Thematic Space: The Art of Continuous Discovery
The development of my tacit knowledge about Activity Analysis
This article is part of the Slow Cognition project and its focus is Thematic Space and Developing Tacit Knowledge. I have introduced the concept of Thematic Space and discussed related ideas in the following articles:
- The Notion of Thematic Spaces
- Mapping Thematic Spaces #1: OS Card and Mapping Clues
- Mapping Thematic Spaces #2: The “Activity” Thematic Space
- Thematic Space: Flow, Film, and Floor Plan
- Thematic Space: Project as Story
- Thematic Space: Place as Container
- Thematic Space: Sparks In, Statue Out
On Jan 9, 2022, I used my “Activity” thematic space as an example to discuss the eight dimensions of thematic spaces. I also considered the example as a case study of Developing Tacit Knowledge.
Yesterday I introduced four types of resources of tacit knowledge (the Sparks metaphor) and four types of results of tacit knowledge (the Statue metaphor).
Today I am going to share a Story about the Activity U project (phase II) which could be considered a new result of my “Activity” thematic space. The core of the Activity U project (phase II) is a new website called Activity Analysis.
Initially, I mentioned the Activity U project (phase II) in an article titled D as Diagramming: From Sandwich to Containers on Oct 7, 2021. After one month, I made a website called Activity Analysis in order to sort some information about Activity Theory and Social Practice Theories into a new format. In the past years, I have written many articles about these theories. However, it is hard to find a particular thinking tool from my articles.
Two days ago, I designed two diagrams for the Activity Analysis project. These diagrams represent my new understanding of the project. Eventually, the website became a new project with a new concept called Knowledge Center.
This is an example of Developing Tacit Knowledge. During two months, my tacit knowledge about Activity Analysis expanded from a simple website into a “Knowledge Center”. How was the concept of “Knowledge Center” born?
This article aims to unpack details for discussing Continuous Discovery around creative knowledge work.
The Creative Life is a Journey of Continuous Discovery…
In an old article Thematic Space: Flow, Film, and Floor Plan, I put Thematic Space in the context of life development with a simple metaphor: Flow, Film, and Floor Plan.
- Life as a continuous flow
- Project as a film with a prominent theme
- Thematic space as a floor plan
I use “continuous flow” as a metaphor to describe Life and Experience. This metaphor is inspired by William James’ metaphor “Stream of Thought”. For a creative person, her life is a journey of continuous discovery.
If the creative person is a product manager, then her career is about Continuous Product Discovery.
What is Continuous Product Discovery? - Product Discovery Methods
It is a set of decision making techniques which Influences product planning and also affects product strategy…
I think the notion of “Continuous Product Discovery” could apply to Life Development too. Any work or project should be considered as a product, the only manager is yourself. You are the CEO of your Life Inc.
The Activity U Project (Phase I)
I started the Activity U project on August 19, 2020. Initially, I just made a diagram called “Activity U” which is a test of the “HERO U” framework. I wrote a post to explain the diagram “Activity U”. Later, I expanded the post to a series of articles. Eventually, I edited these articles into two books (draft).
On October 1, 2020, I wrote a post to review the first year of CALL (Creative Action Learning Lab) and claimed that Activity Theory is a learning object for Transdisciplinary Thinking which means the knowledge between academic domains and non-academic domains. I pointed out four reasons for selecting Activity Theory for Transdisciplinary Thinking:
- It is an established theoretical tradition.
- It is an interdisciplinary philosophical framework for studying both individual and social aspects of human behavior.
- It has inspired many empirical studies in various domains.
- Its root is in cultural background and psychological research tradition outside North America.
The last reason is unique. In a general sense, the mainstream of North American psychology is dominated by individual perspectives. In contrast, the psychological root of Activity Theory is the social perspective. Thus, I want to bring a new perspective to the next generation of knowledge workers and boundary creators in North America.
You can find more details about the Activity U Project (Phase I) in Activity U — A Knowledge Curation Project.
Activity Theory has inspired many empirical studies in various domains. Researchers have developed many useful heuristics for different purposes. I have mentioned some frameworks and models in my articles. However, it is hard to find them in my articles because they are theoretical concept discussions.
