Michael Becker is the founder and CEO of Identity Praxis, a strategic advisory firm. He’s also a prolific communicator, having produced dozens of YouTube videos explaining how to use advanced knowledge management tools. In this conversation, we discuss Michael’s approach to knowledge work and how tools such as Tinderbox can help you think and work more effectively.
- Michael Becker - LinkedIn
- Michael’s Patreon
- Michael’s YouTube channel
- Tinderbox forum
- Identity Praxis
- Cal Poly Pomona
- National University
- Association of National Advertisers
- Mobile Ecosystem Forum
- The Informed Life episode 99 - Mark Bernstein on Tinderbox
- Roam Research
- Conrad Gessner
- Vincent Placcius
- Niklas Luhmann
- Andy Matuschak
- Steven Johnson
- Tiago Forte’s Second Brain
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Jorge: Michael, welcome to the show.
Michael: Thank you very much. This is pretty exciting.
Jorge: Well, I’m excited to have you on the show. Folks listening in might not be familiar with you and your work. How do you go about introducing yourself?
Michael: Yeah, I have a pretty multifaceted set of activities that I’m interested in. The quickest way I could talk about it, is in a framework or in activities of what I’m doing. So from a framework perspective, I sit at the intersection of market development, product development, business development and marketing. And that sits on the foundation of scholarship.
So, what I do is I help companies and people that I serve understand how to develop their products, sell their products through the business development frameworks, help develop markets, by working with various standards, bodies and trade associations and you know, essentially building community. And then, how do you market? How do you get your message out? How do you understand your audience? And all of that.
And then, those activities sit on a foundation of scholarship where I am actually both a professor and a student. So if we look at it from a more linear perspective of like what keeps me busy and what pays my bills, I run a strategic advisory group called Identity Praxis, and I’m partnering with and merging my group with an organization called Control Shift out of the United Kingdom.
And what we do is help companies take advantage of trusted personal data. So in other words, we’ve got all this personal data flowing out there in the marketplace and how do we enable companies and enable individuals and enable organizations like governments successfully use and get value out of personal data without harming individuals and/or the broader social commons, if you will. So that’s what my agency does. It helps organizations get value out of trusted personal data.
The second thing I do is I teach, as I said. So I’m a professor of Strategic Mobile Marketing at Cal Poly Pomona, in California. And I’m also a professor of Strategic Mobile Marketing at National University. In addition to that, I also teach in an industry level through organizations like the Association of National Advertisers.
The next pillar I do as I said I’m a student. So I’ve been dutifully slogging through a doctorate for 19 years. I just got my dissertation proposal and framework approved about three weeks ago, and it’s now going through an internal review board or IRB. So I will be… once that’s approved, I’ll start collecting data and hopefully be doctor by March. The next area I get involved in is I am the personal data and identity working group chair for the Mobile Ecosystem Forum. It’s a trade group out of London — a big 10 trade group out of London — that helps companies look at how do we take advantage of all of this rich, exciting world of internet of things and IOT and I suppose specifically focus on the area of personal data and identity.
And then the final area — what motivates me the most in the world –is this idea of how do we harness our personal knowledge and how do we navigate our ability to harness our thoughts and ideas and to do so in the most efficient and effective way and contribute. And that’s really how you and I met was through… at the heart of that effort for me is a tool called Tinderbox. And so I leveraged that tool and the seas of tools and the computing knowledge that I’ve been able to develop over the last, say, 13 years or so, or my entire career of 30, to really understand how do we harness our knowledge.
In that process, I’m writing a book. I call it The Five C’s Of Knowledge Management. I’m writing another book I call the Personal Data and Identity Marketplace and The Meeting of the Waters. I’m writing a third book on what I call the Identity Nexus. And then finally, just literally hundreds of articles and posts and all that. And perhaps I’ll leave it with this: I actually have a framework for personal knowledge management, and I call it ‘The Meal.’ And the elements of The Meal are snacks, bites, entrees, and desserts and snacks are small form pieces of content that are… actually let’s come to that!
We’ll talk about that when we get to the knowledge place. But that’s who I am, is I just kind of intermix a variety of commercial, academic, social, and community activities all around this common theme of business marketing and unleashing the power of personal data and giving people back agency and control over their data.
Jorge: Listeners can’t see me, obviously, but as you were describing what you’re doing, I was smiling because it’s very exciting to hear you talk like this.
