Changing Conversations

It is always a fine line to tread when one has a very strong agenda for change, between the political and the supra-political. Especially so when the issue in question lacks the fluidity that allows many of the most useful debates to have their natural rhythm. But as today is “Brexit Day”, it is both timely to mention it and important to do so in order to explain why I want to drive what I do here in a particular direction.

It is not a secret that I am a passionate advocate for the EU. I am not going to get into the past, present, or future debates on Brexit here, but the way I have phrased that sentence shows, I hope, the principle reason for my frustration with large swathes of not just the public Remain campaign but so many of my colleagues on social media. And it is indicative of a larger problem, which is what concerns us here and will take the rest of the post. One of the most infuriating things was, and still is, seeing people who share my passion get their rationale so wildly and so consistently wrong. With the wonderful exception of Scientists for the EU, high profile Remain campaigners singularly failed to put the case *for* anything. Not even for an idea. And that is heartbreaking, infuriating, and negligent in equal measure.

London’s Southbank Undercroft

For me the case for Remain was simple. It was about a vision. And it was about the details of which that vision was made. By day I work for an academic faculty that receives a lot of EU funding. And we use it to bring together the best minds from across Europe and the world to do incredible things. The money we get from the EU comes with strings that are very different from those that come from our UK funding. They are strings that tell us not to do something quantifiably useful or “impactful” or whatever those woefully poor understandings of science mean. They simply tell us to go out and get the best minds to do the best things we can. And in the wider university we have students who take part in the EU’s Erasmus programme, which sends students to other countries to learn languages and benefit from expertise within their field throughout the EU. For me, being for the EU is about being for collaboration, cooperation, putting our heads together and figuring out the stuff that matters. It’s about seeing a problem and tearing it to the ground. It’s about saying there should be no barriers to solving the things that hold us back or that threaten to destroy our planet, and also celebrating the things that make us all better from education to art. Sure, it fails in practice a lot. But it’s about a collective statement that making the world better is what matters. And the Remain campaign utterly failed to get any of that across. It left the ideas part of the arena as open land for the Leave campaign. And it continues to be a misconception of Remainers that Leave won because people were hooked on what the campaign was against. But you don’t drive public conversation by being against something. That may be what it looks like, but you drive conversation by having a simple idea about what you are for. And that is what anyone who wants to change a conversation must articulate.

But this post, and this website, and my work here is not about campaigning for membership of the EU. What it is about, however, is, just as in that instance, a vision and a set of pieces that coalesce to form it. It is about creating a world in which we are all empowered, individually, as groups, and as communities formed in every kind of geographical configuration, to develop and use our skills for good, specifically in the challenges that face us as a planet.

What I want to be part of, then, depends on two kinds of vision – one for what kind of a species and world we want (one that steps up and solves the problems coming its way), and for how we want to treat individuals within that world (removing every barrier that stops them contributing in any way to that wider goal by using their skills in the way they see best fit, be that through research, through the care and support and enabling of others, through the creation of a rich cultural landscape that feeds all our dreams, or just through having the time to think without fear of hunger, war, or disease so that their thoughts can fly in glorious directions that may prove utterly fruitless without fear of failure).

And it also depends upon enacting the practical steps necessary to build a world in which that vision can happen. In order for that empowerment and the global unlocking of potential that would accompany it to take place we need two massive shifts. We need a universal basic income – because of the time and capacity it frees up by the fears and insecurities it removes. And we need universal open access to the sum of human knowledge – because to use that extra time and the talents it frees up, we need everyone to be able to use them.

But, and here’s the key thing – those steps, the ones that lead to the key foundations, cannot be built by fist pounding or anger or by decrying all the things they are not. They can only be built by capturing imaginations one by one, by inspiring new generations and old. And that means changing our conversations. The world I am trying to build is a world, for example and most importantly, where the link between a person’s value and “work” is cut. It is a world where we aim not to work more but less. Where we do not seek to call out those who are not “hard working” but seek to call out those who demand hard work for no good reason.

