Introduction

A single piece of advice can change a life.  It has mine on several occasions. And over the years I’ve gained a deep appreciation of learning from people both wiser and more experienced than myself. So ten years ago I made a simple promise to myself: whenever I met someone remarkable, I’d ask them for their best piece of advice.

The result is this book.

If I Could Tell You Just One Thing . . . walks the full spectrum of human experiences and emotions, from those of Simon Cowell at one end to those of Lily Ebert, an Auschwitz survivor, at the other. In between, you’ll find the considered wisdom of presidents and popstars, entrepreneurs and artists, celebrities and survivors; from people who’ve made it and from others who have endured incredible hardships, from those who’ve climbed as high as you can go in life, and from people who’ve witnessed the worst of what humans can do to one another.

Good advice is like a nutrient-rich broth, made from boiling down the bones of life. And being fed so much of it, sourced from such remarkable people, has enriched my life and understanding of my fellow homosapiens immeasurably. If chosen well, a few words can capture and disseminate the main insights gained from someone’s hard years of experience, thereby allowing us all to benefit from them. That is certainly the aim of each of the encounters in the book.

Every person is someone I’ve engaged with, either through running my own business, or from my subsequent varied career working in government, charities, the arts and the media. Some people featured are friends, some are people who generously agreed to be interviewed, and a few are unsuspecting folk I ambushed when fate put us in the same room at a party, a conference or, in one case, at a urinal.

When I ask people for their best piece of advice, I urge them to really think about what they consider to be most important. I put the exact same question to everyone: Given all that you have experienced, given all that you now know and given all that you have learnt, if you could pass on only one piece of advice, what would it be?There is something about asking people to stand behind just one nugget of wisdom that gets them to reflect harder, dig deeper and be more candid in their response. And it has led to some extraordinary answers. The material is diverse and wide ranging, and covers everything from achieving success to dealing with failure, from finding love to having better sex, from getting the best out of people to surviving abuse. There should be something in this collection that speaks to everyone.

Most people when asked for advice are happy to give it. This desire to help is a manifestation of the better part of human nature; it costs nothing, can be shared infinitely and will last indefinitely. And I hope that this is the first of several books. For there are countless remarkable people on the planet, and this first collection only captures the insights of a fraction of them. There are endless stories to be told and wisdom to be captured.

Over time I hope to help create a global commons of advice, a shared pool of wisdom that everyone can both contribute to and gain from. After all, as a species we are much more alike than we are different.And while everyone’s path through life is unique, we can all bene t from the knowledge of more experienced walkers ahead, who can tell us of the most beautiful things to see and guide us to the safer places to cross the river.