Zettelkasten Forum


An Introduction of Tiago Forte, His Ideas, and Some Comments on Their Relations to Zettelkasten

edited October 2017 in Knowledge Processing

Intro

@ctietze said:
Cool, I don’t know much of Tiago’s stuff, yet. Could you post a few interesting links and what you think about that in a new discussion, @Eurobubba & @enzhmzy?

@ctietze asked me to give an overview of Tiago Forte's ideas w/ some commentary, so I figure I'd give it a shot :)

My Best Quick Summary

Tiago Forte is a Personal Knowledge Managment/productivity developer/researcher w/ a strong GTD background. He describes himself as so:

Founder of productivity consultancy/training firm Forte Labs (fortelabs.co), editor of members-only publication Praxis (praxis.fortelabs.co)

A Brief Overview of Tiago's Ideas

Doug Toft has a solid article summarizing Tiago's ideas:

Doug gives a strong introduction in the first paragraph:

The freshest and most provocative ideas about personal information management and productivity are now coming from Tiago Forte. He runs Forte Labs, which offers consulting, coaching, and workshops.

The general headers should also give you a strong sense of his ideas:

1: TAKE NOTES FOR CREATIVE THINKING, NOT JUST FOR REFERENCE
2: DELIVER THE RESULTS OF YOUR THINKING AS A SERIES OF EVOLVING PRODUCTS
3: USE A SIMPLE SET OF CATEGORIES TO ORGANIZE ANY COLLECTION OF INFORMATION
4: MOVE FROM TIPS AND TRICKS TO BEHAVIORAL EXPERIMENT
5: SAVE INFORMATION FREELY; FILTER IT BASED ON TIME

Some other general overviews on Tiago from Doug here:

The notes in the Evernote podcast also give a good sense of Tiago's thought:

And this Evernote article shows the quality of his writing:

(Doug Toft's site also has a lot of interseting personal knowledge management/behavior change/writing articles in his archive)

A Quick Look at Some More Zettelkasten Related Ideas

The most relevant and succinct post on Tiago related to a Zettelkasten is Doug's Turn Your Notes App Into a Personal Knowledge Base — Tiago Forte on Building a Second Brain

His progressive summarization could basically be a roadmap for slowly creating/brewing/stewing a Zettel:

Tiago’s answer is progressive summarization. Extract the core insights from what you’ve captured. Make it possible to get the “gist” of a note in just a few seconds when you look at it again. You can do this in stages that Tiago calls “layers:

Layer 1 — opening your notes app to add images, text, links, or other information
Layer 2 — boldfacing the key sentences in a note
Layer 3 — highlighting the most important sentences that you boldfaced
Layer 4 — summarizing the note in your own words — a sentence, paragraph, or diagram
Layer 5 — creating a blog post, tweet storm, video, podcast, or other expression based on what you learned during layers 1 to 4

Tiago notes to do these steps in a just in time fashion instead of deliberately in rapid succession:

Tiago also advocates “just in time” organization. You don’t have to do a lot of progressive summarizing or organizing up front. Save these activities for the times when you’re executing — working on a project, making a decision, solving a problem, or creating something.

For example, say you are researching how to better manage your research clip a an article on Zettelkasten (layer 1). You read it and bold a few sentences (layer 2). Close it and forget about it for a few days later. A month later you are looking into Zettelkasten again because you are overwhelmed w/ a bunch of notes from an array of articles and see the note in your notes DB. You glance at the bold sections and highlight a few parts of the bold sections you think are relevant to your goals (layer 3). So eventually you'd get to step 5 where you could create a Zettel or two from the notes (perhaps weeks or months after entering the note into your database).

This is segues into his his idea that:

THE VALUE OF A NOTE CORRESPONDS TO HOW MUCH ATTENTION YOU’VE SPENT ON IT.

The more layers, the more valuable. Which is an interesting metric for Zettel and perhaps would be motivation to test adding bolding/highlighting/summarization to your notes.

He also structures his knowledge differently and doesn't make deliberate links. He uses a structure he calls PARA that focuses on action:

Tiago suggests that you organize notes based on how likely you are to use them. His mantra is organize for “actionability” rather than meaning.

