You can leverage templates for structured thinking, here’s how I make them in Evernote

3 Comments 01.03.15

“We could become far more intelligent than we are by adding to our stock of concepts and forcing ourselves to use them even when we don’t like what they are telling us.” So writes John Tooby in a compilation of essays titled This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking. “We all start from radical ignorance in a world that is endlessly strange, vast, complex, intricate and surprising. Deliverance from ignorance lies in good concepts – inference fountains that geyser out insights that organize and increase the scope of our understanding.”

I don’t know about the radical ignorance part, but I like most of this way of putting it. That sentiment sits in my head alongside the Albert Einstein quote about how the intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind a humble servant, but we’ve created a society that elevates the servant and denigrates the sacred gift.

I love a good structured thinking process though and I like to think of them as tools I carry in my mental toolbox. Tooby, above, writes about a framework called Nexus Causality in the compilation This Will Make You Smarter. (Almost everything has multiple causes, he writes, but our brains have evolved to look for the causal factors we suspect are the ones most viable to change. That might make sense in a short term survival context, but to truly understand something it behooves us to understand the many causal factors contributing to it, the nexus causality, Tooby writes.)

That book was a place where I learned about thinking frameworks like Inference to the Best Explanation and Probabilistic Thinking as two other processes. I also like to think through things with regard to AG Lafley’s 5 Questions Every Good Strategy Should Answer. Sometimes I’ll take the approach of listing all possible factors in a decision, pick the 5 or 6 most important and make the decision based on those. Other times I’ll think through things from this perspective: what does this mean to me internally? What does it mean to me externally? What does it mean to those around me in an internal, cultural way? What does it mean to those around me in an external, process oriented way?

And I could go on. I love that kind of stuff, someday I’ll write about it more.

But for now, I was just marveling at how easy it has become for me to come back to one templated set of questions I like to ask myself each day, thanks to Evernote.

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That’s my daily list I’m working off of right now. I started using it when I was not feeling well, as a way to remind myself of the many good things going on in my life. I’m revising it over time but it’s working pretty well for me. It’s one of a number of examples of templates I make use of.

Here’s how I made it and made it easy to use.
1. Make a template like this, maybe with question lines in bold for ease of distinction between question and answer text.
2. Give it a good template title and put it in an Evernote notebook where you want all the filled-out copies of this form to live.
3. Star the note into shortcuts, through the menu in the bottom right corner. (See below for what that looks like.)
4. Then, when you’re ready to rock and roll – either because you want to deploy this particular tool or regularly, like at the end of the day, during coffee, in association with some other BJ Fogg approved anchor habit – you can click the shortcut to get to your template document.
5. Now go to the lower right menu again and hit Duplicate. This will create a new version of your templated document and put it in the same folder!
6. Now go down your list of questions and type in this round of answers. Boom! A geyser of insights to organize and expand the scope of your understanding of a strange and surprising world!

These instructions assume you’re on a mobile device, as I am much of the time when I Evernote and as I am now thanks to WordPress for iOS.

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I want to do this all the time, with more and more of my thinking tools.

If you’re still reading all the way to the end of this post, maybe you’re the kind of person who has some similar tips and tricks you can share. If so, please allow me to point out the comments field below.

Thanks for reading, may your structured thinking processes be illuminating and always close at hand!


I want to make sure you know about NTEN - the Nonprofit Technology Network.

NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

On “a Twitter user” as the new “an area man” in media

0 Comments 12.28.14

This Tweet from journalist Lora Kolodny got my wheels spinning and made me want to articulate some thoughts about the place of social media in general, and Twitter in particular, in public discourse. I understand Lora means here that where media used to get “man on the street” comments on matters of public interest as part of their reporting, now everyone loves to quote people from Twitter.

I think this is great and nothing to be ashamed of but I do think that the practice could be improved upon substantially. For one thing, stop leading with silly usernames. The silly username and new platform is not the point. Maybe that’s just a pet peeve of mine.

More interesting is why this practice is so appealing. I think there are a number of reasons.

First, we really live in a global culture now where we’re able to access and are interested in peoples’ opinions regardless of where they live. That’s part of the promise of the internet being delivered, right there.

