Five Things I Learned About Innovation from Sir Richard Branson

Five Things I Learned About Innovation from Sir Richard Branson

I still cannot believe I had the opportunity to interview Sir Richard Branson one-on-one for our Luminaries video series – in which we interview prominent business, technology and government leaders.

If you have been following along, you know I was hugely excited just to be able to see Sir Richard Branson on stage at the CA World plenary keynote. I wrote about why Branson was a perfect fit for CA World, but now after the event it is hard to describe how energizing his presence, his stories and his ideas were.

However, about half an hour later – when the crowds had long since filed out – Richard (as he prefers to be called) came back out for an ‘intimate’ fireside chat with me on a quiet, empty stage (<– click to see the full video).

Surrounded by five thousand vacant chairs, I saw a completely different Richard Branson. He was less rambunctious and more candid, ultimately both more personal and more engaging. No longer performing for the crowd, he was quietly compelling in our short one-on-one chat.

In just 10 minutes (real time – we did it LIVE!) we covered a lot of ground, but I thought I would distil down just five key ideas about innovation that resonated with me.

1. Bring your own innovation
It is up to all of us to be the innovation we want to see in our businesses. Leaders must establish innovation as a brand-level goal, and everyone must be ready to find and act on their own ideas. Innovation is up to individuals, like you and me.

2. Encourage innovation by tolerating failure
It is important for innovative leaders to praise the successes of their people; but it is also important to avoid damning their failures. If you let people make mistakes, sometimes they will fall flat on their face, but sometimes they will do great things.

3. You have to be better
If you provide customers a fundamentally better product, you can battle giants and win. That means not just about starting out better, but staying better. Success requires continuous innovation, so you can find new opportunities to stay one step ahead of the pack.

4. The biggest innovations may be incidental
A CEO or CIO can use social media to share pics of their lunch or to help control a global business. Innovation itself is not always the goal, but it is often a means to other ends.

5. Find great people and delegate
Innovation requires big picture thinking. Innovators must be brave enough to free themselves from the mundane and routine so they can think big and focus on innovation. At every level, find great people to help you, to free you up for bigger, better things.

There was so much content in such a short interview, it was hard to pick just five key takeaways. You really need to watch it for yourself. I hear new things and have new ideas every time I watch it. Let me know what your key takeaways are – I would love to compare notes.

The questions:

• What does innovation mean to you, and how do you actively encourage it?

• Where does your passion for innovation and creativity come from? How do you try to foster that passion in your people? (Andrea and Brian through Facebook)

• What do you consider the biggest innovation of the past decade, and why? (Caitlyn through Facebook)

• What do you see as the single most critical factor in fostering a culture of innovation? (Katherine D. through Facebook)

• What was one of your worst mistakes and what did you learn from it? (Jacob Lamm – our SVP of Strategy)

• We have talked about disruption in IT, but you have disrupted businesses and entire industries. What do you think is the next BIG thing – the next BIG disruption – the next BIG impact – that we should all be looking out for? (Vickie through Facebook)

• How do you balance the time and resources that you and your teams need to be creative and innovative, with the need to deliver new products and services on time and in budget? (Mike Gregoire, our new CEO)

• With initiatives like Virgin Unite and the Branson School of Entrepreneurship, you are having a BIG IMPACT on youth development and STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics] education. Why is it important to excite the next generation about technology, especially in developing regions? (@AndiMann from Twitter)

I hope you enjoy watching the interview as much as I enjoyed bringing it to you!

btw: dazzled by the limelight of Sir Richard Branson, I totally fluffed on the definition of ‘STEM’. Yes, I know it is ‘Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths’ but in the interview, I said ‘Science, Technology, Education, Maths’. Ugh. *shameface* At least Richard knew what I meant – he corrected my mistake midflight, so graciously that I barely noticed.

This blog was originally posted on CA Technologies Innovation blog at