Screw Business as Usual by Sir Richard Branson is a book I’ve taken a long time to read – grabbing time here and there over the last few months to read a chapter at a time.
The book in a superficial sense is just a huge 360 page PR leaflet – Branson is incredibly skilled at selling and promoting the Virgin brand, and as, in a sense, it is an autobiographical account of the way in which he’s done business it is of course a self-hyping book. But if you can look beyond that, you can see that Sir Richard Branson truly believes that business can and should be done in a different way which benefits more people, whilst still being successful in our normal understanding of business.
This is a must-read for anyone interested in business, entrepreneurship, social issues, the future of capitalism, and the current challenges that face the world today. Despite its playful title, it is idealistic but provides real-world examples, tells stories about famous people by focusing on their deeds not their fame, that is a highly entertaining read at the same time as dealing with challenging issues.
Branson builds a strong case for the business world’s potential to address social, economic, political and environmental issues by creating new business models and new ways of doing business. He does this not by some theoretical or pie-in-the sky fluff, but rather by stories of organizations and businesses that have done it. So his narrative is planted firmly in the real world and that is what is so inspiring and concrete – a departure from the usual nonsense that fills so many business, self-help and do-good tomes that fill the shelves these days.
Despite the underlying gravitas, the book is an easy read. The big picture is built by narrating stories about new organizations, leadership groups and businesses that are combining business and social causes. The cases are mostly related to what has been done in the Virgin Group, but also include stories about people that Branson knows personally, which includes a network of extraordinary breadth. He seems to be able to call virtually any world leader, politician, musician, movie producer or activist to form a team to deal with issues ranging from healthcare to poverty to environmental issues.
In essence he challenges us to live out our life as a global citizen, caring not just for ourselves but for others. The book focuses on Virgin, and Virgin Unite – the charitable arm of Virgin, but it also includes inspiring UK companies such as Innocent Smoothies, John Lewis and the like. There is a ground swell for more responsible leaders who actually do something for society instead of playing lip service to the idea.
If you enjoyed books like Tom Friedman’s “The World is Flat”, you would probably enjoy “Screw Business as Usual”. This might seem like an unlikely connection, but just as Tom Friedman travelled the world to illustrate how globalization was changing the way people do business, Branson does the same for “social entrepreneurship”, for want of a better term.