This site runs on your generous donations- thanks!
Full list of articles

Welcome earthling!

This blog contains hundreds of original articles all FREE. Rather than run distracting ads for things you don't need I rely on subscriptions through the donation box.

"Loving micromastery. Clever concept, well executed." Tim Harford.

"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:



precision and simplicity 

I am reading R.V Jones fascinating account of scientific work during WW2 Most Secret War. He talks baout the way committees (loathed by Churchill) in which 'experts' each had their say were far less efficient than a single polymathic figure able to see the bigger picture. The idea that a chairman could arbitrate the 'experts' evidence often fell down because the chairman did not know its full significance himself. He talks about the main figure behind radar, Watson-Watt, who later on in the war opposed anti-radar techniques against the Germans and even wanted to stop the bombing of German radar stations in case they 'retaliated' other words he was more in love with radar itself than winning the war. 

He also mentions the difference between German and British methods: "I had come to have 'feel' for the way the Germans did things. They would take simple ideas and put them straight into practice no matter what technical effort was involved, because they had a far greater command of precision engineering than we had (apart from a few notable exceptions such as Rolls Royce). When we contemplated a development we would take the simple idea, look for the technical snags in the way of its realization, and think of ways of getting round them without having to go to the trouble of great precision of design or workmanship. In the end I suspect we often took as much trouble avoiding the difficulties as the Germans did in overcoming them by good it turned out in the war, the advantage in the end lay with us because while the German equipment was technically very good, it was also less adaptable, and we could more easily changeours to meet a new situation." 


the assumption now is: start complicated

Nowadays, conditioned by so much kit, we can overlook simple solutions...




Mistakes lie in assumptions not process

Think about your mistakes. Often they are not when we are in the swing of things and solving problems as we go. Humans are pretty good at that. I recall working out how to get a heavy twenty five foot canoe down a thirty foot rockface and into fast moving water. It was a fun problem to solve- and we managed it. But what if this had been the wrong river? All the solving in the world would have just got us deeper into trouble. We assume wrongly that screw ups are made as we go along but actually there are some highly inefficient workers who always manage to get a good job done. Because the real problems and disasters are all in the assumptions we make at the beginning. A truly colossal fuck-up is always there before a single move has been made. Just as a battle is almost always won or lost before any engagement, so too, a project is doomed from the outset or blessed by virtue of the assumptions we make. Before setting off on a big project ask yourself what are the assumptions we are making here. And then, as Idries Shah suggests, ask yourself what are the assumptions behind these assumptions.


refined versus complex information

Refined sugar is the new devil. Fat is a good old friend by comparison.

But once sugar was hailed as a wonderfood. In the inner city areas of England and Scotland 150 years ago refined sugar replaced many more complex ways of getting energy.

Then teeth fell out. A common 21st birthday present in early 20th centure Glasgow was a set of false teeth. Like many people, three of my four grandparents had false teeth at a pretty early age.

Information is another source of energy. It can also be over refined, complex or even organic. Video, TV, soundbites, recorded music, photos are all refined information. You can only have so much before there will be health consequences. Many video makers ban their kids from too much TV. I met a games maker who only allows his kids an hour a WEEK playing video games, extraordinary though that may sound. But I have never met a writer who bans his kids from reading...

Unrefined complex information comes from meeting people, doing business, being in the world, making things, travelling. More refined information comes from books. But the really refined stuff is video and recorded music- probably both together. The metaphor continues with the idea of digestion- when we rely too much on refined food our digestion suffers and we actually find compex or raw foods harder to digest.

Having an experience requires chewing and digestion, so does reading a book. But eyecandy on your phone or computer needs very little.

You can only have so much before your mental teeth start to rot.

The answer of course is a balanced diet. But also, like food, we only have so much attention to give. Give it away to tasty looking crap and you'll have none left over for the really nutritious stuff. You'll be too full of mental crisps and sweets to have room for a main course.

Travelling, long distance walking- good sources of complex unrefined information.



anxiety is an identity issue...up to a point

Too much strain in other areas of life make our tolerance for anxiety lower. Being stretched is good, but stretch someone too much in a direction that doesn't conform to their current identity and you'll produce strain. This is the damaging form that anxiety can take. People are more anxious nowadays about small things than ever before. Strain in other parts of their life is partly to blame. But also an identity in which 'being anxious' is OK rather than re-framed as being keyed up before something testing. Maybe because the testing is not really taken seriously (because it doesn't fit in with overall identity). So really it makes sense to have a flexible identity, reverse engineered so that anxiety will be interpreted as a challenge rather than a mental health threat. Such an identity might be entrepreneur, film and video-maker, explorer, social-activist...things that are open ended rather than the more closed artist, writer, academic student. Some identities, ancient and modern work better than others. Like names, they have a magic to them, of sorts.


more on optimism

non-perceptive optimism, blanket optimism gives optimism a bad name. Which is not good, since pessimism is a disease we can all do without.


future belongs to optimists

The future belongs to optimists..some say. Certainly optimists have a very attractive energy. But also we know that optimists can be potential pessimists who are too stupid to read the signs. An optimist in 1930s Germany was blind. So being a useful optimist also involves being perceptive.

Look hard for things that really are getting better. Find something you can be optimistic about. Find a good place to do it. Do a lot of it. Make the future.