Personal Knowledge Management

Building Smaller & Easier Blocks of Thought

In trying to articulate and write about something the last couple of days, I’ve realized that my main problem is often the “ramp up” to what I’m going to talk about. What I mean by this is that I often want to write a post about a topic that relates to my work but before I can talk about that topic, I need to lay a foundation which can lay the groundwork that I discuss the topic upon.

What happens though is that I end up realizing that I have to spend so much time discussing the foundational groundwork that I end up just giving up on discussing the topic because it requires too much time and energy to lay the groundwork first.

What this in turn is making me realize is that I need to communicate my work in smaller bite-sized pieces that are digestible and not so overwhelming all at once. This in turn means communicating smaller aspects of my work that can scaffold and build upon each other, piece by piece (i.e. small pieces, loosely joined).

In fact, in thinking about this, another thing I’ve noticed is that in linking back to older pieces that I’m using as a groundwork to write a newer piece, I often notice that I’m often referring to just a part of the previous post because I have three or four different topics in the one post. So the person, referring to the previous post, may have to wade through the other topics before they find the one I’m actually referring to.

So again, too many topics in one post. Instead I should be writing small posts on each topic and then write another smaller post that weaves the different topics together (via linking) into a larger one that builds upon the previous topics.

Actually the closest example of this type of format would be Andy Matuschak’s Evergreen Notes system.

Personal Knowledge Management

Building A Working Relationship With Your Future Self

I was just thinking about what I said in my last post below and how it resonates with Tiago Forte’s work on note taking for better writing and productivity.

This is what has been happening in my life and within the psyche of my mind for the past two decades. I just didn’t fully realize it until now. In effect, I had already started my quest without fully realizing what it was all about in a larger sense. 

So I kept reading these snippets of text within books from many different notable authors that resonated with my MMORPG experiences from the past but I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with them because I couldn’t make sense of the larger picture yet. But my intuition was seeing something on a deeper level that my rational mind couldn’t grasp yet. 

Nollind Whachell

By saving all the byproducts of our writing, we collect all the future material we might need in one place. This approach sets up your future self with everything they need to work as decisively and efficiently as possible. They won’t need to trawl through folder after folder looking for all the sources they need. You’ll already have done that work for them.

Tiago Forte

That said though, I’m not sure I could have organized these insights I was intuitively seeing at the time into a “second brain” PKM folder, if I had had one back then, because I didn’t understand their relationship to one another, other than this intense feeling of synchronicity, and thus I couldn’t see the larger context they “fit into” at the time.

So it’s like I’ve always said, it feels like you’re exploring this larger, newer, unknown world and you get glimpses of it by harbouring at different spots on its shore initially and then later taking excursions into its wild jungles. Yes, you’re mapping it but you don’t fully make sense of it until you’ve got enough information to put all the pieces together and see the larger picture.

It’s funny because Tiago posted a tweet a while back, talking about what creativity feels like without organization. Yet to me, this is the actually the creative self-organization that naturally occurs when we step into the unknown of ourselves which has no map, thus no knowledge of which direction to go. Often we just have to follow our intuitive feelings and see where they lead us.

In time though, we make sense of where we are standing and how it relates to the larger world around us.

Personal Knowledge Management

Users’ Guide to Knowledge Management with Concept Maps & Mind Maps

…the difference between a novice and an expert learner is the number and density of the connections across the different concepts or knowledge units.

Personal Knowledge Management

Concept Maps – The Hidden Gem of Personal Knowledge Management

Hence, concept maps are excellent for capturing and holding this knowledge horizon so you can return to the known unknowns when you have time and need to dig further.

Personal Knowledge Management

Key Ideas Underlying Concept Maps – Part 2

Martha, a rote learner, has more misconceptions in grade 12 than she had in grade 2

Personal Knowledge Management

Key Ideas Underlying Concept Maps – Part 1

Meaningful learning requires an emotional commitment to integrate new with existing knowledge.

Personal Knowledge Management

A Safe, Solid Harbour to Explore The Unknown

I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve been frustrated with trying to organize and categorize the knowledge on my websites over the years. The best way I’ve described this in the past is feeling like you don’t have solid ground to stand upon.