Thus, I thought that maybe it is better to use databases or wikis to curate more heuristics for activity-theoretical studies. This idea is the seed of the Activity U project (Phase II).
The Activity U Project (Phase II)
In 2021, there was a major shift in my knowledge enterprise. On Sept 30, 2021, I published Lifesystem: Modeling Ice Skating and Other Social Practices. This article almost ends the long journey of the ecological practice approach. The Lifesystem framework is the final piece of the approach. The theoretical work is done.
I use “The Path of Creative Life” framework to manage my own work. The core of the framework is the “Exploitation — Emergence — Exploration” triad which is inspired by James March’s idea. I need to make a balance between exploration and exploitation.
There is a simple way to apply the idea. I use “Phase I” and “Phase II” for managing projects. For example, I will launch the Activity U project (Phase II) soon. Phase I of the project focused on theoretical concept discussions. Phase II moves to the practice side.
Originally, I wanted to launch the Activity U project (II) in Oct 2021. I mentioned the idea on Oct 7, 2021 with the following diagram.
The next day I created a new website called Activity Analysis because I didn’t want to call the website the Activity U project (Phase II).
Also, I also wanted to publish a series of case studies in a magazine-style design. The picture below is a demo.
Thus, the Activity Analysis project was born.
The Activity Analysis Project
However, I was busy on the D as Diagramming project from Oct 2021 to Dec 2021. So, I decided to launch the project later.
Originally, the Activity Analysis Project was designed with the following two components:
- A mini digital knowledge library about Activity Theory and other Social Practice Theories for practitioners.
- A mini digital magazine about activity-theoretical inspired mini case studies.
I thought these two features could offer user-friendly value for practitioners.
However, a new thing emerged and it changed my view on the Activity Analysis project.
The “Activity” Conceptual Space
During Nov 2021 and Dec 2021, I worked on closing the D as Diagramming Project (Phase I). In order to summarize the insights I learned from the project, I developed an integrated framework for studying knowledge diagrams.
There are two steps for developing the framework.
First, I published D as Diagramming: The Mind as Play Metaphor on Nov 9, 2021. The article introduced a metaphor and four perspectives on mind, meanings, and experience. This is an Epistemological Framework.
The above diagram shows four conceptual spaces which are named the “Architecture” space, the “Relevance” space, the “Opportunity” space, and the “Activity” space. Each conceptual space refers to a set of similar theoretical approaches.
Each conceptual space can generate several perspectives. For example, the “Activity” space can generate the following perspectives:
- Mediating Instrument
- Division of Labour
- Transformation of Object
- Levels of Contradictions
The above four perspectives are adopted from Activity Theory which is one of the theoretical approaches to the “Activity” space.
Thus, the epistemological integrated framework has three levels:
- Conceptual spaces
- Theoretical approaches
- Practical perspectives
For me, this is a meta-framework that aims to produce practical perspectives or concepts for creating knowledge frameworks with meta-diagrams.
Second, I selected the following practical perspectives for developing the integrated framework for study diagrams.
The above framework led to a series of articles. For example, the Mediating Instrument perspective from the “Activity” conceptual space generated four issues.
You can find more details in the following two related articles:
- An Integrated Framework for Studying Knowledge Diagrams (Part 3A)
- An Integrated Framework for Studying Knowledge Diagrams (Part 3B)
On Dec 16, 2021, I published The Diagramming as Practice Framework and introduced the Model of Knowledge Curation and a related canvas. Finally, I edited a new book titled Diagramming as Practice on Dec 30, 2021.
The above canvas is the final summary of the Diagramming as Practice framework.
This is an amazing project because it is a major milestone of the Knowledge Curation project.
Connecting Theory and Practice
On Dec 16, I reviewed my vision behind the Knowledge Curation project and wrote the following words.
The Theory-Practice Gap is an important issue in a wide range of disciplines including education, organization learning, organization development, community building, academic development, enterprise R&D, professional service firms (PSFs), etc.
If we can find a good solution to close the Theory-Practice Gap, then we can improve existing social systems of knowledge production, knowledge application, and knowledge management at the individual level and the collective level.