But that link between work and value is so hard-wired in our day to day thoughts and conversations that we can only begin to build this kind of world by changing the conversation. And that means not criticising, not being hateful, not labelling. It means being passionate about where value should lie, It means showing the value of all humans regardless of their capacity for work. It means telling stories of human value. It means making the case for the arts, for science, for collaboration and cooperation, for the incredible things that happen when we remove people from pointless and exhausting “work” without removing their means of survival. It means celebrating exploration and experimentation. It means showing a kid on the other side of the world from wherever we may be doing a cool thing and getting people to say that’s what I want to do – not because the story was told on social media and not because the kid got a patent or got hired by a big company or got a book or media deal – but because the kid did a cool thing.

In that spirit, here’s a video. This is Skater Girls Cambodia.

I discovered this brilliant group through Sisu Girls who do incredible work promoting role models for girls the world over. Don’t watch because of the good work or the worthiness, just because they’re awesome.

This, of course, is a pitiful sketch. Aspects of it are inadequate (but I have my useful life to build upon it, and the part of the conversation to which I am contributing is a tiny one). Parts of it are woefully misleading (there is a tendency in my enthusiasm to sound aligned to a not very helpful libertarianism that would leave behind those not able to contribute or, conversely, part of some dry utilitarian planned system in which value is still attached to usefulness. Neither is true, but nuance, while essential, takes time and words that belong to the future. I am, as I hope what has gone before shows, committed to the highest quality of life for all, regardless of capability, and also to curiosity, creation, and research for their own sake, apart from impact. And parts will simply be wrong, in ways ‘I haven’t begun to understand but will come to.

But this is a start, and that is the most important part of anything. And an explanation. Our work, those who are with me on the road, will always need to be done at three levels – the visionary, the practical, and the conversation-changing


Whose Problem Is the Box?

The other day I was reading an article on a recruitment site about what HR people think when an applicant has on their CV they are a member of Mensa. I knew where it was going, of course. And, sure enough, I was right. It wouldn’t actually stop this guy hiring someone, but if it came to a choice it would be the Mensa applicant who didn’t make the cut with their inadequate “look at me”ness.

Now, I know Mensa is problematic. But this made me think about a more general thing I’ve wrestled with much of my adult life. When I won the World Intelligence Championship in 2000, I had just withdrawn from a doctorate following a major breakdown, and my overwhelming feeling was relief. Just as I had my life turned upside down, and I had no idea where the next month’s rent might come from, here was the answer. Surely all sorts of incredibly exciting employers would be beating my door down to get their hands on the World Intelligence Champion.

Of course, they weren’t. A few months later I managed to secure myself a part time job as a warehouse hand for a flooring company, and the people I worked with found the fact I could do puzzles amusing. But the only time I have found it actually useful was in filling a session I gave at a Tradecraft Fair for intelligence analysts – I did indeed attract a full session. But not a job.

What use is a medal?

And then, last summer, I won the Creative Thinking World Championship, and that same glimmering thought was there. Creativity is huge. This is the innovative information-y creativity-ish thingy age. Who wouldn’t want to snap me up? And then I had the complementary thought – if I can’t think how to make a living with my creativity I can’t be that creative after all, can I?!

And that made me wonder, as I usually do in such situations, exactly what was happening. For businesses, and all kinds of organisations, creativity is of immense value. But the value comes in what it is that the creative mind can bring to them. Be it a new perspective, a way around a procedural roadblock, access to a new market, a unique copywriting style, or just a way of making the workforce happier, creativity can transform organisations.

And that unmasks a fundamental problem. Creativity is not so much about thinking outside the box, as it is about wondering if the box is an alien milkshake maker sent to convert us to the worship of the beetroot flavour ice cream float. And yet the reason that creativity is so important and so valued is its potential for driving real innovation within real, for want of a better word, boxes.

