Ask just about anyone to describe Sir Richard Branson, and one of the first adjectives you're likely to hear is some variation of 'fearless'. From dressing in drag to drum up attention for his businesses to flying a hot air balloon around the world, the man seems utterly unfazed by the prospect of both embarrassment and injury.
Is it just how his brain is wired, or does he have some secret approach to laughing in the face of risk that the more cautious among us could learn? Writing for his blog on Virgin.com recently, he explained everyone can get better at dealing with their fear of failure. "While some people are better at coping with failure than others, all of us can work at it," he insists.
How? Apparently, that's going to the be subject of an upcoming Virgin Unite Google Hangout with Branson and model-turned-media-tycoon Tyra Banks. But in the post, Branson lays out a few basics of how he thinks about failure -- and how other people can learn to be less terrified and more risk tolerant.
No failure, no fun
First, Branson reminds readers that no one ever did anything interesting without experiencing failure along the way. "Failure is the first step to success," he writes. But not only is failure necessary for great achievement. It's also necessary for fun.
"Fear of failure can be crippling. It can leave people never wanting to try new things, explore opportunities or desire better circumstances," Branson goes on to say, quoting VC Vinod Khosla to emphasize his point: "'No failure means no risk, which means nothing new.' What a boring and dismal way to live and do business." The first step to learning to embrace failure, then, is accepting it as useful and inevitable (even fun!).
Failure as learning tool
But just because you know you need to risk failure to achieve your dreams doesn't automatically make your emotions obey your logic. Your rational brain might know all about the value of risk, but your emotional brain might beg to disagree. In those circumstances, Branson recommends you try to focus on what you're learning.
"There were countless times during our record-breaking hot-air balloon trips when I wondered whether we were going to make it back down to Earth alive," he confesses. "But every time, I learned lessons from making mistakes during previous trips and was able to adapt."
Failure, he asserts, is "one of our greatest learning tools," so when you're in the grip of fear, try to focus on what the experience can teach you instead of just ruminating on negative outcomes. And remember, even if things go badly and your project goes down in flames (happily, unlike Branson, you're probably not actually piloting a large hot air balloon that could literally go down in flames), the results might not be entirely pleasant, but they're also almost certain to be instructive.
When you do fail, "it's important to pick yourself up, retrace your steps, look at what went wrong, and learn from your mistakes. If you can learn from the experience, you should be able to avoid making the same errors next time. This is the key to bouncing back, and ultimately the secret to success," Branson concludes.