Tinderbox Forum

An end-to-end Professional, Academic, & Personal 5Cs of Knowledge Management Workflow (Updated)

This Saturday will mark one year since I got back into the Tinderbox community, thanks to @Sylvaticus and the meetups he kicked off (I’ve only missed one since then). I will forever look at this date as an inflection point in my life, let’s call the time before BTBX (before Tinderbox) and ATBX (after Tinderbox), or my 10+. I played with Tinderbox for nearly a decade before this date and simply could not wrap my head around it, no matter how much I tried.

Since then, my life has changed, and fast. I was compelled to get back into Tinderbox out of necessity. I could not stomach doing one more thing in “puppy mill software,” aka Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Pages, Google Docs, etc. I was tired of being constrained by app-centric thinking (I did not have this term before, @mwra taught me two weeks ago) and had faith the Tinderbox and community could open the world to me (and get me out of my funk).

About two weeks following this meeting, I wrote this piece: A community and self-reliance story: Tinderbox. How it has become one of the most influential tools I’ve ever used | by Michael Becker | Medium. Since then, well, most of you know, I’ve kinda gone Tinderbox nuts, but in a good way.

By the numbers:


  • 730 posts,
  • 522 hearts given,
  • 7.2 posts read,
  • 157 topics create

As you all know, I created a YouTube channel Dec. 29. I’ve never done that before. As of today, we’re at:

  • 50 videos in the Mastering Tinderbox Channel
  • 1.8K Watch time (hours)
  • 337 subscribers

But there is more to this than the numbers. I’ve learned so much from everyone, as @mwra says, “from the kindest of others.” I’ve learned tools, processes, practices, and languages that I did not know even existed, let alone used. I’ve learned new ways of thinking. Worked on my writing. I’ve become a better teacher. I’ve made friends (@TomD and @bmgphd and I kicked off weekly TBX am sessions), to augment the Saturday morning meetups. I’ve become part of a tribe. I’ll never forget it when Paul Walters said, well, you can just grep it! I had no idea what he was talking about. I’ll never forget it when Paul Walters (@PaulWalters) said, well, you can just grep it! I had no idea what he was talking about. I asked. He explained. Or, when @rtalexander said, “you can house Homebrew” (it is software not beer making) and then jumped on the phone to help me get it up and running. Since then, I’ve learned to grep, awk, regex, css, action code, export code, csl, bibtex, latex, command-line (thanks to @rtalexander), json, java, AppleScript, metacognition, affordances, zettlekasten, and enhanced-modified zettlekasten, hypertext, automated citation management (big thanks @Bernard-0) systems design, process flows, mind-mapping, linking, tag management, artisanal software, discover and rediscovery, outlining, timelines, attribute management, incremental formalization, macOS shortcuts, the mother of all demos, and so much more. I’ve met people from all over the world: psychologists, salesman, physicians, writers, architecture anthropologists, high-school choir teachers in Germany, musicians in Japan, managers in India, scriptwriters in Brazil, greek philosophers, software engineers, Arabic philosophers, NASA scientists, ex-military, bloggers, humanists, Taiwanese developers, academics of every sort, structural engineers, and the list goes on. Tinderbox has opened the world to me- past - present - future - people - places- ideas - software - skills - tools. Tinderbox has helped me learn to think. To learn. To see the world through attributes.

A note is like a stem cell. When it is created, it has every attribute. It is pure. It has the potential to be anything. As you curate it it becomes unique, special. It can make a difference.

And, just today, on this very forum, we were exchanging ideas on Buddhism and cartesian thinking. WOW, what a rich community. I feel so fortunate and grateful to be a member of this tribe. :exploding_head::pray::exploding_head:

All of this is culminating in a new way of thinking and approach to the world, for me, I call it the 5Cs of knowledge-making (Updated 9/23/21 to include Collaboration. @dmrogers and @webline helped me see this missing piece–see conversation below) .

The 4Cs of the knowledge-making process has four independent and interdependent steps that you can follow to help you make sense of and create new knowledge.

  1. Collection

  2. Curation

  3. Collaboration

  4. Creation

  5. Contribution

Figure 1: 5cs of Knowledge Management: Authoring LinkedIn Article


The collection is the first step in the knowledge creation process.

In this step, you collect structured and unstructured insights (aka notes), both your own and those you source from others.

For your original ideas, you don’t need a citation. But, for notes and ideas source from others, or if you want to remember the inspiration for your ideas, it is very useful in the collection stage to cite your sources, i.e. add a citation, bibliography, and other related metadata, aka attributes).

