Tackling challenges with curiosity

Richard Branson on the balcony at the Ulusaba property during sunset
Image by John Armstrong Photography
Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 16 October 2019

“What on Earth should I do?" is a question every entrepreneur asks themselves at one point or another. If you tackle the challenge with curiosity and a can-do attitude, it is also the question that will launch your career.

The best way to answer this question is to look at what you love and what you don’t. Let’s get started. Grab a pen and paper (always have your notebook handy - you never know when the next great idea will come to you, and if you don't write it down, it may soon be gone forever), then answer these two questions:

1. What do you love?

Make a list of all the things you are passionate about or that interest you. It doesn't matter how trivial or random the items are, or if they don't appear to lead to an entrepreneurial idea - one could spark an idea that turns into a business.

Now look at your list, and think about the industries and markets it touches on. Are any of them ripe for innovation?

Think about the companies in those areas whose products and services you like. Most established businesses have some shortcomings - their customers are just waiting for a better alternative to arrive. Whether the businesses involved are small local operations, online superbrands or global corporate giants, if they’ve stopped innovating, you have an opportunity to seize the initiative. Sectors where companies have gotten too comfortable and have stopped putting customers first are particularly ripe for disruption.

Richard Branson sitting in a chair writing
Image by John Armstrong Photography

Also look into starting up a related business. In hotspots like Silicon Valley, each successful start-up seems to spawn other enterprising ventures that make the initial creation even better. 

So rather than being discouraged when you find that someone is already acting on an idea similar to yours, welcome the competition. Pick specific examples of what you think their enterprise is doing brilliantly and try to learn why it works so well. Crucially, also look for areas where they are doing less well, and work out how your start-up could improve on things. Get in contact with them and ask plenty of questions. You'll be surprised to find how many successful businesspeople are willing to give advice and guidance - they were all budding entrepreneurs once!

Side shot of Richard at a table
Image by John Armstrong Photography

2. What do you dislike?

Next, think about things that annoy, confuse or even anger you. If you ran the world, what changes would you like to make? Again, do not censor your thoughts: just write!

Especially think about moments when you’ve experienced frustration. Whenever I see something that doesn't make sense, like shoddy service on an airline, I start to think about how it could be improved upon. Many Virgin Group businesses have been sparked by an employee’s exasperation that another company wasn't doing something well.

As a customer, you have to know when a business doesn’t deliver its promises. Now, as an entrepreneur, you are in a position to build a business that fixes those problems. The company that results is likely to make people’s lives better and you are more likely to be passionate about its purpose.

Richard Branson sitting down and drinking tea at Ulusaba in South Africa
Image from Virgin Unite

Next steps:

Now look at your lists. If nothing immediately comes to mind, take some time out from your day to think about you can act on those items to make the world a little bit better.

Next it’s time to start testing your ideas. You need to be brave and put must accept that there are a lot of risks. Even the most carefully laid out plans don’t always meet with success, so it’s often better to put your product or service out there so that people can try it out. While you’re in the testing and planning phase, go back to all those people who suggested that you become an entrepreneur and ask them for specifics about what they see as your strengths. Tell them about your ideas and ask for honest, raw feedback about your next steps. I do this too – I have always discussed new business ideas with my friends and family before turning them over to lawyers and investment experts.

Finally, don't be afraid to ask your loved ones for support - you'll need it and they'll gladly give it. With their help, I'm sure you’ll be able to call yourself an entrepreneur very soon.