Aidan's Infinite Play 45 Does Your PKM System Help You Do Your Best Thinking?

Aidan's Infinite Play 45 Does Your PKM System Help You Do Your Best Thinking?
Photo by Juan Rumimpunu / Unsplash

Hello players!

Two young fish swim along when they meet an older fish swimming the other way. The older fish nods at them and says, "Morning, boys. How's the water?" The two young fish swim on for a bit before one of the fish looks at the other and says, "What the hell is water?"

You might read this story and laugh, but ironically you're in the same situation as the fish.

Instead of water, the ocean of confusion we swim in is information.

We don't realize it, but the information we consume in videos, articles, people, etc., profoundly impacts our cognition. Similar to how different fish species have evolved differently to navigate the water, different people have different thinking styles for coming to Personal Knowledge Management (PKM). Recognizing our unique thinking style is essential.

If we force an unnatural thinking style on ourselves, we are like fish out of water. See what I did there, he he.

By recognizing my unique PKM thinking style and adapting my system towards it, I am doing more of my best thinking.

There's another thing that causes problems when we try and force it on others: culture. Most people believe the whole world works like their culture. That brings a problem.

If you go into every interaction assuming that culture doesn't matter, your default mechanism will be to view others through your own cultural lens and to judge or misjudge them accordingly.

That's why I read The Culture Map by Erin Myer, which explores how cultures differ on eight dimensions.

As Erin Myer states, "When you are in and of a culture—as fish are in and of water—it is often difficult or even impossible to see that culture. By reading the culture map, I have seen the character of my own American culture. I have become a more empathetic, humble human being that can more effectively interact with people of other cultures.

In this article, I'm going to give a book summary of The Culture Map by Erin Myer through exploring the eight different cultural dimensions.

Than I'm going to relate the primary insight that people across cultures differ by exploring how everyone has a unique thinking style in PKM.

For all the cultural dimensions shown below, it's important to understand the concept of cultural relativity. Cultural relativity means you should analyze every culture relative to another culture on the dimension. For example, while Finland is quite low context in their communication style, they might find Germany way too explicit in communication because relative to Finland, Germany is more low context.

Bippity boppity let's hoppy into the article!

Chapter 1: Listening to the Air - Communicating Across Cultures
  • In Anglo-Saxon cultures (e.g., United States), communication is explicit and literal, while in many Asian cultures (e.g., China, Japan), it is conveyed implicitly.
  • Low-context cultures (e.g., United States) require simple, clear, and explicit communication, while high-context cultures (e.g., China) rely on shared history and relationships.
  • Education tends to reinforce the dominant cultural communication style in individuals. The more educated a Westerner generally, the more explicit their communication style becomes. However, the more educated and Easterner generally, the more implicit their communication style becomes.

Tips For Interacting Across Cultures:

  • In low-context cultures, be clear, explicit, and accountable for the message's accurate transmission. No playing the telephone game!
  • In high-context cultures, learn to read between the lines and understand the subtleties of messages.
  • Education tends to make people in low-context cultures more explicit where as it makes people in high-context cultures more implicit.
Chapter 2: The Many Faces of Polite - Evaluating Performance and Providing Negative Feedback
  • Direct cultures (e.g., United States) use upgraders like absolutely, totally, or entirely, to strengthen negative feedback. In contrast, indirect cultures (e.g., Russia) use downgraders like a little, sort of, or maybe to soften criticism.
  • Negative feedback is seen as okay to give in front of a group in Quadrant A cultures, whereas in Quadrant D cultures, negative feedback should be given individually and implicitly.
  • Negative feedback should never be given to me, because, well, I'm a god of course.

