Zettelkasten Forum

When is it time to write a note?

While processing my notes, I usually few that I don't have enough information to write a good note about what I had. Because of that, I enter a quest to search and read more in order to write my note. For example, I finished reading Zero to one[1] and I collected the following literature note:

Thiel claims that startup is the perfect structure for an innovating company. It has the right size to get things done while working with other people.

Thinking about this note, I recognized my real interesting: "What is the relationship of the group size and productivity?". The problem is: Zero and one is an experience report (i.e. it is based on his experience). Then I started to research more about this theme and found a bunch of articles[2,3,4,5]

This information is important and I want to add to my permanent notes, but I don't know if I want to spend hours reading more about it right now. I will never finish processing my notes at this pace. By the other hand, it feels wrong to add a permanent note without backing it up.

How do you handle this type of situation?

[1] Thiel, P., & Masters, B., Zero to one: notes on startups, or how to build the future (2014), New York: Currency.
[2] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/247720545_Group_Size_Group_Development_and_Group_Productivity
[3] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/270820339_Effects_of_group_size_and_threat_reduction_on_creativity_in_a_problem_solving_situation
[4] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/3889414_Meeting_Analysis_Findings_from_Research_and_Practice
[5] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/17278686_Group_Effectiveness_in_Creative_Problem_Solving_Tasks_An_Examination_of_Relevant_Variables


  • @wanderley, I'd be overjoyed with the feelings of striking gold, hitting the motherlode if I was you. You are indeed blessed. Having so much rich material to work with is not something everyone has.

    I'd start a structure note on Zero to One and a second on Group size and Productivity. I'd make a literature note (as you call it) calling it "Right Size" and put it in the "Zero to One" structure note and then a link to it in the "Group size and Productivity" structure note. I'd add the links you have for additional material in a section titled "Reference" at the bottom of the "Group size and Productivity" note. Then I'd put the note in my saved search for active work. This keeps it in my focus as I work this list of notes daily. Then I'd just move on. Take a walk or do the dishes. Percolate.

    Lastly, I'd shift all my attention and reading to my new interest in Group size and Productivity and see what develops. Maybe you'll develop some expertise in this field or maybe you'll discover sloyd and you be off on another adventure. Who knows?

    Will Simpson
    I must keep doing my best even though I'm a failure. My peak cognition is behind me. One day soon I will read my last book, write my last note, eat my last meal, and kiss my sweetie for the last time.

  • @wanderley, I'm coming across similar issues and I have been just including my questions in notes or creating notes that are just questions. In your case, you could also add the references you found. Even if you don't have time to look into this now, the next time this topic arises you will likely remember that you have a note about it and find the note asking this question. At that point, you can decide to investigate it right then or create a link to whatever prompted you to remember the question and put the question note right back in the ZK for possible later investigation.

    p.s. just letting everyone know that abbreviating Zettelkasten as ZK is going to happen at some point...it's just a matter of time :smile:

  • I handle the situation quite similar. I am willing, however, to leave open loops in my Zettelkasten if closing it entails a whole bunch of research. Then I design the Zettel in a manner that the knowledge structure is open for other knowledge structure to attach.

    In your case, I'd formulate Thiel's statement as an argument with no evidence for the premises:

    Thiel argues: Since startups have the right size to get things done while working with other people they are the perfect structure for an innovating company.


    Objection 1: Getting things done is mandatory for any company. Therefore, startup size is not just perfect for an innovating company but perhaps best for any company?


    Objection 2: Where is the evidence for the premise that startups have the right size to get things done?

    Or something like that.

    But in practice, I'd probably solve the second objection doing the same as you did: More research.

    One thing stood out to me:

    I will never finish processing my notes at this pace.

    Is that your true aim? I view the pile of notes (and my pile of shame) as a proxy for my general productivity. But the ultimate aim to me is to be productive. Even if I'd process only a tiny fraction of my original notes, I'd be very happy if I would produce a lot of good ideas and texts.

    I am a Zettler

  • Thanks for all answers!

    I noticed two patterns in the answers: 1) having small notes organized by structure notes and 2) having "question" notes or leaving question in notes. These patterns help to clarify what a dialog with ZK means. The ZK is not about "complete knowledge" but what you built so far.

    The idea of organizing the note as an argument with no evidence is fascinating. I was not comfortable saving these type of notes in my ZK, because they can lead to bad (and weak) connections. Writing it as an argument forces me to really understand the premise, conclusion and its problems. The lack of evidences motivated my research, but I did it without breaking down Thiel's argument. Having evidences was a necessary condition to add anything to my ZK. I was wrong, because I can leave behind anecdote notes like this one in the form of argument-with-no-evidence form.

    My true aim is to find powerful ideas and their applications in different fields. And I see your point about quality vs quantity. Processing all my notes doesn't mean I am reaching my goal, but creating quality notes will bring me closer to it.

  • While writing the note as an argument without evidences, I discovered that I didn't understand the argument correctly 😀.

    Following the feedbacks, I finished with these notes:

    Structure of an innovating company

    Thiel (thiel_zero_2014, 10) argues that the following conditions are necessary for a group to create innovation:

    1. the group needs to be convinced of a plan to change the future, and
    2. the group needs to get things done while working togheter.

    He defines startups as the largest group of people that satisfy both conditions, and concludes that they have the perfect structure for an innovation company.

    Objection: Thiel argues that big organizations and indiviual don't satisfy the conditions above. Big corporations are slow to build consensus and tend to shy away from risks. And, individuals lack of power to create new industries. But, where is the evidence for the premise that group size relates to creation of innovation?

    • There are evidences that small groups are more productive: Relationship of Group Size and Productivity.

    • Damanpour and Wischnevsky (damanpour_wischnevsky_2006) explains that arguments about size and innovation are examined in two views: entrepreneur perpective and corporate perspective. Both sides have received empirical support with no clear resolution.


    Relationship of Group Size and Productivity

    Study with 329 work groups (susan_group_2009) strongly suggest that groups with 3 to 6 members are more productive, unite and reach higher development levels. It also shows that satisfaction, effectiveness of communication, cohesion and intimacy from member of the group decrease as group size increase.

    Back Links


    Wheelan's integrated model of group development

    This model (wiki) assumes that groups improve as they continue to work together. They pass throught different stages of adaptation before reaching the phase of work and productivity. Higher levels of group development correlates with higher levels of productivity as suggested by Wheelan (susan_group_2009).

    • Stage 1: Dependency and inclusion. Members of the group show dependency on the leader, tend to agree with the leader and are concerned about safety and inclusion issues.
    • Stage 2: Counterdependency and Fight. Disagreements about goals and procedures appear in this stage. Those conflicts are necessary to build trust, sense of belonging and sense of freedom to express disagreement.
    • Stage 3: Trust and structure. Mature negotiations about goals and procedures. Establishement of positive working relationships.
    • Stage 4: Work/Productivity. Time of intense work, productivity and focus to the goal, since the team had solved issues in previous stages.

    Back Links

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