Personal Knowledge Management

Personal Knowledge Management – #10 My Experience

Greetings and welcome to the tenth blog post of: My Experience. In the blog series I give insight into how I apply knowledge gained. For more information about this series click here. In this blog post we will dive deep into the concept of personal knowledge management, also known by the acronym: PKM. I would like to elaborate on the following subjects surrounding PKM including:

  • What is personal knowledge management?
  • The benefits of PKM
  • Important competencies for PKM
  • Which different methods are there to apply it?
    • How did I build a PKM system?

A way of applying personal knowledge management is Zettelkasten, which I have written about in “Zettelkasten – the ultimate guide” alongside some related posts. You can open the guide by clicking on the picture below:

Zettelkasten the ultimate guide
Click on the picture to open the guide.

What is Personal Knowledge Management?

There is different definitions for Personal Knowledge Management, in this paragraph I will outline some definitions alongside my own.

  • In a research paper where Kirby Wright researched how individuals apply knowledge processes in their day to day work, the following description is used:
    • “PKM – defined as the capacity to access and apply information and knowledge resources and processes to enhance the effectiveness, productivity and innovation of individual workers.” (Wright, 2005)
  • In a research paper by Eric Tsui, where he researched Peer to Peer knowledge sharing tools, used by Individual Knowledge Workers (IKW’s). This paper focused on emerging technologies for Knowledge Management (KM) in 2002. The following definition is used:
    • “Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) is a collection of processes that an individual needs to carry out in order to gather, classify, store, search and retrieve knowledge in his/her daily activities. Activities are not confined to business/work-related tasks but also include personal interests, hobbies, home, family and leisure activities” (Tsui, 2002)
  • In a research paper by Janis Grundspenkis, in which he created a conceptual model of an agent-based environment of the knowledge worker.
    • “PKM is considered from different perspectives; for instance, some authors focus on attempts how to utilize a computer to help the knowledge worker to manage his/her knowledge, while others focus on problem-solving skills or arranging ideas” (Grundspenkis, 2007)
  • I have also thought about a definition, that I formulated after reading research papers about PKM:
    • Personal Knowledge Management are all the processes of an individual that increase the efficiency and effectiveness of using knowledge to generate, document and connect ideas.

The benefits of Personal Knowledge Management

In the current times it is important for organizations to stay relevant by innovating. This can be done by making sense of information; content creation i.e. the generation of new knowledge (Grundspenkis, 2007) Knowledge work requires prior individual and communal knowledge and the ability to apply knowledge in action and generate new potential knowledge. (Reinhardt et al., 2011)

These are the main task for the knowledge worker. PKM plays a vital role in this process, because it is aims at improving knowledge processing for a person. In this paragraph we will go over four of the benefits of PKM:

1. Information retrieval

  • Past knowledge that you need to find fast, this avoids spending time looking for information again.
    • I think everyone recognizes this point; You look for something but can’t find it. PKM helps you with a structure to easily retrieve knowledge.

2. Improved problem solving and generating new ideas

  • Problem solving is aided by the ‘quality and availability of pertinent knowledge at points of action used to handle situations, that is, to make sense of information, decide what to do, innovate, act and evaluate the implications of approaches and action (Wright, 2005)
  • PKM is aimed at making sense of information; this means you have a system in which relevant information is written down in your own words.
  • This can help you in future problem solving, since related information is readily available.
  • The combination of this existing knowledge with potential new information can lead to ideas which can improve problems solving. Since you don’t have to start from scratch. Even if the subjects are unrelated, a glimpse over your prior knowledge can help spark ideas.

3. Connections between existing knowledge

One of the benefits, PKM helps you see the connections between collected information. Since your knowledge will be stored in a structured way, this makes it possible to create connections between bits of information. Which helps to store information in the same manner that your brain works, you can link in a way that makes sense for you.

4. External brain

Since the information is written down there is no memory limit. Forgetting information is not a problem anymore. The only possible challenge that will eventually occur is when your external brain becomes huge, therefore hard to traverse and messy. Fortunately software has solutions for this, such as tags, queries, fuzzy search and templates. In the Zettelkasten the Ultimate Guide, you can read about my approach to tackle a littered external brain before it materializes.

