How to Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens

The central idea of this book is that a system of note taking can help us incorporate our reading into a process of engaged learning. This involves three levels of note taking:

  1. Inspiration: quick notes on ideas that occur to us in a flash of insight
  2. Reading: reading highlights from books and articles that capture the gist of the content
  3. Permanent: Relating our inspired and reading notes into a body of work that reflects our worldview

The keys are to put our inspired and reading notes into a slip box to help us develop unique insights and to interrelate the permanent work so they remain singular and discete, but at the same time serve as part of a network of relationships that can feed into projects, or specific pieces of writing designed for some purpose.

The thrust of this effort is to develop a note taking process that invites us to build and learn as part of an integrated process. It reminded me a bit of the text based social science and two computer revolutions I mentioned previously. (I’ll put the links in later.)

Farewell to Beyond the Beyond

“It’s the writerly act of organizing and assembling inchoate thought that seems to helps me. That’s what I did with this blog; if I blogged something for “Beyond the Beyond,” then I had tightened it, I had brightened it. I had summarized it in some medium outside my own head. Posting on the blog was a form of psychic relief, a stream of consciousness that had moved from my eyes to my fingertips; by blogging, I removed things from the fog of vague interest and I oriented them toward possible creative use.

Also, the ideal “Beyond the Beyond” reader was never any fan of mine, or even a steady reader of the blog itself. I envisioned him or her as some nameless, unlikely character who darted in orthogonally, saw a link to some odd phenomenon unheard-of to him or her, and then careened off at a new angle, having made that novelty part of his life. They didn’t have to read the byline, or admire the writer’s literary skill, or pony up any money for enlightenment or entertainment. Maybe they would discover some small yet glimmering birthday-candle to set their life alight.

Blogging is akin to stand-up comedy — it’s not coherent drama, it’s a stream of wisecracks. It’s also like street art — just sort of there, stuck in the by-way, begging attention, then crumbling rapidly.”

-Bruce Sterling, “Farewell to Beyond the Beyond.” Wired.com. May 17, 2020.

Bruce Sterling really nails the value of a blog, or at least my conception of it. It also makes me realize that I should be writing more for it. Perhaps it is time to start doing that.

Make Space

“Appropriate for designers charged with creating new spaces or anyone interested in revamping an existing space, this guide offers novel and non-obvious strategies for changing surroundings specifically to enhance the ways in which teams and individuals communicate, work, play—and innovate. This work is based on years of classes and programs at the d.school including countless prototypes and iterations with d.school students and spaces.”

—Scott Doorley & Scott Witthoft, “Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration.” Hobeken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2012. (Extras Website)

Nintendo’s Philosophy: Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology

“…’withered’ technology usually means mature technology. It is
much easier for companies to create best-selling products by using mature technology as this kind of technologies are abundant, well-understood and cheap. Mature technologies are often studied extensively by people, and it is easy to experiment with or make further innovations. Even if the technology might be obsolete, it is applicable as long as used appropriately.”

—Weisi Han, “Nintendo’s Philosophy: Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology.” Medium.com. December 6, 2017.

Instantly recognized this as my philosophy as well. I mostly buy used items, from clothing to computers. It means I never pay retail, which lowers the cost of failure if you are trying to do something new.

It’s much easier to install a custom operating system on a phone or computer when you paid <$100 than when you paid >$1,000.

It also gets you in a frame of mind where you can think differently about technologies you want to learn. For example, I’m more interested in learning Common Lisp because it’s a mature technology in a way that Julia is not. Mature languages have libraries, standards and other elements that newer languages don’t.

In short, accepting limitations and using different tools than others can be a source of creativity and can change your focus.

Oblique Strategies

The Oblique Strategies constitute a set of over 100 cards, each of which is a suggestion of a course of action or thinking to assist in creative situations. These famous cards have been used by many artists and creative people all over the world since their initial publication. Fifth edition 2001.

How the Godfather of Cyberpunk Would Write Software

“[Cyberpunk science fiction writer William Gibson] begins each day by reading the whole manuscript again…

…What if we began each day by re-reading all the code [reviewing all the numbers, editing the work, revisiting our assumptions, etc.] we’d written for the story/feature/bug we were working on?

…Skimming is a kind of reading, but it’s often fooled me into believing I know more than I do.”

—Marcus Blankenship. “How the Godfather of Cyberpunk Would Write Software.” Hackernoon.com. November 4, 2017.

Thought the need for immersing ourselves in our material, revisiting, editing and evolving before we move into expanding and creating something new was an interesting idea, one that runs counter to the tendencies of our time. Might also explain why his books tend to be short.

Quotenik

“Each of us has our own rhythm of suffering.”

—Roland Barthes, Mourning Diary.

—h/t Quotenik, a blog of verified quotes from creative people. Also compiled into two books.