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Upskilling for Post Growth Futures, Together

When I was seven, I was given an Apple Macintosh in the hope that Mavis Beacon would teach me how to touch type. It was an unreasonable expectation, for I was actually more interested in escaping to the fantasy lands of Dungeons and Dragons and Lode Runner. Yet, these games had a lasting, unexpected impact on my thirst for learning. In playing Dungeons and Dragons, I remember being particularly excited each time my archetypal characters would gain ‘experience points’ that enabled them to upgrade their abilities.

I still feel that childlike thrill each time I learn something new. It’s the giddy rush that comes from the outcome of a simple transaction: effort goes in, new skill comes out. And as the acquisition of knowledge or skills opens new doors of possibility, the world around me continuously changes; like reaching the next level on a computer game. What’s more, I’ve discovered I get the same rush watching others learn, and that my experiences are enriched when I participate in learning alongside others.

As my work has expanded to explore how humans can flourish within the planet’s biophysical limits, I’ve also become painfully aware that in some aspects of my life, I’m not very well-equipped to flourish in futures beyond economic growth. In retrospect, my formal schooling gave me a good base in certain skills such as public speaking, writing and analysis, but did nothing to prepare me in other areas of life, such as growing food, relating to animals and building things. I was being prepared for labor specialization, often at the expense of learning practical skills that will matter for us all in years to come. We are now heading into a time when generalists — people who can see the big picture and connect seemingly disparate skills and fields of knowledge — are needed just as much as specialists.

But the rising value of the generalist does not mean we each need to know how to do everything ourselves. Voids in our individual skillsets are actually critical to building harmonious communities. As Bill Kauth and Zoe Alawan say, “We need each other, and we need to need each other." Caroline Woolard of the New York City barter platform OurGoods elucidates this concept in sharing that, “When you take a class in a barter system you know the teacher needs you, too.”

Thus, I recently found myself wondering, what range of skills might we collectively need in order to thrive in post growth futures? Or, if the Post Growth Institute were to develop a platform for ‘resilience training,’ what existing efforts should we be promoting? What would we include were we to extend beyond traditional areas of sustainability reskilling such as growing food, building energy systems and learning techniques to effectively bring communities together?

Loosely sorted into nine categories, the list below contains areas of knowledge and skills I consider most important for collective thriving in a range of possible post growth futures. What would you add, change or remove?

Means of Learning and the Self

  • Individual asset mapping
  • Systems thinking
  • Finding your purpose through strategic questioning
  • The latest science on learning processes and knowledge retention
  • Speed reading
  • Touch typing
  • Mysticism and the Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine within
  • Developing intuition
  • Yoga and breath work
  • Meditation
  • De-cluttering
  • Time management techniques

Community, Family and Leadership

  • Key lessons from human history
  • Asset-based community development
  • Running an ‘offers and needs market’
  • Relationship skills
  • Non-violent communication and conflict resolution
  • Diversity sensitivities (including GLBTQIA, cultural, religious, disability, age, indigenous/First Nation)
  • Parenting and family dynamics
  • Dynamic teaching and group facilitation
  • Circle work and other decision-making techniques
  • Confident public speaking
  • Singing in harmony and dancing together
  • How to read and play music
  • Holding and participating in sacred rituals
  • Improvisation theatre
  • Storytelling
  • Restorative justice
  • Fun cooperative games for children and communities (including outdoor and card games)
  • Sharing law
  • Effective campaigning and lobbying
  • Child honouring and protection (including an introduction to ADHD, child trauma and special needs)
  • Graphic facilitation
  • Conversational French/Spanish/Mandarin/Arabic
  • Archiving (sound, video, images, stories, items, documents)


  • Basic anatomy (and terminology), understanding the body’s systems and exercise physiology
  • Injury rehabilitation
  • Holistic approaches to healthcare (including natural, homemade medicinal remedies and birth control)
  • Administering first aid
  • Administering mental health first aid
  • Medicinal herbs
  • Massage (including acupressure)
  • Sleeping well
  • Natural birthing
  • Natural cleaning

