Harness the Power of Curiosity in Personal Knowledge Management

Harness the Power of Curiosity in Personal Knowledge Management

Navigating the world of Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) can feel overwhelming.

It’s easy to view managing information and connecting ideas as just another task to juggle in an already busy life. It may seem more like a burden than a benefit, more like a chore than a joy. I’ve certainly felt that way. I’ve battled with information overload, making notes, connecting ideas, and exploring the unknown.

For me, the turning point was when I got curious about curiosity.

Imagine if curiosity was at the heart of your PKM practice. Suddenly, managing your knowledge becomes less of a task and more of an exciting journey.

In this article, I’ll uncover this synergy between curiosity and PKM, transforming the way we seek new sources, make sense of them, connect our ideas and express and apply what we’ve learned. We’ll briefly explore the nature of curiosity itself through a scientific lens, and then we’ll uncover various strategies to harness it within your PKM process.

I'll use a unique PKM system I've devised, called SN(A)CK, as a framework to demonstrate the power of curiosity in PKM systems. The acronym SN(A)CK distills the process into its core elements: Sources, Notes, Creations, and Knowledge. The 'A' in SN(A)CK stands for 'Atomic creation', a dynamic process moving us through the elements of SN(A)CK, by dissecting sources into notes, combining them, and creating new insights. Keep in mind that this article is not an exploration of the technicalities of SN(A)CK. Instead, it’s a case for the power of curiosity in any PKM system you choose.

Question for you: How might your approach to PKM change if curiosity leads the way?

Now, let's begin by delving into our Interest Landscape. A helpful conceptual framework that lets us visualize the relationship between our interests, knowledge, and curiosity in a tangible way.

Entering your Interest Landscape

Every one of us possesses unique interests that guide our interactions with the world. We can envision these interests as a dynamic and evolving landscape. Each mountain or hill in this landscape represents a field of interest – be it an area, topic, or concept (as portrayed below).

As you climb one of these mountains or hills, your understanding and proficiency in that particular field of interest deepens. With each step, you gain a piece of knowledge.

In addition, the higher you climb, the broader your perspective becomes, enabling you to see connections between various areas, topics, and concepts that you may not have perceived from the base. With each step, you broaden your intellectual horizon.

As you get higher up, you are also more likely to notice gaps – places that remain unexplored. Information gaps like these encourage us to question, to probe, and to seek. These gaps ignite our curiosity.

Why is your Interest Landscape important? Because your Interest Landscape represents the environment in which your curiosity can emerge. It’s personal, and it changes and evolves along with you and your knowledge.

So, as we set foot in this landscape of interests, let's prepare ourselves for an expedition driven by curiosity, where every peak provides a fresh perspective, and each gap presents an opportunity for learning and growth.

Question for you: Which mountains and hills can you see in your Interest Landscape?

The Nature of Curiosity

The concept of curiosity has intrigued thinkers from ancient Greek philosophers to modern-day psychologists and neuroscientists. Reduced to its essence, curiosity is a "desire to know". Yet, this simple definition opens the door to a complex and fascinating phenomenon.

To illuminate the role of curiosity in our PKM process, let's delve into two influential theories: the information-gap theory and the graph theory. These theories offer valuable insights into how curiosity operates and how we can harness its power for more effective knowledge management.

Information-Gap Theory: The Spark of Curiosity

First proposed by George Loewenstein in 1994, the information-gap theory posits that curiosity arises from a perceived gap between what we know and what we want to know. The first part, 'what we know', is associated with our existing knowledge in a domain. It's objective, based on factual information we've gathered over time. The second part, 'what we want to know', is subjective. It varies from person to person and depends on individual interests, personal experiences, and unique learning goals. This is the 'gap' that sparks our curiosity, driving us to explore new sources of information and create new insights.

The information-gap perspective resonates powerfully with our Interest Landscape metaphor. Each gap in our knowledge, as identified by the information-gap theory, can be seen as an unexplored area in our Interest Landscape. This gap, or unexplored area, is what sparks our curiosity, driving us to venture further and climb higher on the slopes of our Interest Landscape.

In the context of PKM, these gaps are crucial. They not only trigger our quest for new knowledge sources but also drive the process of synthesizing new insights from the information we consume.

Graph Theory: Curiosity as Connection-building

The second perspective, which I draw from graph theory, views curiosity as a process of exploring the connections between different pieces of knowledge. In this theory, each piece of knowledge is a node within a network, and the edges between them represent their relationships.

Curiosity, then, is about discovering new connections – or edges – within this knowledge network. This perspective encourages a more holistic view of knowledge, emphasizing the importance of understanding the relationships between different pieces of information, not just the information itself.

This view has clear implications in the context of our PKM. It paints curiosity as a bridge-builder, turning isolated knowledge nodes into a cohesive network. Essentially, it's curiosity that fuels the connection-making at the heart of effective knowledge management.