Michael: You are also frantically taking notes, too!
Jorge: I was trying very hard to keep up with the barrage of exciting activities that you have going on. The reason I was smiling is because we hear this phrase “ knowledge worker,” and in hearing you describe your trajectory and what you’re working on, it seems to me that you are someone who embodies this notion of knowledge work somehow.
Michael: Well, I mean, that’s all I do. At the end of the day, I’m in the world of thinking and my job is to think and then through thinking help organizations understand who they serve and then deliver value to them. I mean, that’s really why I exist. I think therefore I am, coining from Descartes, and then from that “I Am-ness”, my whole purpose is to be here, to be of service to others and then, with my thinking, hopefully helping them to be able to help and be of service to others. That’s really the whole point for me.
And then the question I have from the tools and the concepts and the methods is like, how can we do that in the most efficient and effective way, given that we have a limited number of minutes on this planet. So therefore, how can we optimize those minutes as most efficiently and effectively as possible?
Jorge: Yeah. And I want to get into that because it seems to me that you are someone who has figured out how to do this effectively and efficiently just by the nature of how much you have going on. And before we get into it, I want to come back to this phrase you used of having it be in service to others.
There’s something a little bit uncanny to me about this conversation in that I’m looking at your video stream and I have seen hours of you presenting on YouTube, a series of fantastic videos where you get into the nitty gritty of working with Tinderbox. And that’s how I first became aware of your work: it was through those videos and then engaging in the Tinderbox community. But I wanted to mention it because folks who are listening in, particularly if they were interested in the conversation that I had with Mark Bernstein about Tinderbox, they should definitely look up your YouTube videos.
Michael’s approach to thinking
But let’s get into this notion of the most effective and efficient ways to work through thinking. Can you unpack how you do that, maybe starting at a high level?
Michael: Yeah, I mean, at a high level, really that’s all we have, is thinking. You know? Let’s just start with that. I mean, no matter what you do, at the end of the day, your humanity is derived around the creativity and the innovation and your uniqueness that you can bring to the table to help those around you. And it’s our unique context and our unique experience which gives way to our unique thinking that makes us be special and to be able to serve those around us.
And as of late, what I’ve been thinking about, and as I think about tools like Tinderbox and DEVONthink and Zotero, and I can rattle off a whole list of tools that I’ve learned to cobble together. What I’ve begun to appreciate is, what the tools allow me to do is to ultimately cut through the noise to find the value, to find the core insight that then eventually helps others. And in order to get there, you’ll pick your platform and you’ll pick your tools and you’ll figure out what works best for you and then what works best for you will certainly evolve over time as you get better at what you do. But it’s really that process of going through the methodical steps to be able to understand a problem and then and to give answers.
Jorge: When you say cutting through the noise, that to me implies that you’re sifting through some kind of signal. Maybe it would be worthwhile to give an example of what it looks like for you to sift the signal from the noise.
Michael: Yeah. Well, for me the biggest one in that was I spent the vast majority of my career, and I won’t even say the early part of my career. I’ve been involved in the professional part of my world for something on 33 years and we’ll skip the academic part for now, or the young-student-college, high-school-student, part for now.
But I spent the vast majority of my time in what I call working in output software, and I spent the vast majority of my time thinking my value was in my output. I delivered this report. We did this podcast. We produced this presentation. And being driven by the output can be incredibly deceiving. Because that’s really what we’ll call ‘the machine’ wants us to do is to deliver output. I equate the modern day individual today as a 19th century factory worker where once we used to make you parts for the car, now we’re making parts for the software machine. And those parts are our data, is our thinking. And the system invariably drives you to focus in output software.
And where I found that to be just so detrimental is, when you work in output software, your knowledge gets locked in the output. And therefore it becomes very, very difficult to, 1) make it repurposable, but more importantly, when you’re working in output software — not to berate the company names, but I’ll use ‘em for examples, you know, Microsoft Word or Apple Pages or Microsoft Excel or Numbers or PowerPoint — and the challenge that I have with output software is they are… output software artificially constrains your thinking because of the very nature of the fact that it’s output software. So, Excel or Numbers makes you think in tabular form. Word or Pages puts you into a linear mode of thinking. PowerPoint puts you into a visual and bulleted mode of thinking. And frankly, I find that really destructive.
