Personal Knowledge Management — What, Why and How?(1)

Organised common (or uncommon) sense – very basic knowledge is an enormously powerful tool… You have to have a temperament to grab ideas and do sensible things. [Charlie Munger]

I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library. [Jorge Luis Borges]

Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes [Peter F. Drucker]

What is PKM?

Here is what I got from Wikipedia:

Personal knowledge management (PKM) is a collection of processes that a person uses to gather, classify, store, search, retrieve, and share knowledge in his or her daily activities and the way in which these processes support work activities. [Wikipedia]

But I have my version of definition:

Personal knowledge management (PKM) is a collection of processes that a person manages information, extracts and refines knowledge, share with others, uses knowledge to do sensible things and breaks boundaries between disciplines. [Hui]

Why PKM?

It takes me very long to realize I badly need PKM. I love books (learning) which has been the case since day one. However, I was not on purposely selective about what I read. As a random reader, I went to a bookstore, randomly picked book and read whatever seemed to interest me at that time. Or sometimes my friends recommended book to me. It actually has been my attitude towards many other things: choose from whatever come to me that seemed interest me instead of knowing what I really want and go to get it. Unfortunately, I happen to be the kind of person who is interested in a million things under the sun. I randomly tried new things that I thought were interesting as if I would never die. It is not hard to imagine how I get myself in trouble…

What made me think I need to change? It goes back to Apr 2012 when a friend and I founded a statistical consulting company that provides statistical training and consulting in Beijing. One year later, both of us quitted and handed it to someone else for different reasons. Actually I was extremely passionated about running the business at that time but I was very unhappy and anxious. I became a terrible stranger to people who are important to me, someone not loving and caring. Later I read about focusing illusion which may explain my situation at that time.

Focusing Illusion: Nothing In Life Is As Important As You Think It Is, While You Are Thinking About It. [Daniel Kahneman]

I could hear God saying: “Hui, stop and think about what you really want.” So I did.

Our happiness is thus not affected to a large extent by reflecting on our lives, but by the flood of feelings that are constantly generated within us. [“The Optimism Bias” by Tali Sharot]

Anyway, I learnt a lot from the experience. Here I just want to mention three learnings that are related to PKM:

  1. There are big gaps among:

    Information —> Knowledge —> Skill

  2. I have to be selective: figure out what I want then go to get it
  3. I need to put effort on building Mental Framework

What is mental framework? It is what Charlie Munger calls Latticework of Mental Models:

You have to learn all the big ideas in the key disciplines in a way that they’re in a mental latticework in your head and you automatically use them for the rest of your life. If you do that, I solemnly promise you that one day you’ll be walking down the street and you’ll look to your right and left and you’ll think “my heavenly days, I’m now one of the few competent people in my whole age cohort.” If you don’t do it, many of the brightest of you will live in the middle ranks or in the shallows. [Charlie Munger]

Reading itself is not enough: you have to be able to grab key ideas and make sense of them. In order to found a sound framework:

Once you have a framework, you can do something we call 触类旁通 in Chinese. Personal Knowledge Management, in my opinion, is a way to build Mental Framework. It aims at:

  1. Learn a set of strong, useful concepts from each discipline and tie them together in such a way that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
  2. Know the edge of our competency, know that there is much larger part of the world we don’t know.
  3. Be able to tell what we can do, what we can’t; what is important, what is not. And do the important things that we can do.

How PKM?

PKM needs time to develop and I told myself to be patient. Here is my PKM MindMap (yours can be different):

Personal Information Management

Let’s start from Personal Information Management(PIM). I have been working on it since 2015 (You can see my PIM here). I break the process down to three steps. I will go through it one by one.

Gather Information

There are many information sources (book, magazines, newspaper, radio, internet…). Here are my personal opinions.

… There are other souces of information (such as talking to friends, professional groups etc) and I am not going to list all.

