I've had 'bouldering' on my to do list for a while.

Not even sure what it was, I thought it was some kind of paddling through streams, clambering on boulders thingy. And that seemed like a good 'Dad and Daughter' activity – following clambering about in trees last Christmas holidays.

So I googled it – and it turns out it's not quite that. It's low level free climbing without ropes; and what great fun it has turned out to be…

Climbing shoes tightly on, we've been three times now; and have tackled 'slabs', overhangs, bulges and 'volumes'… with a bit of traversing yesterday to boot.

The indoor walls we've found are generally full of cheerful, lean, taughtly-muscled young folk – but they're all very encouraging and just seem happy that you share their interest.

It certainly tests the muscles though! And even though you don't get that high, it's high enough to test the nerves a bit too.

What a lovely little world we've discovered – in an old disused biscuit factory (of all things) which has found a new life.

Bouldering is a keeper. There's no better place to hang out for an hour at the weekend.

Optimism Epiphany


I’ve had an epiphany. It all comes down to three Ps; and avoiding learned helplessness

First discovered in dogs and then in humans, Wikipedia takes up the strain here:

Research has found that human reactions to a lack of control differ both between individuals and between situations. For example, learned helplessness sometimes remains specific to one situation but at other times generalizes across situations.

An influential view is that such variations depend on an individual’s attributional or explanatory style. According to this view, how someone interprets or explains adverse events affects their likelihood of acquiring learned helplessness and subsequent depression. 

For example, people with pessimistic explanatory style tend to see negative events as permanent (“it will never change”), personal (“it’s my fault”), and pervasive (“I can’t do anything correctly”), are likely to suffer from learned helplessness and depression.

If you want to bounce back fast from setbacks and beat the blues, Martin Seligman’s book and the thesis of learned optimism are well worth a read. It’s certainly working for me. 

I’m ruminating less, and actively breaking up permanent, pervasive and personal interpretations of bad situations when I hit them…

I’m regularly reminding myself: 

“It’ll pass”, “it’s just one part of my life”, “it’s not me that’s causing this.”

And directing myself – and others – toward action, not helplessness: 

“Ok but what can we do about it right now”,  “OK if we can’t fix that, what else can we fix” and “if anyone is going to make this better we can, so let’s have a go.” 

I feel a lot better, and people around me do too. It transpires the main benefit of pessimism is you predict the future better. 

Optimism might help change it.

Relevant Complexity

Relevant Complexity Link

Here’s to a brand new year.

And to celebrate I’ve bashed out a new blog, based on what I’ve learned about life, the world and everything since I started Achilles and Aristotle in 2010.

Time flies – or rather it doesn’t; a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. But ‘Relevant Complexity’ was a fairly early discovery, I first wrote about it in January 2012 here.

Like all good things in the writing life, the more you write about it, the more you think about it, the more it changes you and what you do – Aristotle said as much.

I’ll plan to keep both blogs going: this one as a reminder of what I was up to in years to come; the new one to remind me to live for the day and enjoy a life full of ‘Relevant Complexity’.



It ain’t always pretty; but boxing has a primal quality, which whether you like it or not, makes it one of the ‘pure’ sports.

There are sports with complex rules and sports with fancy equipment. And then there are sports which have been there ever since there have been people – who can run fastest, throw farthest or batter their opponent to submission before being battered themselves.

I’m no pugilist, but sometimes you have to fight for what you believe in. And in my line of business, words are sometimes punches. So after an important bout this week, I reflected to a good friend it had been like Hagler vs Durán.

For me Marvellous Marvin is pound for pound the best fighter I have seen. Less brutal than Tyson, not the showman that was Sugar Ray and I’m too young to have seen really Ali in his pomp. But when I watched Sportsnight as a kid, the precision, focus, efficiency and relentlessness of Hagler made him the best I saw.

Because he wasn’t a heavyweight he didn’t always get the profile. As a taciturn guy with a shaven head he didn’t always please the cameras. And because he didn’t dance around he wasn’t much feted. But as I fighter you wouldn’t want facing you, for me, he stood out.

Always going forward, never dominated, quick, precise, focused and hard as nails. As I often joke when people try to get me wound up ‘I’m a lover, not a fighter’. But if I have to fight Hagler is the model – not a big man, no frills, no showboating, just a precise, focused, bald head, hitting you hard; bang bang bang.

The 3 Big Questions in Life


There are only three questions that really matter in life… So said Britain’s oldest man on his 109th birthday.

They are:

1) Where did I come from?
2) Who am I?
3) Where am I going?

He died yesterday at 110. One short of the classic superstitious cricket score 111 aka ‘Nelson‘ when unlucky things are believed to happen. A pretty good innings though.

He said he knew the answer to 1) and 2) but not yet to 3). I’d be ok on 1). And pretty good on 2) too. But 3) is always the undiscovered continent until you get there.

Average White Male


Shock news from the Harvard Business Review this week: men who are ‘agreeable’ suffer a 20% deficit in earnings versus those who are ‘disagreeable’. Add this to one earlier in the year, where men who are slim also suffer a 20% deficit – and I’m in trouble.

