Achieving Success: Winning is Easy When You Write the Rules

Richard Branson Virgin Success copyAre you looking to succeed more in life? Is there something you want to win at or conquer?

You’re not the only one looking to win…but you could be the one who does win. The secret to making it in business is not “eat or be eaten”. In fact, you win when you move away from the crowd—away from those eating sharks—and create your own space.

The secret is to live on your own terms. Become a rebel, a maverick, a disruption. Use your passion to separate yourself and do something new.

Some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs are the best mavericks. They’ve disrupted industries time and time again. All of them have changed the rules of the game. They have innovated not just their products and services, but the needs of their customers. They’ve even created needs that weren’t there before them—and they’ve won.

Richard Branson blazed his own path when he realized how horrible airline service was. Before Branson, people didn’t think that flying could or should be fun. But Branson knew better. He took the “boring” out of flying and gave air travel a splash of fun and cool. He saw a need for better experiences in the air and he created a luxurious, fun airline that was different from any other. His rebellion was so successful that, last year, Virgin Atlantic earned £46.8 million in profits. Not bad for a maverick, right?

Steve Jobs also rebelled against “normal”—in the computer industry. He envisioned a computer that acted more like the 3D world around us and less like a complicated machine. Before Jobs, people didn’t think they needed better computers. But, Jobs created a need for simple and intuitive electronics and filled it—first with Macs, then iPods, then iPads, then iPhones. Today, “innovation” is synonymous with “Apple” and Jobs is often credited as a genius. All because he used his passion to separate himself from the crowd.

Elon Musk is another maverick in motion. He has seemingly endless billion-dollar ideas, all because he’s not afraid to be different. Always making the impossible possible, he co-founded Paypal to make financial interactions smoother and faster than anyone ever imagined. After that, he founded SpaceX for space exploration and Tesla Motors, now worth $20 billion alone. calls Mr. Musk “The Ultimate Maverick” and Forbes shows that this rebel is #66 on the World’s Most Powerful People list.

So, how can you come from left field and re-write the rules of your industry or field? You’ve already got your own skill set and a unique, innovative idea inside you. The trick is uncovering it– by discovering yourself.

Free Your Inner Maverick

To be a leader and an innovator, you need to know how to be a maverick first.

People in the herd don’t win. If you’re in it, you feel lost and confused. That’s because you can’t see what’s beyond the crowd. You’re forced to move where everyone else moves. You’re forced to talk the same talk and walk the same walk as everyone else around you. Maybe you’re struggling to do it better or faster, but it’s a rat race you just can’t win.

As a maverick, you get clarity. You can see to the horizon and beyond, because there’s no herd in your way. Which means, you can forge the fastest, best path.

To get the clarity and direction a maverick has, you need to understand yourself very well. What kind of person are you? What is your unique skill set? What are you known for? And what will you be renowned for?

Maverick leaders have 6 main traits that make them successful:

1.  Bold confidence and courage.

Apple’s employees work hard because they work to change history. Even though Steve Jobs wasn’t a kind boss, he knew his ideas and his ideals were invaluable. He was inspirational and he had the courage to make something new. That’s why people followed him.

The lesson Jobs taught us is: Ideas with a cause are captivating. If you’re the one forging the path, others naturally follow you.

But, where do you get the confidence to be a great leader?

When you know your core values—what you have to offer—you can walk firmly with your values as a guide. Identifying your values gives you the confidence to trust your own actions. Then, that unwavering confidence will cause your customers to follow you and trust you, automatically.

2.  Admirable Self-awareness and Strength-based leadership.

After so many start-ups, no one knows his own strengths better than Richard Branson. In an interview with Entrepreneur Magazine, he revealed how he made Virgin Airlines such a success: “My team followed me despite very logical criticisms…because we knew our strengths: We knew how to entertain people, and how to find out what amused them. This wasn’t anything the other airlines were doing, and so we were able to offer something new: a fun, entertaining experience at 35,000 feet.”

Branson also knows that, even when you fail, “self-awareness can speed up the learning process and help you along the way.”

So, know who you are and what you’re good at. If you find and use your strengths, you’ll automatically be better and more in-line with your business than anyone else. That means, if you’re good at seeing the big picture, create big-picture ideas and plans. If you’re good at helping people, make that a key component of what your businesses does. Also, if there’s something you don’t know, it’s time to call in other experts to help you out.

Just like the Virgin Team, using your strengths can be the difference between blazing your own trail and trying to fit in when you see a crowd.

3.   Strong Instincts. 

As a maverick entrepreneur, it’s hard to know when to listen to others and when to do things your way. But, you know when you’re right. You’re right when you deal with your strengths. You’re right when your instincts are strongest. And you’re right when you follow your values. Really, “instinct” is just another word for “values”. Sometimes you can’t see the values in an action directly, but, subconsciously, you still know them. Take that knowledge and roll with it.

