We have a lot of articles on this magazine about various forms of learning and different experiences, but how about E-180 itself? How do we learn? One part of how we keep up to date and keep evolving is through my role as Editor-in-Chief, what I find and how it spreads through the organization. I’ll go over some of my own tools, tips and tricks around Personal Knowledge Management (PKM), how I collect the ideas featured in our publications and then some of the ways in which we use those findings within the company.
Although my role is titled Editor-in-Chief, curator, researcher or seeker might actually give a better idea of the post. The primary goals are to “bring new ideas” and “share the team’s own ideas and learnings.” Editing the magazine and newsletter covers the second part but the first is all about collecting concepts and resources, curating the most interesting, making some sense of what I find and sharing. E-180 is a company rooted in education and learning, for that reason we want to not only work on each team members’ discipline but on our common understanding and place in our field.
Producers (and designers, developers, managers, etc.) progress in their respective domain but must also know some of what goes on in the broad category of self-directed and collaborative learning we inhabit, as well as at least some peripheral knowledge of everyone’s work. The Fortnightly Links for example, were originally only sent internally, to help the team “learn about learning.” It’s only after a few issues that we realized we should spend a bit more time and make them available to everyone. We do that because it’s part of our values, because it’s the right thing to do and because we want to not only talk about constant learning but also do our part in helping everyone advance and get better.
Seek, Sense, Share
Capturing knowledge, as crudely as we do, is just a first step. Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM) is a framework for individuals to take control of their professional development through a continuous process of seeking, sensing-making, and sharing.
One of the most recognized frameworks around knowledge management is Harold Jarche’s Seek, Sense, Share and is a good way of looking at what we do. I won’t go into detail here, there are a number of good resources on Harold’s site.
Framed for us, it means;
- Everyone on the team is always learning and seeking new knowledge and answers.
- Each person makes sense on their own of what they find but also together through discussion on our sharing platform.
- We share, first internally and then also to the outside world through the magazine, newsletters, talks and through braindates year long and at every event we partner with and attend.
Everyone has their own set of tools and preferred ways of using them and—just like the best camera is the one you have with you—the tools you like using are the most effective, but here are some of my favorite ways of collecting articles and ideas as well as, very importantly, keeping everything findable for future use.
Twitter, the interest graph
I know, its got a bit of a bad reputation right now, it’s the land of nuts and trolls. But it’s still the place where news breaks, where the most ideas are dispersed and where it’s most practical to build your network of interest. We still refer to it as a social network, and there is still some truth to that, but it’s a very powerful tool to follow your interests instead of—or in addition to—your friends. It’s always funny to me when people complain about what’s going on on Twitter. Yes, some of the aggression you can’t get away from (and it’s a serious issue) but there is still a large part of what you see which you can chose. You don’t have to follow anything, you don’t have to read what your crazy cousin it saying, pick your sources and rearrange aggressively.
Lists—as forgotten as they seem to be by Twitter itself—are the best way of choosing what you see and managing different domains of interest. You can have multiple lists, make them private or public, follow other people’s public lists and you don’t have to follow everyone you include in your list. You can actually keep lists as “topic radars” and follow only a small subset of your favorite friends and sources. In some Twitter apps you can also make a list your primary feed and only read that.
Nuzzel, the filter
This is a pretty fantastic service. You create an account and link your Twitter and Facebook profiles to it. Nuzzel will then keep an eye on posts and surface the most popular links being shared within your networks. You can receive a daily email of the most popular links or consult the same compilation on the website and go back 4 days to catch up.
What’s also very useful is that you can do the same thing for specific lists. I have secondary topics for which I have lists, I can go to the lists’ Nuzzel page and see what is popular amongst the accounts I included there. Those are lists I don’t even look at through my Twitter client, I just have a recurring task in my todo app and browse through the previous few days of what has surfaced during that time.
Notably, since I’m barely on Facebook, it’s still valuable to have the links shared over that platform amongst my friends inform the main list on Nuzzel.
Finally, you can also follow other people’s (public) feeds and lists in the same fashion or even subscribe to them as email newsletters (for example Benedict Evans). There is also a whole separate newslettering feature to curate a personal view of your Nuzzel filter but I haven’t been using those much.
Pocket and Instapaper
Those two have been around for a while and are pretty well known, I’ve used both and actually switched from Pocket to Instapaper some time last year. Both let you save articles in a much clearer, readable and ad-free manner than you find them on most websites and provide you a clean reading interface to assemble a library of things to read later. Each have their own strengths.
Pocket has a Premium plan under which they archive the full text of everything you’ve read and offer a pretty efficient search feature for that archive. Simple bookmarking through a browser or webapp is great but if you read a lot online like I do, it’s sometimes hard to find an article if you only remember a few keywords and/or impressions of the piece. Searching through the Pocket archive is less precise in the absolute than an open Google (or DuckDuckGo) search but is so much more constrained amongst your read material that it’s actually often much faster to resurface something.
