Cultivating Insight

Summary: I wrote these notes for my students at The School of Design to outline my thoughts on advanced knowledge gathering, synthesis and output. The ideas here are still in note form. This will be one of the school's modules. See Designing Tomorrow for context.

We’re swimming against a rapidly incoming tide of information. How we manage that information can leave us feeling overwhelmed or lead us to informed insights. The designer of tomorrow needs to develop skills to manage information, embracing progressive summarisation, and leaning into the creation of research libraries and other outputs.

Initial Notes

In a world drowning in information, you need to be able to swim and this module shows you how, addressing how to gather, organise and synthesise information.

Tools like Roam, Obsidian and Notion are massively redefining the landscape of how we gather information, parse it and share it. This self-directed module (?) introduces atomic thinking emphasising a modular – build anything – approach with ‘units of information’.

The module doesn’t just explore tools, it also explores methodologies. TK Include practical exercises, like progressive summarisation.

This could be nicely meta, a progressive summarisation of Forte’s Progressive Summarisation post. It could also touch on Dan Shipper’s Action Items, which are a useful by-product of this methodology, i.e. progressively summarise, then use the summarisation as a value-added (potentially commercial) by-product.

This should be hands-on. Take a research topic: gather content, dive deeper, surface ideas, distill and remix (as per the link above).


  • Atomic Thinking
  • A Networked Note-Taking Time Machine
  • Digital Gardening
  • Taxonomies /* ? */
  • Capture, Connect, Create

Atomic Thinking

Explain what the principles are. We’re looking for the nodes of thought, the smallest common denominators. For example, the idea of touchpoints applies to branding, marketing and service (design).

By building our notes on touchpoints, then linking to them from branding notes, marketing notes, etc., we begin to see that all knowledge is interconnected.

A Networked Note-Taking Time Machine

Your notes capture a moment in time. Or, more accurately, your notes capture your thinking at a moment in time.

As you create new notes, you need to be conscious that your future self will return to these notes without the context that existed when you created those notes.

For example, you watch Stefan Sagmeister’s TED talk on The Power of Time Off, specifically focusing on the idea of a job, a career and a calling.

The context of this was the first module on Design Your Future (The School of Design, 2021). Your notes need to capture a degree of context so that your future self understands both:

  • the content: a job, a career and a calling; and
  • the context: pinpointing your purpose so that you align your passions with your pay cheque.

Digital Gardening

Explain what this means…

I’m struggling a little as it’s late, but one point to stress is that insights need to be packaged in a way that allows them to be sent across time (from now self to future self).

Lastly, don’t forget that we can co-opt existing terminology, e.g. the idea of ‘packets’ (which can be managed efficiently and reconstructed – like LEGO – to create new objects).

Progressive Summarisation

Deeper dive coming soon. (It’s 3.28 am, 15 November and I’m struggling a little now. I’ll pick this up down the line.)

A–L L C, establish and document mind garden, Obsidian?

Look at this, possibly good for venture testing:

Some of the closest possibilities are commercial. OthersideAI has just raised millions in seed money for a use of GPT-3 that will write automatic emails for salespeople in the style of their choice. Porr, after revealing his blog as automated, wrote about automated copywriting, which could generate several options and then automatically A/B test them to see which gets the most engagement.

Commonplace Books