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Innovation. Like a Virgin.
Many organizations dedicate time specifically to innovation. Some organizations, and their leaders,
dedicate their life to it.
Virgin is one of those organizations.
What began as a mail order record company in the 1970’s has grown to become one of the most diverse,
irreverent, and innovative companies in the world. Led by charismatic CEO Richard Branson, Virgin
Group invests in and builds companies that not only redefine the customer experience, but also entire
industries. From comic books to cola, from air travel to space travel, Virgin dives into a wide range of
business sectors and tells you to expect the unexpected – in a good way.
But what enables Virgin to innovate over and over again? What drives its culture and makes innovation
part of the everyday? Read on to discover some of Virgin’s secrets and learn how they might apply to
The Four Elements of Innovation
futurethink's Innovation Case Studies are designed to provide insights on today’s leading innovators.
Information about each of the companies we feature covers the four key elements of innovation:
Setting a foundation that defines innovation objectives and mobilizes your efforts.
The notion that innovation is serendipitous is dangerously outdated. The secret to success lies in
crafting an action-oriented strategy. It means setting a vision for your company to follow, and
turning innovation into an expected result, not a lucky one. Innovation is handled like any
business initiative—with an eye on growth, revenue, and profit.
Developing a stream of original ideas tied to real business objectives.
In today’s economy, the ability to continually fuel innovation is what separates winning
organizations from the rest. Idea generation should be managed, purposeful, and clearly linked
to business objectives. Leading innovators succeed by balancing out-of-the-box thinking with
sound management principles.
Creating a streamlined and flexible approach to shepherd innovative ideas to market.
The reality in every organization is that money is limited. To make sure you’re spending
effectively, you must have a streamlined process for innovation. A good process will help to
consistently identify your best projects and enable you to move them forward more effectively.
Building a thriving work environment that drives innovation across your organization.
We live in a world where the new replaces the old very quickly. Only organizations that keep pace
with the changing marketplace will be able to stay ahead. So how do the best companies adapt?
They maintain a climate in which employees are encouraged to innovate in a continuous and
consistent manner. The companies that stay ahead have made innovation part of their DNA.
futurethink analysts develop case studies by drawing from a mix of extensive research, organizational
and customer interviews (where possible), and by experiencing first-hand interactions with the
organization. We want to thank those individuals who contributed to this case study and provided the
information found here which made the Virgin story so fascinating.
We hope the information contained on the pages that follow offer some insights and inspiration for
innovation in your organization.
Being a Virgin
Virgin is a company that strives to do everything—EVERYTHING—differently.
In 1966, the early stages of Virgin began. As the story goes, Richard Branson was a dyslexic sixteen-
year-old that dropped out of school to establish the national English publication, Student. At twenty, he
founded Virgin Records as a mail-order record retailer by advertising in Student. He picked the name
while talking to some friends, noting that "since we're complete virgins at business, let's call it just that:
Redefining an industry’s entire way of doing business became what Virgin was all about. When Branson
co-founded Virgin Atlantic Airways in 1984, his goal was to redefine long-distance airline travel from
being a miserable experience into a pleasure. The service Virgin provided was beyond ‘something
different’: business-class travelers were transported by limousine, pampered like royalty in a specia