This is poignant because I recently stumbled across the following within Andy Matuschak’s notes that explains what a good note taking system (like Evergreen notes) feels like.

These small, self-contained notes represent regular checkpoints. Each note takes only a few minutes to write, but because they’re Evergreen notes, each note is solid ground to stand on—fairly complete relative to its own concept. Of course, we’ll iterate on their contents over time, but each time we do, that note will remain a mostly-complete, self-contained unit.

Andy Matuschak, Evergreen notes permit smooth incremental progress in writing 

What’s important to realize here is that by explicitly mapping out the conceptual meaning of your knowledge, you’re also confirming or denying that you actually know something and thus actually are standing on solid ground versus just believing you are (i.e. you actually know what you know).

But if you can explicitly verify what you know then that feeling of standing on solid ground gives one the courage to use it as a safe, solid harbour to adventurously explore a larger unknown worldview of meaning and understanding that lies beyond one’s awareness and consciousness.

The question that I have is that “What does this look like within a concept map or note taking system?” For example, I know that when you reach the edges of your existing worldview and start exploring a larger one, you start crossing paradigms that effectively turn your old worldview inside out. In effect, what you used to believe was bad could actually turn out to be good (i.e. change and chaos are bad…but wait, now they’re good, as they’re sources of creativity).

But what does a paradigm look like within a concept map and how does it update your concept map because understanding the paradigm transforms your perception and worldview, thus transforming and changing the relationships in your concept map in new ways. In effect, the concepts as objects in your concept map remain but the relationships linked between the concepts dramatically change, thus creating new meaning from old concepts.

Personal Knowledge Management

How to Make a Concept Map

A proposition is just a meaningful statement made up of two concepts and a linking description.

Personal Knowledge Management

Understanding Note Systems That Replicate Concept Maps

And how they can help us to explore and share our larger story and world(view) within us.

I’m realizing that there is something deeper that I’m not seeing with regards to concept maps and how it ties into what I feel is missing from note taking and personal knowledge management, specifically with regards to the ability to show a meaningful “big picture” view of something.

I think one of the best places to start in understanding this is with an article by David B. Clear on the Zettelkasten method of note taking entitled Zettelkasten — How One German Scholar Was So Freakishly Productive. To start, this quote below from the article really touches upon my frustration of trying to organize and categorizing knowledge unsuccessfully on different iterations of my website over the past couple of decades.

Now imagine that instead of the Web being a web, all of the world’s webpages had just been dumped into a big folder without any links. All Wikipedia pages, all blog posts, all Medium stories, all the web articles of different newspapers, all YouTube videos, all the gazillion webpages that make up the Web, all just piled onto one big heap inside a folder. You’d never make any sense of it.

Now imagine further that someone proposed that the solution to this mess was to use tags. You’d consider the idea ludicrous. What? I should organize the gazillion webpages in this folder by using what? A million tags? That’s absurd!

No, the way to organize a massive amount of information and make sense of it is to use a web. That’s why the world’s webpages, as well as the neurons in your brain, are organized as a web. And that’s why you should organize all the interesting ideas you want to keep track of over your lifetime as a web of notes as well.

Zettelkasten — How One German Scholar Was So Freakishly Productive

David then further describes the benefits of a concept map but also their downside as well, that being a concept map of your entire knowledge over your entire life would be a pretty huge visual map.

If we now consider mind maps, concept maps, and outlines, we’re getting closer to a solution. These tools are a good approach to find relations among ideas. The problem, however, is that they only allow you to properly work with a few dozen ideas. You’re certainly not going to put 90,000 ideas into a single concept map over the time span of 40 years and draw connections among the ideas. But that’s precisely what Luhmann did with his Zettelkasten!

You get that? The linear recording of information, as in a notebook, sucks. Non-linear notetaking, and especially graphs and concept maps, rock. And what is a Zettelkasten if not one massive graph or concept map?

Zettelkasten — How One German Scholar Was So Freakishly Productive

He then describes how asking a question, lets you explore a Zettelkasten note system which is exactly how a concept map works in that it should be based around a question. This ties in metaphorically with how I see questions as quests for your life and the greater your questions the more adventurous your life will be which will help you “level up” and psychologically mature in turn.

