Of twisted and bifurcated life trajectories — and the life of Sir Richard Branson

On one of my last days at school, the headmaster said I would either end up in prison or become a millionaire. That was quite a startling prediction, but in some respects, he was right on both counts!

Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group

Richard Branson has had a seemingly upward success curve in his life, turning almost everything he touched to gold. However, his headteacher was uncannily correct in his prediction, i.e. that Richard would not have a “normal” life and that his life could be either highly successful or horribly go wrong. He is certainly not the kind of person who would have been happy with a 9–5 job and his life might have easily gone wrong.

Most people in life have straight life trajectories. They go to school, get a job, get married, have kids. All these things are good, but hard to achieve for some personality types. They might drop out of school, despite being gifted, they might find it hard to hold a 9–5 job and take to alcohol and drugs instead. They might not find a partner until later in life and finally they might not consider having children because they never think that the circumstances are right.

Richard has had it all and much more. Even though his success seems more like the left picture, his life-trajectory is more like the right picture and his life might have taken a wrong turn, just like his headteacher predicted. What makes me so sure? Well, first of all he never gets tired of telling the story himself, so there must be more than a grain of truth about it. Second, Richard had a hunter-gatherer mind, or what Thomas Boyce has termed “orchid” people, who thrive only under certain conditions, but when they blossom are more beautiful than all other flowers (dandelions in Boyce’s terminology).

What makes Richard Branson an orchid/hunter-gatherer type? He has many traits that are typical for hunter-gatherer minds, that I have been writing about in this blog:

  • left-handed (creative)

Richard initiated an international group called “”, that included the late Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu and musician and human rights activist Peter Gabriel. What all these people, including Branson have in common, is their personality type. All of them share the NF temperament in the Myers-Briggs personality inventory, also termed “the diplomats”, or “gatherer types”, as I have called them. The group works for peace and human rights, not necessarily every entrepreneur’s passion.

The boy from Blackheath/London had never had much chance to finish school with his dyslexia and ADHD, he dropped out at age 16. He could have easily gone to prison thereafter, like many young people with ADHD do, e.g. for drug abuse. As much as 20% of prison inmates suffer from undiagnosed ADHD . I had a friend with ADHD in my teens. He was into drugs and drinking and dropped out of school only after a year of attending the same year as me. I have wondered many times if he ever went to prison. Like many other kids with ADHD Aaron had also comorbid ODD, which got him regularly into trouble with all kinds of authority.

Fortunately, Richard Branson did not end up in jail, but as a millionaire and billionaire. As a teenager I listened to many of the artists, like Mike Oldfield that became famous through Virgin Records. I love to tell his story to my students, it’s an inspirational story for all neurodiverse students and in general those who struggle in school. The following quotes show, that his business has never been about money, but passion, playfulness, non-conformism and creativity (typical hunter-gatherer type traits):

A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts.

You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.

I can honestly say that I have never gone into any business purely to make money. If that is the sole motive, then I believe you are better off doing nothing.”

Originally published at http://the-big-ger-picture.blogspot.com on October 23, 2020.