It wasn’t until about three years ago, when I was in an incredibly depressed moment of my life, where I finally just in some respects, just gave up. You know? And about ten years prior, around 2009, I had come across this tool called Tinderbox, and I spent about eleven or ten years trying to learn how to use it. It wasn’t until September 2009, where I literally had this moment where I’m like, “I’m just going to give up. I know Tinderbox is the answer and I’m going to sit down and I’m going to figure out what it’s going to take for this thing that I know is the answer — Tinderbox — to reveal itself to me to help me understand what that answer is.”
And this is partly why I put the videos together that you mentioned earlier, because I’m like, “I don’t want to have to have people to have to go through the two hundred hours of hell that I went through to finally find the answer and what it meant for me.” And the answer really was: it’s not the tool; it was a rewiring of my brain, completely reassessing how my brain works. Or no; I actually didn’t even say that; it was learning how my brain works and then finding the tools that align with how my brain works. And that’s what I’ve been doing. Then the last three years is doing that. And it’s just been so liberating. I can’t even begin to tell you.
Jorge: I think that what’s implicit there is that obviously Tinderbox more closely aligns with how your brain works than these other tools.
Michael: And I’ve learned since then it’s not just Tinderbox. Like you’ve got other tools like Obsidian and Roam and others. And I think frankly, to be honest with ourselves, I think all of our brains work in hypertext, nodal models.
You know, when you get into output software, output software is structured: as I said, tables, long form documents, bullets. But our brains are more quantum; our brains are more non-linear, and somehow we’re supposed to create really creative output in predefined structure when, in fact, it’s the actual opposite: we create value in between the nodes of more multi-dimensional thinking. And tools like Tinderbox or Roam or Obsidian or others help you do it.
Jorge: Maybe another angle to this: I’m curious if this style of working… I was about to say this style of thinking and I think I’m going to be conflating the two words throughout this conversation, right?
Michael: Exactly, Because I think working is thinking and I think thinking is working!
Picking the right tool for the job
Jorge: Right. Well, that’s why I’m conflating them. But I’m wondering if maybe the expected output — the type of output — has an influence on the type of tools that you pick up. Just beforr we started recording, I was mentioning that I recently moved the website for this podcast to the Jekyll content management system, which stores files as plain text Markdown files, and we were talking about the fact that a tool like Tinderbox can be used to produce those files. But for me, it doesn’t seem like that’s the right tool for that job in my case, right?
Michael: Yeah, so let me answer that. I think you’re absolutely right and let me go back to what I stated before: I spent the first thirty years of my career, or… you know, frankly I’d say I’ve spent the first fifty years of my life working in output and focusing in output and working in output tools. And basically being told, “this is the output I want, so then therefore use this tool to produce that output.” And in some ways that makes a tremendous amount of logical sense. But for me, those tools always led to abject failure. Those tools always led to me never really feeling comfortable or never really getting there because my brain simply didn’t work that way. For example, when you’re working in what I’ll call a “vertical” format like Word or Numbers or even Scrivener, for that matter… and it might sound so contrite and simple when I say it this way, but for fifty years I struggled and when I finally realized it was okay for the last thing I wrote to become my introduction.
Michael: The middle thing that I wrote to become my conclusion. You know? I had such a terrible time with writing and other challenges that in linear software, frankly, and again, I’m embarrassed to say, I spent the vast majority of my career thinking the first thing I needed to write had to be the first thing that people read, right? Because when you know, no one ever really taught me or I was never really understood that writing actually is thinking. And I think this is another really important tool.
And I got this during my doctoral process when I was cramming for one of my early tests. I was reading a book and I’ll remember one day the author, and try to find them and thank them for this. One of those pivotal moments in my life as I read this line that said, “writing is thinking.” And when you realize that writing is thinking, it unleashes this ability that your initial thought doesn’t necessarily have to be the one you end with. The first thing you write doesn’t necessarily have to be where you end with; it’s allowed to move around.
And it took me from that point that I read that article — writing is thinking — it took me fourteen years to then find the tools that allow me to write in a way that gave me the capacity to think in a multi-dimensional way. Bernardo in the Tinderbox community taught me to term it as “metacognition,” to actually learn to start seeing the world through metadata. And once you finally get there and you get to that level of abstraction — because thinking is also a tool of abstraction — then the world’s your oyster.