Second, more peoples’ opinions are accessible than ever before, with a much lower barrier to entry to discover them. That means there’s a greater pool of opinions to choose the most interesting ones from. The average Twitter user quoted by the media may not be as informed or interesting as the commenters over on the blog Marginal Revolution (a site I’m enjoying more all the time), but there are options now! For quoting the famous and the random people of the world. You might say social media accelerates Satisficing in acquisition of third party analysis of a matter. (“Satisficing is a decision-making strategy or cognitive heuristic that entails searching through the available alternatives until an acceptability threshold is met.”)

Third, there’s the Hawthorne Effect. Sometimes called the Observer Effect, this is the idea that a person’s behavior changes when they know they’re being watched. When the media interviews people, they get flustered, try too hard, play it safe, etc. They know they are entering the public eye in probably the biggest way they ever will.

Posting to your friends and the world on Twitter isn’t like that. But it’s not like a private conversation, either. On one hand it’s like perpetually living under the Observer Effect, but on another hand it’s not – and I think people probably grow numb to the sense they are being observed, over time. Then boom, the media uses your Tweet. Probably with permission, but asked after the fact – not like a man on the street interview. I think that represents a changed relationship between journalism and part of the world it reports on.

Finally, some observation I can offer based on my company’s data. I often see a news story break in media coverage and rush to Little Bird to find out what the most influential people in relevant specialties are saying about it, in real time.

For example, when Amazon announced its drone delivery plan – I looked at what the drone experts were saying about it. Or when Google bought Boston Dynamics, I checked to see what leading robotics experts were saying in real time. You know what they were saying? Nothing. At least the top 500 or so (measured by peer validation, as we do), took hours after the story was reported before they commented on Twitter. The media, people who specialize in learning about and telling stories fast, had all the experts beat by hours. Even the experts who are super comfortable with posting their thoughts publicly in the real-time medium of Twitter. I think that’s a point for the traditional media, despite the widespread critique that they just parrot what they find on Twitter now. Not always!

That said, I always found when I was working as a journalist, that two great ways to capture unique value from the social web were as follows:
* First, search inside the archives of the blogs of subject matter experts to see what they’ve written in past long-form content on the topic of the news you’re reporting. (I did this by creating Google Custom Search Engines that let me search across all the top blogs in a subject, once I’d found the top blogs at least.)
* Second, reaching out to relevant experts by Twitter Direct Message and getting real-time quotes works great. If you can identify which experts in a relevant field already follow you, you can DM them and they love providing quotes by email.

My company makes both of those practices easy to do, but for whatever reason we’re finding marketers are more willing to do them than journalists, so far. I would love for that to change.


I want to make sure you know about NTEN - the Nonprofit Technology Network.

NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

10 Lessons I learned on Twitter in November

2 Comments 11.30.14

I’m cleaning my house, watching Jason Calacanis’s 90 minute interview with Reid Hoffman and was inspired to dig into Little Bird’s LinkedIn data as a result. Christopher Penn‘s blog post about analyzing your Twitter history over 2014 inspired me to look at my history from this month. You can too at analytics.twitter.com.

And from that chain of great content, I was inspired to share 10 of my most popular Tweets from this month. I tweeted 200 times over the month, on average almost 7 times per day, so these are the top 5% with a little bit of editorial and framing this as lessons I learned, that I shared with my Twitter community and that resonated.

In order of most recent to least:

I liked this blog post, I shared a link to it in our Slack chat room for sharing cool stuff, our fabulous designer Jason Zeiber enjoyed it and posted the subheads. I thought that was a good value add and decided to one-up him by posting it on Twitter, using @ mentions to introduce relevant parties and people loved it. On one hand the lesson here is that, in ten different ways, startup growth is an ongoing process. But another lesson is that people really appreciate not just curation but summary and introduction. This one got over 4,100 impressions.

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I want to make sure you know about NTEN - the Nonprofit Technology Network.

NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

Great explanation of how we might use wearables at work someday

1 Comment 11.25.14

I love push notifications – I made my career as a journalist with them, from the first stories I beat TechCrunch to (which led them to hire me as the first writer there) through crazy data hacks with multiple thresholds for push notifications for ReadWriteWeb. Now today as an entrepreneur, I use mobile push notifications to jump on opportunities to engage with key people in my life: market influencers, investors, my lawyer, a wide variety of people. I mostly chose high-value streams and get all their content sent by push.

But what does that look like for the market in general and in a future made up of wearable technologies? It’s a little hard to imagine as I sit in my office in the dark, with my phone charging next to me, lighting up with push notifications every 30 to 90 seconds. Other people aren’t going to deal with the level of signal to noise ratio I’m willing to, and most of the time our phones are in our pockets.

