#6: Building a second brain
How the digital age can change the way we organize knowledge.
Hi, I’m Erifili Gounari, and this is issue #6 of The Digital Native. This newsletter is aimed at driven, curious and inspired Gen Zers, interested in mindset, entrepreneurship, business, marketing, and more! (Yes, this issue was a little delayed… deadlines took
Imagine a life where every bit of information you’ve consumed and found interesting, and every small and big idea you’ve ever had, are all stored in a sort of searchable, relational database, where you can access past thoughts and use them to create new connections. Sounds cool, right? Now imagine if that database included information from 20 or 50 years of your life, categorised in a way that makes sense to you and readily available for you to look through whenever you’re working on something or solving a problem, for example. I’m basically talking about a second brain, but as it’s currently not possible to truly upload your brain somewhere and digitise its contents (and probably won’t be possible to a truly life-changing extent for many years to come), we could talk about the next best thing: building a digital second brain.
What is a second brain and why are we talking about it? 🧠
In the past few years, there have been some project initiatives, studies and online courses that teach you how to create a “second brain”, as part of Personal Knowledge Management. Why, you may ask? Well, it’s simple. How many times have you had ideas, interesting thoughts or connections in your mind, that you later forgot or simply never got to explore further and integrate in your life to their full potential? If you’re like everyone else, then that happens every day. Our brains are very good at generating ideas and not as good at storing them, and that is why some people are taking advantage of digital tools to manage knowledge and ideas externally too, in an efficient way.
If you’re into productivity, self-improvement, and all these wonderful things, chances are that you consume tons of very interesting information every day, that could bring a lot of genuine value into your life if you had a way to actually implement it all in a meaningful way. Ideas that click with us often get lost in our busy minds, and developing analyses and connections between the overwhelming amounts of content that we consume is difficult to do at a large scale. When we’re in a situation where we need to come up with an idea, or we have to solve a problem, a lot of the valuable knowledge we’ve received from books, podcasts, Twitter threads, articles and videos is suddenly gone, unusable.
Tiago Forte, the creator of Forte Labs and of the online course Building A Second Brain, proposes a solution:
“Building A Second Brain is a methodology for saving and systematically reminding us of the ideas, inspirations, insights, and connections we’ve gained through our experience. It expands our memory and our intellect using the modern tools of technology and networks.”
Well, I’m sold. Now, I haven’t taken the online course but I’ve done a fair amount of reading on the topic, and it seemed intriguing enough for me to want to introduce you all to it too. If you follow startups, you might have seen a couple of products on the rise recently, such as Dive and MyMind, that aim to facilitate the management of personal knowledge, ideas, insights and inspiration, by creating platforms that can ‘store’ your digital mind. I had the chance to try MyMind recently, and it’s a very straightforward process where you can save any kind of content, like plain text, files, websites, etc., inside a Pinterest-style platform which acts as your extended mind. It tags and categorises things automatically using AI, so it’s very searchable and offers features for you to optimise and revisit the content you store, so that you can actually use it in a meaningful way if needed.
Creating a knowledge management system sounds like it would take some effort, but the benefits of doing that and sticking to it for years could be huge. Below is a screenshot from the Building A Second Brain course website, which I found interesting:
Besides simply storing information so we can access it later if needed, using technology to build an extended version of our brain might also make us better thinkers and enhance our critical and analytical abilities, by promoting and facilitating the conscious creation of connections between disciplines, ideas, and thoughts. The most interesting and exciting thing about this is that it can help you create connections between things that you would have never thought to relate. A lesson you got from a podcast might help you with a work problem, a quote from a book you read might enlighten you during a personal crisis, and a random newspaper article you liked might give you an idea for a new project… and so on!
Additionally, if that became more widespread, imagine the opportunity to gain access to the ‘second brains’ of admirable individuals. Already, thought leaders and entrepreneurs are selling Airtable databases of their digital brains to people that are genuinely looking to pay to see the kinds of curated content that resonates with those they admire, or the ideas that shape their actions.
Since stumbling upon this concept in December, I have been engaging in my own small version of a second brain by adding all the interesting content I consume and ideas I have inside a Notion doc I’ve created. I’ve developed a simple tagging system that works for me, categorising things based on topic as well as content format and, while this is not the most sustainable way to do this at a larger scale in the long-term, it has definitely made my content consumption and personal knowledge management more conscious. Now, whenever I’m working on a new project or exploring an idea, I can always search my digital brain for any relevant bits of information I’ve found interesting in the past. We’re living in the digital age, and the amount of tools that could help us drastically change our lives in meaningful and valuable ways is only increasing; I’m personally excited to follow the innovation that happens within this field!
If you’re interested in finding out more, I found this great article that outlines and visualises the main takeaways from the masters of building a second brain. Have you ever tried to manage and organise your knowledge and ideas in a more structured way like this? If yes, I’d love to hear about your experience! 💭
This week, I wanted to recommend one of the best investments I’ve made recently, which has been Jim Kwik’s Speed Reading course! As someone who reads a lot of books and is desperately always wishing for time to read even more, this 3-week course that teaches you speed reading with full comprehension and retention has been truly life changing. I went from reading around 250-270 words per minute, which is about the average of most adults, to reading 800 words per minute, and literally flying through books with full retention of the information that I read.
I tracked my progress every day of the course in this Twitter thread, if you’re interested! If you’re trying to read more but can’t fit all the books on your list into your schedule, I highly recommend this. Speed-reading is a skill that you’ll definitely never regret investing some time and effort into!
Thanks for reading this issue of The Digital Native! I hope you enjoyed it and learned something new. Feel free to comment any thoughts below or email me! ☺️
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