The book I have just finished reading – Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson– had an interesting chapter on The Slow Hunch innovation pattern.
The part in there that really caught my attention was about the common-place-book. The following historical quote from John Mason in 1745 makes the case for organised (retrievable) thoughts:
Think is not enough to furnish this Store-house of the Mind good Thoughts, but lay them up there in Order, digested or ranged under proper Subjects or Classes. That whatever Subject you have Occasion to think or talk upon you may have recourse immediately to a good Thought, which you heretofore laid up there under that Subject. So that the very Mention of the Subject may bring the Thought to hand; by which means you will carry a regular Common Place-Book in your Memory.
In the same chapter, the historian Robert Darnton is quoted on re-organising texts into fragments and removing the linearity of the text:
Unlike modern readers, who follow the flow of narrative from beginning to end, early modern Englishmen read in fits and starts and jumped from book to book. They broke texts into fragments and assembled them into new patterns by transcribing them in different sections of their notebooks. Then they reread the copies and rearranged the patterns while adding more excerpts. Reading and writing were therefore inseparable activities. They belonged to a continuous effort to make sense of things, for the world was full of signs: you could read your way through it; and by keeping an account of your readings, you made a book of your own, one stamped with your personality.
Later in the Serendipity chapter – another pattern involving accidental connections – the author mentions DEVONthink, a tool to manage and organize all those disparate pieces of information. DEVONthink features a clever algorithm that detects a subtle semantic connections between distinct passages of text.