I loved this explanation from Bryan Mills on Annuity Outlook Magazine, in an article titled The Future of Client Engagement – Wearable Technology.

I think this goes beyond financial professionals, that’s just their audience. I think this kind of real time text update from VIP sources could be applicable to lots of people. One big question I have: is this level of real-time UX something users are excited about? If so, I want to build more of that. But I’m not sure that more than a handful of us are into it, like this at least.
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I want to make sure you know about NTEN - the Nonprofit Technology Network.

NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

How to make a new professional connection by blogging

0 Comments 11.22.14

An incredible thing just happened: I got an email from my WordPress system telling me it just got a notification from someone else’s blogging system that someone has linked to a post on this blog! :)

Called a Track Back, these kinds of messages used to happen all the time. Now they are so noisy and spammy that almost no one uses them; and fewer people blog, it seems. But this is what blogging is made for: not just for blogging but for connecting.

The blogger in question is a professional development specialist named Kate Pinner. Kate puts up posts each weekend with a few curated links to things she found online that inspired learning on her part, she shares those links with her readers and then she offers some of her own perspective on what the links discuss.
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I want to make sure you know about NTEN - the Nonprofit Technology Network.

NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

The power of note taking and re-reading

3 Comments 11.20.14

I love taking and re-reading notes. Rereading your notes about an experience after some time has passed offers a whole new level of insight, I believe. I’m trying a new experiment now where I take notes about something in near real time, throw out open questions in my notes, put down working answers, then set an alarm to revisit those notes, questions and answers in a week. I’ll see if another week or month of experiences offer re-enforcement or revision of my thoughts. I’m really excited about this experiment and it’s one more reason I love Evernote.

I keep coming back to notes I took in Evernote more than a year ago about this article, If You’re Not Taking Notes, You Aren’t Learning. Great perspective in there, I highly recommend it.

This is something I want to continuously make small improvements on. Along with running, meditation and blogging! In that spirit, I’m going to put up this blog post short and sweet, just get it up and see if others have thoughts to share. I’m not going to worry about making it a fully thought out set of ideas, I’m just going to post it. I’ve been wanting to make the time to say something deeper all week and as a result, I’ve said nothing. So let’s ship it! I’m a little inspired to do that by this week’s online event, Work Out Loud Week. That’s a really interesting phenomenon, led by some really interesting individuals.

Those are my notes on notes for now!


I want to make sure you know about NTEN - the Nonprofit Technology Network.

NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

Social listening is evolving towards strategic value

0 Comments 11.05.14

Kate Kaye writes in AdAge today about how social listening and publishing platform Sprinklr helped the Republicans regain control of congress.

“We are working with about half-a-dozen [Senate] campaigns to deliver daily and weekly updates along with social analytics,” said Lori Brownlee, social media director for the RNC. Rather than simply using Twitter and Facebook as a “broadcast tool,” she continued, “We centered our plan around using social as a strategic listening and data collection tool.”

Hear that? It’s not just about reacting anymore! It’s about listening, learning and being strategic!

That’s good thinking, but even more is possible.

The US Geological Survey says they discover earthquakes faster by listening to Twitter than they do from their own geological monitoring technology. I like to use that as an example of how the social web is one of the fastest ways to learn about new developments.

The follow-on thinking though is that if (a) you know what you’re looking for and (b) it’s as clear as the earth shaking under peoples’ feet (or conversation about Ebola in the RNC’s case), then listening to historical keywords in peoples’ content is a good way to do it. But if you’re looking for unknown unknowns and you want to see the future emerge, then I believe in focusing on figuring out who to listen to in advance.

That’s what we do at Little Bird, for some of the biggest companies in the world: delivering insights sometimes in real-time, sometimes an hour or a day ahead of time and sometimes 3 to 6 months before key trends go mainstream, our customers tell us.

But I’m really glad to hear about mainstream organizations engaging with social like this: for strategic listening. I would contend that the next, complimentary stage of doing so is to discover the subject matter experts that the rest of the community trusts before they talk about a particular issue, and set up systems to monitor what they say in the future. It’s also good to hear that these organizations are listening to more than just what people are saying about them, but what people are saying about matters of general interest.

Forward we go, learning how to use these networks to learn and communicate and work more effectively, together.


I want to make sure you know about NTEN - the Nonprofit Technology Network.

NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.