This is poignant because he describes how a Zettlekasten must have reached a certain level of maturity itself as well. So it mirrors your own stages of psychological development and “levels” of consciousness which relates to vertical development. In effect, think of your current concept map for life, as your map of meaning for it, often more commonly referred to as your worldview. The more evolved your concept map of life is, the more evolved your worldview will be, and the more mature you are which means you’re able to make sense and meaning of the greater complexity in life.

Now compare that to a mature Zettelkasten, which contains thousands and thousands of ideas. You have a question and with that question in mind you dive into your Zettelkasten, moving from one idea to another by following links among notes. Since it contains so many ideas, which you’ve been collecting over a time span of years, you’ve forgotten a huge chunk of them. The Zettelkasten is bursting with ideas that you added years ago and no longer remember. Thus, if you explore it with a question in mind, the Zettelkasten will provide answers in surprising ways. In this sense, the Zettelkasten is smarter than a duck and it’s why Luhmann described it as a conversation partner.

Of course, to reap these benefits, the Zettelkasten must have reached a certain level of maturity. At the beginning it will just contain a few notes which you won’t find that surprising since you just added them recently. Over time, however, your Zettelkasten will grow from an apprentice to a full-fledged writing collaborator. Meanwhile, it will be at least as good a repository for your notes as a notebook or some fancy app. In fact, a Zettelkasten will probably already be a better notetaking system from the first day as the method has some further advantages.

Zettelkasten — How One German Scholar Was So Freakishly Productive

David then describes one of the key foundations of note taking systems that is often overlooked and how it should replicate how concept maps work as a relationship of concepts.

I think the Zettelkasten’s power as a thinking aid is explained by three main factors.

First, using the Zettelkasten method forces you to write. In particular, according to the method you have to write notes using your own words to ensure that you’ll understand them in the future. And as anyone who’s done any writing knows, writing things down forces you to turn vague notions into clearer thoughts.

Second, whenever you add a new note, the Zettelkasten method forces you to look for already existing notes you can link to. That broadens your thinking by forcing you to consider how new ideas relate to others you’ve encountered before.

Third, a Zettelkasten can store a train of thought. A train of thought is nothing but a sequence of ideas and a Zettelkasten is all about linking ideas. Thus, you can have a train of thought today, store it in your Zettelkasten as a sequence of interlinked notes, and then, anytime in the future, you can continue that train of thought by adding new notes and linking them to the previous ones.

Zettelkasten — How One German Scholar Was So Freakishly Productive

He then highlights why these relationships are so important because they help us to be more creative.

A Zettelkasten is designed to find connections between any past idea you’ve recorded and any present or future ideas you’ll record. This makes a Zettelkasten into a tremendous tool for creativity. After all, creativity is nothing more than connecting ideas.

Zettelkasten — How One German Scholar Was So Freakishly Productive

This is a poignant statement to make because it relates to what Beau Lotto said in his book Deviate about how creativity only seems magically from the perspective of someone else because they can’t see the steps to achieving it, instead they just see a leap across a meaningless chasm of seemingly disconnected thoughts and concepts. This is exactly why I believe so many people today are misinterpreting their reality, it’s because they’re misinterpreting the meaning of what they know. To put it another way, the concept map of their life’s knowledge has many relationships that are incorrectly linked.

But finally David summarizes the key principles of a Zettlekasten, which repeats what was said above about keeping each note focused on a single concept and linking them together similar to a concept map, whereby you’re explaining relationships and connections between them as you’re making them. This one principle below really stood out though.

Don’t worry about structure: Don’t worry about putting notes in neat folders or into unique preconceived categories. As Schmidt put it, in a Zettelkasten “there are no privileged positions” and “there is no top and no bottom.” The organization develops organically.

Zettelkasten — How One German Scholar Was So Freakishly Productive

His mention of how the organization of your notes should “develop organically” mirrors exactly with what Andy Matuschak said about his Evergreen note taking system.

Let structure emerge organically. When it’s imposed from the start, you prematurely constrain what may emerge and artificially compress the nuanced relationships between ideas.

