Salon #08 - Garden of Expertise
6 min read

Salon #08 - Garden of Expertise

Salon #08 - Garden of Expertise

20+ people joined the Salon to talk about Gardens of Expertise.

A garden of expertise is based on the concept of digital gardens. It is a website where an expert publishes evergreen pages on topics within the realm of expertise. Andy Matuschak’s working notes are a great example to see it in practice. Also the very page you are reading now is part of my own garden of expertise for Knowledge Entrepreneurs.

Creating a new page is similar to creating an atomic note in a digital garden and should ideally become a frequent activity or even a daily habit. Over time a portfolio of expertise emerges that now only showcases your knowledge but is also a great place to link to.

A growing garden encourages writing and feedback loops

Reddy highlighted how a garden of expertise can help to lower the friction of writing and publishing expertise online. Articles in a garden don't have to be long, can always get edited and grow over time. There is no need to hold back. Publish fast! Even when starting small, the content can grow surprisingly large over time. Potentially even into a book.

Craig pointed to the advantage of rapid feedback loops from your audience when sharing expertise online. The content of many books started in a medium that could be iterated fast. For example, Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari started as lecture notes.

Josie put a spotlight on the garden metaphor and how well it fits to how the content evolves over time. A printed publication has to be finished on a fixed point in time and typically stagnates from there. A garden on the other hand is in constant development, nurtured and maintained, and continues to evolve.

Books are a different medium from a different time

We contrasted a garden of expertise with books, which still are an important medium for publishing your expertise. But many constraints of published books originate in the era before digital content. These days it is hard to justify why content should not change over time as new information emerges. A book could even be seen as a snapshot of a garden of expertise, converted into a different format.

It is not rare that books are sparked by a successful online article. Quinten commented that some books could have been kept to article size, while still conveying their message efficiently. Many of us nodded to that thought. More text makes it gets harder to distill what's important. On the flip-side, a longer-form medium prompts the readers to stay engaged over longer periods of time. Like spaced repetition, this could potentially help to retain the information.

Craig added how being an author - ideally a best-selling author - is still a strong signal for being an authority in your field of expertise. Lynoure pointed out how this is likely going to change. Authors now have the possibility to self-publish and the times of gatekeepers and institutional curators are slowly fading. This will have an impact on the signal that experts can send from having published a book. For upcoming generations, a large and engaged social media audience might be a stronger sign of competence or relevance.

Evolve your knowledge like a scientist

Ziga brought up how in scientific circles it is still best practice to publish papers and books in longer form. This opened up an exciting new comparison. The scientific method is based on a feedback loop of hypothesis, testing, and publishing results in the form of articles. That way it can be peer-reviewed, discussed, challenged, and referenced by other experts. It is a mode that proved to be very effective to generate fast progress.

Similarly, a garden of expertise allows you to publish, share and discuss knowledge around your area of expertise. This not only strengthens your expertise and quality of content but also increases the speed of innovation.

Ziga continued with a question about the advantages of sharing your knowledge online which lead us into a tangent on how to use Twitter.

A deep dive on Twitter

There are many people that actively engage in social media discussions. Lynoure shared how Twitter works really well for a lot of people not only for learning but also for showing up and connecting. Quinten referred to it half-jokingly as page rank for people. Many of us shared the feeling that engaging on Twitter can be intimidating.

Following people on Twitter is easy. This can easily lead to a point where the amount of information is just too much to handle. Massimo pointed out the side-effects of information overload when scrolling through the bottomless pit of a Twitter stream. Someone mentioned that you could even regard Twitter as its own stream of consciousness. Dylan pointed out the risks of how in this situation algorithms making the choices for you.

Indy brought up how Twitter is a number of things at the same time. On the one hand, a radar dish that gives you an overview of a field of expertise. You shape its content by following the people over time. A different purpose of Twitter is to actively communicate or engage with people in a discussion. These days it is possible to mention almost every expert with at least some chance of getting noticed.

Reddy brought up a case where an expert uses Twitter as their digital garden, creating threads and referencing tweets within each other. He referred to it as "multiplayer digital gardens" with a strong component of social interaction and creating knowledge together.

An alternative to social media could be to build your own aggregators which I would argue also include the option to rely on specific experts in your life to curate the information for you.

A portfolio of knowledge creates opportunities

Answering Ziga's question about the specific purpose of a garden of expertise, Dylan compared a garden of expertise to a portfolio of knowledge. This is such a great analogy! Photographers and designers are well aware of the need to showcase your past work in public. It is an important signal for potential clients to get a feeling for their expertise.

In our specialized and complex world, diverse teams of experts come together temporarily to work on projects. A garden of expertise as a portfolio of knowledge can potentially open up new opportunities to engage as an expert in your field.

A garden can have many forms

Reddy asked whether a garden should be open and unstructured and growing by design or rather structured and I argued that both were possible. I started the garden of expertise here at knowledge entrepreneurs in a structured way. For example, I describe important terms and concepts on individual pages and start linking to them, whenever I use the term. That way I avoid repeating myself and can make sure to explain more details over time.

Massimo suggested looking into the Zettelkasten technique for inspiration of how atomic knowledge can be structured. He also painted a beautiful picture of the garden metaphor. You could see your garden of expertise as a place where you can take guests on a walk. Within that garden there are multiple paths, leading to different places with different designs. Some can be structured while others can be wild and creative. It is up to the gardener to design and maintain the garden and lead their guests through them.

Show me your records

This leads to the point of how a garden of expertise can express the personality of an expert. Quinten and Massimo came up with a beautiful analogy of how a digital garden resembles visiting another person's office or home. How you look around the room, reading the titles of books on the bookshelves. It is a chance to form a connection to another human being. Like back in the days when you could visit someone and say "show me your records" to discover shared favorite albums or songs and start a conversation about music. This mental image sparked a lot of joy and laughter.

What tools to use for your digital garden of expertise?

Towards the end, we quickly touched on the technical aspects of a garden of expertise. At the core must be the functionality to publish on the web. Blog platforms like WordPress are tailored for that purpose and became a kind of industry standard for web publishing. But WordPress also grew complex over time so that it can be a challenge for non-technical experts to set up and maintain. Fresh alternatives like Ghost offer a reduced feature set but can help to focus on the most relevant parts.

Like a no-code variant for web publishing, note-taking tools like Notion and Obsidian can also publish directly to the web. It also allows keeping published articles and private notes digital in the same system. This is a great way to start quickly and experiment but I would not recommend this in the long run.

As usual, the tool does not matter as much as the determination and habit to publish content on expertise in a public place.

Fireside chat

After the 45 minutes of the Salon, a few people stayed for the informal fireside chat. We continued a wonderful discussion for another almost 45 minutes. I want to thank all the participants for their contribution, making this a very rewarding Salon indeed 🤗

Please also check out Massimo's post on this event.

The Salon takes place every Wednesday at 5 pm UTC (London) via Zoom. Feel free to stop by 👋

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