Average height costs me another 15-20%. And entering the jobs market in a recession (1990) means a £200,000 lifelong deficit versus those who entered the labour market in a ‘boom’. Any more ‘deficits’ and I’ll be paying my employer for the privilege of working my nuts off.

My remedy – West Indies cricket of the 1970s and 80s. Master your sense of injustice, focus on what you are great at, forget the conventional wisdom and play to win.

Joel Garner, Michael Holding and Curtly Ambrose were very tall. Malcolm Marshall was average height, but the most feared fast bowler of them all. Viv Richards took whatever blows were necessary, before whacking everything and everyone all around the ground with controlled power and aggression.

Finally Clive Lloyd. He captained in virtual silence – an inclination of the head, a quiet word. Total authority. His loping, slightly stooped walk to the middle, enough to make the whole crowd pause and pay attention.

The Harvard Business Review says if I respect the average, I lose. So like the great West Indians – time to change the rules of average white males.

Why Silver is the worst medal of all


Watching the Olympic 10m diving yesterday, one couldn’t help but be struck by the delight of Tom Daley, in third, versus the desolation of Qiu Bo in second. This morning a friend sent me a good reason for it: counterfactual thinking.

Put simply, Silver looks at Gold and thinks about loss. But Bronze looks at the whole of the rest of the field and delights in making the podium at all. Each sees the most obvious counterfactual outcome – what might have been. Gold for one, nothing at all for the other. Each then frames their assessment of their situation accordingly: Dumb luck vs Result!

It’s a fascinating insight. And one which travels to other domains – notably work. People often obsess about the job they haven’t got, instead of being grateful for the one they have.

Instead of lamenting over the top spot, more of us should revel in making the podium. Bronze is a more precious metal than it looks.

Noble Purpose


The Olympics bring out my mixed feelings about competition. Winning at all costs, grinding someone else in the dust, the distortion of personality that comes with going ‘all out’. Sometimes, in my sporting past, I’ve avoided finishing people off. Sometimes I’ve played hard and unfair.

Doing it the right way matters. And way beyond sport. I was talking to someone about US politics – and indeed UK politics – where what starts as the ‘noble purpose’ of ‘public service’ finishes in the gutter of ‘attack ads’ and ‘sliming’ your opponent. Campaign managers and political advisers inexorably steer toward the end justifying absolutely all means.

Chinese badminton players have been vilified this week for serving into the net to avoid winning. One of my work friends was there in the Olympic hall. And he told me about the crowd’s initial confusion, then realisation, then real anger as boos rang out. Sport betrayed.

But we are inconsistent. Soccer players defend in numbers to kill a game. Blocking an end – and not offering a shot – can be among cricket’s finest achievements. Where are the boundaries of ‘fair’ play? Or is all fair in love, sport and war?

I was talking to someone at work about us doing things the ‘right’ way. She said ‘Isn’t it simply about quality?’ That helped me get it clear in my head – the answer is no. You can easily do something very effective, of very high quality – but very wrong.

I think the answer is the ‘noble purpose’ test – advancing the objective without defeating the object. History doesn’t always record good runners up, but it rarely forgives ‘bad winners’. The killer instinct is fine, so long as the ‘noble purpose’ lives on.

Sport as Life


The thesis: truly great sporting skill and self-expression come best when not too structured, not too investigated, not too explored.

The counter: nearly-great performance is helped by study, stats, practice and heightened professionalism.

Stimulated by a cricket ground conversation with a good friend – and his kindness in buying me Ed Smith’s ‘What sport tells us about life’, I’m pondering the balance of thought and action, impulse and impact, standing up and standing out.

Csikszentmihalyi’s ‘Flow’ comes from matching high challenge with high skill. This suggests a linearity – progressive improvement. Perhaps for some things and some people it’s more non-linear: in life, as well as sport.

A great work, a stunning goal or a pivotal intervention – are they more likely as a ‘moment of genius’? Or perhaps as likely a moment we could potentially judge as ‘madness’, depending on the outcome. Do our greatest interventions come where we ignore risk and just ‘act’, with no conscious consideration of the chances or consequences.

There is a fate and fatalism side to these moments – whether in politics, war, life or sport. The sense that the script has already been written and destiny calls – a feeling that life stands still, the world is watching and it was meant to be.

The best goal I ever scored – volleyed low and unstoppable from a zinging cross – had that sense of time standing still. There are moments in working life too, I can recall, of almost out-of-body otherworldliness when the stakes were high, but ignored, in favour of speaking-up and speaking out.

Of course you remember the moments it came off – not when it didn’t. There’s lady luck and ‘confirmation bias’ to thank in ‘memorable’ moments too.

Perhaps what we call ‘genius’ is simply the product of a self-belief which ignores the situation and unconsidered – sometimes lucky, but often skilful – action. How many times you pull it off determines how history judges the ‘actor’.

But the ‘average’ means many must fall below, for a few to soar above. Heroes ignore the odds. Most of us consider them. But maybe we should all ignore the odds too – at least once in a while.