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Think Small

I recently spoke at a TEDx conference at Cambridge University (who were co-hosting it with Oxford Uni). The theme was ‘Unconventional Wisdom’. I titled my talk ‘Think Small’. The video is above, but here are the main themes I touched on in my talk. It was only an 18 minute talk so I had to condense my thoughts a lot. I was talking about my own experiences of journeys and expedition, but I hope the essence makes sense whatever you choose to do with your own life.

  • Big Rewards / Small Risks. We tend to focus too much on the risks of any project, in particular the looming spectre of failure. Far better to concentrate on the benefits and rewards of success, particularly if the only real consequences of you failing are dented pride and a loss of face. (Stick two fingers up to the sneerers and naysayers: you are the man in the arena, not them.)
  • Do what you love. Apologies if this is beginning to sound like dogma. I say it a lot. But I’ve been thinking a lot in the last couple of years about the direction of my life/”career”. Every time I think it might be time to grow up and get a proper job, this is the argument that sways me. I am in the fortunate position of earning an adequate amount of money by doing what I love. It would be madness to give that up lightly.
  • Big World / Small World. Our planet is massive, wild and wonderful. A lifetime of wanderlust could never ‘do’ it all. But, more than at any time in history, the world is smaller than ever. The internet allows everyone to find their niche. The web is made up of countless tiny communities. The key is to find the community that you care about and then make the most of it. Use it to learn. Use it to seek assistance or advice. But use it too to help other people and pass on your own expertise. I personally love the opportunity to share my journeys in real time, sending stories out into the world from whatever wild place I happen to be in.
  • Small Books / Big Audience. Last year I opted to self publish There Are Other Rivers. (I explained my motives here.) This means that I have lost out on selling my books in book shops. Instead I am focussing on the worldwide web of small communities mentioned in the point above. Instead of sprinkling my book haphazardly across book shops I have focussed only on the groups of people who might actually be interested in reading the book. Self publishing also meant that I could write the book I wanted to write (not to mention the mappazine!), not the sort of book the publishing industry would have wanted me to write. The reviews on Amazon definitely back up my decision.
  • Think Small. It’s pretty obvious (though scary to do in reality) when people say “Think BIG! Set Big Goals!” So instead I spoke of the importance of thinking small. We don’t all have the time or the skill or the money or the balls to just head off and climb K2. But instead of simply discarding the dream of K2, a better thing to do is just to begin. Take the first tiny step. Go climb a local hill. Climb Ben Nevis. Climb in the Alps. Climb in the Alps in winter… and little by little your journey towards K2 will gather momentum.

The summary of the whole talk, I suppose, was this:

  1. Think Big
  2. Think Small
  3. Start Small
  4. But Do Start…
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  1. Love the pointers here! I am sure the audience would have enjoyed your talk a great deal!

  2. A good round-up of thoughts. Your points on self-publishing (plus unanimously-negative stories I’ve had from ‘small book’ authors who’ve gone down the traditional publishing route) have convinced me to self-publish in the vein you mention.

    I saw the Youtube vid of the talk too – looked like a lot of fun, if perhaps slightly nerve-wracking!

    • My overall publishing advice is to aim for a massive publisher, and if that fails then contemplate self-publishing.

      • It sounds like massive publishers don’t mind if you’ve already self-published on a small scale – or so I’m told by a friend who works in editorial at Hodder & Stoughton… best of both worlds?

        Oh yeah, I need a decent book first. Back to the manuscript! 🙂

  3. Great video Al. The simplicity of your message is very powerful and I completely agree that it can be applied to all areas of life, not just expeditions and adventures.



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