REMEMBER: you can set up watch folders or the autofetch attribute to automatically pull content into your Tinderbox from other applications and sites.


Curation is all about refining each of your notes to their core atomic essence and then organizing and gathering them into relevant and meaningful topical areas of interest to help set you up for the creation step.

Tinderbox is especially useful for the curation step. It is a wonderful tool for knowledge and sense-making.

In this step, you refine your notes, crystalize them to the core essence, link them to other those, add metadata (i.e. attributes), etc.

You can use all of Tinderbox’s views—map, outline, chart, attribute, timeline, treemap, hyperbolic (aka links), and crosstabs—to help you look at your notes through different lenses. Furthermore, for the alignment to topical interests, you are not limited to traditional map or outliner hierarchy views. It is important to remember that you can have Tinderbox help you discover and stumble across insight by employing agent and agent actions. Agents can help you discover and rediscover your notes and agent action can help you transform them to generate new meaning and associations.

You can write your notes in text, markdown, and HTML.


There are many types of collaboration. You can work with others, you can use others’ work (with >permission, or not…always good to cite and track the providence of your ideas), or some combination. >As you collaborate you can pull insight from people within your own discipline, but also outside of it. >You can pull in new terminology, get a fresh perspective, and more.


The creation step is all about creating your own story, producing your own new and unique insight from all of your notes. This step may result in your collecting new notes, which in turn may drive more creation. Once this interactive process of creation, collections, and curation runs its course at any given moment in time (which for me, is often a deadline), you’ll move to the contribution stage.

Like in the curation stage, in the creation stage, you can avail yourself of Tinderbox’s wonder sense-making and transformation tools, including views—map, outline, chart, attribute, timeline, treemap, hyperbolic (aka links), and crosstabs—to help you create new insights. You can also agents, use action and export code, and templates to help you bring your notes and attribute you life. Using these capabilities in tandem will help you integrate all your work into your next masterwork.

Also, don’t forget to use Preview, which you can use to review not just your current note but your integrated notes and attributes that you’ve pulled into your, not with action, export, and templates.


The final stage of the knowledge-making process is contribution. Once you’re ready, you can use Tinderbox to publish your work.

There are so many ways to get your work out of Tinderbox.

You can export an individual note. Use the export feature to export all your notes HTML, as an outline, as text. You can also export selected notes and attributes to a delimitated rtf. The rtf, using your text editor, can be converted to plain text, which in turn can easily be imported to applications like Numbers or Excel.

You can share you share the text of your notes to apps like MacMail, Twitter, DevonThink, Notes, and more. You can also process them to apps like Pandoc.

I put the general flow above into practice automatically through a workflow supported by a suite of independent and interdependent apps, services, processes, software gnomes, and magic. With it, have and am,

  • Researching and citing
  • Writing my dissertation
  • Creating market assessment reports
  • Task/Project management
  • Managing agile product roadmaps
  • Creating rich, interactive communication matrices that are production-ready for leading communication platforms
  • Developing data flow diagrams and documentation
  • Developing client-server system architecture flows and documentation
  • Author business process documentation
  • Managing multi-dimensional org. Charges
  • Producing a new way of authoring resumes
  • Creating lessons plans
  • Proposal development
  • Writing the 9th edition of my textbook, Mobile Marketing Essentials
  • Managing my social
  • Experimentation with new methods of thinks, using the views to see the world differently
  • and more (the above is just my everyday list)

Most importantly, I’m building a knowledge asset, skills, friends, a community, and a newfound source of satisfaction and joy.

To execute the 4Cs process, here is the list of apps and languages I’m using.