There is no mistaking the fact that there is a problem with creativity, and the problem is the box. The box is what concretises the fluid, what specifies the general, what pins down a skill whose essence is its transferability, while from the other side a practice whose nature lies entirely in its being practised and not in the results of that practice is always in danger of becoming fundamentally meaningless.

The real problem is, as it were, identifying what the problem is so that we can find a way for the organisations who desperately need creatives and the creatives who desperately need a place to focus their efforts for goals they believe in to find each other.

The two sides of the problem come down to this. The most creative individuals think in ways that boxes cannot begin to calibrate and categorise, they leap canyons from mysterious cliff to obscure mountain face leaving behind a unique trail of brilliance whose usefulness is clear to no one. And they get more creative by being given the freedom to fail. And yet their creativity comes into crystal clear focus when it comes up against the real world problems we face and their potential solutions – problems that act like liquid nitrogen on a molten object, instantly freezing a previously flowing substance.

And organisations face real, concrete problems – reaching actual audiences, meeting an actual technological need, overcoming an actual social or environmental problem, answering real questions. And yet the answers and solutions they offer will improve significantly by coming into contact with those whose method of working is to take the concrete and abstract it, to provide a melting fire to their easily quantifiable ice.

That is the two-sided problem. And it is one that feels tantalisingly close to being anything but intractable. Normally the answer would be obvious. We need to converge somewhere. Creatives need to move themselves closer to the box and organisations need to give their boxes looser fitting lids. But this may be a situation in which a quantitative measure of impact is just wrong. The notion of compromise converging on an optimal sweetspot where opportunity and potential impact combine to maximum effect only works if the impact that creative innovation can make is something that works on a sliding scale where being “a bit more creative than at present” makes you “probably a bit better than you are now.”

The problem is that doesn’t seem to me to be how creative innovation works (the big subtext here of course is “more research needed”). It is certainly not how I outlined my thoughts of it in the earlier piece here on searching for a goldilocks zone of creativity. Creativity, as I conceive it, works such that creatives who are given free rein will sometimes make a positive impact and bring exciting innovation to a project or a group. The quantitative issues at play relate to the number of creatives from a given set who make such impacts and not the amount of impact that all creatives may make. If you box a creative in, you do not reduce their potential for impact, you effectively cauterise the creativity. Seeking a solution by convergence is simply seeking to create one of those “maximum freedom within minimal parameters” situations that give the illusion of a freedom that is completely not present.

The problem, in other words, isn’t the shape of the box, it’s the box.

And that means the problem belongs to both sides of the equation. For organisations to benefit from creativity, they need to allow that creativity free rein; they need to accept that many of the outcomes and outputs, from individual creatives and their creative programme as a whole, will lead nowhere but an enjoyably quirky ride; and they need to bring creatives in without, over-regard to their potential usefulness.

Yet because that is unlikely to happen in a vacuum, it is also the job of creatives to make the case for our usefulness. And the first part of that is to figure out how to make that case. We are back, it would seem, with my first thought – “If I’m that creative, surely I can figure out a way.”

Which is why this piece is intended as a roadmap sketch, a piece of incomplete thinking designed to identify some next steps:

  • Literature review – what beneficial impact do creatives have on organisations?
  • How do you even begin to segment the above data to arrive at meaningful definitions of “beneficial”, “impact”, and “organisations”?
  • What steps can be taken to make the findings of the above relevant to particular organisations?
  • How can creatives showcase their creativity in such a way as to appeal to organisations without putting themselves within organisational boxes?

The Dandelion Project

You can download a pdf of this press release here – please feel free to use it, but please make sure to include a link back. Thank you. The project’s page is here.

The Dandelion Project

Press Release: 10 March 2017, immediate effect

From a 100 mile row to multiplying eight digit numbers in his head, poet, mental health activist, and reigning Creative Thinking World Champion Dan Holloway takes on a unique challenge to discover where human limits lie.