Tips For Interacting Across Cultures:

  • Use upgraders in direct cultures for stronger negative feedback and downgraders in indirect cultures to soften criticism.
  • Be mindful of cultural differences when giving feedback and adapt the approach accordingly.
  • Respect cultural norms regarding hierarchy and status in feedback interactions.
  • Employ a framing explanation when expressing disagreement to avoid misperceptions. If someone gets offended by how you gave negative feedback, explain your culture's influence on your feedback style.
Chapter 3: Why Versus How - The Art of Persuasion in a Multicultural World
  • Different cultures use principles-first reasoning (sometimes called deductive reasoning), where conclusions are reached from general principles or facts, or applications-first reasoning (sometimes called inductive reasoning), where general conclusions are reached from a pattern of factual observations from the real world.
  • Anglo-Saxon cultures tend to be applications-first, while Nordic and Germanic cultures are in the middle of the scale, and France, Russia, and Belgium lean toward principles-first.
  • Asian cultures have holistic thought patterns, emphasizing interdependencies and interconnectedness, while Westerners have a more specific approach believing that you can examine an object by separating it from its environment. Yin and Yang BABY!

Tips For Interacting Across Cultures:

  • Tailor your persuasive approach based on the audience's cultural thinking style.
  • Present information in a straightforward manner in applications-first cultures (e.g., United States, United Kingdom).
  • Provide detailed background information and context before reaching conclusions in principles-first cultures (e.g., France, Russia).
  • Understand the holistic thought patterns in Asian cultures and use appropriate language and examples to connect with the audience.
Chapter 4: How Much Respect Do You Want? Leadership, Hierarchy, and Power
  • European culture exhibits large differences in opinions about what makes a good boss. Some believe it's someone that is down to earth and talkative, where as others want them to shut up and manage their underlings effectively. Personally, I think it's someone willing to let me play Minecraft in the office.
  • Asian cultures generally respect hierarchy and status more than Western cultures.

Tips For Interacting Across Cultures:

  • Acknowledge the variations in leadership styles and perceptions of good bosses across cultures.
  • Respect hierarchy and status more in Asian cultures and follow appropriate communication channels.
  • Adapt level-skipping strategies in hierarchical and egalitarian societies to avoid potential conflicts.
Chapter 5: Big D or Little D Who Decides, and How?
  • Decisions in culture can either be made with a big D or a little d. Big D decision cultures make top-down decisions, usually by the boss and fast, but they are more flexible to change. Little d decision cultures make decisions more bottom-up with lots of discussion, but once the decision is made, it's more set in stone.
  • Egalitarian cultures (e.g., the United States) generally value little d decision-making processes, with a notable exception being the U.S. which is egalitarian and has a big D decision-making process. My theory is they value big D because we are addicted to Dunkin Donuts.
  • Hierarchical cultures generally value big D decision-making, with a notable exception being Japan which is hierarchal but has a little d decision-making process.

Tips For Interacting Across Cultures:

  • Embrace consensus-building in consensual cultures and be patient with decision-making timelines.
  • Be flexible in decision-making and allow for revisiting and altering decisions in top-down cultures.
Chapter 6: The Head or the Heart Two Types of Trust and How They Grow
  • Across cultures, friends and family relationships are built on emotional closeness and empathy. But business relationships differ on if they are based on cognitive or affective trust. Cognitive trust is based on accomplishments and reliability, while affective trust arises from emotional closeness and empathy.
  • Peach cultures (e.g., United States) tend to be friendly on the surface but may not equate friendliness with friendship. No, you can't eat the peach.
  • Coconut cultures (e.g., France) are more closed initially but gradually become warmer in relationships. No, you can't eat the coconut.

Tips For Interacting Across Cultures:

  • Build cognitive trust through accomplishments, skills, and reliability in cognitive trust cultures.
  • Foster affective trust through emotional closeness, empathy, and shared experiences in affective trust cultures.
Summary of Chapter 7 - "The Needle, Not the Knife: Disagreeing Productively
  • In confrontational cultures, people see ideas as more separate from the person, meaning arguments don't often feel like personal attacks. However, in confrontational avoidant cultures, people see ideas as more tied to the person meaning arguments can feel more like personal attacks.