Apps I use

  • Tinderbox, note-taken, and 4Cs knowledge management sense-making tool. I have a set of action code, export code, templating, prototyping, and independent and inter-related tools that help with every stage in the process. Integrates with Tinderbox through Applescript.
  • Zotero, a reference manager. Integrates with Tinderbox with RIS export.
  • BetterBibTex, a Zotero plugin to enhance citation key management.
  • RIS with Citationkey translator, Zotero translator to pull in all the fields I want into Tinderbox.
  • Keyboard Maestro, a macOS automation tool, use it to dynamically pull in citations.
  • Citation Style Language (CSL), a text file format that helps my dynamically convert my citation keys in Tinderbox to any in-line style, e.g. APA, Chicago, and reference generation.
  • Pandoc, an open-source content transformation utility, integrates with Tinderbox through the command line.
  • DEVONthink, document repository (use browser extension and watch folders)
  • Drafts, note-taking tool (for note on the go, integrates with Tinderbox through Applescript.
  • BiBTex file, a file export from Zotero the interfaces with Keyboard Maestro to support the automagical citation integration.
  • BBEdit, text editor, has a great Regex paly ground.
  • BBEdit text factory, a BBEdit utility to transform text with Regex, trigger it form Keyboard Maestro automatically.
  • MS Office templates Word and PowerPoint templates that are used by Pandoc when publishing out to Tinderbox.
  • Highlights, a PDF highlighter. You can highlight in DEVONThink, but I find Highlights SOOOO much easier to use, also can export to Markdown, which is easily pulled into Tinderbox.
  • TextExpander, a utility for expanding text from keyboard shortcuts. Fantastic for inserting templated export and action code into Tinderbox.
  • Snagit. and screen (image, video) capture app. Images can easily be pulled into Tinderbox through Tinderbox’s export code, and attributes.
  • Grammarly, spelling checking and grammar app. Not enough integration, I would like to see more.
  • Google Drive, for backup and recovery, access foremother devices.
  • Camtasia, video editing.
  • Diigo, a browser extension for booking marketing and annotating (aka highlighting) web pages and PDFs.
  • TBX Ref, let us not forget the TBX reference file, Mark Anderson (@mwra) is a gift to the world and the Tinderbox tribe. He is cherished.

Languages I use

  • Markdown, HTML shortcut language, ideal for citation transformation and publishing from Tinderbox through Pandoc to nearly any file format - text, markdown, Word, PowerPoint, HTML, etc.
  • Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), use this for Tinderbox templates and inline formatting as needed.
  • AppleScript, to run automation with Tinderbox, Drafts, and DEVONthink.

Hardware I use

  • Mac Mini M1, 16gb 2T
  • MacBook Pro 2018, 32GB 4TB
  • Phillips 49’ monitor
  • Samsung 37’ monitor
  • iPhone 12

I’ll upgrade to the new MacBook Pro and tablet when they come out later this year. I’m also planning on a new iPad.

Like Yoga, there are modifications that you can make to every element of the 4Cs process, such as swapping in your preferred application. This workflow works for me, you’ll find ways to make it your own and work for you.

This all comes together quite nicely, as illustrated in the image below. Last Wednesday, I wrote a piece in about 5 hours that would have take 5 days, if not longer, before.

Figure 2: 4cs of Knowledge Management: Authoring LinkedIn Article

To see the final published article in LinkedIn see the article here.

Summary: I have a VERY dialed-in process for professional, academic, and personal knowledge management. It would not be possible without these tools and the community. Again, my gratitude and thanks to you all.

NOTE: I’m thinking of hold a special meetup to review this process, so as not to overwhelm the normal Saturday sessions. Please :heart: this message if you’re interested in this.


Michael @satikusala, many thanks for marking the day with a great posting! And many thanks for your activity for the Tinderbox community, your enthusiasm, your many ideas, your seemingly unlimited willingness to help, and the hours of time you dedicate to all this. I have profited from all this in my understanding of Tinderbox - I bought a license some 13 months ago, fortuitous timing! - , and I am deeply grateful - for your help, your videos, and for the evangelism of 49 inch monitors - getting one has changed my work environment very much for the better.
Yesterday I watched the 14 August meetup video with your “uber presentation”, so this post is the perfect companion. And I look forward to a special video meeting on it!


Thanks for a lovely reflective post. Not least, showing the gain of not being embarrassed to ask for help., and your generosity of quickly turning round what you have learned and passed it on in tutorial form to others following the same path. Chapeau!

An interesting reflection for me is the rapid push into the broad range of tools that I’m sure seemed of little immediate interest at the start of the journey. Once you get that Tinderbox is a toolbox for your work and not a not-colouring-outside-the-lines limited-scope app (however cool the latter class of apps may be), then using these other tools doesn’t seem like work. Not all of us do the same thing and even then we don’t even do the same task in the same manner with the same tools. This is why you’ll see the more helpful advice here takes a process-centric not app-centric view. Being able to abstract our “I just want to…” needs into a set of tasks unlocks a wealth of help from those who may do similar small tasks but in completely different context.

Also, such questions are interesting. I’ve learned al lot of new stuff about Tinderbox helping @satikusala. New, simply because I’d never needed to touch that part of the tool set before or use those tolls in that combination. On reflection, the most effort is just stripping away the starting sense of “want”
or “meed” and looking at the tasks. At times I feel a lot of angry thread starts here are people annoyed that however hard they hit the screw, their hammer doesn’t drive the screw in at all well; yet, untouched at their side, is a screwdriver. And, yes, I’m as prone as any to this mistake when venturing into new territory.

