Richard Branson

A unique business idea can be hard to come by, but even once you have what you believe to be a cracker business idea, convincing someone else — say, an investor or business partner — of its merit can sometimes be a tough sell.

After launching both a successful record label and airline, Virgin founder Richard Branson set his sights to more ambitious projects, including dabbling in space travel and breaking a number of world records. One of the more significant projects Branson has been involved with is The Elders, a non-government organisation of public figures advocating for human rights and world peace.

While Branson is not an Elder himself, he does sit on the advisory board and came up with the concept of the organisation with fellow entrepreneur and musician Peter Gabriel. In a recent blog post, Branson discussed the issues he faced when trying to convince various thought leaders of the value of The Elders, including ex-US president Jimmy Carter.

“Former US President Carter was among us; he questioned whether there was such a need and we were bitterly disappointed,” Branson writes.

Overcoming that disappointment, Branson and his team instead put a question to Carter, asking him what he thought the world needed.

“When you think you have a great idea it can be easy to get wrapped up in it. Listening is as important as talking when debating, as is keeping a cool head even if things are not going your way,” Branson says.

“If your opinion is not being heard, sometimes it’s good to be diplomatic and try and turn it round and approach it from another direction.”

Branson then said after a week of debate, Carter left the meetings with the view The Elders could be “the most important thing that he or any of the rest of the group had done in their lifetime”, says Branson.

“We managed to turn everyone into believers in the idea by empowering them to shape it themselves — they left 100 percent committed. Sometimes you have to get through your disappointment, refocus and try another tack,”  said Branson.

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