The Best Business Advice I’ve Ever Received


Surviving in business is hard.

We all want to thrive, but sometimes it feels like survival is the best we can hope for.

In one of my favourite episodes of The West Wing, Sam Seaborn (played by Rob Lowe) is explaining to a White House colleague how he gets about thirty minutes of good work done each day and spends the rest of it just trying to keep up. I work for a very big company and I often know how that feels.

We all find ourselves trying to survive our jobs at some point, but as we try to do good work and create meaning in what we do, keeping up is often hard to do – no matter how big or small your company is. My friend Brian Solis describes the speed at which we do business today as “Digital Darwinism“. It’s a great phrase.

On the way to work this morning I was randomly scribbling down some of the best advice I’ve received during the last two decades of my career, and I came up with this short list, so I thought I’d post it. Maybe it will even inspire you this Friday as well. So here it is, the ten best pieces of advice I’ve received from people who I’ve met or worked with in some capacity, who have encouraged me to thrive, not just survive.


The first marketing book I ever read in 1990 finished with a great sentence that I still write today on the front page of all my notebooks.

“You can have everything you want in life if you just help enough other people get what they want”.



My all-time favourite marketing author. I’ve read all of his books. Twice.

“If you can’t state your position in less than ten words, you don’t have a position”.



In a keynote at Content Marketing World, Kevin (in character as Frank Underwood) gave an amazing address about how the audience is the most important part of any story. But…

“We must tell our stories as fast and compellingly as possible”.



The management consultant’s managing consulting, and author of one of the books that made me want to work in marketing, Re-Imagine. He told me the only three things you ever need to do to succeed in business are:

“1. Work harder than everyone else. 2. Go into every meeting more prepared than everyone else. 3. Always have a clever piece of research up your sleeve”.



I interviewed the ex-SVP of Marketing at Coca-Cola at recently about his superb book, Martketing. He talked about how he trusts technology more than people and people fall in love with brands the same way that they fall in love with each other.

“You must find a way to make people fall in love with your [idea/brand/company]”.



I love Tom Ford. At an event with the British Fashion Council recently he spoke about how he achieved so much success at Gucci, taking the brand from close to bankruptcy to a $10 Billion company within a decade. He said that no matter what business you are in, and no matter how dull or geeky your products and service may seem, there is only one thing you have to do:

“You have to find a way to make it sexy”.



Over breakfast a few years ago the co-founder of Twitter shared with me 6 rules for building a happy company. We chatted about Dale Carnegie and how many of those rules also appeared in Dale’s book “How to Win Friends” over one hundred years early.

  1. We Don’t Always Know What’s Going To Happen
  2. There Are More Smart People Out There Than In Here
  3. We Will Win If We Do The Right Thing For Our Users
  4. The Only Deal Worth Doing Is A Win-win Deal
  5. Our Coworkers Are Smart And They Have Good Intentions
  6. We Can Build A Business, Change The World, And Have Fun



I first heard about John twelve years ago when when a conference organiser told me that it was going to cost six-figures to get him to speak at our conference. I was desperate to understand what he could possibly say to justify that figure. He didn’t disappoint. I have since read almost all of his books.

“People will always describe you in one sentence. So you best make sure it’s a good one”.



Probably the speaker I most admire, along with Tony Robbins. His advice has shaped not just my carer, but most of my own keynotes.

“The goal in business is not to sell to people who need what you have, it is to work with people who believe what you believe”.



One of my favourite people at IBM, Lisa is our CMO of UK and Ireland. She helps to keep me sane. I think of some advice she gave me almost every day as I try to navigate my way around what is such a huge organisation.

“You just need to have ‘one win’ every day. You may have lots of challenges and difficulties throughout the day, but if you just keep hold of that one win and remind yourself of them all regularly, you will always be ok and do great work”.

Not a bad list of advice is it? My book Ten Words will be out in a couple of months and I focus a lot of one sentence manifestos and people who have changed the world starting with ‘ten words’ over the last century. Words are powerful.

Communications Designer @IBM • Climate Reality Leader • Lover of Old Business Books, Clever Technology and the NHS • Based in London, UK.

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