Thanks too for the process screen-grab. I totally get that we’re not meant to be able to read the fine detail, but to see that the overall process is possible.

Good post. :clap:

†. Readers, don’t get side-tracked into cost. Many of the above are free or low cost and also many have other options.


Wow - what an amazing post and Medium piece. Immensely interesting.

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This is so encouraging. I ,too, am at the ‘can not wrap my head around it’ phase and indeed have stepped away from it. I am motivated to dip a toe back in…

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Michael, I wonder if you’re familiar with the work of Col. John Boyd?

Your Personal 4Cs of knowledge management parallels his OODA loop. “Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.” It’s a loop because action alters the environment and then you have to start again, I suppose the parallel breaks down somewhat there, but perhaps not. Anyway, it came to mind when I read your description.

Yes. Interesting, but now a bit dated; understanding has moved on from the pre-/early- digital age. OODA’s author is rather fetishised by non-military types who think it makes them look insightful, and by lazy salespeople in the industrial-military complex who think it is state of the art. A shame, as in their time his ideas did move the needle and IMO deserve respect for that; not where I’d start in the age od digital networked systems.

No, I’ve never heard of it. Thanks for sharing. On the surface, the 4Cs. concept is universally obviously and is just part of the lineage that started with the giants that have come before, including Conrad Gessner (1515-1565), Thomas Harrison (c. 1650), Vincent Placcius (1689), Carl Linnaeus (1767), Johann Jacob Moser (1701-1785), Jan Paul (1794), Hans blumenberg, Georg Chrstoph Lichtenberg. And then there was Arno Schmidt, Walter Kempowski, Friedrich Kitter, Any Warbur, and now you, me, and countless others [@WikipediaZettelkasten2021].

Also, I’m student of all these, but I’ve uncovered a host of other note-taking methods:

  1. The Outline Method
  2. The Cornell Method (1950s)
  3. Mind Mapping Method
  4. Flow Notes Method
  5. The Sentence Method
  6. Charting Method
  7. Writing on Slides
  8. Zettlekasten (1950s~)

My goal, however, is fust to focus on the note-taking, but as you point out pull in the decision-making, and eventually make the output more and or automatically. A key part of what I’m trying to do to ensure the providence of an idea/note/concept is never lost and is easily carried through throughout the 4Cs process.

To all out there, I’m a spounge. Anything you’ve got on,

  • History of note-taking
  • Knowledge management
  • Other related arcs

Please send them my way.

Nowadays, I think a lot of psychologists would say that just observing is enough to make you need to go back to the beginning. Since you can never perceive the “true” state of the system (observations are biased or filtered, unless they are made under rigorously controlled conditions, which tends not to happen outside a laboratory) anything that depends on the observations will be slightly “off” (at best). In qualitative work in psychology it is fairly common practice to gather some data, analyse it, then go back to the beginning and gather more data, having perhaps made some adjustments in the light of what has previously been found. You can never assume that your original observations are definitive.

And all this is without getting into quantum theory, of which I have only the dimmest idea, but in which it seems to be the case that some things only come into existence if you observe them. I apologise in advance to any physicists whose field I may have misrepresented!

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Yeah, I didn’t mean to get into a whole discussion of the current state of regard for Boyd’s thinking, though I think opinions may vary on that. And I was merely pointing out that while there are parallels to the stages of the two processes, Boyd’s was dynamic as it was dealing with a process, presumably a conflict of some kind, while Michael’s was perhaps more fixed, not to say “static,” as the crystallization of some new insight as an end result of the process.

That’s not to say that one wouldn’t necessarily return to it, especially if it’s an particular subject of interest and continue to collect, curate and so on, perhaps revising views over time.

Science as a whole, often lends itself to many points of view about “real life.” “Survival of the fittest.” “Everything is relative.” “Uncertainty.” “Incompleteness.” “Chaos.” Not all are appropriate, though they can often be a useful way of looking at things.

These “processes” are useful points of departure. The five stages of grief, the hero’s journey, the dynamics of new product or technology acceptance/penetration, all lend themselves to looking at things in what for many are new or different ways. Inevitably, the critique or debate rounds on the model itself, as all models are deficient in one way or many.

Anyway, I just found it interesting when I read Michael’s piece it called to my mind Boyd’s work. That was all.

Actually, the 4CKM is far from fixed or static, although I can absolutely see this perception when only looking at the top level (I’ve yet to fully document the learning models and frameworks–working on the book now). The 4CKM is completely dependent on the notion of incremental formalization and the dynamic, evolutionary, changes that can and will happen (this is encouraged as early formalization can be a kiss of death to any project) as you work through the process to unleash your contributions to the world.