He does this via his PARA system "— short for Projects-Areas-Resources-Archives":

Project-related notes are most actionable. These include tasks that you plan to complete and any information that’s directly related to those tasks.
Notes about areas of responsibility come next. If you’re self-employed, for example, your areas include pitching projects to clients, writing proposals, and billing clients when projects are done.
Resource notes include selected passages or complete contents of articles and books on any topic of special interest to you. These are notes that might be useful in the future — even if they’re not related to your current projects.
Archives get the least follow-up. This is the place to store notes related to completed projects and other past activities.

I think this would synergize well w/ Zettelkasten. More rough, actionable information is dumped into PARA system as notes and slowly transformed into atomic Zettel via live use in projects(in the sense you play w/ the knowledge more in a real life context) and progressive summarization. Thinking about it now, PARA seems more like a info/note to knowledge processing system than a pure org system.

PARA also seems to offer protection against the 'collectors fallacy' issue by organizing and emphasizing by most actionable/current-project-related information.

Finally, Tiago's idea of notes being atomic islands we need to connect is basically Zettelkasten 101:

Tiago teaches a set of workflow strategies for retrieving and using notes. During the podcast he explained one — the “archipelago of islands.”

Start with the definition of archipelago — “a group of many islands in a large body of water.” Then think of each note that you take as an “island,” or individual idea, in the “sea” of your collected notes. To complete a writing project, create “bridges” (connections) between islands.

His writing method of dumping/rearranging notes into a document until things starts making sense also seem very Zet(yes I just made this up):

In practical terms, this means never facing a blank page. In fact, don’t even try to pound out a first draft. Just throw a bunch of relevant notes into a blank document and experiment with them. Delete some. Then rearrange and reword what remains and give the piece a title. Look for connections between note-islands and explain how they are related.

Tiago says that he can compile the gist of 100 to 200 sources — progressively summarized — in one hour. And by inter-weaving just 10 to 15 of these, he can write a hefty blog post. (For another version of this strategy, see Steven Berlin Johnson’s article about creating a “spark file.”)

These are just a few of Tiago's ideas that can potentially help us to create Zettel and improve our conversation w/ our Zettelkasten.

End

I hope that gives a decent background of Tiago's ideas, how they relate to the zettelkasten system, and why he is becoming a strong voice in the personal knowledge management sphere. If you find his ideas interesting I recommending paying the 5$ for the Praxis membership (you can always cancel after a month) or buying his book of essays on Amazon(just a note, all the essays are either free or behind the Praxis paywall, but if you like things package in a nice ebook format go for it!)

Thanks for reading,
- enzhmzy

Comments

  • Thanks for the summarisation, @enzhmzy.

  • Mulling over things, one key difference stands out to me.

    Tiago advises Progressive Summarization, which preserves chunks of original context, and gradually draws interpretive meaning out.

    The Zettelkasten Method advocated on this site advises throwing away first pass notes, and only storing concepts reframed in your own words.

    After the initial capture, are you continuing to learn from the sources behind your notes (Tiago Forte), or are you done with your sources, and dealing your notes as fixed starting points for the evolution of your own thinking (Zettelkasten Method)?

    I'm new to this, so I wonder if I'm accurately capturing the gist of things. Thoughts?

  • Both. In my experience, source material yields only tiny bits of useful material after the intitial processing -- unless, you are dealing with very deep texts or primary sources (The Iliad as an historian, Nietzsche's Work, Jung's Work, the bible, etc.)

    Therefore, the Zettelkasten Methods leans towards processing source material once because of incremental costs with increasing laps of processing.

    Pareto at work: 80% of benefit from the first 20% of work. The first lap of processing stands for the 20% of work. You can go for the last 20% of benefits from the source material but than you will invest your time very inefficient.

    Additionally, most source material is not a case of 80/20. More of a 95/10. (No, the numbers don't need to add up to 100).

  • @micahredding said:
    After the initial capture, are you continuing to learn from the sources behind your notes (Tiago Forte), or are you done with your sources, and dealing your notes as fixed starting points for the evolution of your own thinking (Zettelkasten Method)?

    Somewhat of topic: I don't see the Zettelkasten as a learning tool. I see it as a contribution tool. Although I did my undergraduate in education, I don't really see the point in learning. Learning is a "parasitic" endeavor, in which we aim at accumulation. But for what reason? It is no different than accumulating wealth. Being the owner of a million $ or the owner of a million ideas (through learning) isn't valuable. Only when we use our $ or ideas for some sort of contribution are we creating value. For this reason, I think it is beneficial to think of our Zettelkasten not as a learning tool, but as a contribution tool.

