ninety percent of everything is crap

A friend recently shared an article and the title immediately caught my eye — Personal knowledge management is bullshit. Of course I had to read it. The first line immediately stood out, “Personal Knowledge Management (“PKM”) is a trendy new term for techniques and applications designed to manage information.” I was first introduced to PKM in 2004 by Lilia Efimova and later by Denham Gray and Dave Pollard, all of whom had been writing about it for several years at that point. So I am not sure what the definition of “trendy new term” is in this case.

I shifted to the term personal knowledge mastery in 2014 in order to clarify that PKM for me is removed from traditional Knowledge Management (KM) and that it is a discipline to be mastered through practice. My PKM is not connected to any given technology though I have used several over the years.

The observation that many PKM practices are connected to a single technology platform seems to be Justin Murphy’s main complaint.

“There exists a minimal collection of software and web services which is certainly a boon for the vita contemplativa, but fancy and trademarked systems often do more harm than good. In fact, concern with software solutions and the disposition to manage arcane technical systems are both inversely correlated with the kind of spirit that tends to produce significant creative and intellectual work.”

I agree with Justin Murphy. In my workshops I present hundreds of tools and platforms and encourage participants to try one or two new ones. I do not prescribe any tools, though I use Twitter [now Mastodon] to demonstrate how consumer social media platforms operate.

Justin makes a good point that collecting a huge amount of online resources does not help with sense-making.

“In intellectual history, the coin of the realm is the singular written work. The singular written work is a brute force attack, not a bureaucratic spider web. It is preciously rare—always has been and always will be. The ability to create singular written works is mostly impervious to education and technical supplementation; it is overwhelmingly what we used to call gifted or God-given and today call either genetic or inspired.”

In my Seek > Sense > Share framework, sensemaking is the most difficult to master. Much of my practice is posting half-baked ideas to this blog, which over time become books or presentations. Blogging is the core of my sensemaking so my more polished writing is not a “brute force attack”, but rather an exercise informed through disciplined blogging. This is my 3,500th blog post here.

Is PKM bullshit? Only when it is technology-centric, and not a set of processes, individually constructed, to help each of us make sense of our world and work more effectively. The bullshit is believing in a technology silver bullet, but unfortunately BS sells. While organizations and individuals around the world use my PKM framework I am not getting rich on it. Some years have been a financial struggle. Hard work and discipline do not scale and that is what personal knowledge mastery is all about. This makes #PKMastery a hard sell.

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
—Ernest Hemingway (1962) The Wild Years

Sturgeon’s revelation states that “ninety percent of everything is crap”. The PKM field provides one more example.

pkm framework

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