An elephant in every room

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.
— Rudyard Kipling, Six Honest Serving Men

The elephant in the room is human nature. Enterprise knowledge sharing will never be as good as what networked individuals can do. Individuals who own their knowledge networks will invest more in them.
— Harold Jarche, Seeking Perpetual Beta

Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM) is an evolving concept for navigating change and learning to catch the waves before they break. PKM helps people scan the external environment and make sure that they are seeing signals, patterns and trends that are going to have an impact on their company’s ability to continue to thrive and grow.
— Kenneth Mikkelsen, Personal Knowledge Mastery

For all its gentrification and influx of people who would rather commute than live in the big city, Whitstable still maintains a sea-salt edge that is linked to both culinary endeavour and commercial fishing. Metres from the town’s centre, the paraphernalia of oyster farming is clearly visible both on the pebble beach and along the coastline. Wander towards the harbour and you will encounter lobster pots and fishing net bundles, as well as small vessels unloading their hauls and people selling the catch.

The metaphor of fishing is one that lends itself well to our personal knowledge mastery practices. We have to work out filters, services and applications to use to extract useful information from the tidal waters of our digital and analogue worlds. What communities do we join? Who do we follow on Twitter? Which conference do we attend? What books do we read? Who do we meet for that chat over coffee? Which series of blog posts do we follow? What virtual and physical spaces do we use for collaboration, cooperation and exchange of ideas?

It is a process of experimentation and refinement. I constantly follow and unfollow people on Twitter, join communities and leave them, submitting to curiosity, zooming in on different interests, assessing what does and does not work for me. The same applies to some of the technologies I use to support my evolving preferences for seeking out information, making sense of it, and then sharing it with other people.

Harold Jarche’s seek > sense > share framework that is at the centre of his notion of PKM has had a profound influence on me. It has helped clarify my own thinking about knowledge, both personal and in networks, about the function served by technology, as well as about who and what I depend on to learn and do my work. In a post from March 2014, Harold asked What is your PKM routine? He illuminated the idea with examples from Jane Hart, Sacha Chua and himself. It prompted me to think more closely about routines I had adopted almost unconsciously. What I want to focus on here is how I use one particular enabling tool to help me get things done.


Although an early adopter of Evernote in February 2009, I did not really begin using it with any great effectiveness until late 2011, after which I paid for a Premium account. Since then it has become something of an outboard brain, a crucial hub in a network of activities, services and technologies. I have reordered, cleansed and refined my Evernote library over time. As I have done so I have stopped using many other services and online storage facilities. It took a few attempts to get it to a state I was happy with. It is now an app and multi-platform service that I use as a curated repository, for note taking and drafting, as a collaboration space and for business administration.

Within Evernote, I maintain a number of different notebooks. Some of these I keep in stacks. So, for example, I have created a Reading Notes stack within which there are notebooks titled Culture, Fiction, Poetry, Plays, Sport and Beta (about business, leadership, organisation, learning). Whenever I read a book, physical or digital, I create a new note in one of these notebooks. Within this I keep personal notes and extracted quotes. I also begin building hyperlinks between different notes, not only to other notes about books I have read but to any other information stored in the Evernote library. This can range from annotated blog posts to graphics, videos and audio files. It helps create a web of interlinked material which feeds my own ideas for blog posts, books and articles. Many of the quotes find their way into my own posts, topping and tailing them. So I move from seeking and collecting, to sense-making and writing, and on to publishing and curating.

Also within the Evernote library is a huge swathe of annotated online content. I have collected this over time through a variety of means. Sometimes simply following a recommendation on Twitter, reading an article and saving it for further reflection and annotation using the Evernote web clipper or the save-from-iPhone functionality. Occasionally I come across an academic paper, ebook or white paper in PDF format, which I save to Evernote, then add a series of my own notes and reflections in the relevant note.

I have experimented with a variety of filtering process too in relation to the bloggers who I like to follow closely. After the demise of Google Reader, I switched to Feedly but, as with Evernote, it took a few attempts before I managed to use it effectively. I also have played around with IFTTT recipes to save posts from personal sites and Medium to Pocket. This serves as a triage space where I read the post and determine whether it has further utility for the different projects I work on. If it does, then I forward it from Pocket to Evernote. These options are particularly helpful when mobile. Invariably, though, when working from my own office, I rely on the tried-and-tested use of Evernote’s own web clipper. Once material has been transferred to an appropriate notebook in Evernote, I then add my own comments, highlight and hyperlink to other notes.

Evernote also allows for the capture of information via camera and audio, which is extraordinarily useful. The former I find particularly helpful when managing details of business expenses, for example. It also allows for direct interaction with a number of other applications such as Skitch for annotating graphics, Penultimate for handwriting notes on an iPad, and Say&Go for capturing audio memos on the fly from an iPhone.

One of the most useful recent additions to the Evernote service has been Work Chat, which enables me to share content with others or to create broader collaboration spaces. You can let others simply see your notes or interact on the notes directly with full read-write access. So, for example, you can use it conversationally like the DM function in Twitter but without the character restrictions, occasionally sharing a note for interest, comment or amendment. Or you can share a whole stack of notebooks and the content therein as you develop work together. This has become an essential tool for me when collaborating with others on book projects, whether as writer, editor or adviser.

There are a number of ways you can design your internal architecture in Evernote. Personally, I have relied more on notebooks and stacks than on tags, which I use sparingly. I am very reliant, however, on the search engine. I use this to search for proper words, phrases and hashtags that I have added within the main body of my own notes. A simple search on PKM, for example, will pick up a host of material, some of it posts written by others, ideas that I am mulling over, notes on books I have read, and so on.

Evernote is a service that I have used across a range of platforms and devices – always on a Mac and an iPhone, for a period of time on an iPad, occasionally via a browser interface on a workplace Windows PC. Synchronisation across all is seamless, a huge bonus when compared to previous note-taking OS X applications I used to rely on like Yojimbo. Emergent practice between 2011 and 2014 enabled me to circumnavigate the restrictions and constraints of a locked-down IT environment. With Evernote I was able to bring my own app (BYOA) to work and operate in a style that suited me rather than in one that was imposed on me.

Whichever room I happen to be in, I always have a digital elephant with me. Evernote is a service from which I fish constantly and which I am forever supplying with new stock too. Its waters are the pool from which I attempt to extract meaning and share that with others.

Who are we, who is each one of us, if not a combinatoria of experiences, information, books we have read, things imagined? Each life is an encyclopedia, a library, an inventory of objects, a series of styles, and everything can be constantly shuffled and reordered in every way conceivable.
— Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium

The things I’m curious about create a network of information and contacts and relationships for me (not unlike the networks of information intelligence officers map out).
— Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman, A Curious Mind

In the information age, we are all information architects. Content creation and organization are core life skills. At home and at work, from desktop to mobile, our ability to manage and make sense makes us efficient and effective.
— Peter Morville, Intertwingled

Everything connects. Making connections between disparate things is a key to creative thinking, and so seeing these relationships is one of the keys to catalyzation.
— Faisal Hoque with Drake Baer, Everything Connects