These benefits are similar to those described by Sonke Ahrens in How to take Smart notes. In this book he lays out the concept of building an external scaffolding to think, in the blog post I describe how you could set this up yourself: How to Take Smart Notes – #7 My Experience.

Important competencies for PKM

In the paper “Personal knowledge management: supporting individual knowledge worker performance” (Wright, 2005), contains a model of four competencies that influence the successful application of personal knowledge management. First lets take a step back,

What is a competency exactly?

  • An important skill that is needed to do a job (Cambridge, 2022)

and why is it important?
In this paragraph I will give a short introduction to the knowledge worker competencies defined by Wright, because these are important to keep in mind, if you want to successfully apply PKM. There are four competencies:

1. Cognitive competencies

  • “Through ongoing learning, including formal training, informal learning, observations and discussions, as well as work experiences, workers develop and refine their problem-solving capabilities.” (Wright, 2005)
  • These competencies are focused on solving problems. Think about skills such as:
    • Problem identification and definition
    • Pattern recognition
    • Sense-making
    • Analysis
    • Implementation
    • Monitoring
  • These skills can be improved by learning heuristics (mental shortcut to solve problems) and analytical models. By example; doing a course in a subject, experimenting with software or simply watching a video tutorial.

2. Information competencies

  • “Core information competencies involved sensing and sourcing skills, including knowing where to look for information and being able to quickly assess the value of identified information, as well as questioning skills, knowing what information resources to seek.” (Wright, 2005)
  • These competencies involve a variation of practices that will help you process information in order to resolve a problem. Think about explicit knowledge such as personal notes, files, websites etc. Novel problems may require the search of new information, including the ability to quickly asses and value information resources.
  • In the paragraph “Methods to apply Personal Knowledge Management” of this article we will dive deeper into methods to improve information competencies.

3. Social competencies

  • Increasingly, knowledge work is social. The challenges facing workers in today’s complex environment demand that problem solving, for all but the most routine problems, involves teams, projects, collaboration and interaction. (Wright, 2005)
  • Wright separates the competencies in two distinct processes: Internal and external social processes. Internal are the social interactions you have within an organization you are part of. External everything outside of it. Both to improve your problem solving. The concept of social capital is mentioned, having a network to rely on can facilitate work and enables access to external ideas.
  • These competencies focus on your ability to cooperate with others effectively. In practice this means working in a team and contributing to informal communities. Such as; seminars, brainstorm sessions, hackathons etc.

4. Individual, social and organizational enablers

  • “PKM is contextual; the capacity to apply cognitive, information, social and learning competencies is impacted by a series of individual, social and organizational
    competencies.” (Wright, 2005)
  • The enablers are all factors that influence knowledge management. Think about: motivation to excel in work, commitment to continuous learning and experience.
  • Alongside personal factors, your environment plays a big role. Such as support from the organization you work in, how much PKM is facilitated, but also how interesting and challenging your work is.

Conclusion competencies for PKM

What is the conclusion we can draw from these important competencies and Wrights paper in general?:

  • There are different competencies that contribute to successfully applying Personal Knowledge Management. Some of them are personal, others dependent on the context.
  • Every type of problem: Routine, novel, discovery or outside of expertise. Has a variety of approaches, which will change based on the problem type.
  • “PKM was primarily an unconscious process; participants did not actively consider how they were approaching and solving problems and spent only a limited time reflecting on their practices. PKM activities occurred naturally; each worker developed pragmatic approaches.” (Wright, 2005)
  • If you want to read the full conclusion I recommend reading the paper: “Personal knowledge management: supporting individual knowledge worker performance” (Wright, 2005) yourself.

