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How I got into PKM: a story and an exciting announcement

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Finding the personal knowledge management community has changed my life, and that becomes more obvious daily, as I settle into my new self-employment.

I’m going to share the story of how I got into PKM, a takeaway from this and an exciting announcement about a new publication that I’d love to get you involved in…

How I got into PKM

I’ve always loved history and connection, which I think began with my Grandma showing me a list of the Lincoln-Kennedy coincidences about 18 years ago, which blew my little mind. I loved American history and every Friday night I’d watch National Treasure and take notes on what was going on. I became obsessed with Benjamin Franklin and started a project of typing up (copying) anything I could find about him in my books.

One weekend, I made a nice word document of plagiarised content, added an image of his signature, printed it and took it to primary school the next day and proudly proclaimed that I was the new Benjamin Franklin expert and I had his signature in my hands. Apparently I didn’t have an excellent choice in timing as I chose the middle of circuit training to disclose this vital information. Clearly no one had seen National Treasure, because surely if they had, they’d have understood, right?

My history interest carried on but really it was doing my dissertation at university in 2020, whilst Notion and Roam were getting more popular (thank you Ali Abdaal) that I really stepped onto the path I now find myself on.

a real look at my pkm thinking from before I published anything!

I had no idea how to choose a dissertation topic. I was doing a French degree and I loved history, so naturally decided on French history. But which part? I narrowed it down further to Occupied France based on some topics I’d enjoyed learning at school, and then my dissertation supervisor suggested looking at Children Born of War (CBOW), so children born to French mothers and German fathers during the Occupation. For such a giant phenomenon, I’d never heard of CBOW. I started researching it and was completely enthralled by the emotional testimonies I was reading. I then realised my own Grandad, who we’d lost a couple of years before, was a Child Born of War (different nations) and suddenly the connection between our stories emerged, and my interest and dedication to connection grew from there.

I was able to use Notion and Roam in my research, and I discovered a new, better way of working that Microsoft Word couldn’t come close to. About 12 years after proudly showing my friends Benjamin Franklin’s signature, I proudly showed my friends my Roam graph, and they didn’t get why I was gleeful with excitement. For me though, being able to simply throw square brackets around a term and have it connect with work I was doing elsewhere was mind-blowing, and it was with my CBOW research that I immediately saw how useful these Tools for Thought and PKM Principles could be.

I realised some time later that for someone who loved connections, studying Franco-German Children Born of War was a manifestation of so much connection, between people, nations, and complex history. It was fascinating. What’s more, the person who first spoke out about the plight French Children Born of War had experienced in post-war France was Bernard Kouchner of Médecins Sans Frontières, and when I told a family member about this, they told me of a connection between them from their former careers. The fact that I could (in theory) build a graph of connections between myself, Bernard Kouchner and the children whose books I was reading set a spark off in me that I cannot accurately describe. It was transformative.

I’ve been chasing connection ever since and following the PKM community in more depth too. I never quite related to everything I was seeing so actually wanted to start publishing in 2020 for people like me, but that was far too scary. I randomly got over this one day in December 2022 and pressed publish for the first time here on Medium, and I’m so glad I did.

10 months on, I have my own business where I help people build systems that work for them, I work for Capacities which is a product I whole-heartedly believe in with two genius founders, and I’m trying to bring a different voice to a lot of content I’ve personally seen. PKM apps and principles can do a lot of things and work for lots of people. That’s what I want to show with PKM in the wild.

What’s the point of telling you all this?

Given how much my life has changed since I started sharing my PKM thoughts, I want to encourage anyone who feels even a slight inclination to write or share a passion to do so, because here’s the thing:

You don’t have to want to be a content creator in order to create content.

“Content creator” is such a broad term but it suggests it’s your job. However to me at least, creating content is just a natural result of pressing publish. As soon as you do, there is content connected to your name.

I truly believe there is a place for people who just want to publish and carry with life otherwise. Your first article is not you committing to an online persona to keep up and to promote and to develop. It’s just publishing an article, to communicate a message you want to communicate. That’s what I intended when I first pressed publish, and it was only a few months later with Capacities’ growing audience (and my decreasing job satisfaction) that I did commit to the content creator route.

So if you have been wondering whether or not to press publish or even to press ‘write a story’ for the first time, please take this as your sign to do so.

Tell stories, write advice, simply write out your thoughts and someone will read it. I would certainly like to, so if you do press publish, please send me a message and a link to your article :)

What’s the exciting announcement?

PKM in the Wild is my focus, but I can only offer so much content on it. PKM is also so broad that we need to hear from different voices in the community, so I wanted to create a place for us to do this.

I’m thrilled to announce that myself and David Oliver, a prolific writer and tech genius, have launched the PKM in the Wild publication on Medium, which we see as a place for people to publish use-case first articles.

If you use a PKM principle/theory/app or idea, we’d like to hear how you do it. There are app reviews available everywhere, which are really helpful for choosing tools, and hearing different perspectives, but we want to hear how you actually use the tools.

This creates content people can relate to and allows us to show the breadth and depth of what PKM is.

We’d love to hear from creators of all sizes, and all backgrounds, whether this is your first article or your 100th, because PKM is everywhere, we all take part in it in some way, and sharing the varying ways that people use it every day could help lots of people.

If you’re interested, head over to our introductory posts to see more regarding what the publication is about, and follow the instructions there for sending us articles.

We cannot wait to get this started and to reduce the barrier to entry to this space so people can see and feel the wonder that is PKM.

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