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January 6, 2004 » 10:58 pm

“Low-Focus Thought” in Knowledge Management Systems

David Gelertner wrote an essay called “The Logic of Dreams” (a chapter in Denning and Metcalfe’s Beyond Calculation: The Next Fifty Years of Computing), where he discussed the creative process. Gelertner suggested that there are two kinds of thought: high-focus (analytical, logical) and low-focus (free association). The former we understand well (according to the Gelertner); the latter we barely comprehend.    (TI)

Low-focus thought is the story of weak ties, not just in the context of Social Networks but of ideas in general. It’s a story that is told over and over again. A poet smells a rose, and is reminded of his lover. Friedrich Kekule dreams about a snake biting its tail, wakes up, and solves the structure of benzene. Grace Hopper remembers an old play from her college basketball days and figures out a memory-efficient algorithm for her A-0 compiler.    (TJ)

Gelertner was interested in implementing low-focus thought in Artificial Intelligence software. I’m interested in facilitating low-focus thought via Knowledge Management systems.    (TK)

In the past year, my tools and processes have revealed a number of unexpected connections. For example, last August, I blogged two interesting articles about Marc Smith and Josh Tyler. The following morning, I happened to be rifling through some old articles, and discovered papers written by Smith and Tyler that I had previously archived.    (TL)

Old-fashioned tools and a little bit of karma led to these discoveries. I wanted to eliminate one of the stacks of papers on my floor, which was how I accidentally came across the Smith article. Later that morning, I was searching for an email that a friend had sent me earlier, and it just so happened that the same email contained the reference to Tyler’s paper.    (TM)

These discoveries were largely due to luck, although the fact that I keep archives in the first place and that I review them on occasion also played a role. I don’t want to oversell this point, but I don’t want to undersell it either. Many people don’t archive their email, for example. Many groups don’t archive their mailing lists, a phenomenon that baffles me. More importantly, many people never review their old notes or archives, which is about the same as not keeping them in the first place. All of that knowledge is, for all intents and purposes, lost.    (TN)

Good Knowledge Management tools facilitates the discovery of these weak connections, and make us less reliant on luck. Blogging is great, because it encourages people to link, which encourages bloggers to search through old entries — both of others and their own. This is an example of tools facilitating a pattern, and it’s one reason why blogs are a powerful Knowledge Management tool.    (TO)

I’m excited about the work we’ve done integrating blogs and Wikis using Backlinks and WikiWords, because I believe these tools will further facilitate low-focus thought, which will ultimately lead to bigger and better things.    (TP)

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One Response to ““Low-Focus Thought” in Knowledge Management Systems”

  1. Is “serendipity” another name for what you’re talking about? Or is it something else?

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