As Richard Branson admitted, he’s able to ignore critics because he knows what works for him: “Knowing your business and yourself can also help you to know when to follow your instincts, so you can find the courage to move ahead and ignore the advice of naysayers. When we launched Virgin Atlantic in 1984, many people doubted us, since we had no experience in the industry. We hired experienced aviation experts for help, but as we’d suspected, our lack of experience in the business turned out to be an asset.”

4.  Drive to Realize Ideals.

When California announced that it would build a high speed train between LA and San Francisco, it was a good step forward. But, not good enough for a maverick entrepreneur. Instead, Elon Musk insisted that, “If we are to make a massive investment in a new transportation system, then the return should by rights be equally massive. Compared to the alternatives [the California rail system] should ideally be: Safer, faster, lower cost, more convenient, immune to weather, sustainably self-powering, and not disruptive to those along the route.”

The key word Musk used was “ideally”. After all, an idea that’s already doable is not going to disrupt an industry. That’s why rebel entrepreneurs aren’t interested in creating something possible. They only strive for what’s ideal—then they make it possible.

Ask yourself if your idea is an ideal. Does it meet all the current and future needs of the industry for the long run? Does it make the impossible possible? If not, you’re not maverick enough quite yet.

5.  An Eye for Detail.

Last year, Apple and Samsung faced an unprecedented legal battle over tiny details most Apple consumers never really thought about. I remember reading an article about the rounded corners and shading of Apple’s icons and how Samsung was trying to copy that style. At first, I thought it was a little far-fetched. Then I realized: those details are really what make my MacBook better, less machine-like than other systems. Those details are also the reason people wait in line for days to get the newest iPhone. Apple always improves the details.

So, don’t ever forget about the details. Details are the things customers notice most. They are the difference between mediocrity and excellence. If detail isn’t your strength, hire someone who can work with the details. And always think about small improvements that could make your product even the tiniest bit better, faster or prettier. Nothing is too small to be ignored.

6.  Integrity.

WorldCom, Enron, Barclays, Martha Stewart, and Lance Armstrong all make the public cringe. We wish these businesses never existed. We wish we never supported them. These massive failures—from big businesses to personal brands—all happened because they underestimated the power of integrity.

As a trail-blazer, it’s important to create a trail people want to follow. Integrity is a huge part of that. Keep your values in line and stay true to your promises. If you lose sight of yourself, people will quickly notice. And they’ll find another maverick to follow. Instead, create a list of uncompromisable ethics to follow in your business and stick to them—because your success depends on it.

People remember you when you do great things, not just for yourself, but for the world.

Make Money as a Maverick

Once you’ve got the qualities of an innovative leader, you can harness them to disrupt your industry with success.

Innovative businesses have no competition because they create something so much better. They identify value that people haven’t thought about before, so that the perceived value buyers were getting from other products becomes small and obsolete.

Use your core values to create value in the market. Instead of identifying current needs your audience has, identify needs people don’t already know about.

Then turn your great idea into a profitable business. Here’s how:

1.    Work well with others.

It’s impossible to do everything alone. So, focus on your strengths and let others do the rest. The flip side of knowing your strengths is knowing your weaknesses. When you can’t do something, hire someone who can. You’ll save yourself time and money and be able to tackle more, faster.

It’s also important to value your team. Surround yourself with people who will support and complement you on your path. A good team will keep you going when times get tough.

2.    Commit to being professional.

Successful businesses are proactive, not reactive. That’s because professionalism means not taking things personally. Put your best foot forward, make good deals, and don’t work without a system, or contract, in place.

Coca-Cola is proactive and professional. When the public started worrying about the health drawbacks of Coke, the company took action. They released advertisements and initiatives telling consumers to think before they drink. Coke’s “Together” website is a great example of professionalism. It encourages nutritional awareness and a healthy lifestyle—and acknowledges that Coke is not good for you.

3.    Execute with excellence.

A great idea is only as successful as it’s execution. So, bring out the drafting board and create a sound business model. Take a good look at what you want your profit margins to be and how you’re going to achieve your business goals. If you need, hire a consultant to help draft your business and branding plans. There are also lots of business plan templates online.

4.    Improvise when necessary. 

When Martin Luther King, Jr. got to the podium on August 28, 1963 to deliver his infamous “I Have a dream” speech, he never expected to utter those words. Instead, he just started reading the notes his speechwriter, Clarence B. Jones, had scribbled down the night before. King kept his gaze mostly toward the paper, reading words that weren’t his.

Until something extraordinary happened. There was a pause in the speech and King looked up. Suddenly, one of King’s supporters and good friends spoke out from the audience, “Tell ‘em about the ‘dream.” That’s when King went off script. “I have a dream” echoed throughout the streets and still echoes in our hearts today. It was a bold improvisation that changed history.

Like Martin Luther King, Jr., maverick entrepreneurs must have the courage and intuition to improvise when necessary. It’s always good to have a general plan in place for when something goes wrong. King used his strengths as a visionary to speak from his heart.  You can use your values and strengths to fill in any gaps you encounter. Then, you’ll be able to improvise if something unexpected happens, and stay at the top of your game.

Being a maverick isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. When you’re dealing with big ideas and big projects, it’s important to have a clear idea of what you stand for and where you’re going.


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