What can we do with this conclusion?:

  • It gives us insight in the competencies that are crucial for successful personal knowledge management. This can be used to locate points of improvement. By changing ourselves or environment.
  • Since the cognitive and social competencies are dependent on your personal situation and context. It is hard to draw generic steps of action out of this. The same goes for the Individual, social and organizational enablers.
  • This is why I will focus on the information competencies for the remainder of this article. Since these are not solely dependent on the person or context. These competencies have the goal to process information in order to resolve a problem.
  • In the following paragraph we will examine different ways to apply personal knowledge management. This means we will focus on best practices to improve information processing.

Methods to apply Personal Knowledge Management

In the last paragraph we established the core competencies that will lead to successful application of PKM. We also learned that most of these are dependent on your personal situation. The information competencies can be improved by using a PKM method. In this paragraph we will look at methods to apply personal knowledge management.

  • Zettelkasten by Niklas Luhmann
  • Progressive Summarization by Tiago Forte
    • A layered approach to refine notes to discoverable insights. While retaining the original note by using a layered structure, in which every layer has a goal.
    • For more information see: Progressive Summarization
  • Evergreen System by Andy Matuschak
    • A method for creating evolving, evergreen notes that have the goal of developing insight.
    • Using the Evergreen System, Andy describes it on his website: Evergreen System

How did I build a PKM system

The problem

In the past I have made notes in an unthoughtful way. I did it like everyone else at my study, open a blank page at the beginning of a course, gradually fill it with notes during the lectures. This works fine if you simply want to pass the test at the end of the semester and then slowly forget the contents of the course.

After finishing my study I found work, I became a knowledge worker so to speak. I started in the same way as during my study but then I split notes up in projects. Soon this way of making notes became a mess, since projects could last for years. Some notes were relevant for a week, others for months or even years. There was separate notes for learning content. OneNote became cluttered, it was hard to find information because of the lack of structure, all information was hidden in isolated folders, tabs and sections.

The solution

The next step was to create a clear structure, by putting everything in notebooks, using sections and giving pages a clear purpose. This solved the disorganized part, but the problem of finding information remained. Specific notes or related information was hard to find.

This was a clear reason for me to start looking for a better method. Eventually I stumbled on the Zettelkasten method, which I used gradually made my own by trying different applications and reading about it. Finally settling on Obsidian as application. On this page you can read everything about how I take notes: Zettelkasten – the ultimate guide

Questions I asked myself before choosing the Zettelkasten method

  • What are the goals I want to achieve by making notes?
  • How can I find notes quickly?
  • How can taking notes actually help me learn?
  • In which way can I generate new ideas from my existing knowledge?
  • How can I make sure my notes don’t become a mess?

Conclusion

Hopefully this blog post shed some light on personal knowledge management. Writing this blog post made me understand the definition, benefits and competencies. I hope my journey can inspire you to start building your own PKM system. If you want to learn more about Zettelkasten, read on!

Thanks for taking an interest in this post, I would really appreciate it if you would leave a comment with feedback. This helps me to continuously improve the website.

Want to learn more about Zettelkasten?

Then I recommend the following book. This is the step-by-step guide on how to set up and understand the principles behind the note-taking system that enabled Luhmann to become one of the most productive and systematic scholars of all time: How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers. (as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases) You can also first read my blog post about the book, where I describe the core concepts, so you can better determine if it suits your needs: How to Take Smart Notes – #7 My Experience.

What are your experiences with Zettelkasten?, Which software do you use? Let me know in the comments, I am eager to hear from you.

References

Cambridge Dictionary, 2022, accessed 18 september 2022, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/competency

Janis Grundspenkis, 2007, Agent based approach for organization and personal knowledge modelling: knowledge management perspective, accessed 21 August 2022, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10845-007-0052-6

Eric Tsui, 2002, Technologies for Personal and Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Knowledge
Management, accessed 21 August 2022, https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.84.9689&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Kirby Wright, 2005, Knowledge Management Research & Practice, accessed 20 August 2022, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1057/palgrave.kmrp.8500061?scroll=top&needAccess=true

Reinhardt, W.; Schmidt, B.; Sloep, P.; Drachsler, H. , 2011, Knowledge Worker Roles and Actions – Results of Two Empirical Studies. _Knowledge and Process Management, accessed 28 August 2022, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/kpm.378