Dan Holloway is a contradiction. He is a 45 year old overweight guy who just about holds down a middle of the road admin job while struggling with mental ill health. He is also the reigning Creative Thinking World Champion, the only person ever to win that title as well as the World Intelligence Championship. And in 2016 he ran a 100 kilometre ultramarathon and performed his poetry at the Royal Albert Hall.

At Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival in 2016.

It is exactly this kind of apparent contradiction that lies behind his latest undertaking, the Dandelion Project, a series of six challenges that sets out to confront our assumptions – about what people should, and shouldn’t be capable of doing; and about the unpredictable relationship between the needs and abilities of those living with mental ill health.

The Dandelion Project is named after Neil Gaiman’s address to London Book Fair in 2013 in which he encouraged publishers to be like dandelions scattering seeds, constantly trying new things in the hope that some will flourish. Its six challenges consist of activities that, clichés would have it, really don’t go together, mixing mind and body, left brain and right brain, strength and endurance. Dan will be competing in two World Championships at the Mind Sports Olympiad (Mental Calculation and Creative Thinking) and the UK’s most prestigious ultramarathon, the 100 kilometre Race to the Stones, and an international standard memory competition, taking part in a 100 mile indoor row, and competing at a powerlifting meet.

For the past ten years, Dan has been working with the likes of Mind, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute to promote opportunities for those with mental ill health, and earlier this year he gave Oxford University’s Mental Health Awareness Day Lecture on the benefits of endurance sport for mental health. He hopes that these challenges and the opportunities that arise from them will help to raise awareness of the contributions those with mental ill health can make to society but also, by talking frankly about his own experience, to raise awareness of the fact that those who seem to be high achievers can nonetheless accommodations and assistance in order to participate in society.

But the project is also an experiment to see exactly what happens when human beings push themselves in many different direction at once. Holloway is a regular speaker, writer, and researcher on all topics to do with creative potential, and is a campaigner on open access and for a universal basic income. He says, “I believe that making the sum of human knowledge freely available to all and ensuring that every human has the time to pursue the things they feel passionate about are two of the keys to helping humanity tackle the massive challenges it faces in the 21st century and enabling us to leave the world richer, and more secure, than we found it. What really drives me, and what I want to explore through these challenges, is how we can nude our minds and bodies in new directions to enable us to use that time and that knowledge the very best way we can.”

The challenges will be raising money for Apopo, a charity that trains rats to use smell to detect landmines, and to detect tuberculosis in samples quicker than any human doctor can. Apopo’s work played a crucial part in Mozambique being declared mine free in 2015.

For more on the Dandelion Project, visit For interviews, to feature the challenge, or to have Dan come and speak about the challenge, or about creativity or mental health, email If you are an organisation that would be interested in sponsoring this challenge, financially or by offering resources that will be needed, please also email Please note, a separate sponsor sheet will be available shortly, but for organisations to be considered for sponsorship they will need to demonstrate a commitment to ethical dealings with their workforces and supply chains, and to environmental issues.

We Need to Talk About TED

TED is the thing many in how-to and life-improvement and, I guess, culture in general love to hate. I love watching TED talks from time to time. Today, on International Women’s Day, I’ve been rewatching one of my heroes, Anna Frost, talking about the brilliant non-profit Sisu Girls.

The problem with TED is that it embodies that saying about encouraging the widest possible debate within the narrowest possible parameters.

And that’s not TED’s fault, because it doesn’t, unlike many of its devotees, claim that the sum of human intellectual and creative expansion can be captured in a series of 15 minute chunks. It’s a tool in the kit. A bit like a gel. If I tried to run a 24 hour ultramarathon with only gels I’d not only get very sick very quick – I’d probably underperform massively. But if I set out onto the trail without a single gel in my pack, it’d be a pretty sure bet at some point I’d regret that decision.

(while we’re on TED and International Women’s Day, here’s another of my heroes, freediver Tanya Streeter)

Likewise TED. TED is a great tool. And it has a pretty exact hole in the intellectual toolbox.

