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 : )!

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