Capture, Organize, Synthesize

Takeaway from a Mozilla user study studying how people find, save and share things on the web:

  1. Capture as much as possible. Capture without judgment: your thoughts are more valuable than paper. Externalize what you learn. Once an idea is captured in a tangible form you can begin surveying and manipulating it.
  2. Organize only after you capture. Filter, but don’t delete irrelevant information. Computers are big enough to search and store everything. Make them manage it.
  3. Synthesize into new meaning. Re-contextualize what you learn. This is the creative act, experience becomes art, notes become a novel.

Most creative bottlenecks happen when you try to organize and synthesize before you capture. Spread it all out before you try to arrange it.


Many creative tools are designed for organizing first. Name the file before you can write in it. Create your Photoshop layer before you can draw on it. This causes friction.


Pascal’s Pensées were collected mid-way through capture, organize, synthesize.

…the Pensées, a pile of papers concerning religion, were originally written on mostly large sheets of paper, some of which were subsequently cut into individual passages, of which again only some were divided into twenty-seven bundles or laisse, 414 in all, or just under half of the total were then attached together by thread running through holes pierced in the top left corner and knotted after the title had been given to the group.

  • Updated
    Oct 13, 2016

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