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'Nearly all the problems facing society today cannot be attacked by single disciplines.'

Dr Alexander King

This blog contains hundreds of original articles. 


And book a talk and buy my new book MICROMASTERY

"I couldn't stop telling people about this book. Wise and joyful, it genuinely changed the way I thought about learning - and it left me bursting to put it into action."  - Tim Harford, author of Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy

"Micromastery is a triumph. A brilliant idea, utterly convincing, and superbly carried through." Philip Pullman.



Go and get it from a bookshop.

Or Buy online! Micromastery - learn small, learn fast and find the hidden path to happiness is published by Penguin books (UK) in May 2017. It will be published in China, Taiwan, USA, Germany and South Korea in the months after that.

You can get it at Wordery- click below

Or for those amazon junkies click this one:



Give yourself a task ladder

Following on from the suggestion that you find what level of task you can assign yourself I suggest putting the final job you'd like to give yourself- say CEO of your own company or feature film director or round the world yachtsman- at the top of 'a ladder' of jobs which reaches from the humble level of the kind of job you absolutely KNOW you can assign yourself and carry out successfully. In between fill in the 'rungs' with intermediate jobs that overlap and seem possible once the one below has been completed. Use the task ladder to work up to giving yourself truly huge jobs you can successfully carry out....


What level of job can you assign yourself?

One of the most useful concepts originated in the self-help sphere by Sci-fi writer A.E.Van Vogt was to ask of yourself: 'what level of task can I assign myself and carry out successfully?'

Lots of top executives on big wages can only take orders or follow pre-set routines. They cannot give themselves a higher level task than painting a fence or doing the laundry. It was a sobering realisation that the highest level task I could give myself was organising an expedition....starting a business, say, was beyond the task level I could set myself and carry out.

Until I met someone else who I could team up with. Together we set up a business that I could never, would never, have done on my own.

The modern era has seen jobs become even less attractive....and the chance to do your own thing even easier. There is money out there to be found. The only barrier is being able to assign yourself that task. But this is not a barrier if you have a group (which can be two of you, that's enough). You can assign yourselves tasks that alone would have seemed impossible.


Trimtabs, Great Men and the Collapse of Society as we know it....

Buckminster Fuller was fond of an arresting analogy. He likened himself to a trimtab- a micro rudder on the side of the huge rudder found on a tanker or other large ship.The trimtab alters the pressure on one side of the rudder allowing the giant forces of the boat moving forward to be utilised in turning such a heavy craft. If you tried to move the whole rudder from its 'ahead' position without first having a little help it would be impossibly hard.

Bucky saw himself as a trimtab.

A tiny change in pressure allowing for the utlisation of massive societal forces.

One might argue that so called 'great men and women' are also trim tabs. They intuit the currents, interests and concerns of the populace and focus them, use them, ride them to prominence.

In return they have little control over what they do. If you've ever seen a popstar start singing stuff other than their famous hits you'll know how fickle 'diehard fans' are. A leader is controlled by his followers just as much as he controls them. Hitler- the archetypal authoritarian- was actually afraid to commit the German economy to a total war footing until A YEAR AFTER Churchill did- because he thought it could be too unpopular....

Success - if this means prominence, weath and status- comes from identifying trends, organisations, jobs, movements, social currents that are on the rise. You then learn to surf them...

Going against the crowd may guarantee a certain amount of attention, but history will forget you. In the grand scheme of things- human things- you are an irrelevance...

Harsh? Maybe. And of course in the really grand scheme, of which we know very little, something of only slight interest.

But render unto Caesar what is Caesar's....we all need to live in the world even if we aspire to not being USED and ABUSED by it...

As a writer on self-help type issues, I am often asked about how to solve the eternal modern conundrum between 'doing what you like', 'making a difference' and 'making a living'. By younger people mostly, or those who haven't found a cosy niche in the developed world.

It's a peculiarly modern problem because many institutions- education, the law, government, the military are no longer perceived as sane, fair and just places of employment. In the past all of these could have offered a career with far fewer moral compromises.

The social currents are different now. It may well be that we are on a major downward trend in terms of societal cohesion. The growth in polarised politics, soft authoritarianism and corporate sociopathy is perhaps an indication that we are in a cycle leading to eventual collapse.

Idries Shah once made a gnomic comment that such concepts as 'the 11th hour' were tame...more truthfully we were now living in 'the 8th day of the week'. In other words, we can STILL use our old concepts but they simply don't make sense, exscept to point out how far out on a limb we are.

It is quite possible that society has already collapsed much further than we imagine. One obvious benchmark is mental illness- rising in an epidemic fashion, maybe, but just as interestingly (being objective here) with nothing indicating that it will get any better. One can only foresee greater stress, greater mental health problems in the future.

Grim news maybe...

So the question becomes: after you have analysed the social currents in your current era, what do you do if the direction is DOWN. 

Imagine you are in Nazi Germany in 1944 or Soviet Russia in 1980....your best option is surely to flee. But what if you can't? Do you just keep your head down as people have since the beginning of time and make the very best of close friends and family and useful but not earth shattering work?

Well, that's one option which works. It's certainly better than getting incinerated by the implacable forces ranged against you.

