What is the semantic tree of personal knowledge management?

Hey, a bit of a general question.

I want to dig deeper into PKM space and understand the semantic tree of this field.

I feel the topic is very hazy for me. Can you guys point me to the holy grail of this topic?

For my 2¢, I think the problem is there are too many PKM models. The hint is in the ‘P’ part. Most people start by fixing their own KM context. Experience would suggest the solutions often scale badly. Not due to tech, but due to assumptions/intuitions not working at more than limited scale. Also, few PKMs are instantly intuitive to anyone but the maker. It shouldn’t surprise; complex problems need tool complexity. But, we generally don’t like to learn—we ‘just’ want the answer ‘now’.

Web 2.0 and ‘big data’ memes have helped foster a sense that the key is collecting enough stuff → magic stage → success. Again, I’m not sure evidence bears that approach out. Collecting more stuff generally just makes for a more complex problem space. Finding and abstracting patterns, and being able to flexibly apply them (incremental formalisation) is the strongest PKM affordance I’ve found. Tinderbox does that part rather well (and there may well be other tools unknown to me) but that’s what’s kept me using the app as my go-to thinking/noting/analysis space since 2004.

As to the tree part, hopefully someone else has that.

HTH :slight_smile:


@exist2018? Great question.

I agree with Mark, it does start with “personal.” You need to make it your own.

Let’s deconstruct the other keywords–knowledge and management.

What exactly are these.

The dictionary provides the following definitions:

  • Personal: "of, affecting, or belonging to a particular person rather than to anyone else.
  • Knowledge: “facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.”
  • Management: “the process of dealing with or controlling things or people.”

So when you put these pieces together Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) “is the process of controlling your personal theoretical or practical understanding about a subject.”

When you look at PKM through this lens and combine it with “Bloom’s Taxonomy,” you find the PKM is the second to lowest rung on the educational/thinking latter (see the figures below) (Bloom, 1956).

Figure 1 : Bloom’s Taxonomy Pyramid (Krathwohl, 2002)!

Figure 2 : Bloom’s Taxonomy Knowledge Domain Verbs (Krathwohl, 2002)

Understanding is great. Data is fine. But, what I think we really want from a PKM system is not understanding but results (aka creation), results that are born from actionable insights, insights that have been drawn from the patterns that emerge from the efforts we personally exert as we navigate the hierarchy of education and knowledge from raw input (“collection”), through understanding and evaluating (“collection” and “curation”) to creation (“contribution”). And then there is a fifth “c”, “collaboration.” In today’s day and age collaboration is crucial. I call this the 5Cs of Knowledge Management.

The tools and skills you will need to manage your knowledge very much depend on your context and domain. As I am a management consultant and academic (i.e., teacher and student), my tools revolve around information management and assessment, speaking, and publishing, that is why Tinderbox and the satellite software that are pulled into its orbit work so well for me (I don’t need a giant tracker for instance).

The last point I’ll make on this is that any knowledge needs to be put in context. I find it useful to be a polymath and to look at a topic through multiple lenses. In my field, these lenses are technology, economics (aka business models), law & regulations (a.k.a. rules, assessment, governance), culture, and politics. Each of these lenses can be broken down further into many steps, which may require learning new skills.

For example, in the Tinderbox context, I’ve gotten to–taken the time to learn and refine: writing, regex, html, css, command line, pandoc, text transformation, action code, export code, presenting, content organization management, citation management, files and record management, video editing, course development, interpersonal interaction, gratitude, frustration, collaboration (e.g., interviewing other thought-leaders and operators, working with an editor) fear and doubt, sense of accomplishment…the list goes on.

Ultimately, you need to discover and refine the tools, process, space, and time that works for you. To really thrive, you’ll also want to find one or more communities—like this one—that you can, directly and indirectly, collaborate with on your work and pursuit of value creation.


Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook 1: Cognitive Domain (2nd edition Edition). Addison-Wesley Longman Ltd.

Krathwohl, D. R. (2002). A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy: An Overview. Theory Into Practice , 41 (4), 212–218. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15430421tip4104_2


Well put. Often, a pile of notes is just a pile of notes — it is not a magic pill conferring genius on the note taker.

As for the “semantic tree of PKM” – google the term; there are many blog posts claiming to understand what that means.

@satikusala Whenever I see a pyramid, I shudder! I feel it gives a mistaken impression of a hierarchy, and I think that is far too simple. We do not work like that, in my view. Work is a system, and the elements, insofar as they can be separated, interact in complex ways. Miles and Huberman have a diagram of qualitative work (which I realise is not exactly what we are discussing), but I think the circular, interactive representation is far more like what goes on in the human mind when we are dealing with mental work. The pyramid is far too neat and structured for my taste. It is idealistic, whereas mental work is invariably (in my experience) messy, and often unstructured. I guess we all have ways of bringing order to the chaos (Tinderbox may be one of them), but mine is not via pyramids! :grinning:


@MartinBoycott-Brown I agree, multiple lenses–mental models–are needed to get a sense of the world. However, in Bloom’s definition, I do think the hierarchy holds true. Unless you are extremely lucky or gifted, to truly create you need to understand something, and go up the rungs of knowledge and execute, in order. To be clear, however, I will accept that steps can be skipped and some may experience a quantum movement where all steps happen instantaneously.

As fo the process, that is what I was referring to when I referenced by 5Cs model:

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

Thanks for the Humberman reference, I’ll check it out.

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