I have been thinking and working on developing such a solution for many years. As a serial creator and a lifelong thinker, I am passionate about intellectual development and life reflection. Initially, I was influenced by Chris Argyris’ Action Science and Donald Schön’s Theory in Practice and The Reflective Practitioner. In 2014, I started learning Ecological Psychology, Activity Theory, and other theoretical approaches. At the end of 2017, I wrote a series of articles on the relationship between Knowledge and Personal Development and developed a framework called Dynamic System of Personal Knowing. You can find more details from a previous article: D as Diagramming: Challenge as Opportunity.
In 2019, I found my own approach to the Theory-Practice Gap. From Sept 2018 to March 2019, I wrote a book titled Curativity: The Ecological Approach to Curatorial Practice. The book presents the Curativity Theory with a theoretical foundation Ecological Practice approach.
After March 2019, I continuously worked on revising Curativity and developing the Ecological Practice Approach as a new project. For the direction of Curativity Theory, I am looking for practical applications, for example:
- Knowledge Curation
- Action Curation
- Life Curation
- Platform Curation
I have written a chapter discussing knowledge curation in the book Curativity. For academic knowledge curation, I mentioned Dean Keith Simonton’s chance-configuration theory, Victor Kaptelinin, and Bonnie A. Nardi’s scientific curation case study “curation at Ajaxe”, and qualitative research. For practical knowledge curation, I focus on Cognitive Container since Container is a core concept of Curativity Theory.
Books and courses are typical cognitive containers, however, there are more types of cognitive containers. I highlighted five types of Cognitive Containers:
- Knowledge Card
- Knowledge Framework
- Knowledge Diagram and Chart
- Knowledge Workshop
- Knowledge Sprint
It is not an accurate classification, but a rough recommendation. Also, I suggested that we not only adopt existing types of cognitive containers but also create new types of cognitive containers. Actually, this is the essential point of the Curation Theory. We are shaped by containers and we can make containers too.
The core idea of Curativity Theory is turning pieces into a meaningful whole. For abstract things such as Knowledge, we need to build two types of containers, one is an abstract container while the other is a concrete container. This notion is the starting point of building a solution to close the gap between Theory and Practice.
In 2020, I worked on the Activity U project which is a concrete container while the HERO U framework is an abstract container.
In 2021, I worked on the D as Diagramming project which is a concrete container while the Model of Knowledge Curation is an abstract container.
The HERO U framework is about curating one theory while the Model of Knowledge Curation is about curating many theories. Both two frameworks are about Individual Knowledge Curation.
In 2022, I’d like to explore Collective Knowledge Curation with you. Now we have the canvas of Knowledge Curation which is an abstract container, I’d like to invite you to join the journey.
A Curated Mind
On Dec 16, I changed my view on the Activity Analysis project. Since the “Activity” conceptual space became a part of an integrated framework. I no longer see Activity Theory as an object for working on. For me, it can work with other theoretical approaches together.
I realized that the Conceptual Space is a great notion because it highlights the important zone of the Objective — Subjective Knowledge Curation.
Building and developing a Conceptual Space means Objective — Subjective knowledge curation. You need to connect established theories with your own personal life/work experience. There is a lot of work to do for this type of knowledge curation. You have to select theoretical approaches and identify the similarities and differences between various theories. You have to reflect on your own experience and imagine your future work in order to find relevant themes to curate theoretical approaches. Finally, you need to name your conceptual spaces.
By working on building four and more conceptual spaces, I develop my tacit knowledge into a curated mind with a curated epistemological framework and a set of models, diagrams, and canvases.
Thus, the Activity Analysis project has a new meaning for me. It could be a digital space for turning my personal “Activity” conceptual space into a public collective “Activity” conceptual space.
The “Activity” Thematic Space
On Jan 6, I published The Notion of Thematic Spaces and decided to use Thematic Space to replace Conceptual Space for my frameworks about knowledge curation.
The term Conceptual Spaces is inspired by Peter Gardenfors’ 2004 book Conceptual Space: The Geometry of Thought. I adopted Conceptual Space Theory to discuss canvas design and diagram design in Oct 2021. Based on the theory, I suggest a principle for designing canvases: A good canvas matches visual areas and conceptual spaces with a simple and unique style of spatial configuration. You can find more details in an old article.
