With his multiple companies and endless hair-raising stunts, Richard Branson is clearly a guy with huge reserves of energy and ambition. But even Branson doesn't go full throttle all the time. In a recent LinkedIn post the Virgin founder explained how he thinks through when it's time to push hard in his career and when it's time to step back, regroup, and replenish his supplies of energy and inspiration.
It's a timely topic. After nearly two years of pandemic disruption, the media is full of evidence that a great many of us are both incredibly burnt out and/or seriously reconsidering our priorities and career trajectories. From stories on the Great Resignation to spiking numbers of "digital nomads," it's clear that huge numbers of people are asking just the question Branson chose to answer in this edition of his monthly LinkedIn column.
So how does Branson decide when to step back and when to, in his words, "put the pedal to the metal"? His approach is two-fold.
Keep one eye on your energy levels...
The first half of his answer to this question is the most obvious: Step back when you're burnt out. "If you're starting to feel like you're just going through the motions and losing sight of why you started, it might be time to take a break, collect your thoughts, get some rest, and reassess your strategy. You don't make your best decisions when you're exhausted or overwhelmed, and you won't have the capacity to spot new opportunities and think creatively," Branson writes, agreeing with common sense.
"It is distinctly possible to stay too long at the fair," he continues, quoting Joan Didion. Sometimes what first feels like quitting is really a wise decision to regroup and shepherd your resources. Don't let pride, stubbornness, or the sunk cost fallacy get in the way of taking a step back and recharging when you've lost direction or inspiration.
And another on the market.
The first part of Branson's answer underlines an eternal, if sometimes hard-to-remember, truth. But the second part is a helpful reminder that while some principles are unchanging, opportunity, especially in entrepreneurship, is often fleeting.
"Timing is everything in life, and it's particularly crucial in entrepreneurship. People often equate success with luck, but it usually comes down to impeccable (and carefully mapped out) timing. Staying ahead of the curve; predicting market conditions; spotting opportunities before they arise; and forecasting the wider economic, social and technological landscape will really help you minimize risks when starting a business," he writes.
An idea that's worth a billion dollars today could have been worth exactly zero a few years previously, when crucial tech was yet to mature, or in a few years when competitors have already seized the market. The time to put the pedal to the metal is that brief window when your idea is most likely to succeed.
How do you spot that moment? "This comes down to really understanding what people want, what is set to trend in the industry, and what is going on in the wider economic landscape," Branson continues, adding: "Above all else, remember that the best time to go into a new business is when it's being run badly by others."
The short answer to the question of when to step back and when to jump in comes down to staying alert for moments when your interest and energy levels align with a promising opportunity. If you spot a chance like that, it might be time to forget about work-life balance for a while and go all out. But if either your reserves of inspiration or a crucial ingredient for success is lacking, you may be better off banking experience and energy until the right moment comes along.
Or, as Branson concludes, "I've been known to say 'screw it, let's do it' quite a lot in life, but I've learnt that this only works when the offer aligns with a well-timed opportunity."