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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:



Course! Micromaster Street Photography

After the success of an informal Zen Street Photography workshop at Offgrid Sessions festival 2017 I am pleased to be able to offer a Micromastery course in Street Photography. It'll be one day, Saturday 9th Setember 2017 in Central London. We'll start at 10.00am and learn and roam until 3.30pm with pleny of breaks. 

This will be ideal for beginners of street photography- or any kind of photography- but also for those who want to learn more. The key ideas I explored in zen street photography (getting into the right headspace, deep looking, how best to get into a flow state) will inform the orientation for the day. We'll examine the key concept of 'getting closer' from all angles. We'll try and pin down micromastery routines that help looking for the fun in taking street pictures. Then we'll look at some other street photographers, learn plenty of clever tricks, hacks and wheezes before trying it all out on the glorious London public.

Any camera you feel comfortable with and know how to use - from a phone to a Canon megabeast mark 3- will be fine. But bear in mind that small and inconspicuous cameras usually trump big and obvious ones...

Cost is £60, concessions available for those in need. Not too big a group so book ahead.




driverless cars

Everywhere I go I hear people parrotting the technobabble emanating from the dark centre of the earth- silicon valley- that 'driverless cars are only five years away'. So you can forget driverless cars in any way shape or form that the phrase suggests. When technology is more than two years away it won't happen. The atom bomb was built in 18 months...pretty much. Oh yes, President Kennedy's prediction about going to the moon. Believe it or not, driverless cars are actually harder to make than going to the moon. The reason is: computing power (an electronic calculator has enough computing power for a moonshot).

Most people, even those in computing, fail to recognise the things that computers and robots are bad at and the things they are very good at. The narrow, nerdy people who write code (cliche but broadly true) naturally believe, want to believe, that computers are super powerful. Just as academics believe education is everything and journalists think newspaper leaders change the world. But computers are very bad at reacting in real time to real unexpected events- drop your laptop in a bath and see what happens. But humans are rather brilliant at this- hence motor racing and other sports which robots will never be able to compete at.

Driverless cars that resemble a tram may happen. On certain toll roads maybe. But people prefer cars to trams for a very good reason- you have control over where you go. Imagine the moment you leave the 'driverless train'- what happens then? That moment of transition from driverless to driver controlled is fraught with the potential for an accident. So there will have to be some kind of check system in place. Have you ever been in a station when they detach a carriage? Takes a while- for a good reason- everyone needs to be aware it is happening. Well, pedestrians and cyclists will want to know whether the thing bearing down on them is driver controlled or driverless- more confusion.

But the main reason driverless cars won't happen is that people derive meaning from driving. Driving allows for freedom and range, it is a zone of possibility, a speed machine just sitting in your drive. There is absolutely no reason why speed regulators couldn't be fitted to all cars- like trucks- but they aren't. Driverless cars is just a fancy version of a speed regulator except it isn't even possible to make it work.

The robber barons of the current age- who insist on forcing computer driven technology down our throats- will be eating a lot of humble pie on this one. Meaning centred evaluation of a future product is downplayed by the geeks- but look at kindle. On the face of it there should have been no contest. But kindles provide less meaning than a physical book (because a book is not just content). And e book sales are going down.

In the long run people don't want to live meaningless lives. Technology that increases meaning is the stuff to bet on, not the things that make our lives emptier, less meaningful and maybe not even that much more efficient.

There is however, one rather sinister caveat, driverless car technology allows for far more efficient surveillance. Imagine- your unregistered car joins a driverless train and bam! the cops are waiting at the other end. Or maybe the car is immoblised by the roadside. The powerful attraction of surveillance possibilities may cause a vastly expensive and inefficient driverless car system to be set up...and largely ignored by everyone who can.


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.

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