The Illusion of Personal Knowledge Management

Exploring the limits of building a second brain

Nicole Janeway Bills
10 min readApr 19


You’ve always been ambitious. You strove to get into a famous college, and graduated straight into a job that impressed your friends. You showed up to your first day of work in a pair of shoes that you bought specifically for the occasion. They turned out to be slightly too small, but you wore them anyway, then promptly discarded them with a grimace at the end of the day.

Photo by Mizuno K on Pexels

Since then, you’ve achieved a lot.

You raise your hand for everything, always asking the most insightful question in the room. You volunteer to write for the company blog, and your posts generate thoughtful conversation and boost the company’s reputation as a thought leader in the industry.

Your boss is into photography, so have something to talk to him about, you sign up for a photography class. You surprise yourself by actually enjoying it. You buy a nice camera at a price that makes you slightly uncomfortable and slightly proud. You make it a habit to develop your photography skills in your free time.

You get promoted several times, always before you feel ready. You tell yourself you’ve worked hard to get where you are. Your colleagues seem to respect you, but sometimes you wonder how they have it all together, and if you’re really as good as everyone thinks you are.

You check your emails a little too carefully. You give a presentation and stumble over your words. You forget the name of an important client. You can’t recall a relevant stats concept you’d planned to discuss in a meeting.

These mistakes are hardly noticed, but they bother you. You wonder if you’re losing the edge you had on your first day in your slightly-too-small shoes.

Photo by Tolga Aslantürk on Pexels

One day, while scrolling through social media, you come across a post about something called personal knowledge management (PKM). The writeup is espousing a strategy called second brain. Curious, you start reading more about this method of organizing information and ideas.



Nicole Janeway Bills

Founder of where we help busy professionals ace the Certified Data Management Professional (CDMP) exam and other data-related exams.