Overview: Thinking tools

Intro: why this overview?

I first came across the interrelated concepts overviewed here after launching myhub, and realised I'd been developing similar ideas as far back as 2013, when I first piloted this Hub on Tumblr (see Why you need a Personal Content Strategy). My ideas for MyHub evolved as a result - I now see:

  • the user's public hub as the part of their Second Brain which they share with the outside world using the ActivityPub open web standard for decentralised social networks (aka Fediverse - see related Overview)
  • the underlying MyHub content management system evolving into a Thinking Management System, with content productivity and creativity tools integrated within it. 

As far as I know this hasn't yet been done: creators are currently supposed to do their thinking in Obsidian, Roam or some other "thinking tool" software, and then publish their content using Wordpress, and then share it via Twitter. Why not make your public website - and the writing on it - a seamless extension of your second brain? And why not network it with other second brains via the Fediverse?

Why not make your public website - and the writing on it - a seamless extension of your second brain?

To turn these ideas into reality, however, I need to do a deep dive into thinking tools. I'm using my current personal content strategy - ie:

  • refocusing my Priority Sources (newsletter filters, Highlights Twitter List, etc.) on sources of high-quality content about thinking tools
  • queueing the best content they publish on a daily basis
  • reading and annotating it on a daily basis
  • reviewing that content on a weekly/fortnightly basis, and updating this Overview as required
  • developing my own ideas in the form of notes, newsletters and posts.

More: Simplifying Zettelkasten by working out loud

This Overview is therefore a crucial part of this process: it provides both a summary of what I have discovered in this space so far, and (below) a search result of the content I read when developing this Overview (stuff I Like), and the content I wrote and built as a result (stuff I Think and Do). In other words:

  • I'm using my personal content strategy processes to explore directions for MyHub's evolution
  • I'm using my current Hub to test how well its features support those processes today, and how they evolve
  • the rest of this Overview is a continual work in progress, written primarily for myself. If you want to see what I've written, then jump straight to All the Stuff I Do or Think about Thinking Tools, Anytime.

Key concepts

(Last update: 31/10/2021): When I created this overview I identified 10 pre-existing tags to use as a baseline: inbox zero, spaced repetition, 2ndbrain, fedwiki (for federated wiki), mindfulness, mindhack, (information) overload, roamresearch, weekly review and zettelkasten. That pulled in 44 resources, each with at least one of those tags.

(Feature idea: AI & visualisation tools integrated into my backoffice to help better surface concept clusters and the explore links between them).

Some notes on the major concept bundles:

  • Second Brain (2ndbrain): essentially a synonym for thinking tool (which I use, as I prefer verbs over nouns)
  • Productivity, GTD, Mindfulness: while a lot of the resources tagged mindfulness paint it as a racket, I still want a thinking tool that replaces FOMO with the serene confidence that my thinking tool has (a) captured the content I need to read, the stuff I have already read & the ideas I've already had; and (b) will easily surface it when I need it. It must support personal Getting Things Done (GTD) processes rather than become a GTD tool: it'll have a reading queue, for example, and hopefully provide a stream of ToDos to external task management tools.
  • Zettelkasten, Knowledge Management, Creativity, Ideation: the Zettelkasten personal knowledge management (PKM) technique will be a building blocks of the MyHub thinking tool, which is why I created an entire overview on it. My zettelkasten is currently distributed across several IT tools: this Hub (public bibliographic notes and other public content - i.e., the stuff I Like, Think and Do); Pocket (my reading Queue): Asana (ToDo mgt) and fleeting/permanent notes (Roam Research). While it works as a whole, it's hard to connect the dots between these different siloes, so I'll be exploring other tools as I develop this overview.
  • (Personal) Content strategy: content strategy is itself an important tag on my Hub (188 resources and counting) as it's a major element of most of my professional consulting gigs. In this context, however, the focus is on personal content strategy: what sorts of content are important to you, where do you put that content, how do you manage it, which types do you share, and how? While there's a major overlap with personal knowledge management, you need a personal content strategy first, as it defines the needs.
  • Annotation, Curation: If you annotate (make notes on) what you read as you read it, you're more likely to absorb the knowledge within it and apply that knowledge to your life. If you curate it (tag it) as well, you're more likely to find it again when you need it (assuming you have a half-decent knowledge management tool), alongside your own ideas and other notes (also tagged). Most people tag these notes in their thinking tool, which is private. By integrating thinking tools into MyHub, users will be able to keep some notes private and share others as part of their personal content strategy (next).
  • Progressive summarisation: successively summarising knowledge to better improve understanding and memorisation. This and other Overviews provide a simple example: after summarising each resource as I annotate it into my Hub, I summarise the knowledge of multiple resources in an Overview.
  • Fediverse: a "collection of interoperable social networks built on Open Web standards... [including] Twitter-lookalike Mastodon and YouTube-lookalike PeerTube", according to my dedicated Overview. It's here as well because linking Hubs together via Fediverse standards would allow users to expand their thinking tools to include the notes publicly shared by other Hubs, Mastodon & PeerTube accounts, etc. Moreover, those accounts would also be able to follow Hubs.

