Episode 107 of The Informed Life podcast features an interview with Michael Becker. Michael is the founder and CEO of Identity Praxis, a strategic advisory firm. He’s also a prolific communicator, having produced dozens of YouTube videos explaining how to use advanced knowledge management tools. In this conversation, we discuss Michael’s approach to knowledge work and how tools such as Tinderbox can help you think and work more effectively.
Within the first couple of minutes of our conversation, it became clear Michael has a lot going on: consulting, teaching, writing several books, and more. To enable this knowledge work, he’s developed several frameworks, strategies, and practices. He shared a few in the show.
One is what he called his “meal” strategy for thinking about thoughts: a taxonomy that organizes thoughts from very small (“snacks”) all the way to large collections (“buffet.”) For Michael, it’s important to keep track of the provenance of snack-level ideas:
when I collect a note, I take as much effort as possible to anchor that note to a citation and to get that citation as accurately as possible. Because I want to be able to maintain the providence of the idea throughout the entire process of my knowledge. Because I know the provenance of that idea will be reused and repurposed and refactored and curated countless times until we actually get to some meaningful and ongoing output.
The ability to zoom between different levels (say, between snacks to entrees) depends on using tools that can accommodate working at different levels of abstraction. Michael made the point that traditional “vertical” tools such as Word, Pages, Numbers, PowerPoint, etc. are oriented towards producing /outputs/, rather than focusing on enabling knowledge management processes.
He contrasted such tools with hypertextual tools such as Obsidian, Roam, TheBrain, and — especially — Tinderbox, of which Michael has particular mastery. He described an exciting workflow that entails using Tinderbox alongside DEVONthink, Zotero, and Pandoc. When first hearing about the process it may sound intimidating, but Michael’s videos help explain in detail.
I’ve learned a lot from Michael’s videos over the last couple of years. I’ve used Tinderbox since 2004, and still learned new things from seeing how he manages information using this and other tools. If you’re curious about personal knowledge management — and especially Tinderbox — I recommend you check out his YouTube channel. Our conversation can serve as an introduction.