Andy Matuschak, Prefer associative ontologies to hierarchical taxonomies

Now to try to bring this all full circle, I’d like to clarify what a concept map is and how it relates to what was said above by relaying some quotes from an article entitled The Ultimate Guide to Concept Maps: From Its Origin to Concept Map Best Practices.

A concept map illustrates a set of meaningful propositions about a topic.

Generally, a concept map should be woven around a focus question, which is the problem or the issue the concept map seeks to resolve. The better the focus question, the richer the concept map will be.

Concept maps are based on Ausubel’s Assimilation theory. This is built around the fact that new knowledge can be learned effectively by linking it to what is already known.

As you identify these connections put down the linking words or phrases to indicate the relationship between the two concepts you are linking.

The Ultimate Guide to Concept Maps: From Its Origin to Concept Map Best Practices

Even more importantly, if you dig further into what Ausubel’s Assimilation Theory means, more poignant quotes can be found. Note the description of “high level” learning.

David Ausubel’s Assimilation Learning Theory focuses on what he describes as ‘meaningful Learning’. This is a process where new information is related to an existing relevant aspect of the individual’s knowledge structure. This component of his theory fits with the concepts of short and long term memory in cognitive information processing.His theory integrates the cognitive, affective and psychomotor.

He identifies two aspects of learning – rote learning and meaningful learning. I am sure we have all experienced these two as a learner and a teacher! Rote learning is learning – but it is not high level learning and has implications for recall and transferability.

Ausubel’s Assimilation Theory

More specifically in terms of meaningful learning, note how it differs from traditional rote learning. If I say so myself, this is exactly the type of learning that is needed in our rapidly changing world today, as it helps us to “level up” through vertical development and understand higher complexities of order in life.

Deliberate effort to link new knowledge with other higher order concepts

Learning related to experiences

Can be applied in a variety of new problems or contexts (transferable)

Ausubel’s Assimilation Theory

All said and done, I’d like to leave you with something Justine Musk said in her article Don’t Lose The Snake: Creativity, Difference The Bold Point of View (via the Internet Archive) which I’ve been trying to figuring out how to achieve for sometime now which I think this “concept map” note-taking system might be able to do.

It might be worth asking yourself, what do you believe that nobody else believes? How can you express that belief through your product or service in a way that someone else might find relevant and even self-enhancing? Don’t just ask, who is your consumer – ask, who do you want your consumer to become? What kind of story can you tell around your product or service to help him become that? How can you build out the world of your story so that the consumer can find different ways of entering it and interacting with it — especially in this day and age of social media?

I don’t think in terms of platform anymore; your platform is your storyworld for the consumer to explore and get lost in.

Justine Musk, Don’t Lose The Snake: Creativity, Difference The Bold Point of View

What I’m getting at here is what if you could make your note-taking system not just your own map of meaning and worldview for understanding yourself but it could also be your “storyworld” which others could “explore and get lost” in at their own pace, thus helping them to understand you in turn as well. Again this mirrors with my approach of seeing life metaphorically as an adventure, one whereby you are exploring beyond your existing world(view) to “level up” but also where others can explore where you have already explored in turn as well.

Personal Knowledge Management

A Lateral Reading Technique For Deeper Understanding

In reading the book Indirect Work by Carol Sanford, I’m finding I‘m having to reread prolifically to ensure I’m correctly understanding what she’s communicating. It’s not that she’s using difficult words but rather the meaning of her words are deeper than what I’ve experienced before.

To get around this and to ensure I’m understanding what she’s saying (rather than just assuming I’m understanding), I’m resorting to what I’m calling lateral reading. Basically I’ve already read the book from front to back but now what I’m doing is searching keywords in Kindle, thus letting me get a focused, quick sweep of a keyword from different perspectives throughout the book to help me grasp it better.

For example, tonight I searched the keyword “capability” to ensure I got a deeper understanding of it. Then while searching that, I noticed another keyword of “knowledge” and searched that to ensure I was understanding her correctly with it as well.

All said and done, it’s definitely giving me a deeper understanding of what I’ve already read by helping me to look at the content from a different approach.