21 November 2010

“It hurts, doesn’t it?”

“What’s that?” I replied.

“That feeling inside of you now…. it hurts doesn’t it.”

It certainly did and although I smiled, I thought, ‘I am not giving him the pleasure of saying that again’.

I realised why he is such a great motivator. That’s all he had to say, a simple observation, making me focus on the pain I was feeling and boy it hurt all the more.

I had been warned that this was Richard Branson’s game. We were the last to leave the beach. All the others had gone back up the hill to the Great House. It was after midnight and Richard said, “Right, who’s for a game of Perudo?”

If you were like me and had no idea what Perudo is, it is a game of dice that is played on the streets of Peru.

It was during the game that I asked Richard if he’d mind me interviewing him. I had spoken to the EN Magazine and they’d expressed an interest in it. Richard agreed to the idea and on the last day before leaving, whilst sitting in his kitchen, I had one of the most enlightening conversations of my life. It was a great moment with the kids playing with baby tortoises in the garden and Gail and Joan talking in the background. I really felt a million dollars.

To get advice and insights from a man like Branson is a serious gift and that’s one of the reasons I feel the need to share them. He is a man who does things the “wrong way,” he bucks convention and he is one of the few men alive who have managed to create, maintain and grow huge corporations yet maintain his entrepreneurial flair.

So, when he talks, I listen.

Without spoiling the interview, one of the things I highlighted is Richard’s propensity to compete – at everything!

He plays tennis twice a day and he is always playing chess, backgammon, or racing round the island on a catermaran or kite surf. The man never stops but there is always a challenge imbedded in everything he does. I highlighted this and he said something along the lines of, “life’s all about the challenge.”

Ten days later, on business in Dubai, a friend showed me his computer screen and I read the headline, “UKFast wins IT employer of the year.” It was a really proud moment. I’d completely forgotten it was the week of the UK IT Awards.

It means a great deal to win an award because they represent milestones in our history. They are accolades that are owned entirely by the team and reinforce why we all work so hard at constantly trying to improve and better ourselves.

So this week, as finalists at the MEN Awards in Manchester it would have been the “triple” if we’d picked it up. We were in the £10m to £25m category. We’d previously won the under £10m group in 2008.

It was a disappointment even though I wasn’t truly expecting us to win it. It was jolly decent of them to include us again, and as they announced the winner, I remembered that Branson moment. I focused on the pain of losing and turned up the dial and, as I did, I began to understand.

It was right that we didn’t win it. We can do so much better. There aren’t more hours in the  day, yet we are wasting time by not being as organised as we could be. I savored the moment. This is the fuel that I need to rise to the next level and understanding this fills me with confidence. I realised that losing is as important as winning and the sinking feeling of losing is actually a great motivator.

Back in the kitchen on Necker, I reminded Richard of one of his biggest losses. I asked him how he felt after the Northern Rock debacle, where after huge amounts of work and courage to take on one of the biggest mess ups in banking history, his bid and his team, Virgin Money, were ignored for a weaker state run option. He spoke at length about winning and losing and on this particular occasion, he said, “Oh, I went out and got completely pissed!”

I now understood. It is the avoidance of feeling failure that partly drives him. It is common sense; if you remember the feeling, you are more likely to work harder to avoid it. I remembered just how motivated I was to improve when playing Peruda.

As a man who has had plenty of practice of getting things wrong, I have been using failure as an effective mechanism to inspire change without knowing it. But this time, with the added weight of my entire focus on my failure to bring home the prize to the most deserving workforce I have ever had the pleasure to work alongside, I felt sick.

That feeling drove me to ask the question, “What else can I do to drive UKFast even further, even faster making our product the very best in the market place and setting a new standard in hosting?”

With all the great people supporting me, I do believe I have the answers. I certainly have the right team around me both inside and outside of work. Looking through this new set of spectacles, I am beginning to think I have been overcomplicating something that is essentially very simple.

But strangely, that horrible empty feeling became almost pleasant, knowing that I am about to take the reigns and step up a gear or two and inspire the UKFast team. After all, I have only myself to blame, and only I can set the example. I have some extraordinary goals and I cannot afford to miss them. I can’t imagine the pain and disappointment for all of us involved.

It is safe to say, I am going to do everything necessary to avoid the negative association with missing future amazing milestones.

So, I headed to Wales for a simple weekend in the mountains with my family and some of my closest friends. I am feeling inspired, truly inspired.

A few years ago, I was a dreamer. A hopeless young man desperate for a purpose, directionless.

Today, I am a man on a mission. I know where I am going and why. I have a greater understanding of the game. I’m here to compete. I am on this planet to make a difference. I cannot wait for monday morning!

Oh, and back on Necker, I won those next 2 games by the way. I am sure you can guess what I said to Richard.

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