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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 11/30/2010

Your brain -- and your search engine -- on Evernote

By Ezra Klein

evernotechina.png

The declared topic of Stephen Johnson's "Where Good Ideas Come From" is innovation, and how it happens. I read the book as an investigation into how to think better, smarter and more efficiently. Saying things like "it's one of the best books I've read this year" always feels trite, so perhaps I'll just say that it's the only one that has substantially changed my intellectual habits.

Among Johnson's recommendations is to update the the 17th-century practice of keeping a commonplace book. Back then, the books were akin to intellectual journals: You carried them around and copied down interesting passages, quotations and insights you came across in your daily travels. This, Johnson argues, provided a way to let slow hunches build over time. Keeping your old hunches and provocations accessible allowed you to complete them with new information and insights later, a crucial channel for innovation.

Johnson recommends the research program DevonTHINK as a more modern version of the commonplace book. I tried DevonTHINK and found it wanting in two respects: It was overly complex, and it only works on Apple computers. As I use a PC at work -- not my choice, I assure you -- that was a deal killer for me.

But Evernote, the research program I tried after DevonTHINK, solves both problems -- and adds a game-changing feature. First, it works across all platforms: I can use it on my laptop at home, my iPhone, my work computer, and on the Internet. When I clip a Web page or write a note in one, it automatically syncs across all. Plus, it's dead simple to use (and, uh, free).

It's Evernote's integration with Google, however, that sold me. If you're using Google's Chrome browser, you can add an Evernote search to your Google searches. So when I search "China economy" in Google, I don't just get whatever Google turns up: I get everything I've ever saved in Evernote that includes those words. That is to say, I don't just get what Google thinks best. I get everything that I've ever thought best.

That turns Evernote from something I might search if I remember into something I'll search constantly without even trying. And that means I'm much likelier to be routinely confronted with old insights and facts that I might have forgotten. In that world, I don't need to rely on my memory of what I've read so much as the judgments I made when I was doing the reading. And I trust those a lot more.

By Ezra Klein  | November 30, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Tech  
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Comments

Maybe writing about the Khardashian credit card wasn't so bad, if this is the alternative.

Posted by: 54465446 | November 30, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

If you haven't already read it, you may enjoy C. Wright Mills essay "On Intellectual Craftsmanship". It is an appendix of his book The Sociological Imagination.

Ranks up there with Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language". And that's sayin' something.

Posted by: BHeffernan1 | November 30, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

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