Just a half-formed argument that has been running in my mind and wanted to share with the group, to see if there was some agreement…
It seems that, in the productivity space these days, there are mostly two approaches to knowledge management: Building a Second Brain (I have taken the training) and the Zettelkasten.
As I’m studying both, and reflecting on Cal Newport’s Deep Work ideas, I’m increasingly thinking both are opposite approaches to knowledge management.
BASB advocates broad collection of snippets, knowledge, clipping, to which you will return and refine if it matters – that’s the idea behind progressive summarisation. There’s the idea – in Tiago Forte’s words – that the “fire hose of information” can and should be tamed; that it’s a boon to be able to access so much relevant content especially on social.
The Zettelkasten advocates parsimonious collection of information, on the contrary, that you will write down in your own words because, in Sonke Ahrens’ words, “writing is the medium of thinking”. It’s a slow approach which requires methodical work and deep thinking.
The more I think about it, the more I view videos about both workflows (contrasting videos by the Zettelkasten guys with people from BASB), the more I believe these two approaches are opposites, and, frankly, the less I think of BASB.
- BASB is perfect to quickly produce shallow content, sprinkled with factoids, things you have collected here and there without needing to go deep looking for sources, like a scientist would. (There are several BASB workflows illustrating that). BASB is… a parlour trick; great to impress investors, make speeches, convince crowds.
- The Zettelkasten is way, way more work, but it’s scientific in nature. It demands, and promotes deep work and deep thinking. If you want to be serious about your thinking, about being able to integrate conflicting views without prejudice, that’s what you need. And, especially, you won’t get impressed by a cool-sounding quote that might prove empty. You may put it aside, but you have to frame it in your own thinking, which trains the mind to see beyond rhetorical tricks.
The more I look at Forte’s work, the less I’m convinced by the true effectiveness of his method. If you’re serious about knowledge work, I would recommend working on a Zettelkasten.