Personal Knowledge Management

I started actively managing my personal knowledge a few years ago inadvertently. I wanted to make my presentations and small talk more engaging so I created a joke database.

Getting started

I used the note-taking app Evernote which makes it easy to categorise the jokes I hear or find. I added the tag ‘Professions’ to the joke below and have used it often when presenting to or meeting engineers.

To an optimist the glass is half full, to the pessimist half empty. To the engineer it is twice as big as it needs to be

The practice of regularly reading through the jokes means I remember them better and think about how to adapt them to other situations. The above joke works for scientists and software programmers for example.

As time has gone by I started adding other facts, figures and content around general themes which everyone can relate to and which I can adapt for the situation. Including things like:

  • Work
  • Relationships
  • Happiness
  • Status
  • Health
  • Success / Failure

My job means I often need to write a speech, presentation or article on short notice. My first step is to search the relevant tags in Evernote which gives me some entertaining and interesting things to sprinkle through the content. As Mark Twain (possibly) remarked it takes more than three weeks to prepare a decent impromptu speech.

Personal Knowledge Mastery

I have recently taken PKM to the next level by doing Harold Jarche’s Personal Knowledge Mastery workshop.

Analysing my current practice through the lens of his Seek, Sense, Share framework I realised I am really only regurgitating what other people think and say without deeply understanding it or adding any real value to it. While I am going in the right direction I am definitely missing a trick or two, to say the least. I am a consumer but not a creator content which is where I want to be. Here are some amazing examples of blogs I have been mining which show the idea perfectly:

Jarche.com – great for developing personal knowledge management practice
Brainpickings.org – beautiful, thoughtful views of the human condition from an exceptionally well-read blogger. Be ready to spend an afternoon here following the links
Fs.blog – a blog about applying mental models to think in a more effective way

Next steps

Seek – To paraphrase Seth Godin you can learn almost anything but you can’t learn everything. I am focusing my knowledge-seeking on expanding my circle of competence more slowly but consistently.

Sense – I have often seen knowledge as a shiny new thing to show off and then forget about for the most part. I am concentrating on understanding the information I find more deeply and looking for relationships with other things I have learnt.

Share – It feels like I am now using social media with my shoes on the right feet so to speak before when I shared things I felt uncomfortable because I was either regurgitating someone else’s work, trying to look clever or looking for approval. Now I aim to add value with anything I share using the internet as it should be rather than how we are encouraged to by the algorithms.

More generally I hope to extend my brain by building a smart network of thoughtful people who value what I do and are happy to help me if I need it.

In conclusion I love this quote from ‘A technique for producing ideas’ by James Webb Young:

If you ask me why I am willing to give away the valuable formula of this discovery I will confide to you that experience has taught me two things about it: First, the formula is so simple to state that few who hear it really believe in it. Second, while simple to state, it actually requires the hardest kind of intellectual work to follow, so that not all who accept it use it. Thus I broadcast this formula with no real fear of glutting the market in which I make my living.

‘A technique for producing ideas’ by James Webb Young