Stop hoarding information as a dragon does treasure. Seek to understand.

The Collector's Fallacy

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"'To know about something' isn’t the same as 'knowing something'... Until we merge the contents, the information, ideas, and thoughts of other people into our own knowledge, we haven’t really learned a thing." — Christian Tietze

Hoarding information is addictive. But knowledge does not equal understanding.

If you are anything like me, you gather bits of information in various places:

  • Apps
  • Journals
  • Sticky notes
  • Paper/Notebooks
  • Web Browser Bookmarks

How often do you go back and use this information? I rarely did until recently. I was always too busy, cluttered and overwhelmed with the size of the pile. All of that shiny, sparkly information would just sit there not unlike a dragon's hoard.

The Collector's Fallacy describes our tendency to collect every piece of information we run across in the hopes of putting it to good use later. There are two problems with the WAY we do it:

  1. We organize information for storage, not retrieval. So it becomes a black hole that consumes our time without adding much value.
  2. We collect knowledge but make little effort to understand it.

I finally got fed up with all the madness a couple of years ago. In the desperate search that followed, I ran across a book by Sönke Ahrens titled How to Take Smart Notes. It introduced me to mind-bending ideas:

  • Write notes in your own words about ideas of interest as they occur.
  • Create a friction free mechanism to collect and connect them.
  • Organize them for retrieval, not storage.
  • Be open minded but selective.
  • Don't over-organize.

This is how writing became the medium of understanding for me. A concise note requires an understanding of the underlying idea. Each note affords the opportunity to understand incrementally. So take notes as you discover new ideas of interest. And avoid piles of unassimilated information.

I now have the following imperatives in my unquenchable thirst for knowledge:

  • I want to capture ideas before I lose them.
  • I want to be surprised with ideas long forgotten.
  • I want to challenge existing ideas with new ones.
  • I want to connect existing ideas to create new ones.
  • I want my own, curated Google of searchable, networked ideas.
  • I want to work through my thoughts and refine them incrementally.
  • I want to develop an alter ego who is capable of having a productive dialogue.

I encourage you to counter The Collector's Fallacy with your own knowledge management approach geared towards understanding. Create your own imperatives. Keep it simple. And never face a blank page again.

Food for Thought

Are you suffering from the collector's fallacy?

What do you want out of your information?

Isn't it time to get it?

One Small Step

The next time you read an article or book, write a one or two sentence note in your own words when an idea jumps out at you. It may be a struggle at first, but you get better at it the more notes you write. Remember to be open minded but selective with ideas and notes.

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Prepare yourself for the journey ahead!

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