In Ancient Greece, the word metis (mētis) meant a quality that combined wisdom and cunning. It’s a term that describes the ‘fingertip feel’ one has when it comes to practical tasks. Other modern ways of calling it are know-how, common sense, experience and knack.

As political scientist and anthropologist James C Scott writes in his seminal book ‘Seeing Like a State’:

[Metis] is better understood as the kind of knowledge that can be acquired only by long practice at similar but rarely identical tasks, which requires constant adaptation to changing circumstances.

Skills that fall under metis are characterised by their need to adapt to a changing environment. One significant clue that the skill requires metis is if it’s exceptionally difficult to teach unless the person engages in the activity itself.

Take riding a bike for example. You can lecture someone who’s never ridden one before how to sit on the seat, how to move the pedals with their legs and how to steer. But unless they actually get on a bike and experientially develop the know-how through practice themselves, it’ll count for almost nothing.

Skillsets that involve metis aren’t only limited to use of tools and objects. Human interaction is predominantly metis in nature. Think of the behaviours and activities that require constant adjustment to the thought and actions of others. Human dynamics are never static—we’re always adapting how we interact with someone depending on who they are, our relation with them, their mood, and what context we find ourselves in with them.

Scott sums it up as follows:

Metis is most applicable to broadly similar but never precisely identical situations requiring a quick and practiced adaptation that becomes almost second nature to the practitioner. The skills of metis may well involve rules of thumb, but such rules are largely acquired through practice (often in formal apprenticeship) and a developed feel or knack for strategy. Metis resists simplification into deductive principles which can successfully be transmitted through book learning, because the environments in which it is exercised are so complex and non repeatable that formal procedures of rational decision making are impossible to apply.

Metis concerns itself with the practicality of knowledge. If it isn’t practical, it isn’t metis:

Knowing how and when to apply the rules of thumb in a concrete situation is the essence of metis. The litmus test for metis is practical success.

Metis is akin to traditional wisdom of the ages. It’s knowledge that has been stress tested in real life situations, not trapped in a book.

Metis Techne Feel


In contrast to metis, techne deals more with the realm of objective and hard knowledge. Techne is knowledge that can be derived from first principles, that can be passed on through books without the need for deliberate practice.

Scott writes:

Technical knowledge, or techne, could be expressed precisely and comprehensively in the form of hard-and-fast rules (not rules of thumb), principles, and propositions. At its most rigorous, techne is based on logical deduction from self-evident first principles.

Where metis is contextual and particular, techne is universal.

The universality of techne arises from the fact that it is organized analytically into small, explicit, logical steps and is both decomposable and verifiable. This universality means that knowledge in the form of techne can be taught more or less completely as a formal discipline.

Another distinguishing aspect of this type of knowledge is its focus on quantitative precision via explanation and verification. This renders the knowledge ‘impersonal’ in the sense that it can be held in theory without the need for practical application.

Techne is most suitable to activities “that have a singular end or goal, an end that is specifiable apart from the activity itself, and one susceptible to quantitative measurement.

The sciences fit this definition. Their knowledge has been derived from analytical processes and captured in writing and data. It survives in this form whether or not another human being learns and applies it. In a thousand years time, a right angle will still be 90 degrees and water will still be H₂O.

Metis Techne Books

How do we use Metis and Techne for lifestyle design?

It’s all well and good knowing the distinctions between different types of knowledge but how do we implement them in our day to day lives?

Here are some areas in life where you can use the interplay between metis and techne to make improvements:


In my experience, travelling is more metis than techne.

Techne is vital in the process of planning, budgeting and researching destinations to set yourself up for a good trip. I’ve even invented decision making frameworks designed to optimise your choice of where to go in the world based on your personality, the ultimate theoretical foundation before you set off.

But only YOU will know if a place is right for you or not. Only YOU will know whether Bali’s beauty and lifestyle variety offset the countless touts trying to squeeze you for every penny (FYI they didn’t for me). Only YOU will know if New York’s frenetic pace leaves you buzzing with intensity or weary from stress. Only YOU will know if you prefer the vibrancy of cities or the bucolic life of the countryside.

