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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 or through PATREON patrons. For the time being, though, the donation box on this site is a better way to pay me than through Patreon, which I have only just started in 2017.

Current Book

"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:



johnny factotum

'Jack of all trades and master of none but oftentimes better than a master of one' is one of two original forms of the modern stripped down 'jack of all trades master of none'.

Another is 'Better to be a jack of all trades than a master of none'.

Both have slightly different and far more upbeat meanings than the current one.

But people have always disparaged those with wings...

If 16th century commentators wanted to imply that a person was stretching their talents too thinly they resorted to the disparaging Latin term Johannes factotum('Johnny do-it-all'). In 1592, the English writer and member of the literary establishment Robert Greene wrote a pamphlet titled Groats-worth of Witte. In that he ventured the opinion that a new writer on the scene was:

An upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that supposes he is as well able to bumbast out a blanke verse as the best of you. Beeing an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey.

Sadly for Greene's ongoing reputation the 'Upstart crow' was William Shakespeare.


Where I got the idea from

Micromastery is the practical aspect of polymathy. When you believe that it is normal to be interested in many things you naturally seek an efficient way to learn. I have found the efficient way to learn very much helped through an interest and immersion in the current projection of Sufi thought in the West. And the Sufi tradition has always drawn attention to the need and naturalness of being polymathic. Sayings can degenerate over time: the correct phrase is NOT 'Jack of all trades and master of none' but, "BETTER to be a jack of all trades THAN a master of none." We've all met the master of none- he is the person pontificating that there's no point in doing something because conditions/tools/time aren't perfect. He is the person hiding his laziness behind the concept of specialisation and assumed mastery. Actually specialists are very limited beings unless they refresh themselves at the well of more various interests and pursuits. Hence the need for a polymathic approach even if you work in a narrow field. And if the field is so narrow that it cannot ever develop then that sounds a little too narrow to me.

But the idea for polymathy, though attractive to me since childhood really came from immersion in modern work about Sufism. Such a book has just been republished: Sufi Thought and Action by Idries Shah (though it includes other authors too). The publisher is ISF publishing.


a few interesting things

1. Siberian folk tap the top of an anthill a few times to anger the ants. They then hold their hands above the hill, an inch away, to get it squirted with formic acid. This is a highly effective anti-insect treatment. Rubbed on the hands and face no horseflies or mosquitoes will subsequently attack.

2. A old beech tree, long cut down, a stump with no leaves remains alive centuries later. It is kept alive by the other beeches pumping sugars and other nutrients to it through their overlapping root system.

3. The animal keepers in scientific labs usually have a far higher regard for the intelligence of their cares than the scientists who are meant to be the experts. The sensible, intuitive, spot-on kind of observation made by someone who really knows is more likely to be made by a nursing orderly than a nurse, more likely to be made by a nurse than a doctor, more likely to be made by a trainee doctor than old behemoth in charge. Observation with caring-for; without ego involvement, and theory, leads to real knowledge.


art and adventure

Adventure is the form art takes when it cannot find expression. Hence the many adventurer artist types you find, especially in the modern era. I am thinking today about the connections between art and adventure, bearing in mind that these words have a rather loose and probably personal definition for many.


an odd message from the underground

While walking out of the subway I found a tattered piece of paper fluttering in the sudden breeze of a passing train. I picked it up as I have sometimes found amusement reading lost pieces of homework and letters from creditors etc. This piece of paper was covered in a neat handwriting which I have transcribed below.


“I have grown to hate and loathe the computer on which I work and on which I depend for music, entertainment, connection to my friends. When I get a request ‘to skype’ I immediately try and think of excuses- yet when this first appeared it was like a wonder to me: free phone calls anywhere in the world! The same with movie downloads and blog sites laden with good articles. Now all that just makes me sick. I don’t ‘surf’ the net anymore – I use it for the more insidious role of ANSWERING EVERY QUESTION. It is like a square black prosthetic brain and I hate opening it. The day has both begun and ended at that moment. On the rare occasions I go a few days (maybe two at most) without ‘logging on’ I feel a pathetic gratitude to the machine for being such a storehouse of goodies. But what are these good things – just dumb facebook posts, recycled news, bargains on ebay. I think I could cut down to simply buying a few things on the internet. I think I could cut down to doing that on a machine in a library or something. I am aiming for the day when I can boast of no email and no twitter. When I am free. Why? Because I hate the way I have to type to get anything. I want to speak or use a pencil or pen. I don’t want to be MODERN if that means suckling all day on the teat of the internet. But mainly I anticipate the complete corporate takeover of the net in the next few years so that things like blogging (except mediated by facebook or twitter) will cease to be of interest to anyone. Raising money? Maybe. Selling things? Maybe. But part of me would prefer to drive round the country doing pop-up sales, relying on other people to let the world know what I am doing. I would become a digital parasite rather than a digital nomad, slipping between the interstices of other people’s online presence. It is not that I can’t see the utility of the internet – I can. I just think it exacts too high a human price to fully participate in its use. I think it foments madness…I think it is the swirling brain of some satanic being, mankind’s worst creation…"

I wonder if dropping pages in the subway is this author's new method of publication....perhaps it is already working...


do it now

About is not it. It is it.

We all have a tendency to talk about, make stuff about, the thing we think is important. It's a very left brain thing to do. Instead of making art we write about it, collect it, curate it.

You see a problem in the world and you do stuff 'about' it.

But the solution- if that is even the right word- is to find the 'it' you should be doing.



be a grafter

Some of the most successful people I know in the ordinary sense of being productive, happy and able to make something happen that earns praise and/or money- often money- describe themselves as 'grafters'. Not 'hard workers' which has overtones of Boxer in Animal farm, a hint of martyrdom, work for the sake of it- but grafters- people who do the work when the work is there to be done. They are often self-effacing to the point of putting themselves down about their intelligence, art and skill. Which may be no bad thing as thinking you're smart is usually the first step towards folly...but being a grafter is a more solid self image. You have to produce evidence of it. you have to live up to the image in a very obvious and public way. You can't really con yourself.

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