Jorge: I remember at some point in my life, I realized that movies aren’t shot in the sequence that you see them, the sequence of scenes that you see. It’s like, no, they actually, you know, the ending might be shot first and it’s all a matter of like, when they can schedule the sets and all that. And my mind was blown, right?
And the way that I contrast this is, I talk about some tools lending themselves more to producing things linearly. I know people who have written books using tools like Google Docs and I’ve always found that challenging because of the nature of those tools: they ask that you commit to a high level structure very early on in the process where you define… these are the chapters and I’m going to start work. You know, I’m going to start a different doc for each chapter…
The “meal” strategy
Michael: With that in mind, let me go back to my, what I’ll call the “meal” strategy I have for thinking the thought leadership. And this has been evolving over time and most certainly over the last few years as I’ve adopted this tool like Tinderbox and others.
Michael: If you think about like the history of notetaking and the history of note taking really started back in the 1550s or so with Conrad Gessner or Thomason Harrison in the, you know, 1650s. Then you had Vincent Placcius, Hans Bloomberg. I mean in that 1500, 1600, 1700 times, there were a lot of thinkers thinking about like, how do we document what we’re learning? How do we document our notes? And then, in a more modern time, we start hearing about Niklas Luhmann with this concept of zettelkasten. And there was actually somebody just before Luhmann, I believe his name was Wallace. I can’t remember.
The core concept is: get your concept or get an idea, what I’m going to call a snack, get into a single idea, in your words, cited. And so that’s what I call a snack. A single idea, in your words, cited. And so for me, a snack also can turn into a tweet or a quick little post on LinkedIn where here’s an idea I want to share, and here’s the source of where I got that idea. For me, a bite is a construct of cogent snacks, right? Cogent ideas that come together that will have multiple references or citations to them.
And so, in other words, a snack could be zero to 150, 200 words, a bite is somewhere between 200, 600 to a thousand words, an entree is about a thousand to 2,500 words, it’s an article; it’s something more meaty consisting of multiple bites and multiple snacks organized together, and then a dessert is the whole smorgasborg, you know? It’s the, you know…. And actually a dessert could be something really sweet and really juicy that you really dig into. And if I were to add a new one would be the buffet. And the buffet is where you get to pick through it all and make it all work. But for me, what’s important to think about is, it’s more of a flow than it is any discreet moment because snacks, become bites, bites become meals, meals become desserts.
And when you actually, ultimately, finally wrote that report, you wrote that book, you’ve created that dessert, you then can go back through the process and start rendering it. Because invariably, once you actually got that report, there’s going to be an image that you ultimately develop for that final report that’s going to be really powerful; there’s going to be a quote that you develop for that report that would be really powerful. And so then what I do in my learning management process, when I finally finish an output, the next thing I do is then I tear it back apart and render it back out into its pieces and turn them back into bites and snacks, and then go through the process again. And it’s that invariable tide of thinking over time that I find creates just such a tremendous amount of value.
Jorge: What you’re describing there is a super important point and it’s one that also applies in design. The way I usually talk about this is you’re trying to zoom up and down levels of abstraction, right? Where at one point you’re focused on very granular things — the details — in this case, the snacks. Which, if I’m understanding correctly, I’ve heard these referred to as well as “atomic” notes.
Michael: Yes. Yeah, exactly.
Jorge: You know? And folks like Andy Matuschak have written about this sort of thing as well. I was also reminded of Steven Johnson. The author Steven Johnson has written articles about how he uses tools like DEVONthink and Scrivener to gather these snacks and then assemble them into longer passages, right?
But this ability that these tools provide to, at one moment let you focus on the very granular piece, and then at another moment, zoom out and take in the whole structure is something that the more traditional production tools that you were describing earlier don’t make easy, right?
Michael: Well, and lets be kind to these tools. Word’s been around for thirty, almost forty years, and it’s got a requirement of backward compatibility. You know, it’s got a legacy it has to live up to. And also too, let’s also be very cognizant of the fact that at one point the federal government was coming down on Microsoft for any monopolistic positions.
And so then in order for Microsoft to deal with that, it actually had to interject friction and interject a bunch of crap into its code to keep the regulators at bay. And so that interjection caused more friction and noise under the hood of Microsoft. And to be, and again, to be kind to them, they were inventing the internet back in the day when a computer only could support 64 characters, and now you’ve got processing power that lets you do so much more.
