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Essay - The CODE to leverage the effect of compounding knowledge

Compounding knowledge refers to the accumulation and growth of knowledge over time through the process of learning, retaining, and building upon previously acquired knowledge. The concept is based on the idea that as you gain knowledge and understanding in a particular field or subject, that knowledge serves as a foundation for further learning and comprehension.

My way to manage hard acquired knowledge sucked

One year ago, back in 2022, my knowledge that I acquired throughout 20 years of my professional career was scattered, partially lost and difficult to leverage. I often faced the situation that I remembered that I had learned about a topic, but when someone directly approached me, I had difficulties to find where knowledge resides and how to retain that knowledge.

I spent additional time searching and then re-reading, re-watching what I had learned before. It felt like a high time-investment without much added value. I was really annoyed that I did not have a better system to memorize and retrieve my knowledge.

I struggled to improve my memory and my retrieval of knowledge

To change my way to memorize and retrieve knowledge I invested in learning speed reading, faster listening, watching videos with higher speed. I also learned about further techniques to better memorize with my brain. These learnings did not serve me that well. Speed-reading was not working for me. Faster listening and watching worked partially, but actually the fun factor dropped. Working with brain amplifying apps was fun in the beginning, but after some time it did not stick. There was no direct transfer of knowledge to bigger compounding knowledge.

A moment of hope

I gained hope when a colleague introduced me to his usage of Obsidian and working with notes. I found the visualised cloud of notes and their connection quite impressive. This gave me a picture and provided me with an important marker to orient on.

A picture that got stuck with me. Notes that connect to each other and form a network of linked knowledge. A hook for me.

I was not yet at the point to connect that picture with compounding knowledge and what will become possible, when such a systems grows. Follow me on my journey to discover the compounding effect of knowledge.

My phase of confusion and overload

I installed Obsidian on my machine. At a first glance I had the impression, ok a note-taking app?! Don’t now what is special about it? I started with a Google Youtube check and found Sebastien Dubois work about Personal Knowledge Management. This created an important initial hunch. The bigger topic is knowledge management. I found my keyword for further investigation. Sebastien’s great Starter Kit helped to learn fast about PKMS and aspects of structuring notes.

In parallel I watched further Youtube tutorials about Obsidian. A crazy world around PKMS opened. I found Linking Your Thinking by Nick Milo and also checked Nick Milo’s amazing Starter Kit. Do you know that feeling of: How on earth did I miss out on that knowledge for all my life?

This was a lot of input and actually a bit of an overload. I started with a structure, that I actually don’t remember well. It was a time of heavy iteration and experimenting.

Two things stood out. In notes from both Starter Kits I stumbled upon two key concepts Taking Smart Notes and Building a Second Brain.

On my path to building my Second Brain

Niklas Luhmann an the Zettelkasten hooked me. I connected that with How to take Smart Notes, where Söhnke Ahrens translates Zettelkasten to the digital age. In parallel I came across Tiago Forte and his great work about Building a Second Brain. Key message for me: Our brains are made for having ideas, not for storing them.

With Building a Second Brain (further BASB), Tiago Forte provided me a foundation for structuring, called PARA. In addition with an approach for processing my information that is called CODE which stands for Capture-Organize-Distill-Express. PARA and CODE helped me to unlock my creativity. I stopped thinking too much about the system and actually began growing my Second Brain.

I understood the concept of Intermediate Packets, the foundational building blocks for combining knowledge. It became clear to me that when you combine Intermediate Packets in new ways and use these packets as a foundation for new knowledge, it is compounding knowledge. I felt excitement. I was onto something.

Cracking the CODE for Building my Second Brain

There I was, with knowledge still scattered all over the place, accumulated over 20 years of my professional career. Hidden additional four years of studying information science and mainly lost school age shadows of wisdom.

And now I had my CODE.

Let knowledge flow easily into my Second Brain - Capture

Capture, an approach from BASB, provided me a convincing reason to look at the Obsidian-Plugin- Landscape with a goal in mind. My challenge: How can I get my existing knowledge in my Second Brain in Obsidian?

My main knowledge sources at this point where my library of books on my Kindle with a lot of highlights, several hundred paper notes on my Remarkable and folders with information all over the place at Google, Amazon Drive, on other device folders, my previous top 100 Agile Blog, you name it.

The simple guidance by Tiago Forte to start small from an archive instead of trying to rearrange all at once proved to be really helpful to get started instead of being paralysed by all the potential effort.

I installed the Obsidian Kindle plugin. The plugin imported all my kindle highlights and added book meta information to Obsidian too. From now on I had the flow of reading on Kindle, taking highlights on Kindle and importing these already little distilled notes to Obsidian.

