Brain Food: Lord Birt - If I had to start again

If I could have my time over again, I would make exactly the same call on all the big decisions. I don't have any regrets about the forks in the road I've taken. Joining the BBC was the beginning of what was a very painful period in my life, though one that I regard as being very successful. I never ever regretted going there - it gave me a richness of experience and an understanding of the world and exposure to so many different things that I can't imagine my life without it. I think I left behind a highly creative and modernised organisation. Most people recognise that the BBC responded to the digital challenge probably better than any other broadcaster in the world. I was proud to have led the organisation in that way.

There are lots of lesser things along the way that with hindsight I would have done differently - management is an extremely imperfect activity; you make very large numbers of decisions and many of them are not quite right. Have I made mistakes? Yes, like everybody else, but I don't find any big mistakes on my conscience.

Alternative lives? It would be wonderful to have been born a gifted footballer or to be able to play a musical instrument beautifully or to be able to sing. They would be my fantasies. More realistically, I could have been a film director - and given my earlier career that was a real possibility - but I don't regret not being one. I also wish I'd been a foreign correspondent: I spent a lot of time when I was at the BBC visiting foreign correspondents and I always envied them.

Everybody has regrets about the skills, the knowledge they don't have. I envy economists for their ability to understand how the world works. I also wish I had a better understanding of history and a more formal grounding in literature.

Lord Birt was deputy director-general of the BBC from 1987 to 1992, and director-general from 1992 to 2000. He is now strategy adviser to the prime minister.

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