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Designing a Workflow for Ideas πŸ’‘

Designing a Workflow for Ideas πŸ’‘
Photo by Per LΓΆΓΆv / Unsplash

The past two weeks I went down a rabbit hole of Steven Johnson's writing. My first exposure to Johnson was his book Where Good Ideas Come From and I recently became a paid subscriber to his Substack.

The tipping point for subscribing was a series he's starting about "designing a workflow for ideas". Johnson was talking about note-taking and idea development way before it was a thriving internet sub-niche. A few takeaways and lessons from the first (free) article...

Apple Hypercard - the first digital Zettelkasten?

This piece of software allowed the user to create stacks of cards and link together, much like we see with Roam, Obsidian, and SuperNotes. Johnson also mentions he spent an inordinate amount of time organizing πŸ˜†

I found myself in the ironic situation of spending time building a tool to help with my schoolwork that I stopped actually doing my schoolwork.

Mixing hunches to a greater sum of the parts

The goal of the builder (their heart, if you will) was to create a tool to organize, develop, and remix ideas into something new. In the second issue of the series Johnson tells the story about how a "hunch" from reading about the pirate Henry Every and his attack on an Indian treasure ship in 1696.

This combined with an earlier "hunch" for a book. The book would be about a single event β€” ideally lasting only a few minutes β€” that had been generally ignored by historians, but that had some important long-term consequences. Those two hunches (and others) several years apart, became the book The Enemy of All Mankind.

Johnson calls this the art of the "slow hunch". How you capture and revisit those hunches are the mixing board for future creative work. He keeps a "spark file" i.e. a single Google Doc for all those hunches. When a new hunch is sparked he scrolls to the bottom to add it. Repeat as needed, forever.