What Are "Tools for Thinking"?

Arguably, we think when we write, so tools like Evernote, OneNote, WordPress, Medium and even Notepad could be called Tools for Thinking. But for our purposes, they’re not. Neither is simple linky text, which is a big improvement over plain text. 

Tools for Thinking add value to notetaking in one or several dimensions:

  • Adding metadata like tags, labels or hashtags that make the notes more findable or useful.
  • Creating backlinks in running text, which effectively connects notes through their commonalities and allows users to “pull” all the data visible from one backlink at a time. 
  • Mapping connections between ideas manually or with machine intelligence. 
  • Contextualizing ideas, either within one document, one person’s collection of documents, or the broader collection curated by public communities. 
  • Visualizing connected ideas, whether by time, relevance, shared meaning, story logic or other criteria.
  • Structuring notes into a form suited to the task at hand, whether with an argumentation map, system flow diagram, cause/effect model, influence diagram or other kind.
  • Discovering new, relevant documents or ideas. Increasing happenstance, serendipity. 
  • Synthesizing insights from queries or collections of documents/ideas.
  • Prompting users to go deeper, connect ideas, return to important notes or other actions, sometimes based on a methodology, like spaced repetition BASB or GTD.

Most tools come from one or two of these dimensions; almost none cover all of them. A radar (or spider) diagram is a good way to visualize them (this illustration doesn’t map to the dimensions above, but should): 

If we frame the Think Camp to include collective thinking, not just private thinking, then composability, openness and adherence to useful standards should be criteria for evaluating Camp applicants. Mostly, we want complementary smart thinkers who are also doers, right?