A huge amount of knowledge crosses my way daily. I need to be really careful not to follow my appetite to learn too much and to get lost in rabbit holes. Matter as my read-later app came to my rescue. And there is another great plugin to combine Matter and Obsidian. A second capture workflow helped me to manage newly appearing online knowledge. Whenever I find an article that I consider worth exploring, I add that article to my Matter (instead of reading it immediately - the rabbit hole). Whenever I’m in the mood and have some spare minutes, I fetch an article in my Matter app, where the article is free from advertisement and formatted for easy reading and taking highlights. I skim the article and highlight crucial points that I’d like to capture in my Second Brain. The next time I’m in my Obsidian Second Brain, the Matter highlights are available.

There are further ways of capturing my knowledge, but let’s take a break here, as this is another potential rabbit whole.

The foundation to capture knowledge in one system, my Second Brain, and build on top of it was implemented. On to compound knowledge where I noticed the highest demand.

Grow with structure and balance with just enough structure - Organize with PARA

PARA 1 stands for Projects - Areas - Resources and Archives and is an approach to organize notes in my Second Brain by actionability. It is simple and a really powerful structure that helps me to decide where a knowledge building block belongs to. Tiago Forte wrote a really detailed and high quality essay about PARA and I highly recommend that for a deep dive.

I was relieved when I found PARA. It just works. It is simple and fast to apply. And PARA creates clarity. I’ve struggled for a long time to see the necessary differentiation between a project and an area. Now that I have that concept at hand, I can clearly name all my projects, drive knowledge to active projects and convert knowledge into action within projects. PARA frees mental capacity. Instead of wasting time on thinking again and again about structure, I now take structure decisions fast and dedicate the remaining time to working with my knowledge.

On top of PARA I use further concepts like Johnny Decimal, Zettelkasten, an approach for maturity stages of notes and a rich templating setup to automate many of the low level tasks to maintain structure. By putting a little effort in automation and simplifying tasks, I can focus now much better on my value adding activities of leveraging knowledge and creating more from that base.

Extract the essence for an Intermediate Packet - Distill

With each knowledge building block that I add to my Second Brain I create a future present to myself. What a powerful metaphor. A present to my future self. If I want to build on such a block, it has to be reusable and easy to grasp. Distilling the essence means to make it easy to grasp, so that I can get the essence of a knowledge building block with lightening speed. The present is the speed of using once learned knowledge.

My main approach to distilling is progressive summarization 2. Distilling information in several steps from its original source to the essence that connects with my knowledge.

Since I learned about progressive summarization, I apply that to all my learning investments. For taking online courses, for reading books, for watching videos, for listening to content.

Distilling information to my personal essence paves the way to leverage that knowledge later on. And I already had several occasions where I was thankful for the present from my past self.

Leverage my intermediate packets, compound knowledge and give back - Express

When I express with what I learned, I manifest my learnings. And I force myself playfully to compound knowledge. Expressing in a presentation, running a workshop or masterclass, writing about learnings, teaching-mentoring are all great ways to compound knowledge and leverage my Second Brain. At moments of expressing myself, I feel really happy and satisfied that I’m able to build on top of my previous learning. It makes me feel present and contributing to something greater. It provides me with meaning. I am here.

You are highly welcome to my Digital Garden 🌱. A space where I practice working out loud. I share most of my knowledge early on, so that everyone can leverage that knowledge. I’m satisfied, if I can contribute and share back. Early expressing my thoughts opens paths for debates and increases my chances to gather valuable feedback.

With hundreds of knowledge building blocks I’m now able to build presentations in a much shorter timeframe. Including all the research and preparation, I reduced time from weeks down to days, even hours. My recent presentations about Continuous Discovery Habits 3 and about Agile 2 4 were build on a rich source of material that I gathered over years.

In addition I recently leveraged my compounding knowledge with a one day workshop about Building a Second Brain with Obsidian. It took me about four hours to design an interactive workshop format, where all participants went through an experience of building and working with an initial version of a Second Brain. The workshop builds on one year of learning and developing a system for Personal Knowledge Management one can now use right away.

Compounding knowledge deCODEed

I now have the setup to learn much faster and with a lasting effect. I leverage the CODE to compound knowledge. Let’s end with a game changer, that I’ll soon write about.

What if I can use all my Second Brain knowledge and apply AI power leveraging my unique knowledge? AI to enhance my capabilities. AI to compound my own knowledge with AI’s exceptional feature set.

Future? Not at all. It’s up and running in my Second Brain. What about you?

One year of working with my Second Brain - 1.700 notes, 1.200 attachments, 6.400 links, 1.250.000 words


  1. Para Blog by Tiago Forte 

  2. Progressive summarization is well described by Tiago Forte, please build on that existing knowledge. I promise, it is worth it. Progressive Summarization 

  3. Forming Continuous Discovery Habits - Presentation 

  4. MOC Agile 2 

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