I agree and I love the parallels. I will dig deeper into it. Sadly, in our modern era, I think we often forget that we stand on the shoulders of the giants that came before us (Issac Newton, 1675). If find that so many of us spend the first quarter of our lives in school and the rest of our lives running away from it. There are so many riches to be discovered in the histories and work of those that came before it, while the context is different certainly, but as the human condition (aka mind, body, spirit, heart) has not fundamentally changed there is much we can leverage and adapt. In fact, seeing the world through previous work is like looking at your data through different Tinderbox views. It will be unfamiliar at first but if you spend enough time you might uncover a critical insight that unlocks everything for you.

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Knowledge and information management play a very important role in my work. I’m still struggling with the transformation from collecting ideas to curating those ideas and integrate them into my own relational data universe. I do have a graded rating for my intellectual oblivion of information:

  • I do remember an idea and it is part of my own concepts
  • I do remember an idea and I know where to find it but I don’t use it currently for my concepts
  • I do remember an idea but got only a blurred idea where to find it
  • I do remember an idea but have no clue where to look for it
  • I know there was something that would fit into my current concept, but I don’t remember details and have no idea where to look for it

With tinderbox I would like to raise the collected knowledge up one or two levels. This is happening all around the basic ideas of Luhmanns Zettelkasten. Still not working as it should work.
I love playing with software. But this is part of my problem since I invest a lot of time trying new approaches with new tools (a fool with a tool is still a fool).
My current workflow uses:

  • DevonThink as my central repository
  • MarginNote3 on my Mac or iPad for collecting ideas. Just switched from Highlights. MN3 is a great tool but very hard to get the information out in a useable way.
  • Tinderbox9 for the curation of the ideas I found and also to start the creation of a reusable structure to get my own stories out of my knowledge collection. I use DevonThink too to search for stuff I collected. I organise those findings too in TB9
  • publishing is done with Scrivener most of the time. I use Word whenever I have too.

Some other apps are there to support me:

  • FileMaker if I need to collect a huge amount of data and work with it
  • Hazel to move and collect files
  • Hook to connect webpages and stuff stored locally
  • Alfred for some nice macros
  • Keyboard Maestro was installed after Alfred. One may be enough
  • BBEdit
  • Bookends as my reference manager
  • 2Do as my reminder app
  • iThoughtsX was replaced by TB9 more or less
  • Curio if I collect unstructured stuff for a new project or as a note platform while in a discussion
  • AppleScript, Java, Javascript, C++ if I need to


  • my Mac, my iPad (with the pencil)
  • Stream Deck
  • a notebook with Tomoe River Paper (simply the best paper for a fountain pen)
  • a fountain pen with with Diamine ink “Monboddos Hat”
  • a CZUR ET16 Plus scanner to transform books into a pdf

That’s it and sorry for my poor English :wink:


You should check this paper (and its bibliography). The author of the article implements his research in Roam Research, but I’m sure most of it should also work in Tinderbox.


Awesome! This is a great piece and is most certainly applicable to Tinderbox.

Chan (2021) suggests that discourse graphs “formalized knowledge claims, linked to supporting evidence and context through a network or graph model,” [P3], which is essentially a Tinderbox mindmap with labeled linking, can be an effective tool for research. He suggests that, by applying this method, researchers can improve their collection and analytic assessments of past literature, the contextualization of their work, and zero in evidence to help answer detailed researcher questions. In other words, this method helps map out claims, supporting evidence, opposition, logic flows, etc. He notes that this concept is still in the idea phase and its efficacy needs to be substantiated. A couple of ideas stood out to me when I read this paper. One, he specifically calls out the benefit of reuse of the graph in other projects (aka asset building in the 4CKM model). Next, in addition to reuse, I’d add incremental formalization, which is a key affordance offered with Tinderbox. You can evolve your work over time the more you work with it. Finally, I see that I’ve missed a 5th C in my 4Cs model, “Collaboration.” I’ll be adding this going forward.

Thanks again.

Chan, J. (2021). Discourse Graphs for Augmented Knowledge Synthesis: What and Why . http://joelchan.me/assets/pdf/Discourse_Graphs_for_Augmented_Knowledge_Synthesis__What_and_Why.pdf


Citation adds more than just keeping track of where you found something (which is vital, particularly in academic scholarship). More importantly, it helps to establish the context in which your work exists and (hopefully) enhances. This forms the basis of one’s research,and helps establish how your ideas depend on and extend others. Without citation, the value of a work is little more than a book report or marketing hype.