Classify Information

Next is to classify the information you have. I roughly classify them into 21 categories (see Reading Notes)

> unique(dat$Category)
 [1] Art                        Beauty&Health              Biography                 
 [4] Biology                    Business & Economics       Data Science              
 [7] Gender                     History                    IT                        
[10] Law                        Medicine                   Novel                     
[13] Novels and Plays           Novels and Plays-detective Other                     
[16] Philosophy and Psychology  Politics                   Proses, Essays and Poems  
[19] Self-development           Society and Culture        Statistics                

Then it is important to further decide your target knowledge and skill. What are the difference? Here are my definitions:

Clean Information

If you keep on collecting, you will eventually feel overwhelmed. That is why you have to clean it. Cleaning follows Occam’s Razor principle:

Occam’s Razor: Suppose there exist two explanations for an occurrence, the simpler one is usually better.

I generally consider it as law of parsimony and try to apply it in different dimensions of my life. Reducing unnecessary complexity has always been my principle.

If you bat away many things, you don’t clutter yourself. [Charlie Munger]

Take “Predictable Irrational” by Dan Ariely as an example. After cleaning the information, what I recorded in my Reading Notes are like this:

The notes shown here may not make sense to you but what is important is that it makes sense to me. I hope you get the idea and you should have a way to clean information that makes sense to you.

Extract & Form Knowledge

Now we get to the difficult part of PKM. So far what we have is just information. There is significant gap between information and knowledge. As I mentioned above, you have to think deeper about the information to make it knowledge. Answering the following 3 questions will guide you through the process:

  1. What is the basic concepts for a discipline?
  2. Did I learn similar idea before?
  3. Is there any situation that I can apply the knowledge?

I will continue the discussion in the next post. Be happy everyone : )!


Autobiography In Five Short Chapters

I first read the poem “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters" by Portia Nelson in 2015. Sogyal Rinpoche adopted it in his book “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying”. Several days ago, I read it the second time in an article. It describes the growth process of many. It is difficult and effortful to grow because we have the natural inclination to keep things the way they were, to cling to the old maps and old ways of doing things even after we fall. La Rochefoucauld says:

We have more idleness in the mind than in the body.
Portia Nelson was lucky to have the whole five chapters in her life. Unfortunately, many people simply repeat the first two chapters all their lives. But there are people do grow. What is the force that push those people to change, to walk down another street? It is love.
Love was defined as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”. When we grow, it is because we are working at it, and we are working at it because we love ourselves. It is through love that we elevate ourselves. And it is through our love for others that we assist others to elevate themselves. Love, the extension of the self, is the very act of evolution. It is evolution in progress. The exclusionary force, present in all of life, manifest itself in mankind as human love. Among humanity love is the miraculous force that defies the natural law of entropy. ----- From "The Road Less Travelled" [M Scott Peck]
According to the second law of thermodynamics, in billions and billions of years, the universe will completely wind down until it reaches the lowest point as amorphous, totally disorganized, totally undifferentiated “blob” in which nothing happens any more. Our human body follows this law. It is inevitable that we will decline physically as we getting older. But the spirit may evolve. Even we are not growing along a straight line but spiral. The important thing is we do grow if we want to. Go through the whole five chapters and don’t stop at chapter two…...
Autobiography In Five Short Chapters
By Portia Nelson

Chapter I

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost... I am hopeless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter II

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in this same place.
But it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it there.
I still fall in... it's a habit... but,
my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter V

I walk down another street.

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Chinese New Year v.s Super Bowl

Today is Chinese New Year Eve and 2016 is Monkey year [The 12 Chiense Zodiac]. How big holiday is it in China? It is Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year all combined. Since it is such a big deal, something called Chunyun happens every year:

“Chunyun (traditional Chinese: 春運; simplified Chinese: 春运; pinyin: Chūnyùn), also referred to as the Spring Festival travel season or the Chunyun period, is a period of travel in China with extremely high traffic load around the time of the Chinese New Year. The period usually begins 15 days before the Lunar New Year’s Day and lasts for around 40 days.”

