“If I Only Had a Second Brain”
The Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz had a brain all along—he just needed to put it into practice. So too every one of us has a second brain at our disposal—we just need to put it into practice so we can experience just how creative and brilliant we really are.
In Tiago Forte’s book, Building a Second Brain, published in 2022, the author advocates writing down, in digital format, our thoughts, ideas, and work information so we can quickly access this information later. The premise of the book is that there has never been so much information being delivered to our minds or available to us at our fingertips. To ensure that we are not overwhelmed by this information, organizing it is essential. The act of strategically organizing information enables us to quickly access it later. This empowers us in our work and supports us to be more productive. This organized system is what he terms the second brain. “It is about optimizing a system outside of yourself, a system not subject to your limitations and constraints, leaving you happily unoptimized and free to roam” (p. 16).
He wrote the book for a broad audience: “Everyone is in desperate need of a system to manage the ever-increasing volume of information pouring into their brains” (p. 4). It falls within the categories of information–creative thinking–personal improvement. He outlines his book in three sections but the heart of the book is found in section two. Here he teaches that the four stages of creating a second brain are Capture, Organize, Distill, Express. Follow these steps and they will go a long way in teaching the reader how to better learn and later access information.
A few other books reminded me of Forte’s offering. From last year there was Adler and van Doren’s How to Read a Book. That book taught us how to intelligently read a book—quickly if needed—and apprehend and organize the most important lessons. Returning to the first year of this program, there was Ahren’s How to Take Smart Notes, and Chivers’ How to Read Numbers. Those two books also provided insights into cataloging data, understanding it, and organizing it within the larger context of what we already know. All three texts discuss how to apprehend information quickly yet accurately, and then organize it so we do not forget it. Lastly, Austin Kleon’s, Steal Like and Artist has many similarities with the third section of Forte’s book, especially when he talks about creativity. Both books speak to the necessity of borrowing ideas, building on them, and then expressing them in our own voice. Both recognize the need to organize ideas into categories that we can access for later use.
In this world of ever-growing information at our fingertips, it makes sense that a book like this would do well in the marketplace. I cannot imagine a book like this being on the best-seller list in 1923—and if there was, we would view it as quaint and perhaps laughable. The information age is a fascinating time to be alive—and if one is not overwhelmed by this world, then there are unlimited amounts of opportunity and possibility. To overcome being overwhelmed, one must become organized, or one will become overcooked.
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Are there systems you use to help you “with your second brain?” If so, what platforms/tools do you like best?
Troy, Eric beat me to the question I had: I wonder if you’re using a digital note-taking app. I want to commit to one, but I’m not sure that Obsidian and I will ever get along well. Also, I have respect for how many connections you make to previous readings.