On Dec 16, 2021, I published the Model of Knowledge Curation and the Canvas for Knowledge Curation. The diagram below is the model.
The model presents six types of “Objects of Curating” for a knowledge curation work:
- Theoretical Approaches
- Conceptual Spaces
- Practical Perspectives
- Integrated Frameworks
- Operational Heuristics
- Practical Phenomena
I used “Conceptual Spaces” to name one of six types of Objects of Curating. However, I roughly use it to describe large cognitive containers for curating similar theoretical approaches together.
In the past weeks, I realized that I should use a new term to replace Conceptual Spaces. First, what I am talking about is not the original meaning of Peter Gardenfors’ concept of Conceptual Spaces. Second, I use the word “theme” for Theme U, Theme Plus, and Themes of Practice. I think it is better to use Thematic Space for the model and the canvas.
This Spark led to a Detaching act and an Attaching act. I detached my notion about the larger cognitive containers for curating similar theoretical approaches from Peter Gardenfors’ Conceptual Spaces theory, then attached it to a new project called the Slow Cognition project.
This action creates a new Attachance for me. I use the term Attachance to refer to the value and meaning of acts of Detaching and Attaching. I use a new name (Thematic Spaces) and a new notion (the larger cognitive containers for curating similar theoretical approaches) and their context (the Knowledge Curation project and related models and canvas). It opened a new door for me.
The Attachance led to the Canvas of Thematic Space which led to articles about Mapping the “Activity” Thematic Space:
- Jan 6, 2022 — Mapping Thematic Spaces #1: OS Card and Mapping Clues
- Jan 9, 2022 — Mapping Thematic Spaces #2 — The “Activity” Thematic Space
The concept of Attachance is one of the core concepts of my work, the Ecological Practice approach. The value of the concept is offering a new perspective on Opportunities and Resources.
At the end of his 1981 book Darwin on Man: A Psychological Study of Scientific Creativity, Howard Gruber wrote the following wonderful sentences:
If you have effectively organized your experience of the world and the record of your own actions in it, you can take better cognizance of the choices open to you. You are better able to choose one of the paths that increase the likelihood of reaching your goal. You can avoid wasting time looking for regularities that do not exist. The more you are aware of the actual probabilistic structure of your environment, the more able you are to search for a really favorable opportunity, rather than plunging through the first open door. (Darwin on Man, p.252)
The path leading to Peter Gardenfors’ Conceptual Space theory is a closed frame, while the path leading to the Thematic Space is an open frame. I am not going to say that Peter Gardenfors’ Conceptual Space theory is not a good theory. As mentioned above, I used it for discussing visualization and conceptualization for designing diagrams and canvases. I just want to claim that the Thematic Space is a new opportunity for exploring the activity of Developing Tacit Knowledge.
For the Knowledge Curation project, Conceptual Space theory is the first open door. The notion of Thematic Space is the second open door.
The Context of Activity Analysis
The above narrative is not a complete story. I’d like to share more information about the context of Activity Analysis.
On Jan 13, I developed two new Sparks for the Activity Analysis project. I designed two diagrams to visualize these sparks.
The first diagram is about the knowledge niche of the Activity Analysis project. Inspired by the diagram below, I made a new diagram for Activity Analysis.
The above diagram was designed in 2018. I shared it in an article titled D as Diagramming: Challenge as Opportunity on Oct 6, 2021.
The meta-diagram behind the diagram was named Sandwich. A meta-diagram is not a knowledge framework or model. The value of meta-diagrams is highlighting the hierarchy of diagrams and the cognitive diversity of diagramming. You don’t have to only use the 2x2 matrix meta-diagram to frame your thoughts. You can find more details in my 2021 book Diagram Blending: Building Diagram Networks.
I used the Sandwich meta-diagram to visualize the context of Activity Analysis. It points out that there are three types of theoretical resources for the Activity Analysis project:
- The Hegel-Marx-Vygotsky Activity Theories: This is the tradition of Activity Theory
- The Continental Tradition
- The Pragmatist Tradition
The second diagram is about the notion of the Knowledge Center which is about the future of the Activity Analysis project.
On the morning of Jan 13, I designed the above two diagrams. In the afternoon, I went grocery shopping. In the parking lot of a local grocery store, I got a new spark about the project. I could use the development of my tacit knowledge about Activity Analysis as an example and write a new article.