So there’s so much under that hood that they’ve had to deal with and to contend with, and not to mention the fact they’ve created their own problems too, because of their own hubris and other things. So, there’s a lot going on when you look at these tools and for me, again, the biggest “aha” moment I had throughout this entire process was to realize and accept is where is value created.
Where value is created
Remember, we started the conversation today about, we are taught from the very beginnings of school, that value is created in your output. We spend twenty years going through school, being graded on the report we submit. And then rewarded and get a diploma on that and say, “you’ve created value.” And what I’ve learned through the last three years or so in rewiring my brain and going through the process of metacognition is that that’s not where value is created.
Value is not created in your output. The output is the byproduct of your value. The report you deliver, that presentation you deliver, that’s the byproduct of your value. Your value is actually created in the time and energy you put into your inputs. And I think that’s what these new tools and these modern software… and again, it’s hard to even call Tinderbox modern because Mark Bernstein’s been working on it for twenty years.
But the modern thinking — and that is why I really have a hard time in looking at some of these new upstart tools like Roam and Obsidian and all of those, and TheBrain is another one — those are all great tools. But Mark, if you think about the golden thread of thought leadership for the last twenty - twenty five years, it’s Tinderbox.
Tinderbox is a tool that gives you digitally native content as pure as possible, and then gives you various utilities that you can use to apply structure and appearance to that digitally native content. And it’s the purest tool that I’ve been able to find out there that allows me to do that. The other tools have some forbearance to that, but again, if you think about it, when you’re doing knowledge work, you need to be able to collect information, you need to be able to create… and now I’m getting to what I call the five C’s of knowledge management
The Five Cs of Knowledge Management
The methodology of the labels that I’ve put to this process is what I call the Five Cs of Knowledge Management. And the first C is collection, the second C is curation, the third C is creation, the fourth C is collaboration, and the fifth C is contribution or your output. And what we need to realize is value is created with the first four Cs, not the fifth one. Because the fifth one is the byproduct and value is created with the first four.
What I’ve learned is when you learn that your value is created in the inputs and not in the outputs, you’re going to take that extra five or ten minutes to refine what you’re documenting, to capture that citation. You’ll learn to trust the process of the Five C’s or Tiago Forte’s model or whatever model you choose I don’t know, whatever religion you choose,you want to trust your process so that you’ll take the extra time at each stage so that you’ll actually get your output.
And so what I’ve learned to do is when I collect a note, I take as much effort as possible to anchor that note to a citation and to get that citation as accurately as possible. Because I want to be able to maintain the providence of the idea throughout the entire process of my knowledge. Because I know the provenance of that idea will be reused and repurposed and refactored and curated countless times until we actually get to some meaningful and ongoing output.
Then when I get to curation, now that I have provenance, I can start linking that idea to other ideas. I can start tagging those. And for linking, we often will call that tagging or terms or keyword linking or some other form of association. I’ve got some really magical steps that I’ve done in Tinderbox that actually lets you curate an idea by tagging that idea, but then by the function of tagging that idea automatically creates a new note of that idea that then allows me to then go even deeper on that.
then when you go to creation, if you’ve done the first steps right, you can actually then know when you’re creating an original idea because you’ve got the history and the provenance of those ideas that came before them. And you can say, you know what? I actually think I’m hitting on a new concept. And I think this idea is new because I can attribute it to the ideas that came before it.
And then you can maintain the intellectual integrity too, that when you do discover something new, you can compare it to those ideas that you think you’ve created and you’re like, “well, you know, my idea actually turns out not to be unique because somebody actually did it before me.” It doesn’t mean that my idea wasn’t special. It just means there’s yet more I can build on and refine over time.
If you’re lucky enough, like what you and I are doing now, you’ll be able to start collaborating. You’ll be able to have that bidirectional conversation. Now, what’s exciting about that is when you’re collaborating, you’ve not yet published those ideas. Those ideas have not been yet solidified in any way. So in that method rather than calling it a citation, I call it an attribution. So I’ll attribute to Jorge that he inspired me to do this thing.
So I call that this circle of input, you know? And the machinations of that input. So snacks — you know, that atomic idea — gravitationally pop themselves out of this process very quickly. Here’s a unique idea; I’m going to share it on LinkedIn. Bites also are often very quick because they’re germinating within this pool of self-referential provenance of concepts so they can get assembled very quickly and then be published out. Entrees and desserts take longer in terms of time because you’re assembling them, you’re germinating them and getting them. But when they’re ready to go, you push them out.
