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The antilibrary

Posted by Mark Harrison on January 4, 2011

In my Top Gadgets 2010 post, I made reference to my antilibrary.

The anti-library is another concept invented by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (who also came up with the concept of the Black Swan).

It was, according to Taleb, influenced by the personal library of Umberto Eco. Professor Eco has, it would appear, about 30,000 books. (I am inspired – I only have about 5,000 – but must admit that my admiration is mixed with a twist of envy.)

The antilibrary is, in some ways, poorly named. It is not the opposite of the library, but a portion thereof.

  • My Antilibrary (to which I’ll give a capital A) is the set of books that I haven’t read.
  • My antilibrary (with a small a) is the set of books that sit on my shelves, but which I haven’t read.

Of my 5000ish books, there are a good few hundred that sit on a shelf for books that I have not yet read, but mean to this year.

To “get” the concept, ask yourself the following question:

Which are more useful; a random selection of 100 books that I have read, or the 100 that I’ve bought and have not yet read?

Statistically, a few of the 100 I have read will turn out to be the “useful references” I need to turn to regularly. However, statistically, I am hopeful that 100% of the 100 that I’ve not yet read will contain some useful insight or distinction that will help me, and my business, over the coming decade.

What is it that you don’t yet know that will end up transforming your life and business over the coming decade? I’m sure it’s in the Antilibrary somewhere, and hope that you will add it to your antilibrary soon, and then move it out of there into your mind. It’s normally the things you don’t know that bite you.


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New Years Resolution 2011.1 – watch no broadcast TV

Posted by Mark Harrison on January 3, 2011

Yes, I know it’s the third of January, but various things have come together recently to make me resolve to watch no further “direct to air” TV in 2011.

Do I want to watch a show like this?

Over Christmas, we caught up with some old friends who we see once or twice a year. One of them told us about a friend of his, who has now added a second world record.

He was (and I hope I’ve got these the right way round) previously the holder of the “deepest dive by a blind SCUBA-diver” record. He is now, additionally the “fastest blind waterskier towed by a blind speedboat driver.”

He applied to a TV show in a which a “Celebrity Survival Expert” was to take people with disabilities on a trek somewhere remote. He was turned down because he was deemed too able, and apparently disabled people FAILING TO COPE would make better TV.

Do I want to watch the X-Factor?

Chris Dillow makes the case that I should care about the X-Factor, albeit because it exemplifies so many things that are sadly true.

So, am I no longer watching anything?

Video (by which I mean TV, film, DVD, downloads, irrespective of channel) is a classic example of how specialisation in the West Economy over the last few hundred years gives some stunning results. Take any recent blockbuster film – hundreds of people spending tens of thousands of man-years and tens-hundreds of millions of VC money…

… to give me something that I can have for a fiver.

There is truly great stuff out there. Personally, as someone who hid behind the sofa in the 1970s, I think that the re-birth of the Dr. Who Franchise is great, (and my children love the Sarah Jane Adventures spinoff, to the extent that the Season 3 DVD was the only thing my 6 year old actually asked for as a Christmas Present). Watching the “Christmas Carol 2011 special” was a great use of an hour!

But, it was the iPlayer version I watched, last night, rather than whenever the channel actually decided to broadcast it.

This is the point – I was able to choose to watch that programme AFTER it had been broadcast, and, more importantly, after I’d had enough feedback about it to decide it would be worth watching.

I have a complex mesh of getting recommendations about things – Amazon’s customer reviews are mixed enough to make me believe that they are authentic, not puffed up pieces by PR companies… and of course, the blogs to which I subscribe, and the people I know and meet in “real life” (That phrase needs quoting – it’s as if, somehow, only fake people talk on the Internet?)

But, the resolution – no broadcast TV in 2011 – is the first I’m publishing this year. Feel free to track my progress.

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5 steps to perfection in everything you do (er, maybe)

Posted by Mark Harrison on July 2, 2010

This post started as a comment on a post on, but I decided I’d expand it a bit onto my own blog.

On the original post, the writer basically wrote an opinion piece slamming the “it’s easy” mentality that many self-help authors adopt.

To a large extent, I agree, and I think there are at least three words in the title that would need changing:

Problem one: “Easy” steps rather than “Simple” steps. It’s possible to explain something simply, that doesn’t make it easy.

Problem two: “Perfection” rather than “world class” – one of the things about truly world-class people in many walks is that they don’t consider that they have reached perfection, and always see room for improvement.

Problem three: “Everything” rather than “Anything”. Most people can simply reach world class standards in anything they choose, but that’s different from reaching them in everything.

So, here we go:

Five steps to perfection in everything you do

Three simple steps to reach world-class standards in anything you do.

Step 1: Treat others as you’d like them to treat you.

Step 2: Decide what it is you want to be good at.

Step 3: Commit to learning how to do it (which requires a couple of notes).

Now, let’s expand that a little.

1: Treat others as you’d like them to treat you. Many self-help authors finish on this note. It’s a personal preference that I’d like to start there, but a preference born out of experience rather than idealism.

2: Decide what you want to be good at. This is harder than it sounds, not least because as we learn, we change. It’s easy to use platitudes about commitment, but actually, having a big enough reason to want to do something is a key step. You need to choose a niche that will not only support you financially, but either nurture you personally (Maslow was right!) or provide enough passive income that you can concentrate on what you enjoy. The problem, of course, is that because of point 3, it generally takes an awful lot of time to build the business to that level of passive income in the first place, so you may as well build a business doing what you enjoy 🙂

3: It generally takes about 10,000 hours practice to attain world-level mastery of something.

So, in your spare time, an hour a day, that will take 30 years. Up that to 20 hours a week, and you cut that to 10 years. Do it for 100 hours a week, and you have a 2 year deadline.

You’ll also need to work out the right balance between private research (books, Internet research, audio), group-based learning (courses, seminars), 1:1 training, and personal practice (experiments if you’re a science student, playing / singing if you’re a musician, writing if you’re an author, actually looking at markets and properties if you’re building a property portfolio).

Easy? Probably not.

Simple? Yes.

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