Instapaper on the other hand has highlighting and notes features so you can apply a form of “marginalia” to what you read. A useful little detail is also that you can send yourself those highlights and notes, per article, in various formats right from the app, providing a quick framework from which to write an article or report. And if you want to share your readings publicly, the tweet shots are super useful as they allow you to tweet the image of a quote (with link to the article) right from the reading screen.
Pinboard, the foundation of my system
Pinboard is a super simple, clean and efficient bookmarking service*. You can pay for a full archive of your bookmarks so—like with Pocket Premium—you have a full text copy of everything your save. No more losing valuable resources through link rot and again, a smaller heap of straw to search through when looking for something you’ve read. Pinboard can also automatically bookmark every link containing tweet you publish. Finally, its API means loads of services connect to it. Why is that important? Because using IFTTT (which connects to the API, see below) I create in Pinboard an archive of everything I read and mark online. Having it all available for a full text search gives me a quite complete and easy to access record of my wanderings online. I’m then able to find sources years down the line when I make a new connection and want to attach some dots together.
* You need to pay $11 / year for it but that’s actually a feature, not a bug. It’s a one man operation by Maciej Ceglowski (who’s also rather brilliant and has given some important talks) and I much prefer paying for a solid service that’s in for the long run with actual revenues than a free app that can get acquihired at the drop of a hat.
“If This Than That” lets you connect two services together. For example “IF I archive an article on Instapaper, THEN add a bookmark of it on Pinboard.” As I alluded to above, everything I mark “read” (archived) in Instapaper or Pocket is bookmarked to PB, every favorite on YouTube and Vimeo, everything I post to Tumblr. I can then search my archive on Pinboard and find liked videos, read articles, etc. It can connect dozens more apps too, I’ve used it with Evernote, Dropbox, email, RSS feeds and more.
I’ll end the tools section with a few quick ones; although much less useful than Nuzzel, you can setup Google alerts for certain keywords, Tumblr can be useful as a bookmarking-meets-blogging kind of tool, I used it quite a bit in the past for a function similar to the ways I now use Instapaper highlights. You should definitely have a good look at Anders Pink and setup some keywords based briefings, which you can also share with a team. In my case with the use of Twitter and Nuzzel it’s somewhat redundant but I still find it quite useful to keep an eye on a few custom briefings. The most useful things I find along the way, like articles for the newsletters, people to interview or collaborate with, competitors, cool events, etc. go in text files marked up with Markdown in Ulysses.
Knowledge as fuel
This all gets mixed up together to assemble each issue of the newsletter and become leads or ideas for articles on the mag but what I want to talk about here is how that same knowledge also informs the team internally. We use Slack for a good chunk of our internal communications. We also have a “learning room” channel specifically to share articles, videos, books, etc. and some team specific channels where work discussions happen but which are also known to be there for knowledge sharing.
It’s often hard to keep a knowledge sharing platform moving, people get busy, work gets hectic and reading and sharing quickly takes a backseat to the actual work. One of the reasons for having someone dedicated to acquiring and sharing ideas is to keep some activity on the platform, a certain “baseline” so that when other team members do have something to share, they don’t feel like they’re throwing something in the dark. Each share acts as a prompt and reminder to everyone else that the space exists, that using it is encouraged and that spending time reading, thinking and discussing is part of the work.
Discussion and propulsion
Concepts and resources shared are also openings for discussion. “Look at this business model, what can we take away from it?” “How can this technical solution inform what we are working on?” “Is this lesson something we could also learn from? Or why is our situation differ and why?” Etc. Content shared in the various channels is often brought up in meetings or random office talk and fuels our thinking in various ways. Two recent examples being Shipping vs. Learning which not only informed an article here on the mag but also resulted in a decision to integrate learning goals and deliverables more officially in our own processes. At various times Jason Fried has shared some insights on Basecamp pricing, like this recent article and that has also been part of our reflexion for an upcoming product.
This type of constant knowledge sharing can also be useful in applied work. A few months ago we had a team retreat where we split up into teams to work on specific aspects of the product. We used the same Slack rooms, the same habit of exchanging links and discussing as we do day to day. There was already company wide common ground on “where” and how to collaborate. It also gave us easy channels to send ideas to other teams and then, on the actual retreat, some of the articles or books mentioned were already “in the air” and could be referred to with much less need to catch everyone up.
Of course, we are still working on how this works, on how we can then make all of the found resources available to everyone year long and quickly, on meeting in person more often specifically to learn from each other, on making sure we always take time to learn, not just when we are less busy and how we can support each other in everyone’s learning goals. How those goals can inform workdays and product advances. Moving forward through directed learning and thinking as opposed to simply being reactive or through unconsidered inertia.
Header image by Mike Wilson on Unsplash.