Take these figures. 5…20…10,000

They may well seem familiar, and that’s good, because they’re all really useful cliches that are as wrong as they are right but nonetheless belong in every toolbox. They are all “hours”. 5 refers to the so-called 5 hour habit – which says successful people (whatever the hell that means) tend to read cool new stuff for 5 hours a week. 20 refers to Josh Kaufman’s “learn anything in 20 hours” principle – which basically says that for most rewarding tasks, you can get pretty good at them with 20 hours of focused effort. And 10,000 is of course the ur-text of self-improvement, Malcolm Gladwell’s assertion that the grand masters in their fields will have put in 10,000 hours of practice. We could go on forever about a lot of these, critiquing why they’re all wrong – of course they are. All the best stuff is, but it’s wrong in interesting ways, and I’ve actually found these rough timeframes pretty sound ways to divide up apportioning time to things in the broad and deep model I discussed when I began this blog. I will certainly revisit that!

I would add two figures on the start of that, though. 2…15

And these figures represent not hours but minutes. 2 is the length of the perfect slam poem. It is exactly enough time to get across a really powerful idea in a full arc with nuance and cadence. Check out this brilliant example from Maddie Godfrey

And it applies to talks as well as poems. Take this, from last night’s Newsnight, in which Rutger Bregman, one of the thinkers at the vanguard of the basic income movements, makes the case for treating people as though they are basically good. There’s an incredibly dense level of argument and detail there.

We should all expose ourselves to such two minute takes (and spend even more time trying to construct them). They are perfect for exposing us to an idea that might send us on a new road or spark a connection we would never have made otherwise (they are not, just like the other figures are not, the key to life, the universe, and everything. One of the dangers of the connected world is that it is tempting to believe them to be. One of the main causes of scepticism with regard to the connected world is that its critics believe its participants think 2 minutes is all you need – by and large they don’t).

15 minutes is the other great chunk (you could make a case for an hour, the length of the traditional university lecture. I don’t yet have the data to know if I agree or disagree. I am genuinely not sure what an hour lecture does that no other time chunk can. I am very clear with regards to 5 hours though – possibly, admittedly, 5 x 1 hour – and also 15 minutes). In 15 minutes you can get a long way inside a single idea. Far enough to unpack it, to connect it with its surroundings, to explain its significance, to make you want to engage with it. It is the perfect time slot for, as TED puts it, “an idea worth sharing”.

And that brings us back to the problem. I will be the first to confess just how much I want to get on the TED stage. I think about it whenever I’m constructing a talk, and it’s the thing that gives me a flutter when I know that one of my talks is being recorded. And it makes me ask, constantly, “what is my idea worth sharing?” Which is great, in the same way as, being a writer, it’s great for me to be able to understand what the “concept” of my book is. But truly great ideas are not just simple, they are complex. A great TED talk will boil that complexity into its key essence, expressed in several modes (importance, context, relevance etc) – rather like something Heston Blumenthal would do with a bouillon. But for that idea really to burn bright in the world, in itself or in the delicious chimeras it spawns, it needs to be rehydrated into its full, complex richness (bad metaphor, I know. Hydration hardly enriches – I feel that given the top news story of this week, Mary Berry’s assault on the bolognese sauce, I should use th emetaphor of being expanded with double cream).

Condense, expand; develop, deep practice, ingraft – all of these are key to innovation. All of them use a different tool in our creative kit. TED’s “idea worth sharing” is just one of those. I still don’t know what mine is:

  • the tiny step of looking at the world differently could spark our species’ next giant leap forward
  • bringing a deep knowledge to a myriad things, and bringing a myriad things to your deep expertise can alchemise into something magical
  • you can change your organisation immeasurably by writing off a portion of everyone’s time for them to develop their creativity
  • look at the world from a perspective no one else has ever used and you will create a whole new world
  • keep throwing incongruous ideas at each other and eventually two will stick together that could change the world

Something like one of these. Maybe all of them.