However we have other options. Travel is one. By travelling a lot we gain a unique and valuable perspective on the world. Things may not be as bad as we imagine.

We can also start our own steerage committees. By this I mean a group, which ranges from two to several people, maybe more, who can all take the wheel at the same time. In the days before super tankers and trimtabs, the giant rudders of the old sailing ships sometimes needed two or three hands to turn them. The ships were smaller and the limiting idea that a helmsman should be a lone individual not widespread.

Being an outsider figure, a lone voice in the wilderness is not conducive to mental stability. On the other hand, a support group that is just a random collection of nice people doesn't function any better than friends and family. To 'make a difference' you need to get a group going who are in tune with each other and the currents of society.

If that current is one of societal disintegration the group should work on building self-reliance, teamwork in everyday situations, the ability to spot those who have enough perspective to realise the state the world is in, clever ways to make money without losing too much soul or energy, the ability to 'pose as normal' without being part of the meat grinding system...keep a suit and tie ready to deflect attention away from the fact that you don't obsess over your next work promotion. The origin of secret societies in former times was a way to maintain value in cultures where the main currents were toxic. Oddly enough, we live in such noisy times, no secrecy at all is now required....being ignored is the default setting.

But beyond pointing this out, what then? What do these little groups of know-betters do? What everyone else does but with a lighter touch, a different spin maybe...but mainly to learn and instruct and inform others of how to live in a completely non-institutional, informal way. Oh sure, institutions can be used- to get money or training on a short term basis, but they will exact their pound of flesh eventually. It's a fantasy to imagine you can change the world in any direction except the one it is already going- but you can learn to observe that direction, and like the voyager space craft use the pull of other planets to speed you on your way without being trapped in any one orbit...But you won't be alone, assemble your team, your gang, your non-negative pals, plot that course, build that ship...

As a former school teacher I know that the character of a class of 30 children is dictated by three or four kids. Of course you can over-ride them with authority, but if you leave that class to it's own devices then a small number will set the tone.

Set the tone.



walking Camino Real in winter

A pal who has just walked the whole Camino in winter (finished a few days ago) had this to say about his kit choices:

"The kit was amazing.  The Paramo Cascada jacket with ‘one’ long-sleeve icebreaker merino sleeve was good in ‘feels like’ -9C whilst walking.  With another merino and / or gilet, good when stationary too.  And kept me dry when it pissed it down torrentially for 4 hours.  Loved the gaiters - kept the trousers clean and made me look, and feel, like a ‘pro’.  Biggest surprise hit was the icebreaker merino wool beanie.  When it arrived in the post one day before leaving I was, “ah fuck!  I’ve ordered the wrong item”, but for the first time I had a breathable, tiny, lightweight head-covering that kept me comfortably warm but not too hot - love it.  Total Osprey convert.  Items I should have taken but didn’t... a change of shoes (man, should have got those crocs!); and, a small dry bag for phone / wallet."

Get out there!


angry emails

Write the angry email. Keep it as a draft for a few minutes. THEN Delete it and write the same message in a cunning way, with humour and self-deprecation but still firm, still achieving the same result.


what you need to know about new technology

1. Technology goes through three phases: inventing, developing, maturing. Once a technology is mature it rarely disappears forever. Even wooden ploughs are still being used because they have a utility in places where welding is difficult and costly. The notion of obsolescence is replaced with that of increasing breadth of option. Technology in the inventing and developing phase moves forward, but in the maturing phase it just moves sideways, fanning out, ever increasing our options. 

2. Recognise when a technology is entering the maturing phase. New versions show ever smaller improvements. They answer non-universal problems or even non-existent problems (a parking camera?). Disproportionate cost goes into small improvements. The technology moves slowly- predictions replace actual developments. This is the key moment- when you cease to be surprised by a new technology - it just appears in the market place- and have to be told to wait until 2020 or some other date, then you know the technology has entered a fanciful immitation of development- when actually it is either mature or even a failure. Think driverless cars and nuclear fusion here.

3. The internet is now a mature technology. Already people are working around it, putting up with its intrusions, using it, sure, but not being used by it.

4. New technology is always beneficial at first and then increasingly negative in its effects. Sometimes terribly so, sometimes not.

5. To predict the future better think of technological developments as spreading ever wider in a widening front that faces the future and yourself at that widening front looking out. The technology is vastly secondary to other concerns you may have about the unknown facing you...


what car design tells us

Cars over the last ten years have got harder and harder to see out of.

They resemble increasingly chopped and squashed hotrods with tiny perfunctory windows and lowered roofs.

In the past - starting in the 1960s- we saw a move towards more and more visibility. Huge acres of glass- the old Mercedes 350SL, the humble cortina, the mini metro and early Nissan Micra. There were glitches- the Ford Capri and later Cortina were a step back towards less visibility- but generally the move was: better visibility equals better safety.

This assumes the burden of safety is mainly on the driver. An active view. But now cars are increasingly like padded boxes. Egg boxes for people yet to be even chickens. Less visibility, not more. Passive safety not active safety.

Increasingly the mainstream culture sees people as not to be trusted....