When it comes to building brands, there are few in the world even in the same orbit as Virgin’s CEO Richard Branson.

Knighted in 2000 for his services to entrepreneurship, Sir Richard has built Virgin into an iconic, global powerhouse.  Part and parcel of his success have been the ability to differentiate his brand, to think creatively about how to carve out market share against stiff competition, and to employ a never-say-die mentality that refuses to stop striving forward.

Writing in this week’s issue of Newsweek Magazine/ The Daily Beast, Branson reflects upon “his favorite mistake.”  This compelling column (one of Red Banyan Group’s favorite parts of the magazine) features some of the world’s most interesting and innovative leaders casting their memories back to events which seemed like formidable obstacles at the time, but actually proved critical to achieving long-term success.

Branson’s column recounts the epic failure of his brash effort to build brand awareness around the young Virgin Airlines by attempting to shatter the speed record for crossing the Atlantic by boat.  Not only did Branson fall flat when his boat split in half, but he also missed the birth of his child because he was floating on a life raft in the middle of the ocean waiting to be rescued. To add insult to injury, a major English newspaper featured a front-page photo of the shattered boat submerged in water, with the Virgin logo clearly visible on the shattered shard.

It could have been a demoralizing setback, but the ever-optimistic Branson seized the opportunity by making the mocking photograph into the centerpiece of a new advertising effort.  Below the image of the floating wreckage the company added the tagline:  “It’s Virgin. Take the plane.”   Writes Branson: “Afterward, Virgin Atlantic was well and truly established and everybody knew the Virgin brand name.”

There are a number of lessons to be drawn from this story; not just that you’ll be better off flying Virgin than going boating with its top executive.  Branson’s piece speaks to the needs for companies, especially young ones, to take bold risks.  It highlights the benefits that can come from turning adversity to triumph through a combination of creative thinking and gall.

It also shows us that there is much to be gained by not taking ourselves too seriously all of the time, and it reminds us that even the world’s most successful leaders didn’t achieve their ultimate goals overnight.

Perhaps more than anything else, Red Banyan Group thinks that Sir Richard’s anecdote illustrates the power of conviction to overcome all odds, and it stands as a testament to the limitless potential that springs from unflagging optimism.

Check out the full text of the article here. It is well worth the read.