I was a determined child, always on the lookout for my next adventure and wanting to discover things on my own terms. Luckily, my parents gave me the freedom to explore the world around me, and see it in all its colours. I was encouraged to be curious, never told I couldn’t achieve something and always allowed to fail. I will be forever grateful for my mum and dad’s parenting style – it not only served me well as a child, but has also greatly shaped the adult I have become.
I have held on to this childlike sensibility throughout my life, and used it to drive my approach to business and personal relationships. Children see the best in people and the world around them. We can all learn a lot from their wide-eyed enthusiasm.
Leaving school early to start a business can be that beginning of a steep learning curve, one that causes many people to grow up fast. On me, though, it had the opposite effect. When I started my first business at sixteen, I felt like I was a toddler all over again. I didn’t have any experience, but instead of feeling embarrassed and discouraged, I embraced my inner child and leaped into the unknown. Like a toddler, I had to learn on the spot, by doing. I failed time and time again, on so many different accounts, but always picked myself up, determined to master a skill and then move on to something new and exciting.
And I did – launching Virgin with this same blinding optimism, which many people called naivety. In the early days of Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic, none of us really knew what we were doing. But, like children, unaware of the rules, we pushed through and achieved what others deemed to be impossible. As the brand’s name suggests, we were all business virgins, willing to try things for ourselves for the first time. With no preconceptions and no idea of what would work and what wouldn’t, we did things differently and paved our own path to success.
I learned so much in those early days of business, to the extent that now, whenever I come across a challenge, I find my mind and actions reverting to those days, or often even further. There’s a lot we can learn from how the unexperienced and the innocent look at the world and navigate obstacles.
Seeing my kids grow up has been the greatest pleasure of my life, and has also taught me some of life’s greatest lessons. While my wife Joan and I taught Holly and Sam their ABCs and how to tie their shoelaces, they taught us so much more. Their hopes and desires encouraged me to keep chasing my big dreams. Their intrepidness and fearlessness gave me the confidence to keep putting myself outside my comfort zone. Their thirst for knowledge and new experiences were my incentive to keep questioning and challenging the status quo, and never rest on my laurels.
Holly and Sam are now both in their thirties, with babies of their own, and I’m still learning. I love being a grand-dude to three gorgeous toddlers, Eva-Deia, Etta and Artie, and to little baby Bluey. They not only bring me so much joy but also inspire me. Watching them develop and come into their own personalities has been nothing short of wonderful. Their minds are extraordinarily powerful and their outlook on life unscratched. I have particularly enjoyed watching them learn to walk. It’s been a truly eye-opening experience that all adults can learn from. They have each had so many spills and tumbles, yet, while they have bumped and grazed themselves time and time again, their egos have not been bruised nor has their willingness to try been diminished.
It’s easy to become weighed down by the stresses of adulthood, and deliberately dismiss the energy of the young – but this is a big mistake. There’s nothing wrong with being a kid at heart. Children look at the world with wonder and inquisitiveness, and see opportunities where adults often see obstacles. I believe that we should not only listen to them more, but also act more like them.
Paul Lindley has put together the book Little Wins: The Huge Power of Thinking Like a Toddler to motivate us all to do just that. As the title suggests, there is huge power in thinking like a toddler. Paul and I know all too well that ‘little wins’ can produce big rewards, and have made sure being childlike is a core cultural value at the heart of both Ella’s Kitchen and the Virgin Group. As Paul once said to me, ‘We can all unlock more creativity, confidence, ambition and motivation within ourselves, by looking at our lives through the eyes of a toddler’.