Defragging your Brain, The Slow Hunch, and Open Commonplace Books

Alex Hillman has a nice post on his response to Steven Johnson’s Where do Good Ideas Come From, thinking about how we continually process and re-process our information.  It mentions one specific method, which Steven calls “the spark file“.  The idea being that you keep a simple log of “sparks” — thoughts that come to at all hours of the day — and review that log regularly to help you understand how these ideas combine and relate to one another.  The result — which makes perfect sense to me — is a “defragmentation” of your brain: the opportunity to take these seemingly scattered thoughts and smooth them back together into coherent ideas.

This is something I’ve thought about for a long time.  Steven is also one of my favorite authors.  This blog is named after the core idea in Where Good Ideas Come From, “the slow hunch”.  A few years ago, after reading that book, I wrote up an idea for something I wanted to help me manage this process for myself, which I called the Open Commonplace Book.  The gist of that idea being that my “sparks” are distributed across a lot of sources — tumblr posts, tweets, notes to self, etc.  And I’d love a way to help recombine them.

Since then, I’ve done this, in some way.  I keep a private blog — and I actually call the posts “sparks”, which is funny — which I try to write to every day.  I also use Notational Velocity and SimpleNote to keep running lists of notes to self.  This is pretty good for input, but I know that I’m still not getting the most I can interms of reviewing and recombining.

What I like so much about the “spark file” idea is how simple it is.  Just keep adding ideas, sequentially, and continually read back through them.  Then see what happens.

This process of de-fragging your brain is really important.  For building your slow hunches, and for helping you focus.  A few days ago Nate Matias passed along this mind map for building focus, which I basically agree with wholesale, and which touches on the value of reflecting and de-fragging your brain (whether you use a spark file or some other method).

Everything these days is about how we process and manage our information.  It’s hard and will only continue to get harder.  But being mindful of this, and being disciplined in approaching it, will no doubt pay big dividends.

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