I wrote the idea on a 3" x 5" index card. This is the seed of this article.
The Future of Activity Analysis
On Jan 2, 2022, I had a 71-minute talk with a friend of mine. He is an active curator of early local TEDx events in China. In recent years, he also curated local Design Sprint events in China. In addition, he often curates innovation workshops for local communities.
I briefly introduced the development of my personal studio CALL in the past year. Before the talk, he read the article CALL: Annual Review (2020–2021). The major part of our talk focused on my work on Activity Theory. As mentioned in the article, I completed the Activity U project (phase I) with three books in 2021:
I also introduced the theoretical concepts and methodological methods of Activity Theory.
At the end of the talk, we chatted about the future of CALL in 2022. I mentioned the Activity Analysis project. I told him that I’d like to run it as a Knowledge Center.
The notion of Knowledge Center is a new spark for me. I didn’t use the term to describe the Activity Analysis project before the talk. As a new spark, it emerged from a conversation.
On Jan 13, I designed the diagram below to visualize what I talked about the notion of Knowledge Center with my friend on Jan 2.
The above diagram describes an imagined project with a new concept.
- An imagined project: the Activity Analysis project
- A new concept: Knowledge Center
Now, the Activity Analysis project is a website that refers to my “Activity” thematic space. The website is just about an idea that belongs to an individual mind.
In the next phase, the Activity Analysis project is expected to grow as a knowledge center as a collective project. That means it is not my personal idea, but it should be a concept shared by a group of people who are passionate about adopting the “Activity” thematic space for their epistemic development. Also, they would like to contribute to the development of the collective “Activity” thematic space.
Phase 3 is building a Knowledge Community. The difference between Knowledge Center and Knowledge Community is Scope and Scale. A knowledge center may only have less than 15 members while a knowledge community may have thousands of members.
The three-phase development is inspired by Project-oriented Activity Theory.
I used the above diagram to explain the concept of “culture” from the perspective of Project-oriented Activity Theory. It zooms out to a large view that connects the Individual mind (Idea) and Collective theme (Zeitgeist) through Collective Projects (Concept).
Not all ideas lead to a real concept which means a social practice from the perspective of Project-oriented Activity Theory. Though Blunden’s approach focuses on “the formation of a project with a concept of the problem is an original and creative social act”, I think the non-problem idea could develop into a real concept too. Cultural Innovations can be driven by problem-solution ideas and play-for-fun ideas too.
I personally believe that the journey of epistemic development is for fun first and for labor second. Why? You don’t have to continuously develop your mind in order to master some work-related activities.
The about diagram also mentions three knowledge frameworks I am working on:
Each knowledge framework could be adapted to support one phase of the Activity Analysis project. The Knowledge Curation framework is for the development of the “Activity” thematic space (phase 1). The Project Engagement framework is for the development of the “Activity” knowledge center (phase 2). The Platform for Development framework is for the development of the “Activity” knowledge community (phase 3).
From the perspective of Project-oriented Activity Theory, there is a new Concept called Knowledge Center behind the Activity Analysis project. It means that the Activity Analysis project is the demo of the concept of the Knowledge Center.
I have mentioned other thematic spaces such as “relevance” thematic space and “opportunity” thematic space. The notion of “Thematic Space — Knowledge Center — Knowledge Community” could be applied to other thematic spaces too.
Appropriating Activity Theory?
In Thematic Space: Place as Container, I mentioned two types of containers: Abstract Containers and Concrete Containers. I also discussed containers of my “Activity” thematic space:
- My Life as a continuous flow: Abstract Container
- My journey of Epistemic Development: Abstract Container
- My epistemological framework: Concrete Container
- An article about mapping my “Activity” thematic space: Concrete Container.
I also asked the following questions:
- What’s next?
- How about turning the article about mapping my “Activity” thematic space into a book titled Appropriating Activity Theory?
- How about an offline exhibition titled Life as Activity?
Developing Tacit Knowledge is a journey of continuous discovery. A creative person tends to find more and more abstract containers and concrete containers. The Activity Analysis Project is a new container for my “Activity” thematic space too.
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