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Personal Knowledge Management: Harvesting High Value Scattered Along The Way

peak performance-dougby Doug Wilson, Columnist & Featured Contributor

Tripping Over Clutter On the LinkedIn Information Highway

[su_dropcap style=”flat”]L[/su_dropcap]ET’S FACE IT. Most of the posts and articles on LinkedIn are pabulum. The amount of noise is deafening as pundits expound on the superficial, minute and trite, all with great exuberance. Simultaneously, they proclaim their insights into the secrets of greatness. Many times the higher the fluff, the more likes and comments. It‘s enough to make a grown man cry! Instead of likes, LinkedIn should institute a Lemon Meter to rate articles on triteness (the lower the score, the higher value). Give us a chance to really give feedback on value!

1The Gems

The good news is that scattered throughout the LinkedIn avalanche of data there are gems. They are not published at the same time or grouped together. One has to look carefully for them. Sometimes well-known people write them; other times the author is relatively unknown. These articles are full of substance, clarity, and logic. They contain thinking that is insightful and that should be reread and passed on to others. This is the information that professionals should search for and save for future reference and use.

The Question

Reading a great article is enlightening. It informs; it stimulates thinking; it opens up new possibilities; and, it challenges one to think outside the box.

The questions are: “What should be done with these gems that are littered along the LinkedIn information highway?’ What about other high value data and information found in other sources?” Daily rigor in capturing, storing and retrieving these high value articles is one of a professional’s most important practices, especially in the knowledge economy in which we work and live.

Deciding What To Save

Over the past few years my practice has been to find and store significant information. Early on I had to struggle with what to save. (Lets face it. The amount of available information is like putting one’s mouth to a garden hose!). Obviously, determining what to save is an individual preference. I use several criteria to guide mv search for value.

  1. Content Area – Is this a topic area of interest to me professionally or personally?
  2. Deepness – Does the article address the subject matter with significant depth or insight (as opposed to a cursory review or rehashing or old material)?
  3. Applicability – Does the article describe how to use and apply the content (as opposed to a theoretical or academic discussion)?
  4. Documentation – Does the article present examples, cases or research that give the author’s thinking life?
  5. Cutting edge – Does the article address an emerging or cutting edge issue on which I will need or want to be knowledgeable?

An Approach

When I started my collection of high value articles, I quickly realized I needed a structure or taxonomy that would allow me to determine where to store (and easily find) the articles I valued. I started collecting leadership articles but the effort quickly expanded. The categories I developed (and refined over the years) look like this:

2

As I read and stored articles in these categories it became clear that some categories had many articles. This made it harder to easily retrieve desired information. As a result (and again over time), I further subdivided the major headings. For example the leadership heading evolved into seventeen sub-categories:

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Over time some of the sub-categories had to be divided once again. For example in leadership under the ethics sub-category, the topic was eventually divided into nine more discrete topic areas.

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This knowledge management taxonomy is not intended as a model for others to use. The example is incomplete and is continuing to evolve. My approach is not perfect but it makes sense to me (and more importantly, I can find data I am looking for). The goal of personal knowledge management is not uniformity. Instead each person should develop an information structure tailored to his or her interests.

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Key Points To Get Started

  1. Begin immediately to collect documents that you consider high value.
    1. If you have not developed taxonomy of topics, throw the articles into one large “bucket” to start. Begin your sub-dividing later (but no much later).
    2. Don’t wait too long to begin fleshing out a taxonomy because the number of articles will grow and eventually become unmanageable. As a result, you will not be able to easily find data you know is in your collection.
  2. Focus on quality not quantity
    1. The size of the library is not important. Do not try to collect multiple sources on the same information unless additional insights are added.
    2. The quality found in your library is critical.
  3. A personal knowledge management system must have a structure or outline to guide the storing and retrieval of data.
    1. Define a preliminary taxonomy of topics (major headings) that reflect your interests. (You can always add or delete areas later).
    2. Don’t wait to get the taxonomy perfect before you start.
    3. As you create and refine the taxonomy skeleton, document it. (You will need an up to date outline as the taxonomy expands. It will be easier to file and find hard to place documents if you can remember the sections in the taxonomy outline. Microsoft Excel works best for recording this outline.)
  4. Allow the system to grow and evolve.
    1. Let the high value you find drive the development of your taxonomy. Don’t force fit documents into pre-existing categories if they do not ft.
    2. Subdivide when a large number of articles appear in an area.
    3. Look for themes in the articles and use them to determine the titles of sub-divided segments. (Remember, the taxonomy outline is set up for your use, not for the accolades of someone else.)
  5. Record essential data
    1. Always record the source. I can’t tell you how many times I have wanted to give credit in an article or presentation and needed the original source.
    2. If you can’t save the original document, save the website or source location. Include a brief description of the value the article so you do not have to go to the source to see if it is what you are looking for.[/message]

Moral of the Story

Since I started collecting and storing high value documents I have collected four gigabytes of data (over 10,500 different articles, studies and reports in Word, PowerPoint and PDF).

I refer often to this personal collection as I ponder trends, write articles, design and lead consulting projects, and make presentations. My personal knowledge management library is such a valuable resource that it is triple backed up!

The only regret I have about my personal knowledge management library is that I did not start it sooner. When will you start?


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