So, you’ve decided it’s time to innovate and level-up your business. You’ll need to brainstorm but confining yourself to a stuffy office cubicle is unlikely to produce that vital ‘aha’ moment. As Sydney-based entrepreneur Chris Dutton explains, sometimes you need to escape your usual work habitat (think somewhere exotic), rub shoulders with your peers and hangout with your hero.
In May, this year, Chris – the CEO & co-founder of The CEO Magazine – was, for the second year in a row, invited to Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Island to take part in the Virgin founder’s ‘Change Makers and Rule Breakers’ event.
The week-long event provided Chris with a rare opportunity to network with his international peers, tap into some of the world’s best entrepreneurial minds and learn from the superstar himself.
Dynamic Business recently had the opportunity to chat with him about his experience and his thoughts for other entrepreneurs looking for new, innovative ways of thinking.
Dynamic Business (DB): Did mingling with a diverse pool of entrepreneurs help you as an entrepreneur?
Chris Dutton (CD): Connecting with Branson and the other entrepreneurs definitely revealed new ways of looking at enduring and recurring problems. When you become immersed in such a positive ecosystem and surround yourself with people who genuinely believe they can change the world, then you focus and believe in only positive thoughts. It opens you up to new ideas about how to overcome existing issues in life and in business.
I gained insights from one lady who was close to death twice and wrote a book from her hospital bed. I don’t think I truly knew what guts and determination were until I spoke to her. Then there was Branson himself – he made me think more about how to make important business decisions – what advice to listen to and how to structure the decision making process.
In addition to new ways of thinking, new business opportunities and alliances have arisen from the trip – it is hard not to form such partnerships when you are surrounded by brilliant minds, you are naturally drawn towards these types of people in business and in life.
DB: Were attendees comfortable brainstorming business ideas or were they guarded?
CD: The attendees were very open about sharing ideas. Sometimes, when someone has an idea, they can have an overly protective mindset – many VCs won’t even consider an investment opportunity if you ask them to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). They get pitched for investment opportunities all the time and many these days won’t sign an NDA. It’s not something start-ups should be concerned with. As Adeo Ressi (CEO, The Founder Institute) told me once, if you think you are the only person in this whole world who has thought of the one idea you have, then you are wrong. Passion and drive for a new idea or start-up is worth a lot more than a signed NDA.
DB: What role do peer networks play in fostering an entrepreneur’s innovative mindset?
CD: Peer networks play an important role in developing and maintaining an innovative mindset, no doubt. You are absolutely more likely to become successful in life if you surround yourself with successful people; this is something Branson himself preaches and he is spot on.
DB: The event’s theme was rule-breaking and driving change. How do these behaviours play into success?
CD: After spending time with Branson, I left with the notion that there are no such things as rules in business and in start-ups. As he once said, you don’t learn to walk by following rules – you learn to walk by doing. You fall over, you dust yourself off, you get up and you try again. New business ventures are no different – the concept of constantly trying and not accepting ‘no’ for an answer are very important in business.
DB: The event was held on a beautiful island in the Caribbean. Does venturing out of one’s usual work habitat stimulate innovation?
CD: Necker Island is absolutely stimulating and inspiring, and stepping out of your usual work habitat definitely helps. When you are surrounded by brilliant people on one of the world’s most exclusive and beautiful islands, it is hard not to feel motivated. Escaping to somewhere like Necker Island – the beauty of the place – is the catalyst for how ideas are borne. So I encourage my fellow entrepreneurs to take some time away from their desks because some of your best ideas will born while you’re out there, taking the world in.
DB: Drawing from your Necker Island experience, do you have any advice for small business owners, including start-up founders?
The biggest advice I can give is that you have to absolutely believe in what you are doing and never be afraid to try new things. If you don’t give something a go, you will never get anywhere. Why bother having a business or an idea if you aren’t going to go in 100%? However, trying 100% doesn’t involve just effort – you need more than just that. You need to push yourself and step outside of your comfort zone. If you are not happy taking risks, then either change or get advice from others that are. You never want to die wondering ‘what if’ – if you have a start-up or business that you genuinely believe in, then make it happen. Failure is not something to be feared; it is giving it a go that is the true mark of an entrepreneur or successful business person.
[Editor’s note: Dynamic Business recently covered the World Business Forum in Sydney where Sir Richard Branson regaled attendees with tales from his storied career. You can read about it here.]