  • edited November 3

    Collecting(accumulation) is what I do in Devonthink. I keep primary sources and working notes in Devonthink for my professional work. The notes are purely utilitarian and are not (often) interlinked-they are used when I need to remember a procedure or concepts. "Learning" is what I hope to accomplish with Zettelkasten - a curated and thoughtful exploration of (often interlinking) ideas.I am often surprised when I reread my Zettelkasten notes. I do not have the same surprised when I read my notes in Devonthink.

    I would love to hear more strategies for summarizing/understanding/processing primary sources. I need to read the layered approach as described by Tiago. I do not think these methods are that dissimilar. Would Tiago's methods be useful in developing a better /more "fermented" summary of primary sources that would be included in a Zettelkasten system ? Of course at what point do you cease to get benefit from a source. Would another source be more useful or are you just falling into the collector trap ?

  • @sfast said:
    In my experience, source material yields only tiny bits of useful material after the initial processing -- unless, you are dealing with very deep texts or primary sources

    This might be the difference. With what I deal with—I often feel like I'm only able to extract a small portion of the significance of a passage. I might have a summary of it, or a paraphrase of the key thought, but I have a very strong feeling that there is more significance and connective tissue here than I'm able to account for.

    Pareto at work: 80% of benefit from the first 20% of work.

    Do you try to capture all of the significant thoughts in a text?

    I think I lean towards only capturing the ones that stand out to me, but then trying to capture more of the "roots" of those. When I do that, my feeling is that 80% of the value comes from the surprises I will find later down the road.

    Of course, I don't know if I can substantiate that feeling. But that's my intuition.

    @StefanHansen said:
    I don't see the Zettelkasten as a learning tool. I see it as a contribution tool. ...
    Being the owner of a million $ or the owner of a million ideas isn't valuable.
    Only when we use our $ or ideas for some sort of contribution are we creating value.
    For this reason, I think it is beneficial to think of our Zettelkasten not as a learning tool, but as a contribution tool.

    How do you best insure you are moving towards contribution? My hope is always that everything moves towards contribution—though I'm not often able to anticipate what form that contribution will take.

  • That is a big question. The simple answer, from my perspective, is to first be conscious that contribution is the aim. I have come to believe that we must abandon the notion that we read to learn and substitute it with the notion that we read to write (or contribute in some other way). There is, however, a huge hindrance to this: the notion of education, the way we are brought up to see schooling and as a consequence what teachers ask of us. Most assignments, from first grade and all the way to the beginning of the Ph.D., is primarily about showcasing that we have learned (memorized) a given curriculum, a curriculum dictated by someone else and which is not in any way a contribution since it is mostly a regurgitation of what is already known. In this way, we establish a habit of learning which it takes a significant determination to break.

  • Learning

    @StefanHansen said:
    But for what reason? It is no different than accumulating wealth. Being the owner of a million $ or the owner of a million ideas (through learning) isn't valuable. Only when we use our $ or ideas for some sort of contribution are we creating value. For this reason, I think it is beneficial to think of our Zettelkasten not as a learning tool, but as a contribution tool.

    This is called liquidity In the business world and is very valuable. :smile:

    Extending on this analogy: The more you learn the more concepts as tools you have at hand. But -- of course -- you have to learn the right things. Good ideas persevere time. Nassim Taleb calls this the Lindy-Effect. The older a non-perishable entity is the longer it lifespan will be.

    This feeds into the next point:

    Most assignments, from first grade and all the way to the beginning of the Ph.D., is primarily about showcasing that we have learned (memorized) a given curriculum, a curriculum dictated by someone else and which is not in any way a contribution since it is mostly a regurgitation of what is already known.

    I agree to it from one perspective. I have the feeling that most methods of education involve memorization which appeals to a false model of memory. Our memory is not aimed and remembering but providing tools to solve problems. This is a very big difference. The consequences for learning are at least that you have to reduce pure memorising and increase understanding and basically digesting the material.

    However, there is a vast body of knowledge that has proven itself against the test of time. I root with Camille Paglia (ingenious Prof. of Arts) who critiques the modern educational system from the opposite standpoint: You have to know the classics inside out before you can truly contribute.