Food and Nature

  • Composting and improving soil quality
  • Setting up a worm farm
  • Growing food
  • Permaculture principles and sector design
  • No-dig gardening
  • Threshing
  • Aquaponics
  • Seed saving and plant propagation
  • Pruning
  • Grafting
  • Ploughing (with animals and vehicles)
  • Identifying invasive species
  • Connecting and working with animals (including husbandry, birthing and basic healthcare)
  • Horsemanship
  • Raising fowl
  • Understanding the weather (and reading a weather map)
  • Disaster preparedness (including earthquakes, sandbagging for floods, hazard reduction and back-burning, and fire safety)
  • Cooking essentials
  • Vegetarian cooking
  • Bread making
  • Preserving food (canning, drying)
  • Sprouting
  • Fermenting (including brewing, distilling, mead making, winemaking)


  • Orienteering
  • Hiking and camping (including the ‘leave no trace’ principles)
  • Tracking
  • Fishing
  • Sourcing water from nature
  • Shelter building
  • Open fire cooking
  • Sourcing food (forest foraging and gleaning)
  • Fire making (including natural fire creation)
  • Rope making and essential knots
  • Hunting and using weapons
  • Animal food preparation

Building, Equipment and Vehicles

  • Fundamental principles of structural engineering
  • Building structures (including insulation)
  • Coppicing
  • Woodwork
  • Stonework
  • Natural brickmaking
  • Creating natural toilets
  • Smithing
  • Bike maintenance
  • Vehicle maintenance (including mechanics)
  • Boat maintenance (including mechanics)
  • How to operate heavy machinery
  • How to use power tools
  • Using non-power tools
  • Sourcing and installing renewable energy
  • Water/sewage systems design and building (including filtration, drip irrigation, Keyline and swales)
  • Passive solar design
  • Sailing
  • Paddling (kayak and canoe)
  • Swimming and water safety
  • Electronic basics and how to fix electrical faults
  • Amateur radio and setting up a mesh network
  • Using vehicles in extreme conditions (including towing and defensive driving)

Urban-oriented Skills

  • Urban farming
  • Setting up a rain water collection system
  • Setting up a photovoltaic power generator
  • Dumpster diving

Crafts and Making

  • Life hacking
  • Upcycling and making things from scratch (including dyes, soaps and shampoos)
  • Mending, knitting, sewing, crocheting and weaving
  • Tanning (to produce leather)
  • Homemade cosmetics
  • Drawing
  • Painting
  • Pottery


  • Sustainable business models (including not-for-profit associations and companies, solidarity franchises, producer-, consumer-, worker- and multi-stakeholder cooperatives, community land trusts, benefit corporations, community interest companies)
  • Running an organization
  • Participatory organizing for business (including Sociocracy)
  • Project management
  • Budgeting, bookkeeping, money management and invoicing
  • Information management
  • Sourcing items ethically
  • Blogging
  • Coding
  • Server setup, website design and development (including CMS setup)
  • Using other online tools
  • Setting up and managing a wiki

The above ‘kitchen sink’ list appears, at times, focused on individualistic approaches to self-sufficiency that are more about surviving than thriving. Yet resilient leadership has little to do with creating bullet-proof, invincible fortresses of individuals. It’s more about engaging with others in vulnerable ways that drive human connection. By sharing personal experiences we open up to greater sharing of passions, knowledge, skills and resources, as well as discovering more clearly what work remains to be done, both together and alone. What makes the entire system strong is understanding that everyone has something to offer; that, as in nature, complimentary diversity within a community’s skill sets creates greater resilience.

Fortunately, it’s increasingly easy to locate places and means by which to seed and nurture new knowledge and skills. The Skillshare platform, for example, allows us to find ‘project-based classes anytime, anywhere.’ Thousands of intensive, live-in programs, such as the one soon to be offered by the Gross National Happiness Centre in Bhutan, are springing up around the world. Other initiatives, such as the International Youth Initiative Program in Sweden and the Mycelium Learning Journey in the USA, seek to build skills alongside the incubation of a participant’s social innovation.

Sure, there are times when it’s important to learn things alone. It’s just that there is a great deal to be gained from more of our learning happening together, building shared resilience in the process. As Eric Brende, in his book documenting his time within Amish communities, notes, there is a powerful spin on an old proverb, rather than ‘many hands make light work’, it’s worth considering how ‘many hands make work light’.

This post first appeared on the Post-Growth blog on December 3, 2013.


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