But what I have really learned by talking about TED is that however valuable the question “what is your idea worth sharing?” might be, it is not the only question we need to ask.

Let’s end with this bitesize masterpiece from the extraordinary Vanessa Kisuule

Starting from here: The Dandelion Challenge

At the risk of sounding like a mix between Jarvis Cocker, Tolkien and a motivational meme, every journey must start somewhere, so it might as well start here.

So, where is here?

Me. Now. After a run.

I don’t look like someone who’d do challenges. I am 45. I am very overweight – the scales indicate 113 kg (17 st 12 – yeowzwer!! I would like to get to 95 by the time I’m racing – it makes life easier!) though blessed with very good underlying health given what I’ve put my body through. I have the medical OK for the challenge. My mental health is not so hot. I have bipolar disorder, and in episodes when I am not ill, do a lot of campaigning, working with the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, and with Oxford University’s Disability Advisory Group. And I care for my wife, who also has bipolar disorder, and has recently been diagnosed autistic (you can read her remarkable, brave blog here). I have a day job that is decidedly not what I had hoped it would be before illness, but which I can manage full-time, and where my colleagues are remarkably supportive. That means a lot. I also write, and am an active part of the literary world, hosting a poetry night at my local Waterstones, writing a weekly column in my role as news editor for the Alliance of Independent Authors. And, of course, I am building this place.

I feel weird, putting this video here. Most people these days who look into lives that combine a whole gamut of activities come to Emilie Wapnick’s talkin on Multipotentialites. It’s a great talk, and you should watch. But it comes several decades after Hank Pfeffer’s somewhat drier article “Danger: High Voltage” on the “Too Many Aptitudes Problem”, which changed my life by giving me permission to flit.

So, what are my baselines for the challenges I am undertaking?

Running – Well, I have run Race to the Stones twice. In 2015 I did it in a not very quick 19 hours 42. That’s my high point. It’s a lot higher than where I am now. This year, mindful of the need to lose about half a stone before I run real distance for the sake of my joints, I have run 5k in 37 minutes. My target is to beat 18 hours.

Powerlifting – It’s been a long time since I lifted. 16 years in fact. Back when I was a discus and hammer thrower for Oxford University Athletics Club. Because of injuries, I am focusing on deadlifting. Back then I managed 195kg. That’s not a benchmark though. I begin again in 2 days’ time. I will update a “now” mark, and a target, then.

Indoor Rowing – two years ago I rowed 108 kilometres. It nearly killed me. And 15 years ago I managed 2k in 6.53.7, just squeaking under the magic 7 minute mark. Where I am now, as of yesterday, is a half marathon, 21097 metres, in 1hr38.37, that’s 2.20.4 pace. My target is to complete 100 miles within 15 hours, and manage a 7.30 2k

Mental Calculation – it’s harder to set targets for mind sports. There are many disciplines within each subset, so to make things concrete I will pick one. In this case 8 digit multiplication – that is, multiplying an eight digit number by another eight digit number in your head, writing only the answer – no written working allowed. I can now do 3 calculations in the regulation time of 10 minutes. I would like to get that to the full 10.

Creativity – As the reigning world champion, this is the one I am unlikely to improve on. As the same person never retains their title, I’d love to do that. But I’d settle for any kind of medal.

Memory – I will pick playing cards as my benchmark. At present, I can memorize the order of 21 cards in 1 minute. I would like to memorize a full pack within 5 minutes.

There we are, some of the boring stats. The place from which I start.

In a way, I feel a semi-fraud. I know I *can* do this. The real thing is doing *all* of this. To a decent standard. While holding life together! And documenting the whole process.

Oh, and the challenge has a name. One that is obvious now I think about it – the dandelion challenge. In honour of Neil Gaiman’s famous speech to London Book Fair, urging publishers to be like dandelions, sowing 1000 seeds in the hope that 100 may blossom. I could also have called it the High Voltage challenge in honour of Hank Pfeffer’s wonderful article that pretty much sums up my butterflyish life.

