How to atomise knowledge

Breaking down knowledge and making it your own for action and transfer

I’m currently working my way through the excellent book Difficult Conversations. Here’s the kind of note I used to make from such a text:

Version 1

Conversations often become challenging when someone feels that their character or identity is being brought into question. They often feel threatened when they find themselves prompted by a difficult conversation to confront one of the following questions:

  • Am I good?

  • Am I capable?

  • Am I worthy of love?

Here’s a way that such knowledge can be atomised even more:

Version 2

Be wary of feedback that even hints to someone that they may be incompetent.

Why might v2 be better than v1?

Because it takes the most relevant piece of the original to my personal work, it splits it out as its own idea, and signals when it’s most important to remember. 

An even more specific version of that note could be:

Version 3

Frontload your coachee’s competence to avoid identity threats

Why might v3 be better than v2?

Because it turns a principle into an action. This makes it more likely that I’ll actually use it! It takes a piece of general advice and translates it forward in time, linking it to a new and direct context in which I can and should actively apply it.

Atomise ideas to make them more relevant for yourself. 

Don't try to remember everything. Instead, take the bits that are relevant to you and formulate them for action and transfer.