Archive for the ‘Thoughts on Cognician’ Category

When I was 11 years old, I had an epiphany. It was my first, of course. I wasn’t so precocious that I had epiphanies before the age of 11. I was reading in bed, opposite a tall bookshelf stacked with books. The book was 1984. Winston Smith was being threatened with torture in Room 101 and I suddenly realised that this book was all about an idea. I’m not sure how my 11-year-old mind described that idea, but I remember thinking that Animal Farm, which I had read a while before, was also about an idea. Then I looked up at the bookshelf opposite my bed and my mind opened up to the epiphany that every one of those books was about an idea too. Right away it seemed important to me that I should find out what each and every one of them were. From that moment I fell in love with books and ideas forever.

Years later, I embarked on a four-year degree in literature. I chose every course available that allowed me to read and to learn how to write. Nearly every thought I have today is influenced in some way by the time I spent in deep contemplation of the books I read during those years. When I left university I started working with my brother, Barry. During our long partnership we have created many products – books, games and other learning experiences – which we could not have built without the intuition, sensitivity and creativity that we nurtured by the reading of great literature. We owe so much to the books we’ve read.

Intuition, sensitivity, creativity… I borrowed these words from Rheina Epstein, who introduced herself to me after my presentation last week at Net Prophet. A tiny package of intellectual dynamite, she exploded in front of me with a barrage of criticisms for my apparent distaste for books. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but she wrote down the gist of it on a piece of paper and handed it to me after the conference once we’d spoken and cleared up our differences:

Facts and technological advances need to be processed with the intuition, sensitivity and creativity developed by the reading of imaginative literature to produce results that are both innovative and humane.

She’s right of course. And that’s why she mistook my zeal for Cognician – for being a new way to capture and consume knowledge – as an indication that I dislike books. Nothing could be further from the truth. The stillness I find in reading is the cornerstone of my sanity. What Rheina did not understand – and what I failed to explain – is that Cognician is not suitable for fiction. It is focused on non-fiction works that help you get something done. What Rheina perceived as a beef with books is actually my impatience with the lazy application of the book form onto units of knowledge that could sometimes be better packaged in other ways. Ways that help you get things done.

Each time Barry and I design a new product we read from hundreds of different resources as part of our research. These can include books, blog posts, white papers or anything that can give us deeper insight into our challenge. Often we will read for hours before finding a single helpful nugget of knowledge in a deep bed of irrelevant ideas. That nugget then becomes one unit in a new latticework of knowledge that holds our product together. It’s a laborious but invaluable process to ensure we create intellectually robust materials.

With Cognician, however, we’re able to go directly to the relevant ideas in a variety of resources. We can select ideas from any number of them and we can build new mental latticeworks with no more effort than it takes to drag, drop and click. Cognician takes the slog out of research. It makes smart thinking systematic. It leaves your mind free to make connections and see patterns. It helps you get difficult stuff done. And it does it faster than a pencil and paper and a pile of books.

Will it help to cultivate your intuition, sensitivity and creativity? Perhaps. Will it replace the quiet and beautiful journey of the mind into a piece of fine literature? Of course not. And we wouldn’t want it to.