Key elements

Different tools have different elements, but here are some of the most important and/or common ones.

Flexible/difficult vs. inflexible/easy (aka 80/20 rule)

The 80/20 question (aka the Pareto principle) is central to productivity, and applies to many software tools - do you design it:

  • to be used in only one way: this makes it really easy to get started, but difficult/impossible to customise to your needs
  • or as a toolbox: each user can customise to its specific needs, but only after a lot of work?

The flexible/difficult approach is IMHO best illustrated by roamresearch: it's enormously powerful and flexible, but to take advantage of that you need to dive deep and geek out on templates and other plug-in code developed by 3rd parties. If you don't - like me - you end up with a lot of notes, but you're not harvesting the true power of your second brain. For me it fails the 80/20 rule: too much effort to get something useful out of it.

Bidirectional links

Extremely powerful feature. In essence, it means that linking from page A to page B adds a link from B back to A, but there's a lot more to it than that. I'm currently most familiar with Bidirectional links from roamresearch, where every page is designed like a Zettelkasten overview, and there's a page for every tag.

To be continued.

Blocks vs. pages

Does the tool use pages to manage knowledge? Or is a page simply a collection of blocks, each with its own unique identity, allowing you to find and manipulate it separately from the page in which it was first created?

Again, I understand this question principally through the optic of roamresearch, which takes the latter approach. To be continued.

Tools to explore

See: resources tagged #2ndbrain and #tool. I am currently migrating from RoamResearch to Obsdian, but you can't throw a stone without finding another one being launched.


Automated links to recent, relevant Highlighted Resources follow.


Relevant resources

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A pilot project to help bootstrap decentralised collective intelligence

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The "executive summary" of my 5-part bundle of 1/1/2023, which "provide a snapshot of my current thinking into how a decentralised collective intelligence ecosystem could be bootstrapped into existence."

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Articulates exactly my problem with most Tools4Thought, hence the "super simple Thinking Tool" I want at the heart of myhub's CMS."Perhaps something as simple as having the word ‘Tool’ first causes us to focus on the tool more than the thinking... to confuse thought as an object rather than thought as a process... [causing us t…

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Betaworx announcing "nine companies we selected and invested in for our THINKCamp accelerator program ... new technologies ranging from large language models and generative AI to graph databases and high-fidelity spatial user interfaces — to create tools for for how we may think."All probably worth checking out, ranging from Gordon Brand…

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After covering the "bullet train" trip (hubbed elsewhere), this provides a detailed elucidation of all the issues you need to address on "The road from Roam ... to Obsidian.md" by summarising and linking to dozens of other posts, threads etc., creating "one place to look and minimize the pain of flipping through numerous p…

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How I Use Obsidian at Work | Nicole van der Hoeven
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Render Recap - August 16, 2022
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Another scribe of the Betaworx Render conference on Thinking Tools (context), this time in good old-fashioned blogpost form, with scans of handwritten notes to boot. Contrasting this with some of the other annotations, it's a good example of the difference between "someone else's notes" and "someone else's blog post&q;…

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RENDER: Tools For Thinking conference
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"we'll be exploring new advancements in the space ... taking tours of new projects, learning about knowledge graphs as public resources, discussing recent advancements in AI and ML in understanding semantic meaning of ideas... how we use these tools ourselves."I joined a small posse of people organised byJerry Michalski to scribe th…

From Personal to Social Knowledge Graphs: a vision statement
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I've been invited to write a chapter for an upcoming book on Personal Knowledge Graphs (PKG). My chapter will encompass each user’s PKG, the Social Knowledge Graph created by networking them together via the Fediverse, Solid hosting, AI writing tools and Decentralised Autonomous Organisations.This post provides a first draft of its Introducti…

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Why it’s hard to get started with Obsidian | Medium
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Really good but short piece on how most "Note-taking apps have ways they want you to work, a grain you should follow. Except Obsidian... an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) for text files ... [not] a note-taking app... an integrated thinking environment. ".Hence you have to set it up to support the way you want to work, rather …

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A video presentation "based on David Hyerle's book Visual Tools for Transforming Information into Knowledge". Some key points:written notes and verbal information present knowledge linearlymismatch with our brain, which must convert this linear stream into a mental map - major effort. images are fast to convey, but low on detail mix…

Visualize Your Roam Research Notes to Generate New Ideas
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Video demonstration of using infranodus to visualize your thinking tool notes and explore connections between them, (hopefully) getting "a good overview of someone else's or of your own ideas, identify the potentially new interesting ideas... compare different notes to one another".I first came across these ideas in an earlier infra…

Coda vs. Notion

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