Yesterday, my sister shared this Oatmeal comic that wonderfully explains the backfire effect, the phenomenon where seeing evidence that contradicts our beliefs hardens those beliefs rather than changes our minds.
I love The Oatmeal for its engaging and often humorous visual explanations of important concepts. (XKCD and Nicky Case are also brilliant at this.) My sister knows this, and asked me if I had seen it before. Even though I loved this one, it didn’t ring a bell.
So I did what I try to do in situations like this. Rather than just file it away in my Evernote (where I have thousands of clippings that I almost never see again), I went to record it on the human perception page under “Confirmation Bias” on the Faster Than 20 wiki. To my delight, I found that I not only had seen it before, but I had already captured it on my wiki!
It’s a practice I call good information hygiene (a term coined by my colleague, Chris Dent). When we do it well, we’re not just filing things away where we can find them, we are continually synthesizing what we’re consuming. The act of integrating it into a larger knowledge repository is not only good information hygiene, but is also a critical part of sensemaking. Doing it once is great, but doing it multiple times (as Case and my colleague, Catherine Madden, have also explained beautifully) makes it more likely to stick.
Here’s another, simpler example that doesn’t involve a wiki and may feel more accessible to folks tool-wise. In my late 20s, I met Tony Christopher through my mentor, Doug Engelbart. We had such a great conversation, when I got home, I wanted to make sure to enter his contact information immediately into my contact database. When I opened it, to my surprise, he was already in there! I had very briefly met him at an event a few years earlier, and I had recorded a note saying how much I had enjoyed that short interaction.
I love when moments like this happen, because it shows that my tools and processes are making me smarter, and it motivates me to stay disciplined. I wish that tool developers today focused more on supporting these kinds of behaviors rather than encouraging more fleeting engagement with information.