Tips For Interacting Across Cultures:

  • Be direct and straightforward in low-context cultures (e.g., United States) but indirect and subtle in high-context cultures (e.g., China).
  • Say you want to play devil's advocate if you want to disagree in disagreement avoidant cultures. Bring a golden trident and set your hair aflame if you want to really sell the result.
Chapter 8: How Late Is Late? Scheduling and Cross-Cultural Perceptions of Time
  • Linear-time cultures (e.g., United States) are punctual and value promptness.
  • Flexible-time cultures (e.g., Middle East, South America) have a more elastic approach to time and accept delays. Unrelated, but they also tend to be more flexible. Probably all the yoga.

Tips For Interacting Across Cultures:

  • Be punctual and value promptness in linear-time cultures (e.g., United States, Germany).
  • Allow for flexibility and adapt to delays in flexible-time cultures (e.g., Middle East, South America).
  • Recognize the cultural implications of time and adjust your scheduling and communication accordingly.

What Is Your PKM Thinking Style?

Understanding the differences between cultures can help us become more humble, understanding human beings.

We become better swimmers in the ocean that is culture. Similarly, understanding our unique PKM thinking style can help us navigate the ocean of information better. Like cultures differ, everyone in PKM also has a unique thinking style.

Let's figure out what yours might be!

My PKM Thinking Style

In the first week of Nick Milo's Linking Your Thinking Workshop--a course helping people create a PKM system that lets them do their best thinking--we took the PKM planet survey to help us uncover what our unique PKM thinking style is.

I was very surprised.

Firstly we chose between four different PKM avatars, as you can see below.

We were only allowed to choose one, so naturally, I went with the one that reminded me most of Gandalf, The Creative.

While I feel I embody some aspects of all of them, the creative resonated most with me. Using my notes, I create a weekly YouTube video, blog, newsletter (you are reading right now!), two podcasts, and many shorter articles. Expressing is, in my opinion, the end goal of a PKM system because it's where you get to expose your ideas to the outside world and hopefully make a change in someone's day.

Expression is where our efforts in developing a PKM system extend itself to the outside world.

I Can't Believe What I Learned Next...

The next thing I learned surprised the Kajeebus out of me.

I have a predominantly architect mode of thinking according to the survey results:

The two most common PKM personalities are architects and gardeners.

Architects like to think top-down, creating structure beforehand and adding knowledge over time. Gardeners like to think of bottom-up growing ideas over time without a pre-ordained structure. Neither personality is wrong or right. Architects like to have structure when taking notes, preferring to add ideas through MOCs or projects. In contrast, gardeners like having less structure, preferring to add ideas that resonate with them to a new note.

Maps and projects are top-down; notes are bottom-up.

For all of my time using Obsidian, I have thought of myself as a gardener. That was the main selling point of Obsidian for me. Grow notes over time by elaborating on them and connecting them so that your knowledge compounds with you over time.

But looking at the way I take notes, this isn't the case.

I feel most enlivened by my PKM system when I'm creating a MOC out of something. When I'm combining a collection of notes together into one greater whole. Not when I'm connecting notes at the individual level. Then I realized...

All of my writings are, in a way, MOCs.

Every YouTube script, every blog post, every newsletter, every podcast is a way of assembling the various ideas I have been collecting and making a map out of them.

Understanding this is allowing me to embrace my thinking style fully. I'm prioritizing MOCs over connecting notes on the individual level. But this doesn't mean I don't connect notes at the individual level at all.

An important thing Nick Milo notes is that problems arise when architects or gardeners can't embody the other personality in their notetaking.

As an architect, you must be comfortable digging deeper into your MOCs and creating notes, and as a gardener, you must be comfortable combining notes and creating MOCs. So while I'm biasing my PKM system toward MOCs, I continue to connect notes on the individual level using my conceptual note-making method.

In this way, I have learned to find balance in my notetaking.

I don't see architects and gardeners as mutually exclusive but rather the Yin and Yang of PKM.

As yourself, what PKM avatar and thinking style resonates with you? Is your PKM system set up to exercise this thinking style?

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