I have argued before that management scholarship doesn’t change very quickly. I have made the point that research articles that are decades old still offer a great deal of value. That was all well and good until I tried to find pre-reading in preparation for a strategic planning workshop that I would be facilitating. I came across a great article, one that was really relevant in shaping the thinking of my proposed audience, until I read it in more detail. And had to dismiss it as being too old. Understanding why that was true took some thinking.
It is a little astonishing how this happens. You start with a problem, work back to first principles, figure out how to proceed forward and then find yourself back in the same vicinity of where you left off. In my case, I started with a systems problem around files that turned into a much broader exploration of notes, ideas, thinking and how I work. Now that I’ve landed on most of an approach that I think can work for me, I’m trying to figure out how to manage and organize that in reality. This brings us right back to software and systems, and the realization that what I hope to do may not be quite so easy as I had anticipated.
My thinking about notes has hit a bit of a wall. I thought that might simply be the normal resistance to change and shifting to a radically different way of working. As it turns out, there are some larger underlying problems that remain unresolved that my subconscious has clearly been wrestling with. The theoretical simplicity of the slip-box hides some potential complexities as I start to consider its actual practical application. This might just be a product of the kind of work that I do and how I approach it. I’m not wholly sure of that, however, so in the interests of radical disclosure I’m sharing my thinking process.
What if you never forgot anything? Consider what it would mean to remember every idea you have ever come across, and where it originally came from. Even better, imagine building on that knowledge to identify ideas you want to explore, papers you want to write, research you want to do or projects you want to pursue. Sound far-fetched? Perhaps. But an obscure (to most of us) sociologist named Niklas Luhmann devised a system to support doing exactly this. The essence of the system is absolute simplicity. This isn’t to say that actually building one doesn’t involve some significant complexity and work.