Knowledge Work Means Transforming Old Ideas Into New Ones

Knowledge work is not about coming up with some random insight; it’s about transforming existing ideas into something new. “Every intellectual effort starts with an already existing preconception,” Ahrens writes, “that can be transformed during further inquiries and can serve as a starting point for following endeavours.”

No idea comes from nowhere; they are built from the The more information we have at our fingertips, the more receptive we are to flashes of insight. Knowledge accrues compounding returns. Each idea creates multiple connections with other ideas, as our constellations of thought grow exponentially vast and complex.

By seeing connections in unexpected places, we increase the odds that our insight will be unique and powerful. A good strategist needs to be able to look at old things in new ways; consuming ideas from diverse sources can help us find new vantage points. Self-styled near-futurist Rohit Bhargava makes a point of reading magazines published for audiences or demographics that are completely remote to his experience; doing so, he argues, helps him spot trends and patterns that otherwise would have been blindspots.

Note-taking is therefore critical for knowledge work. By capturing ideas as notes—ideally as atomic notes—we're able to decontextualize and recontextualize ideas and recombine them in ways that produce new insights.



Ahrens, Sönke. How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers. Sönke Ahrens, 2017.

Bhargava, Rohit. Non Obvious Megatrends: How to See What Others Miss and Predict the Future. Ideapress Publishing, 2020.

Johnson, Steven. Where Good Ideas Come from: The Seven Patterns of Innovation. London: Penguin, 2011.