Why is Richard Branson more successful than you?

By Rayne Handley

Published Date: 2019/06


For most people, there is something inexplicably compelling about competition. We are biologically hotwired to be competitive, stemming from our primal survival instincts. In the modern era, this competitiveness manifests in a plethora of ways, notwithstanding within our careers.

As a highly ambitious and career driven individual, I found myself asking the question, “how I could be better than the most successful South African CEO I know?”.

After many vlogs, blogs, and opinion pieces I believe I have found the answer. It is not to be smarter, faster, or more hardworking. True success as a business leader lies in being extraordinary.

The obvious question then is, “what makes one extraordinary and where can I sign up?”. It’s not so much as having a goal as it is attaining those goals time and time again. It would appear that the general consensus is that being extraordinary is not a traitor a quality but rather a set of habits, behaviours and attitudes.


First off, being extraordinary is not for the faint-hearted. Malcolm Gladwell estimates that on average it takes 10,000 hours to become extraordinary at something. It’s not an overnight fix or a quick mindset shift. It is laborious and continuous dedication, investing hours every day, every week, every month, every year to become exceptional at something.

So, off the bat, not everyone has the dedication required to be extraordinary. The extradentary embark on a long-term journey focussing more on how they are going to spend their valuable time every day as opposed to deciding on a goal and setting short term targets.

Practice deliberately. Don’t just practice what you’ve already mastered but intentionally improve upon your weaknesses. Being extraordinary is more to do with dedicated and deliberate practice than innate talent.

The extraordinary rise up again and again with unwavering tenacity, continuously perfecting the art of practice until they are undeniably set apart from the rest.

Swim upstream

When we look at definitions of the word ‘extraordinary’, we see explanatory words such as ‘unusual’ and ‘not typical’. Being extraordinary required you to swim upstream, go against the grain, break the status quo. This is deeper and significantly more profound than being different from others. To be extraordinary you need to differentiate yourself in the right way, at the right time.

Being discontent with your environment and yourself is important. This is not to suggest a negative self-loathing for who you are and where you find yourself but rather a burning desire for change, growth, and improvement. The extraordinary are never content with their accomplishments but rather continuously find ways to challenge themselves and disrupt their environments. This does not suggest that every strive towards becoming extraordinaire will pay off but rather that the law of large numbers means that the mindset of continuous exploration of possibilities and continuous testing of assumptions will generate extraordinary outcomes eventually, tying in with the need to be dedicated and persistent.

If you are serious about being extraordinary you need to challenge your commonly accepted assumptions, new assumptions open the mind to endless possibilities. Challenge your assumptions about yourself through deep contemplation, challenge the assumptions made by those around you individually and collectively to identify where swimming against the current is most likely to be fruitful. 

Take risks and admit defeat

The extraordinary and exceptional take calculated risks with exuberance. They appreciate that challenges create the perfect environment for opportunities to achieve. Turbulence offers a chance to test solutions, practice improvising, and an environment for creative thinking. The extraordinary does not shy away from risks, they mandate risk-taking. Be daring, be courageous, be tenacious, put your neck on the line. It seems fitting for me to put in an age-old idiom, “nothing ventured, nothing gained”.

Risks are inherently risky because the most probable outcome is a failure. Extraordinary people expect to fail… a lot. What separates them is that they embrace failure as a lesson in how not to do it. While the accomplished defend themselves and excuse their mistakes, the extraordinary take ownership of their failures and share their successes. It is better to know your dead ends and bad ideas and refocus than to flog a dead horse or waste time assigning blame. Even exceptional people are not perfect but they accept the sunk costs of a bad idea, readjust and try again.

Just do it!

Overthinking and over planning is risk aversion masked as tact. While planning and strategy are important don’t forget to take action and do. The age-old Management 101 lesson on Pareto’s 80/20 rule comes to mind here. Its 20% planning and 80% execution. 80% of your success is likely to come from 20% of what you do. Life isn’t fair and evenly distributed. To be extraordinary, to be an outlier, you have to take that 20% that leads to results and do it better, more often, more regularly. Don’t overthink it, don’t over analyse it, don’t over debate it. Think about it and connect the dots, if it makes sense and you see the reward, give it a go. Big ideas are better tested and refined through action than discussion or contemplation.

Extraordinary people are not smarter or better at coming up with ideas – they work twice as hard for twice as long and fail more often. Why? Because they take action more often than you do, they learn from their mistakes, and never let failure discourage them. Take a line out of Nike’s motto… and just do it. Being exceptional is not a decision, it’s a journey – the 10 000-hour journeys. The goal is irrelevant, it doesn’t matter how fancy or spectacular your goal is that makes you extraordinary is trying to better yourself and the world each and every day. Being proactive every day, practising every day, ruling out options every day, refining your process every day. Being extraordinary is an everyday kind of initiative more than it is a 5-year plan.

You have to push the outer boundaries of your potential daily. You will never know just how extraordinary you can be unless you push yourself tirelessly to find it.

Extraordinary is easier with people

Being extraordinary is easier when people like you, help you and believe in you. Listening to others may spark ideas, supporting others builds their allegiance to you and your extraordinary endeavours, working in a team allows for brainstorming. It's difficult for many to relinquish some of the control, power, and autonomy but the extraordinary know that they need the help of others to ensure they have enough free time to focus on building extraordinary skills.

Asking for help is not seen as a sign of weakness but rather a strategic decision to better equip oneself. Exposing ourselves to a plethora of ideas, assumptions, perceptions and opinions we offer ourselves new ideas, a sounding board for those ideas, and a wealth of support in actioning our ideas.

The “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with” phenomenon, while not per se 100% scientifically validated is generally accepted to be true. Surround yourself with extraordinary people to learn their habits and ways of thinking to emulate in your own career.

Always give people due credit and show gratitude. Not only does this build allegiance with the extraordinary people you surround yourself with, but it also incites the reciprocation of credit and gratitude which can encourage you and guide you on your path of being extraordinary.

Extraordinary people are in a league of their own, incomparable to the mass of accomplished and almost accomplished. The extraordinary see no benefit is wasting idea generating, extraordinary practising, risk-taking time. The extraordinary doesn’t rise above because they bring those around them down, instead they leverage those around them to be better equipped to succeed. The only person that the extraordinary aim to be better than, is themselves.

I believe the exceptional list is now exhausted, the rest of the attributes and behaviours, being passionate, being authentic, being objective, staying abreast, in my opinion, sets you up to be accomplished and successful but not per se extraordinary.

So now you know how you can be just as extraordinary as, if not more than, Branson. Or at least we can try :)