In my memory, it was a frustrating yet hopeful trip because once you survived it, you would see your family! Of course, there were awesome FOOD for two weeks which made all the suffering during the trip worth it! I would start from my parents, to grand parents, to uncles and aunts, to cousins, to childhood friends then go back to my parents……After this, not surprisingly, I gained 10lbs : )

Now back to real life, last night I spent two hours sending/receiving all kinds of “Happy New Year” messages to/from family and friends before I went to bed. When I wake up in the Sunday morning and sat besides the breakfast table, the first thing to do was to continue replying messages accumulated while I was asleep. The most common question is: “Hui, how do you celebrate Chinese New Year in US?” They haven’t realized that I am in Iowa NOT San Francisco. In their mind, US is the same as California. Iowa? Where is Iowa?

After I talked to parents, it was late Sunday night in China. My cell phone finally fell asleep with them. I took a deep breath and set out for Church. Then the magic happened. All of a sudden, everything about the big festival stopped. Everyone around me was talking about Super Bowl Sunday……It was like the spring festival had never existed. For a second, I thought that I might be in a dream. Either one hour ago I talked to people in China in my dream, or now people were talking about Super Bowl in my dream.

Pastor Bill said in today’s sermon: “We should listen to other people more!” I think that is a great idea. If my friends ask me again:

“Hui, how do you celebrate Spring Festival in US?”

I will reply:

“Listen to people talking about Super Bowl.”

It is called culture difference which is the beauty of the world: we are different! By living in another country, you not only extend your microcosm, the more important is that you know you are only part of the world, a tiny part. People don’t necessary care what you care and they don’t have to. We are in such a situation that human must deal with each other who have vastly different views as to the nature of reality. However, our particular culture, our family and childhood experience influence our understanding so much because these happened during our formative years. As a consequence, each one believes his/her own view to be the correct one. The world should function like we expect. Mom used to say :”I can’t believe there are people in the world don’t eat rice everyday.” And I replied: “Sorry Mom, but there are plenty people here can get away with bread. And I am not joking.”

Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen. – Albert Einstein

This is the paradox. When you make effort to resist being self-centric, you are actually on a process of self-enlarging. Put yourself down, then you can start to learn more about the world. Why should we learn more about the world? Because it gives us better understanding of our place in the world and deepens our understanding of what life is all about. We all want to be understood. We all want to meet people who can understand us, care for our feeling and love us. But do we understand ourselves? do we love ourselves? If even we can’t do these to ourselves, how can we put the responsibility on others? If we need to understand ourselves, then can we do that without understanding the world we are at? Can we do that without undersatnding people around us? In order to understand ourselves, we have to learn more about the world. In order to learn the world, we need to be open to people with different mind. In order to be open, we have to put ourselves down. There is no contradiction. It is a synergistic process. I like the way Erich Fromm defines Mature Love:

Mature love is union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity, one’s individuality.

We are together but we preserve our own integrity. By learning from the difference among us, we improve our perception of the world and make one another better human. Those are words I give to myself at the beginning of 2016. All the best wishes to my family and friends. Thank you for all your help and love during the way.

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Thanksgiving 2015

If you want to know how physicist bakes turkey, here is how. There are two temperature detectors (they are from the lab, obviously) to monitor dark side and light side temperature of the poor turkey. If you don’t realize how big the turkey is, I can tell you responsibly and confidently that it is bigger than most of the turkey you can see in the market. For this poor turkey comes from the Poultry Science Lab at University of Wisconsin-Madison. BTW, they have cheese and ice-cream from Diary Science Lab and meat from Meat Science Lab. The amazing thing is that even they eat all those non-FDA approved food, they are still smart and interesting. It tells me that food is not the reason for my stupidity. Anyway I had another fantastic thanksgiving in US. I am very grateful to have many interesting people come to my life (this is not a joke).

If you have been living in US long enough, you may feel what I feel. After thanksgiving, I am looking forward to Christmas; After Christmas, the New Year is right in the corner; After New Year, I start to plan for the next thanksgiving, it requires some patience but makes life full of hope.

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Snow Kissed Iowa ^_^

Snow kissed Iowa and whispered:"I bring these words from heaven: 'You are God's beautiful child.' "

In this peaceful and beautiful Saturday morning, I saw sunshine playing with my curtain, happily and quietly. I didn’t choose the best but the best came to me, like the sunshine. I am thankful as always.

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