Doing so requires lived experience in those places. This means not every trip will go the way you think it will. This is fine. No traveller relishes each place in the same way. It’s impossible to enjoy every location equally. You’ll learn what you like and who you are as you go along.

But if you combine the techne of cumulative knowledge from others plus the metis of direct experience and reflection about your time in a country, you’ll maximise your approach to successful travel.


Interacting with people, networking, making friends and building a social circle—all these are more metis in nature than techne.

Learning about how to meet people can only get us so far, we have to apply the knowledge in practice.

Take the art of listening for example. You may have read the greatest post on listening ever written (shameless plug) but have you actually applied the information in real life conversations?

The reason I wrote about ‘real listening’ in the first place is because true listening is metis embodied. So-called ‘active listening’ is an overly techne approach, it provides technical posturing to the act of listening, missing the point.

Most social skills are the same. How you network in business, how you get more friends, how you make a lasting impression are all skills that require learning by doing. We’ve all come across someone who is contrived and formulaic in how they speak to us and have wanted to flee from the conversation. This was down to them being too techne in the art of people skills.

Use a degree of techne as a basis for bettering your social skills but understand that most of your improvements will come from direct application and refinement from talking to loads of people.

Dating and romance

As discussed in the socialising section, meeting and connecting with people is an interpersonal skill and dating and romance are no different. Both firmly fit into the category of metis more than techne.

Like socialising, dating does have techne. Rational knowledge on dating can give you a big head start in improving this area of your life.

But you’ll only ever see meaningful improvements and have successful relationships with direct experience. How do you gain such experience?

It starts with putting yourself out there more. Most people, men or women, don’t put themselves out there in real life enough. How can one develop the tacit skillset of flirting, courting and dating if they’re not meeting enough people?

If you’re a man, you’d benefit from diversifying the ways you meet women beyond dating apps. Research shows that dating apps are highly lopsided in gender ratios making it more arduous for men to meet the women they want.

If you’re a woman, you probably have the opposite problem and find dating apps overrated and annoying (gender ratios on the apps play a part in this too). You’d likely benefit from going out to bars or events increasing the chance you’ll meet someone who’s your type.

Then after you’ve applied the knowledge you’ve learned when interacting and you have time for yourself, it’s important to reflect on how it went and what you could have done better. Did you come on too strongly? Were you overly nice trying to ‘make’ the person like you rather than being genuine? Did you move things forward or were you walking on eggshells?

The more you do this reflection process, the better you’ll synthesise the knowledge you have. This is the key to improvement—internalising theoretical knowledge (techne) into real life contexts (metis).


Knowledge is power. We use ‘knowledge’ as an all-encompassing term for the information and understanding we acquire of the world. Yet knowledge isn’t a singular concept—the modern world often treats it as such and misses out on wisdom that we can use to improve ourselves.

The Ancient Greeks understood that knowledge was multi-faceted. Metis and Techne are two types of knowledge that can help us conceptualise different domains and skillsets we’re involved in helping us to greater reach our lifestyle design aims.

Metis is knowledge that we’d consider experience, touch and practical know-how. It’s pragmatic applicability—useful in an ever-changing world and has to be lived to be learned.

Techne is theoretical knowledge that exists ‘outside’ the human mind in the sense that it can be stored externally and passed on this way when needed e.g. the hard sciences and mathematics. It’s not the type of knowledge that requires a ‘fingertip feel’ to apply but is objectifiable and carries high explanatory value for other types of knowledge, even metis.

We can use both types of knowledge to improve different areas of life such as travelling, socialising and dating. The key is to understand the interplay between both and synthesise them in each area of life through application and reflection.

Most of the words you read on this blog are techne—it’s knowledge and experience shared in writing designed to give you a head start when it comes to lifestyle design abroad.

But never forget the importance of direct application and internalisation of this knowledge in real world contexts: metis.

Metis Techne Combined