Thinking about knowledge work

Not too long ago, I wrote an article for the AMS graduate student blog that I think encapsulates my approach to knowledge work. I very much enjoyed the experience of writing it because, unsuprisingly, as I wrote it my awareness of my thought process and approach increased.

It’s an article on how to use the internet to find a large number of research papers, how to annotate them and how to make them usable as a analyzable reference. In order to execute it, one needs to function on several levels at the same time, to work quickly and to use technology to find needed information or set off processes which gather or transform information. If you want to know more about it, you can click the link to the article above. When I was writing this article I was not conscious of this but on reflection, I think the article reflects strongly the influence of How to read a book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren which is definitely worth reading. I also feel it’s an approach that is pivotal to life as a knowledge worker.

I have been thinking about the nature of knowledge work due to a recent draft of a speech by Terry Tao where he discusses the idea of the polymath project.

I think there are key underlying principles here that tie together my article, How to Read a Book and the polymath project.

There is an element of recursion. Placing papers in a hierarchy of a database; Placing remarks by mathematicians in the hierarchy of a polymath; Placing solutions in the hierarchy of a evolutionary algorithm.

There is an element of the meta. The power to contruct a process of processes is important. In light the my next comment, it implies that almost anything one does in knowledge work can be automated and sped up.

There is an element of automation. Once a process is outlined, I can do it quickly. In a process analogous to automation, I can do it faster than if I had to think about the process at each step. However, there is more. I pass it off to another person or to a computational system where resources allow.

There is probably much more to this topic but I am not quite ready to give definitive opinions so I leave you with these ideas.

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