Examining curiosity from these two angles provides us with a comprehensive understanding of its role in PKM. It helps us see how curiosity can drive us to fill our knowledge gaps while also encouraging us to explore the relationships between various pieces of knowledge. In the following, we'll discuss practical strategies to harness the power of these synergies.

Fueling our PKM with Curiosity

I’ll start this section with an overview of SN(A)CK – my framework and methodology for managing my knowledge. SN(A)CK was first developed as a solution to my own struggles with information overload, difficulties in connecting ideas, and the daunting task of navigating the unknown. What sets it apart from other PKM systems is its inherent focus on curiosity and the concept of Atomic creation. This refers to the dynamic process that propels us to move between the different elements of the system (Sources, Notes, Creations, and Knowledge):

  • Sources (S) refers to the information we absorb. It’s the input element, which handles anything from highlights from books and articles to snippets of videos and podcast episodes.
  • Notes (N) involve making sense of our sources. It’s the processing element, where we break ideas down and combine them so that inputs become understanding.
  • Atomic creation (A) is the active process of breaking down information into digestible atoms and combining them to create new insights and creations. Inquiry is intrinsic to this process, prompting us to question, explore, and unearth both gaps (information-gap theory) and connections (graph theory) in our pursuit of knowledge.
  • Creations (C) is about expressing our understanding. It’s the output element of our process, where we are encouraged to combine and structure our insights logically.
  • Knowledge (K) is the element that connects everything together. It reflects our Interest Landscape – the areas, topics, and concepts that we care about – and hence it forms the basis from which curiosity can arise and learning can unfold.

(For those of you interested in a more in-depth understanding of the technicalities of SN(A)CK, I've created a detailed video introduction and a Tana template.)

Consider this visualization of the system and the Atomic creation process, where each element is interconnected through our Knowledge:

I consider curiosity as the driver of the Atomic creation process, and it plays a vital role in all the elements of SN(A)CK. That’s what we’ll uncover now.

Sources: Seeking New Information

Curiosity serves as a guide in navigating the vast landscape of information. It directs our choice of sources, focusing our attention on topics that interest us and away from those that don't. By honing in on what sparks our curiosity, we inherently filter the overwhelming amount of available information. Beyond this, curiosity equips us with an inquisitive mind, encouraging us to question the validity, relevance, and perspective of our sources. Each piece of information we engage with then shapes our Interest Landscape, adding contours and depth to it. Curiosity doesn't just help manage information effectively, it transforms the process into a personalized journey of knowledge acquisition.

On the flip side, our sources can also stimulate our curiosity. A well-crafted book, a thought-provoking podcast, or even a casual conversation can expose us to topics or perspectives we've not previously considered. This exposure, in line with the information-gap theory, often sparks our curiosity by revealing a discrepancy between what we know and what we want to know. Recognizing this knowledge gap urges us to delve deeper, to explore further, and to satisfy this newly ignited curiosity. The desire to bridge this gap transforms information consumption from a passive activity into an active pursuit of knowledge.

Consider a scenario where you come across a podcast episode on the future of artificial intelligence. You've never explored this field before. But this episode highlights how artificial intelligence can revolutionize healthcare, a topic you're passionate about. This connection between a new subject and an existing interest sparks your curiosity. You start seeking out more sources about artificial intelligence in healthcare, driven by the desire to bridge your knowledge gap. This illustrates how our sources of information can stimulate curiosity, leading us on unexpected paths of knowledge exploration.

Actionable advice:

  • Let curiosity be your compass in sourcing information by seeking out sources that genuinely intrigue you.
  • Embrace an inquisitive mindset when engaging with information.
  • Be open minded to sources that challenge your current knowledge or introduce new ideas.
  • Delve deeper when something resonates, shift your focus if not.

Notes: Idea Connection and Inquiry

Our notes represent the beating heart of our PKM system. Note-making is our most powerful instrument to sense-making and understanding. The process often shines light on new knowledge gaps that a curious mind is eager to explore. Here, atomic creation comes to the fore, emphasizing the importance of an active process of dissection. This process involves the transformation of incoming sources into atomic notes – these are standalone ideas that simultaneously hold the ability to connect with a myriad of other ideas.

Think of the connections you create between your notes like the bonds that form a molecule. Each atomic note represents an atom, and when these atoms (notes) interconnect, they form a molecule - a new insight or idea born from your curiosity. We can also relate this back to graph theory. Each note is a node, and the connections you create between them are the edges. This network of notes forms a graph of knowledge where curiosity guides the construction of connections. There's an innate excitement in finding ways to connect disparate ideas – a moment of revelation where something suddenly clicks into place. This thrill, this spark of understanding, is what fuels our curiosity further, driving us to dig deeper, to question more, and to forge more connections. Connecting our notes functions as a gamification of curiosity.