The Dandelion Challenge is in aid of Apopo Hero Rats. You can find out more about their remarkable work and donate here.

Mind-Body Challenge

After what feels like a hibernation in which much of my physical training has been set decidedly to “ticking over”, this week marked a return to training. That has coincided with a number of things, the first of which is the utterly arbitrary calendrical one of it being the beginning of March.

Second, this week I had the pleasure of giving Oxford University’s first Mental Health Awareness Day lecture under the heading “The Consolation of Solitary Sports”, which gave me the chance to talk about the joys of ultra running, alongside my colleague, Verity Westgate, who gave us a wonderful tour of the world of wild swimming. I was able to explain the magic of the moments in the middle of the night when all the world melts away save for the few feet of trail lit by a tiny torch. You can read the full transcript, and see the video here.


And so, it’s time to set the first foot on the official path for my 2017 mind and body challenge. The reasons behind setting myself a mind and body challenge were simple. First, I wanted to see how far I could push myself in every direction. I have never been good at staying focused on a single goal. Having five goals means that I will never tire of training, and I will always have something to write about.

Second, I love the idea of seeing how far I can actually go at things that aren’t supposed to go together. Though one of the things that has been so fascinating about delving even a little into some of these worlds has been meeting so many amazing people whose lives take them on treks through some of these apparently contradictory territories. But I want to go the whole way. In a year. And when I’ve done that, and taken stock, in 2018 I want to turn it up to 11. And the hope is that part of pursuing activities that are very different but all share a simplicity – a single, easily definable task, taken to an extreme, with concordant training – I will learn something not just about myself but about the ways in which the brain rewires itself to handle such competing demands. What better way to launch a truly creative organisation than to make myself an experiment in divergent activities.

So here are the things I will be pursuing:


One (alleged) left brain activity, one right brain, and one combination:

Mental Calculation (left brain) – I will be adding columns of 10 digit numbers, multiplying 8 digit numbers, and calculating 6 digit square roots at the Mental Calculation World Championships on 22 August.


Creative thinking (right brain) – I will once again be taking part in the Creative Thinking World Championships on 27 August.

Memory – who knows where the competitions will end, but I will be aiming at the MSO Natural and Speed Memory Championships on 21 August.


One strength, one endurance, and one combination:

Powerlifting – because there is a very rigid qualifying structure, I will be aiming at a much smaller meet for this, at Oxford University, in October. I will be deadlifting, and aiming to set the kind of weight that makes me not out of place, at least in that company.

Ultra running – I will once again take on the UK’s leading ultramarathon, the 100 kilometre Race to the Stones


Indoor Rowing – the perfect combination of endurance and strength, I will be taking on a 100 mile row in November. Entirely under my own steam because (as yet) there are no competitive 100 mile open races. But I will take in the an Indoor Rowing Championships along the way.

I will, of course, be seeking to take every opportunity that presents itself to talk about this challenge, to lecture, to present, to encourage, and to explore the boundaries and possibilities we might have thought were beyond us, hopefully rounding everything off with a lecture at Oxford University at the end of November. And yes, there *will* be a book.

Here I am talking to a room full of senior bankers at the launch of a policy document. Evidently the scruffy but fabulously comfortable cheap sweater rendered every seventh word in an unintelligible dialect of Esperanto.
Throughout the challenge, I will not only be talking to encourage others test their limits, but to foreground the importance of mental health issues.

If you are in any way inspired by this challenge

– to take up your own challenge, I will be providing resources over the next couple of weeks as I look closer at each discipline.

– to donate, please do so to my charity of choice, Apopo, who train rats to detect landmines and tuberculosis, transforming lives in some of the most dangerous places on the planet. Donate direct to them here.


– to help – there are lots of ways you can help me practically if you are so inclined. I am looking for sponsors, specifically great, innovative and ethical companies I would be proud to represent, and whose kit I would be proud to use. I will be producing a sponsor information sheet this month, but if you would like to offer your products in return for publicity, please email me at