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Somewhat naive and out of date
on 9 April 2014
The trouble with this book is that it is written by a baby boomer who shares his generation's naive, rose tinted view of the world that comes from living in an era of unprecedented prosperity and the self help he offers is quite dated as a result.
He begins with some good pop psychology that has some merit although it has become terribly cliched these days. "I don't think that little word 'can't should stop you." It goes down hill from there. "If you don't have the right experience to reach your goal, look for another way in." And then "if you want to fly, get down to the airfield at the age of sixteen and make the tea."
I have absolutely no doubt that when Richard Branson started out in the 1960s, these ideas had some merit. However, even from this short sentence there are all kinds of problems with the advice he is giving. The most obvious is that no one hires anyone to make tea or act as a general dogs body anymore! The second is that if you quit school at 16 to work at an airfield when you have the option to go and get some science A-Levels and a relevant degree, then you're really making life a lot harder than it needs to be! A more sensible line might have been "then go and join the Air Force at the first opportunity."
But this is the problem with Branson's generation and it's why their advice is so useless today. They're blaggers who don't realise that employers are catching up. At one point he talks about his mother schmoozing her way into an airline job she wasn't qualified to do, which was great in the 1940s but not very likely in a world where employers use firms to perform background checks on new employees! It's also ignorant to misunderstand how sophisticated, competitive and long recruitment for any type of skilled job is these days. It ignores the fact that the widespread use of graduate schemes and internships mean you don't really get people 'working their way up' anymore. You don't get to one day fly a plane by mopping a hangar floor (anyone remember Tommy Reid from 'Come Fly With Me?')
I like Richard Branson's attitude but I cannot stand his naivety. Young people should not buy this book because there is much better advice out there about how to succeed in your goals. Things are much more competitive now than when Branson started out and it means doing the right things as early as possible. That means studying the right subjects, getting the best work experience than you can and building a network of people who can help you achieve your goals and act as mentors.
In Branson's world, however, one is led to believe you could become a barrister by starting out making tea for a judge and taking his robes to the laundrette; or an Accountant by doing the shredding for PwC or an IT executive by playing Football Manager. If this ever was the case, then let's just remember the world has changed a lot.