What I’ve learned now is when you use the right tools like Tinderbox and Obsidian, Roam or Brain, find the tools… you know, Scrivener. Find the tools that work for you. When those tools are ready to basically break out of the orbit and go into their own trajectory, the reason why I like Tinderbox so much is because Tinderbox has allowed me to maintain those ideas with their provenance and ideas in pure digital content that I can then have the capabilities to apply structure and appearance on demand.
So if you need me to give you a table, I can give you a table. If you need to give you a linear document, I’ll give you a linear document. If you need PowerPoints, I’ll give you a PowerPoint. And the beautiful thing about this idea too, it’s like, think about it: whenever you’re writing a PowerPoint, you put down three bullets on a slide and you’ll spend hours agonizing on what those three bullets will say. And then by the time you’re done, you realize, well, what was the evidence that I was going to have to substantiate those three bullets? And because of the format of, say, a PowerPoint, you completely lose it because there’s no place to put those ideas.
But in a tool like Tinderbox, you don’t lose it. You can basically abstract those concepts and those ideas and link them and curate them all up to those three words. But you’ve maintained the history that are behind those three words that allow and enable you to communicate. And I found this whole process just incredibly liberating.
Jorge: There’s an important distinction here between the set of knowledge… the knowledge graph that you’re building, right? The relations between these ideas and the manifestations of those ideas; the various paths you take through them as articulated in creative works like a book or an essay or what have you, right? And I think that the essence of what you’re saying there is that in distinction to other tools, more hypertext-centric systems like Tinderbox allow you to focus on the act of building the graph as opposed to what the final thing is going to look like.
Michael: Well, but more importantly… I’d be careful with that statement you just said. They allow you to focus on collecting the content and the ideas, and then, depending on which tool you have, the graph builds itself; the graph materializes itself.
So again, some of the challenges I have — and this is a distinction for me between a tool like Roam or Obsidian and Tinderbox — Roam or Obsidian are obsessed with linking and curation. Whereas in Tinderbox, I can put in ideas that can just sit there for months, for days, for years, with no linkage or connection to anything else.
But underneath the hood, the linkages start naturally materializing through the semantic utilities that Tinderbox provides because it’s leveraging the Microsoft OS natural language capabilities. Some of the application logic that Mark has provided us or the agent capability, “go find me notes that have these types of words” and then it comes back out. And then the other nice thing, what I like about it is I pair my Tinderbox worth with tools like DEVONthink.
Where DEVONthink is the one of the best tools I’ve found for interrogating, you know, already published works. PowerPoints, PDF files, reports, and DEVONthink just has an unbelievably killer natural language engine where you can say, “take the words ‘personal data’ and find me every document that has ‘personal data’ with the term ‘privacy’ or ‘regulation’ 10 words from the word ‘personal data.’” So that helps you zero in and find those fifty PowerPoint files that you had once discovered somewhere along the way, but had completely forgotten about.
And then a third one, my other third pillar tool is Zotero, which is my citation management tool. Now, you can use other citation management tools, but I figured out some automagically automation that helps me keep these things together and collaborate with them.
And then finally the fourth tool is Pandoc. Pandoc is an open source tool that enables you on Mac to take any text output, feed it through its engine and output anything you want. So I’ve now set up this thing, and I’ll just explain the way I do it is: I’ll put in a series of notes, snacks, bites, entrees or desserts in Tinderbox, curate them, have all their citations in there.
Citations are actually over there sitting in Zotero. PDF files are actually sitting in DEVONthink. And then I can then apply templates capabilities that Tinderbox gives me. So when I’m ready to publish, I can take all these atomic ideas, apply structure and appearance to them, hit a button and then outputs a Word file, outputs a PowerPoint file, outputs an Excel file. So it produces the output so that I can then share and work with others.
Jorge: I think folks listening — and I’m trying to imagine myself listening to this conversation and knowing, I personally, would be very excited to hear what you’re saying there. And also, it might sound like, “oh my gosh! There’s so much here.”
Michael: It could be very intimidating, for sure.
Michael’s YouTube videos
Jorge: DEVONthink, Zotero, Pandoc and all these things. And I just want to, again, advertise your YouTube videos because you walk us through your process in many of these videos.
