record and grow
April 21, 1996

preamble

This paper explores how documenting events accelerates evolution. It stems from efforts in 1991, when I first realised that writing things down could hone one's thoughts, aid progress to long-term goal attainment, and generally enrich life. I created a document called Thoughts, a bit like a diary. Thoughts existed on the assumption that recording facilitates progress. Put simply, this philosophy is "it’s easier to get where you’re going if you know where you’ve been". I have named this philosophy the Record-and-Grow (RAG) approach. This approach suggests that the act of recording events improves one’s ability to live life. The better you talk, the better you walk.

Central to RAG is the concept of a thread. A thread is a sequence of events that are related in some way. Over time, Thoughts accumulated data on a variety of topics. Some data explored different areas of the same topic. Collectively, all data on a single topic became known as a thread. Thoughts applies RAG, to plan threads, monitor their progress, and nuture appropriate strategies.

stimulating innovation: the record-and-grow (RAG) approach

definitions

principles

1. the better understanding, the higher innovation

For innovation to occur, some prior understanding is required. Synergy occurs when multiple facts are known, as a response will allow for all known facts and thus be more flexible and less susceptible to failure. Thus, the goal is to maximise understanding.

2. the higher clarity, the better understanding

Clear expression does not guarantee understanding, but it enhances the probability. Thus, the goal is to maximise clarity.

3. time fades clarity, and thus understanding

Events occur in context; understanding is built from interpretation of events as they evolve over time. Thus, understanding requires memory. However, over time, memories become polluted; some things are forgotten, others fade, the rest is embellished, or ignored.

4. the better the record, the higher clarity

Time does not pollute the record; and thus the record retains clarity over time. Indeed, the record permits modification over time, so it can be improved upon (if so desirable). The record permits longitudinal analysis - events later may make recorded events easier to interpret, and vice-versa, facilitating resolution of underlying themes.

consequence

Recording facilitates understanding, and thus innovation.

threads

Of course, recording first requires subjects, and thus threads must be defined. This is usually a list of interest areas - what needs to be improved?

how to record: the brainstorm-expand-define-refine process

Two components of information are content and context, these being what is presented and the manner of presentation, respectively. In written media, context is defined by structure; title, headings, and subheadings, formatting and so on.

However, thoughts disappear much faster than they can be transcribed, especially when attempting to make the transcription useful. I resolve this problem with the process below:

  1. start at the last thought; brainstorm and jot (some people use mind-mapping software for this, I like the freeform of paper and pencil, however)
  2. expand the content of each jot; evolve it into a paragraph
  3. define a structure for the paragraphs that best suits the content
  4. refine both the structure and content

This process helps me get something down that I can develop when the creative juices are ebbing.

sustaining innovation: the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) process

Complementary to RAG is the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) process. PDCA facilitates continuous incremental improvement. PDCA’s reliance on checking means that PDCA is reliant upon feedback mechanisms. RAG complements PDCA because RAG is a high-quality feedback mechanism, when compared with personal memories, or conversations, or "lore". PDCA is a recursive process which can be applied to any evolving system.

  1. set goals for thread evolution
  2. maintain effort on thread evolution
  3. check that outcomes conform to goals
  4. take corrective action if necessary
  5. return to step 1

The PDCA process is adapted from Bartol, Martin, Tein and Matthews (Management: A Pacific Rim Focus, 1995, McGraw-Hill, p238); it is a total quality management (TQM) fundamental popularised by Deming and apparently created by Walter Shewart.

application

To put all this in context, I have a document called Threads which I use to record various developments in the threads that are my life. I have seven headings: studies, work, living, relationships, computing, business and personal, each of which have subheadings. When I started Threads I didn't have a set structure, but I just put all my notes about various things together, they formed threads and now I can use Threads as a diary, to remember things and to plan things. Threads is the record; I can check outcomes against what I've planned, and respond appropriately.

further work

Of course a record is no good if it is difficult to read. Having it on PC is a big jump on a paper diary, but a book is still easier to flip through. I would imagine that RAG works better when browsing, and editing, is easier. To this end, when I get some time I want to create a timeline that pulls events from each thread and puts them into chronological order. This will arrange all events as they happened, rather than by thread. The existing by-thread structure will be retained but a by-time structure will be added. Then I'd like to stick the whole thing into HTML so that I can use hypertext, add images and so on. Imagine an annotated, hypertextual diary, organised by date AND by topic! Hmm