Richard Reed is a successful man. An entrepreneur from a young age, he built up Innocent Drinks from a market stall to a hugely successful brand that was sold to Coca Cola for millions.
But he knows that he couldn’t have done it alone, and credits his success to four brilliant pieces of advice, each given to him just when he needed them most. Since then he has made it a habit to ask everyone he meets and admires, for whatever reason, to ask them for their best piece of advice. If they could tell him just one thing, what would it be?
If I Could Tell You Just One Thing is a collection of those pieces of wisdom, from a broad spectrum of politicians, celebrities, creative and business people, including President Bill Clinton, Sir David Attenborough, Bear Grylls, Richard Curtis, Mario Testino and Joanna Lumley.
65 different people are featured in the book – Reed clearly has an enviable address book – with the expansive advice covers everything in life: relationships, career, motivation, money, desire, habits and more.
But it’s not a guide to becoming an entrepreneur or millionaire. Instead it’s a conglomeration of wisdom that works for some, and may well work for you. Advice is always best heard, understood, and then filtered through personal experience and situation. Like a recipe, the perfect blend can help you live the life that works for you, as an individual.
So Jonathan Ive, designer at Apple suggests that it’s about focus, and advises that everyone find what their focus is. ‘Just do one thing. And aim to become best in the world at it.’ Arguably Apple have done just that.
The enviable life of Richard Branson may seem out of reach, but that doesn’t mean that his advice for life is irrelevant. Private islands, barbecues on the beach, daily tennis – it’s all play and no work right? Wrong. Because Branson works hard. Relentlessly. The thing is that he has fun doing it. ‘People talk about work and play as if they are separate things, with one being there to compensate for the other, but all of it is life, all of it is precious. Don’t waste any of it doing something you don’t want to do. And do all of it with the people you love.’
Similarly, Annie Lennox speaks of passion, and finding what makes you get up and go. ‘There will be moments in life when a light may go on, when you think to yourself, ‘I must do that,’ whatever it is….Cultivate it. Find that deeper purpose in your life.’ Whether that’s saving donkeys or writing hit songs, supporting the homeless or helping your mother, it’s valuable counsel indeed.
When travelling with President Clinton’s Reed was in awe unwavering commitment to his people and presence when with them, and describes the former US president as an ‘ unstoppable force’ in the community, hugging, speaking, posing and listening. His advice was simple – see them. Be fully present in the conversation. “I’ve come to believe that the most important thing is to see people. The person who opens the door for you, the person who pours your coffee. See them. Acknowledge them. Show them respect. The traditional greeting of the Zulu people of South Africa is ‘sawubona’. It means, ‘I see you.’ I try and do that.”
The lovely Olivia Coleman believes her own big break was a cleaning job as a teenager, as it taught her the importance of having something else to support her whilst acting, and the value of working in theatre and film and the joy it brings her. But it’s not cleaning that is her advice. Instead it’s a daily ritual that brings beauty to not only her life, but those of others. ‘I have a little rule that I’ve had for about 20 years now. When I leave my front door in the morning, I’m not allowed back in till I’ve done something nice for someone. It makes you feel nice and helps you remember you’re lucky.’
It’s the kind of piece that works well as an audiobook, as every time you dip in for even a few minutes you’re rewarded with some enriching thoughts and inspiration – although a pen and paper to jot down some of the insights could be handy at times. A repository of wisdom, Reed explains in the introduction that ‘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 benefit from the knowledge of more experienced walkers ahead.’
The experiences of these 65 people are well worth listening to.
Published on Canongate, and available now on Audible. Written and narrated by