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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:



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.


rules or discipline?

Rules and discipline are different. Discipline is an outlook, a program, a way of organising the world as it impinges in a headlong rush upon oneself. Years ago I had to spend three months in hospital. On the second day it dawned very clearly I'd need routines to survive the boredom of the place. At every moment of the day I would have to have something to do, read, listen to, whatever. I needed a timetable. I see discipline not as time management but as time allocation. Another bit of your brain decides what you like doing, what you think you should do, and discipline is allocating the right amount of time. It's no good being heroic. I now write in two hour bursts. Before I would set aside an entire day - so inevitably there was a lot of wastage. So much so it really became a drag to even contemplate writing. One hour is not enough to get away from the sense of time pressure, three hours is too much for me- I'll start malingering- but two hours works.

Zen monks have a rigid timetable- every minute is accounted for. BUT they are allowed to break it anytime if someone needs their help or if some emergency impinges. The point is, they are never asking themselves 'er what shall I do now?'

The people I know who get the most done and seem happiest about it, allocate time well. They know themselves. The richest 'achiever' I know told me he needs 9 hours sleep. No five hour heroism for him. But when he's up he's running.

Time allocation takes into account wisdom we have accumulated about ourselves and the world over our lives. It is a balancing of right and left brain knowledge. The word 'discipline' is the sharp edge you need to keep up to the mark and not get distracted from your allocated time slots.

And though discipline is often linked to rules there are different. Rules are an attempt to simplify the world. Though they have a role, they inevitably distort the world because of this simplification. 

When we impose rules upon ourself and others it doesn't seem quite right. It's like a kind of failure to be alive. O Sensei, founder of Aikido, set up his first dojo and announced there were no rules. Then something went missing from the changing rooms. So he posted the only rule: No Stealing. The nagging, rather self important part of the brain- the accusing self- tells us we must do this and we must do that. Eventually we grow tired of this nagging and throw off all restraint. Maybe later to regret it. And be doubly self-berated for our failure. Discipline heralds from a different place. Whereas a rule is a kind of ad hoc thing, discipline is a world view, an honouring of your own time, the time you have at your disposal. It is an acknowledgement that you can only do so much. It is a break on fantasy and vague wishfulfillment. 


One definition of micromastery

I am indebted to reader Mark Ostermann for one definition of micromastery.

"Discrete, non-trivial, gameable skill aquisition."

OK! I can live with that! 

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