risk, with both arms, cost-benefit analysis be damned.

Although virtually impossible to realize at the time, obstacles, challenges and painful experiences will make you a better entrepreneur, provided you let them work their magic. Your supposed disadvantages are the very things that will end up giving you an advantage over others.

Stay hungry,
Aaron Hoddinott signature




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