Today I’m kicking off a series on building a Knowledge Handling Set Up (KHS). There are many tools, frameworks, and ways of working out there for learning and holding onto knowledge, and it can be hard to fit them together into a whole that works for you, what I call a KHS.
This series is a bit unlike some of my others, in that I’ll be working it it out as I go. In the past, I’ve done most of my thinking and testing hidden away on my own, and only shared things when they’re pretty well settled. I want to change that, for I think you and I will both be better off if I lay bare more of the starts, stops, and dead ends that go into getting to output I can stand behind. Even more than most things, a KHS has to be built /for you/, so I think that showing my way of working will be more worthwhile than sharing what works /for me/.
So, below I lay out what a “Knowledge Handling Set Up” needs to have to earn the name, and then step through the framework I’ve come up with to get to one. That framework is made up of bringing in new knowledge, working through it, and doing something worthwhile with it once it’s in your set up. I believe the coming posts will follow this framework, but with a working series, that may change.
Unfolding “Knowledge Handling Set Up”
As you might recall, I like to start series out by laying out the meaning of key words as I’ll be using them. My working meaning for Knowledge Handling Set Up (KHS) is: “A way of bringing in and holding onto knowledge in such a way that it is at hand whenever it will be helpful.” There are three main bits: 1) knowledge, 2) at hand, and 3) helpful. Let’s unpack each of these bits:
By Knowledge, I mean anything that can be known: words, knowhow, insights, crafts, and so forth. This one’s pretty straightforward, but I’d like to point out that “knowledge” holds more than book smarts - learning a martial art or yoga or the like count as much, but won’t be where we spend most of our time in this series.
By at hand, I mean that I can get to the knowledge without much work. That might mean memorizing it, or it might mean putting it into a tool that I can use with little enough trouble for it not to matter that it’s outside my head. Note that what falls under “little enough trouble” will rest on what you’re doing with the knowledge.
By helpful, I mean that having that knowledge in the right spot in my KHS lets me do something I wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Helpful is tightly linked with at hand above, as what I hope to do with the knowledge will drive what’s the best way to hang onto it.
Bringing in New Knowledge
There’s a whole world of knowledge out there, so we need to think about how to bring it in to our KHS. I break that down into three main steps:
- finding knowledge you might learn, 2) sifting for the best stuff in what you find, and 3) processing it to get the good stuff into your set up.
Luckily for us, today we can find knowledge more readily than ever before. Still, it’s helpful to think about where and how you’re looking for new knowledge, both in an ongoing way (what blogs to follow, where to get book recommendations) and with goals in mind (I want to learn more about blockchain).
There are a lot of ways to find input out there today, and many of them have a rather a lot of crap. So, how do you keep away from the crap and get to the good stuff? Worse, how do you break out the truly great from the merely good? Harder still, how do you put aside “great for others” from “great for me”.
You’ve found a work that is truly great, matchlessly fitted to you and where your knowledge-seeking are right now - it’s truly the right book/paper/class for you. So, what do you do with it? Even in a work chock full of great stuff, some of it will be better, some worse, some stuff you’ll know, and some stuff over your head. So you need a way to work out the right amount of time and drive and how to spend it.
Pulling Up the Knowledge
You’ve put in the work to bring some new knowledge in your KHS, so how will you call up that knowledge when you need it? You can put it into your head, where you’ll find it when you go looking, or where it might pop up to surprise you.
Put Knowledge In Your Head
The oldest and most wieldy way to handle knoweldge is to, you know, actually learn it. Put that knowledge inside your head so that you can work with it in ways mindful and otherwise. Since this takes the most work and uses up the dearest resource (room in your mind), you have to be careful about what you keep this way.
Put Knowledge Where You Can Find It
This is what we do with old-fangled lookup systems, like a file cabinet or binder, but let’s not knock it. You think about an article you read a while back that might come in handy, look through where you keep it, find it, and skim it to find the helpful bits. Let’s stop for a breath and acknowledge how amazing this everday thing is, still more so with digital storage: without even getting online, my database on my computer holds more works than most countries had to hand not too long ago. And I don’t even have to climb up one of those sweet ladders with wheels on the top to find them.
Put Knowledge Where It Can Find You
Often the most useful knowledge is that which we didn’t know we needed until it pops up and suddenly clicks, both “surprising and inevitable”. In the past you might only have found this when talking with smart people that know things you don’t or by sheer dumb luck on page 237 of the book you’re reading. These days, we are lucky to have tools that can help do this for us, like search engines and database software. This is especially helpful in generating new insights and other generative creative work.
Doing something with the knowledge
Lastly, you need something worthwhile to do with this knowledge you’re working so hard to get a handle on. Though this comes last, it steers much of what comes before, as what you want to do with knowledge will drive what you bring in and how you pull it up. I find it helpful to think about the “so what” of a given chunk of knowledge, to have goals and undertakings the knowledge might help, and to grow the likelihood that each chunk of knowledge will be helpful more widely.
Finding the “So What”
With more to learn than any of us can ever handle, it’s helpful to think about you’re learning what you are. I’m bad at following this wisdom myself, as I lean strongly toward “learn ALL THE THINGS”. While this is great as an inwrought drive to seek out knowledge, it can often lead to wasting time on unweighty things. So I’ve been working on thinking more carefully through “what does this knowledge do for me? what is worthwhile about learning it?”
Goals and Undertakings
Once way to make clear why you’re learning something is to link it to named goals or undertakings. If you’re building a dating app for dogs, then it’s likely helpful to learn things about the mating behavior of dogs, the spending habits of dog owners, smart phone app economics, and so forth. If you’re not writing one, then not so much.
Un- and Re-Setting
This last one is a bit unlike the other two. Rather than linking knowledge to an end you already have in mind, this one is about upping the likelihood that any given bit of knowledge will turn out to be helpful by making it more readily link up with a wider field of other bits of knowledge. You do this by taking chunks of knowledge and carving away the setting it came from (un-setting), so that you can more readily fit it into some other setting (re-setting). I learned this thought from How to Take Smart Notes, of which more later in this series. I like to think of it as turning as much of your knowledge as you can into Lego blocks that you can fit together in new and awesome ways.
So that’s what I hope to go through with you over the next handful of posts! A friend of mine once told me I ought to find undertakings that “scratch more than one itch” as a way to deal with my manifold interests, and that’s what I’m hoping to do here, using the writing of these posts not only to work out what might go into a KHS, but to get some practice putting it together as well.
If there are any tools, ways of working, or works that you love in this field, do please share them, and let me know any of the above bits you’d like to hear more about.
Last modified on 2020-05-29