Packaging Your Thoughts Using Roam Research

"We need a reliable and simple external structure to think in that compensates for the limitations of our brains" - Sönke Ahrens, How to Take Smart Notes

Packaging Your Thoughts Using Roam Research

"We need a reliable and simple external structure to think in that compensates for the limitations of our brains" - Sönke Ahrens, How to Take Smart Notes

I believe the ability to curate, organize, and share your atomic thoughts or thought models will become an invaluable skill in the future. While automation will continue to tackle routine tasks, skillsets will need to shift towards thinking and making connections between concepts.

The most unique thing that we can offer to the world are our thoughts. They might be the same general theme as someone else's thoughts, but they come from a unique perspective. This makes them extremely valuable when they are presented well.

The problem is that this unique perspective, based on our own cultural, economic, and social background, is both a boon and a hindrance when it is time to convey the thoughts to another human. Someone else's own background gives them a unique lens through which they view your message. So, we must be diligent in our efforts to ensure that our thoughts are useful to the recipient and the intended meaning is conveyed.

Packaging Our Thoughts

Before thoughts are delivered or made public, I believe it helps if they are first packaged and bundled to maximize their impact. Picking out the important bits of information in anything you read, listen to, or view is an important skill to develop. By packaging your thoughts before presenting them (especially in text), you can help the recipient focus on your core message or idea.

There are two important elements that I consider when I package a thought:

  • First, the thought must be atomic. It must stand alone and be useful even without a lot of context surrounding it. Context may add additional layers of richness, but a person should be able to get the gist without it.
  • Second, the thought must be distilled into your own words, but universally understandable. You should know your topic well enough to be able to explain the thought or concept without relying on repetition or paraphrasing of someone else. This will take deliberate practice, but if you distill the thought down to the core idea, it should be closer to becoming universally understandable.

Let's use an example of a thought that I recently had while processing my Smart Notes.

Networking can be supercharged by learning in public

Right away, this thought does not pass the first test. While the thought is atomic, it cannot be easily understood without more context. I can understand it because I have the proper context in my mind while I read the thought statement.

Immediately, I can focus on two separate topics in this statement. Networking and “learning in public.” If I were reading this as an IT professional I might think of “Networking” as it applies to technology. This is not the case. What I am actually referring to is “Career Networking,” or making connections to help further your career or create opportunities. Let's change the thought statement a bit to reveal this particular context.

Career networking can be supercharged by learning in public

This is a little better now. Now my audience knows that I am referring to the topic of “Career Networking.” However, the audience still may not know what “learning in public” means without proper context.

When I refer to “learning in public,” I am talking about sharing the knowledge and skills that I am learning with others while in the process of learning. I know this because I have the requisite context in my mind from my reading and experience. My audience will not have access to that same context. Let's change the statement a bit more.

Career networking can be supercharged by sharing what you are learning as you learn it

This attempt does pass the first test. It is atomic and it doesn't require "as much" context. There is still a problem. “Supercharged” might not be a good adjective here. It may be meaningless if the audience has not heard it used in multiple contexts. It's also superfluous language and doesn't really have a clear meaning.

Sharing what you are in the process of learning publicly is one of the best ways to career network today

This statement could probably be improved even more, but it is definitely superior to the original in clarity and atomicity. The two topics, "sharing what you are learning" and "career networking" are linked into a single, atomic thought. The statement can also be understood without the need for extra context. At this point you can feel free to add context around this statement to enrich the thought, but pre-requisite context is not needed by the audience to understand the thought.

Not only are thoughts that are packaged in this way easier to understand, they can be combined with other packaged thoughts to create something completely new. A model for collecting, curating, and re-mixing thoughts in this way opens up a vast array of opportunities for innovation in every aspect of our lives.

Roam Research: A Tool for Packaging Our Thoughts

We need a reliable and simple external structure to think in that compensates for the limitations of our brains - Sönke Ahrens, How to Take Smart Notes

This is one of my favorite insights from “How to Take Smart Notes” because it resonates so well with how my thinking has changed since discovering Roam Research

While the process outlined in this next section can be done in pretty much any note-taking app or even paper, I believe that Roam Research is one of the best tools for the job. If you haven't used Roam Research and are interested, I recommend taking the trial for a spin at https://roamresearch.com and see how it can help you to improve your thinking process.

Following the advice in “How to Take Smart Notes,” I will need two things to better clarify and package my thought.

  • A clean space to write down my thought.
  • Some prompts to help me process my thought into something that more closely resembles the ideal package.

Next, I'm going to add some prompts at the top of the page to help when thinking through the process of packaging my thought. The prompts should be related to the two elements mentioned earlier in the article.

  • First, the thought must be atomic. It must stand alone and be useful even without a lot of context surrounding it. Context may add additional layers of richness, but a person should be able to get the gist without it.
  • Second, the thought must be distilled into your own words, but universally understandable. You should know your topic well enough to be able to explain the thought or concept without relying on repetition or paraphrasing of someone else. This will take deliberate practice, but if you distill the thought down to the core idea, it should be closer to becoming universally understandable.

When complete, my prompts will be structured like a flow chart.

Roam Research: Thought Packaging Prompts

Let's step through the process with the example from earlier in the post.

The first thing we will do is write our thought under our prompts.

Next, we will work through our prompts one by one. To make it easier in Roam Research, I will use block references, which are just a reference to a particular bullet that is written.

I will copy each block reference one by one while working through my prompts by right clicking the bullet and selecting copy block ref

Roam Research: Copying a Block Reference
Roam Research: Copied Block Reference

In this case we already explored the fact that the thought would need additional context to be useful. Let’s think through that.

Roam Research: Thought Packaging First Pass

-Now we can further refine the thought by stepping through the prompts and repeating the exercise until we are satisfied.

Roam Research: Thought Packaging Final Pass

We have essentially just created and stepped through an algorithm of thought used for packaging a thought for public consumption.

Conclusion

Our thoughts truly are the most unique asset that we can offer the world. They are valuable in their own right. When we package them for atomicity and universality using our own words, they become exponentially more useful. They can be shared, re-mixed, and combined to create even greater ideas.

The next time you have a thought write it out and package it by running it through the prompts you have learned in this article or similar prompts of your own. You will begin to think with increased clarity and just might share something awesome with the world.

Harley Stagner

I'm an IT professional working in technical marketing. I truly believe that our thoughts are the most unique asset that we can offer to the world. This will be a curated collection of mine.

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