When he was in his fifties, Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin group, now 68, found himself in a board meeting where he didn’t understand the difference between two key terms: net and gross. This type of confusion may be understandable for a person who doesn’t work directly with money. But for Branson, whose name is practically synonymous with “entrepreneur,” this sort of bewilderment is surprising — even embarrassing. “As a dyslexic, I thought I’d been hiding my muddling of words and numbers well for years,” Branson explains in a recent blog post. “But I’d been rumbled. I couldn’t tell the difference between net and gross.”
Luckily, Branson recalls that a team member kindly took him outside to ensure that he not only knew the difference between the terms, but that he understood them. “He coloured a piece of paper blue, indicating the ocean, and put a net in the ocean with fish in it. He then explained that the fish in the net was the net profits and the rest of the ocean was our gross turnover,” Branson writes. The moment Branson describes is a lesson on human kindness: how small gestures — like taking the time out to explain a concept with compassionate directness — can not only save a person from shame, but can give them tools and knowledge that could influence the trajectory of their careers.
Branson also reflects on the benefits of knowing his learning style, writing, “Once I had some context that I was interested in, I could wrap my head around the concept easily enough. This goes for most things — find what you’re interested in and concentrate on that.” His observation aligns with well-documented research on education, which says student learning is improved when the teacher connects the content to the students’ own lives, or to something they’re interested in. In this way, Branson’s anecdote reinforces the idea that we are all students at heart — even the billionaires.
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