Personal knowledge management is a design problem not a selection task

PKM is a hot topic on the Interwebs. Everyone is peddling an answer; doubly so if you count the resurgence of evangelizing about the magic of notes. Everyone has the answer. No one is asking the right questions.

The questions I keep seeing run along these lines:

  • Which software product is best?
  • Is this the right way to build my Second Brain?
  • Who has the best training course/YouTube channel/e-book?

All of these questions are on a level of “Will this be on the test?” They are anchored in an unexamined assumption that there is a right answer.

Personal means personal.

All of the answers out there are answers that started out as the solution to someone’s personal take on the answer to the questions they had. At the very least you need to figure out whether those questions bear any resemblance to the questions you have.

You need to back up and formulate your knowledge management questions first before you have any hope of assessing the value of what is out there. The other day I suggested four questions that could get you started. Those questions put you on a design path, not a selection path.

This is not an easy perspective to shake free of. We are trained and acculturated to seek out “right answers.” Most of schooling is set up this way. Much of contemporary schooling was designed to prepare its products (students) to operate in a factory world of meeting production targets for standardized outputs. Only a tiny fraction of the workforce was expected and permitted to think for themselves.

We’re not quite sure what to do with the responsibility to understand our work and our unique contributions. And then comes the task of designing and implementing the practices that will let us carry out that work effectively. There is valuable advice out there to make use of. But the value lies in recognizing that what is out there is not the answer but input for the design work that you must do.

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