Our notes should also serve as the medium for posing questions about our knowledge gaps. This practice of inquiry – curiosity’s closest companion – signifies maintaining a sense of wonder and openness to the unknown. It propels us to question and challenge the contents of our notes and the connections that we've drawn among them. This active engagement does more than merely clarify our understanding – it paves the way for further exploration. By identifying gaps in our knowledge, our notes, in essence, fuel our curiosity, pushing us to delve deeper into our sources or seek out new ones to bridge these perceived gaps. This application of the information-gap theory becomes essential, guiding our learning journey based on identified knowledge deficits.

Actionable advice:

  • Cultivate the habit of note-making as an active process of exploration and sense-making.
  • Foster an inquisitive mindset by routinely questioning and challenging the ideas in your notes and the connections between them.
  • Revel in the thrill of connecting disparate ideas and let this excitement fuel your curiosity.

Creation: Expressing and Inducing Curiosity

Creation is the key to learning. It’s about making logical progressions of your notes. Through creation, you express your unique insights and interpretations, both to yourself and to the world. Creation can be a thought-provoking blog post or a captivating video, but it can also be an outline of ideas or a brief reflection. We can think of it as a walk through our Interest Landscape guided by our curiosity. Importantly, it can be incomplete and imperfect.

Sharing your creations, while optional, carries significant benefits. Each time you share, you start a conversation, sparking curiosity in two key ways. Initially, by sharing your work, you invite others to accompany you on your curiosity-driven journey. Their feedback and questions lend new perspectives, challenging your understanding and assumptions. This engagement reignites your curiosity, pushing you towards a deeper exploration of the topic, and incites refinement or expansion of your initial creation.

Moreover, when your creations reach a public platform, they have the potential to kindle curiosity in others. Your creative pieces act as catalysts in triggering curiosity in your audience, urging them to probe deeper into the subject matter. Thus, creation goes beyond mere output; it acts as a curiosity-inducer, and establishes a feedback loop. This loop operates both within you, refining your own understanding, and between you and your audience, inspiring their curiosity. Your creations can ignite curiosity in others, just as their creations can stimulate yours.

Actionable advice:

  • Regularly give shape to your understanding through tangible creative expression.
  • Embrace imperfection and incompleteness. It's the process of learning that matters.
  • Share your creations to open feedback loops of new perspectives and induced curiosity.

Knowledge: The Foundation of Curiosity

Curiosity, powerful as it is, requires a foundation to ignite its potential – that foundation is knowledge. Think of it as the kindling for the fire of curiosity. A basic understanding or familiarity with a topic paves the way for questions, for wonder, and for the drive to delve deeper. It allows you to perceive the gaps in your Interest Landscape. The cycle is self-reinforcing: more knowledge ignites more curiosity, which leads to more knowledge.

Knowledge is the centerpiece in the SN(A)CK system that connects all the other elements. In essence, it reflects our Interest Landscape, providing context to our sources, notes, and creations. However, knowledge is not a static entity; it's dynamic, continuously growing, adapting, and evolving in sync with our curiosity. As we explore different topics, we add new nodes to our knowledge graph, and with each new node, new connections are formed. More knowledge effectively means richer context and new branches to hang our ideas on.

As an example, let's consider the field of astrobiology. Initially, you may only have a basic understanding of what it entails - the search for life beyond Earth. But as your curiosity sparks, you start learning more about it, perhaps delving into sub-topics like extremophiles and the Drake Equation. More of this curious exploration means more nodes added to your knowledge graph, and as your knowledge grows it fuels your curiosity further, prompting you to see new connections and ask more questions.

Actionable advice:

  • Get started by learning the basics of a topic that catches your interest. This foundation increases the likelihood of curiosity to arise.
  • Actively build connections between the new pieces of knowledge and what you already know.
  • Commit to a lifelong journey of exploration and growth. Your knowledge is ever-evolving, and so too is your curiosity.

SN(A)CK and The Future of Knowledge Management

Powering your PKM system with curiosity can transform time invested from merely managing information into an exciting journey of discovery. Curiosity guides us in seeking new sources of information, fosters inquisitiveness in note-taking, fuels our journey of Atomic creation, and encourages us to share our unique insights and understanding through creation. Ultimately, it all rests on the foundation of our existing knowledge, which acts as the springboard for further curiosity. This is the essence of the SN(A)CK system.

What I want is for my PKM system to encourage me to take intellectual walks through the connections in my knowledge graph – and that’s where the development of SN(A)CK is headed. Each walk represents a new exploration, a new opportunity to connect previously separate ideas.

The future of knowledge management is not about accumulating information. Instead, it’s about cultivating a mindset of perpetual curiosity and inquiry. It's about transforming our view of PKM from a task into a joy-filled journey of learning.

My hope is that this article has piqued your curiosity, and perhaps you're already contemplating ways to weave this spirit of curiousness into your own PKM practices.

The world is a vast field of knowledge, and curiosity is your guide.


Theo Køppen is a student of economics and a young entrepreneur. He is passionate about how the future of knowledge management can empower individuals and businesses. Learn more about Theo's work at https://theokoppen.carrd.co

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