Michael: Well, and frankly, the reason why… let me tell you. I can tell you in the moment why I started creating them was December 29th, 2019. And I said, “I’m learning so much. I’m forgetting more than I’m learning. And so, therefore, if I’m going to need to document what I’m learning, why don’t I document what I’m learning publicly so that others can learn in the journey with me?” I often find if you want to learn something, you teach it. And then you get the gift of strangers who then comment and interact with you on that.
And again, if you go through the videos, I’ve raised a number of things: Zotero, DEVONthink, Pandoc, all of those things, you don’t need to take literally the hundreds, if not thousands of hours I put into this. If you hop on, you know, when I have a weekly Patreon session we have, I can teach you my process and give you templates that I use, and you can be up and running in a couple of hours. You may not know how it works, but you’ll at least be able to produce output and value so that when you’re ready, you know how it works.
Jorge: I for one, want to thank you for your generosity in sharing your learnings through YouTube because I’ve been one of the beneficiaries of that. Where can folks follow up with you? Where can they find out more about your work?
Michael: Well, I’m all over the internet, so if you just search “Michael Becker marketing,” “Michael Becker personal data,” in Google, I pop right up because I try to be quite prolific. You can find me at LinkedIn; you can find me at controlshift.co.uk; you can find me at identitypraxis.com. Those are the primary places. I do have a Twitter account @privacyshaman, but I don’t use it that often.
And where you really can find me more often than not, especially on the weekends, is at forum.eastgate.com, which is the Tinderbox community. And that’s where we all get together and collaborate and share.
And again, I just want to give a huge shout out to Mark Bernstein and all those that are within the Tinderbox community because it’s just an amazing environment where people share. What I like most about this community is people start with, “here’s the problem I’m trying to solve.” And I think this is a really important thing for knowledge work, and I’ve learned this through the Tinderbox community.
The output software teaches us that there’s one way to do things. The input software teaches you that there’s nearly ten or twenty ways to do things. And the way you do it depends on your context. And sometimes your context is: I don’t have time to do this perfectly. I’ve got a report due tomorrow. I’ve got to do it now and I’ll make it more graceful later.
So if you come to the Tinderbox community with, “I’m trying to accomplish this.” The Tinderbox community will invariably give you the four or five, six different ways that you can go about doing that. And then you can cherry pick the ways that align with you. So there are a lot of people, for instance, that just use Tinderbox for note taking and then use Scrivener and other tools for actually publication because that works in their workflow.
There are other people like me that kind of do everything in Tinderbox and use other tools like Zotero and DEVONthink or Pandoc as the secondary tools. It just really depends on where you’re at and let these tools meet you where you are. And I then attribute it to like yoga. You know, a great yoga instructor won’t force you to touch your toes.
They’re going to tell you, meet yourself where you’re at. Don’t cause injury! And if you practice every day, eventually you may be able to touch your toes. Maybe not; your body physiologically may be such that you never can. But guess what? That’s okay! And I think that’s one of the important concepts to leave behind when you’re knowledge working. Meet yourself where you’re at in any given moment, and eventually your knowledge will get there.
And then I harken back to what some of the greatest cyclists in the world say. And I don’t remember a name right now, but I will email you up with a link after when we’re done. Where, one thing you need to realize in knowledge work is it never gets easier because as you improve, you get to tackle harder problems.
And so, your reward for improving in knowledge work is to get to tackle a harder problem. And I think that’s just one of the things that we need to accept. Is that if you’re a knowledge worker, you’re just going to get more and more skilled at tackling harder and harder problems. But it’s just always going to keep getting harder. I think hopefully the goal though, in tackling those harder problems is you get more comfortable and more serene in doing so.
Jorge: Yeah, this circles back to where we started the conversation. Basically output is subverted somehow to process, right? And I was envisioning like playing a video game where you’re constantly… the better you get the harder the boss you’ll confront at the end of the level. But that’s not the point; the point is having the experience. Thank you Michael for being with us and talking about this all important subject with us.
Michael: Yeah. It’s my pleasure and I’m thrilled. And again, anybody that’s listening to that, reach out to me; I’m incredibly accessible and I’m here to serve and help. And that’s the other way we open up the conversation. So if I can help in any way, please let me know.
Jorge: Fantastic. Thank you.