    And more: Most topics are very complicated and need various methods applied. Example: I work as a trainer. But I cannot just write plans for training and nutrition. I need to know how to implement them as healthy habits into the lives of people. So, I need to know about the psychology of habits, about self management and about people (different types benefit from different approaches). This involves A LOT of learning. If I talk with a client I cannot afford to look everything up. I have to have my tools at hand.

    I'd modify your statement to the following: We read to change to people who can solve people. This is called learning. :smile:

    Processing

    @micahredding said:
    This might be the difference. With what I deal with—I often feel like I'm only able to extract a small portion of the significance of a passage. I might have a summary of it, or a paraphrase of the key thought, but I have a very strong feeling that there is more significance and connective tissue here than I'm able to account for.

    What text do you process?

    It is very variable for me how long I need for different texts. This is why the Barbell Method of Reading works for me.

    Two examples:

    1. A book infidelity took me one evening to read and ca. 1 hour of processing. It was a shallow book with mainly anecdotes.
    2. Nassim Taleb's Antifragile took me about one week of evening reading (not sure) and 2 months of processing (2days/week 6--8 hours per day non-stop)

    I at least glean on the biography which means reading the abstracts of the cited material in the text to be processed.

    Perhaps, I didn't give enough inside into my processing broadness. I don't just read a text make some markings and claim to have extracted all the value. At times, I invest hours into a handful of pages. :smile:

    Pareto at work: 80% of benefit from the first 20% of work.

    Do you try to capture all of the significant thoughts in a text?

    Yes, most of the time.

  • @sfast said:
    However, there is a vast body of knowledge that has proven itself against the test of time. I root with Camille Paglia (ingenious Prof. of Arts) who critiques the modern educational system from the opposite standpoint: You have to know the classics inside out before you can truly contribute.

    The idea that we have to know the classics before we can contribute is not true, and such a belief will often postpone contribution. I am working on a dissertation at the moment within the field of Philosophy of Education. Sure, there are certain classics that I have to know well to do so. However, there are significantly more classics that are utterly irrelevant for my work. So, if I bought into the belief that I had to know "the classics" (the canon) then I wouldn't be able to even begin my work until many years into the future. So, this belief would be a hindrance and is obviously not true.

    And more: Most topics are very complicated and need various methods applied. Example: I work as a trainer. But I cannot just write plans for training and nutrition. I need to know how to implement them as healthy habits into the lives of people. So, I need to know about the psychology of habits, about self management and about people (different types benefit from different approaches). This involves A LOT of learning. If I talk with a client I cannot afford to look everything up. I have to have my tools at hand.

    This I agree with. I distinguish between producers and practitioners. Producers (of knowledge) do not need to remember a lot (if they have a Zettelkasten as "external memory") to be able to contribute. For example, I didn't need to remember what you wrote to be able to quote you. Still, I could use your quote in the writing of this comment. It is different for practitioners, e.g. trainers and teachers. Trainers and teachers (and other practitioners) do not have the luxury of looking something up in the middle of a lesson. For this reason, they need to have a lot of knowledge readily available (from memory).

  • Classics

    We have a saying in German: Everything is just a footnote to Aristoteles.

    It is reoccurring that I talk with people in different fields of expertise and I can put my finger in a hole just because I some of the classics. It ranges from neurology where really smart people just don't know anything about philosophy of mind to sport scientists who don't even know basic training methods.

    Also, many problems in science seem to be connected to disconnection. One specialises so highly that the integration into a broader picture is lost. This thinking in relationships is then appraised by so called geniuses who just learned a couple of things outside their narrow expertise.

    I share your opinion: If you follow the position to have a broad knowledge on the classics to contribute you'll have to invest much time before. But I think the premise is true and therefore the conclusion and not: The conclusion should be true so the premise must be false.

    Practitioners

    I would never call trainers or teacher practitioners. Quite the opposite. I practice what I preach as a trainer. I am a practitioner first and a trainer second. This is one of my few assets as a trainer. The same should be applied for teachers. Teaching can be done without any practice in the field of practice. Therefore, teaching and being a practitioner are two very distinct things.

    But in practice, they shouldn't. I follow quite tightly the opinion of Nassim Taleb on this issue: Skin in the Game.

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