Notes should surprise you

If reading and writing notes doesn’t lead to surprises, what’s the point?

If we just wanted to remember things, we have spaced repetition for that. If we just wanted to understand a particular idea thoroughly in some local context, we wouldn’t bother maintaining a system of notes over time.

This is why we have dense networks of links (Evergreen notes should be densely linked): so that searches help us see unexpected connections.

This is why we take Evergreen notes should be concept-oriented: so that when writing about an idea that seems new, we stumble onto what we’ve already written about it (perhaps unexpectedly).


Luhmann, N. (1992). Communicating with Slip Boxes. In A. Kieserling (Ed.), & M. Kuehn (Trans.), Universität als Milieu: Kleine Schriften (pp. 53–61). Retrieved from

One of the most basic presuppositions of communication is that the partners can mutually surprise each other. Only in the way can information be produced in the respective other.

Extend Your Mind and Memory With a Zettelkasten • Zettelkasten Method

If you look something up in your Zettelkasten, you need to get unexpected results in order to form new thoughts. Surprise is the key ingredient here, as I pointed out in my introductory post on this topic. The links between notes make this possible since you’ll generate new ideas by following connections and exploring a part of your web of notes. The non-apparent connections are generally more beneficial to creative thinking than the obvious ones as they generate greater surprise. While your mind usually continues to work with the obvious, your Zettelkasten instead shows you the bizarre. It sparks your imagination and blows your mind as it confronts you with the unexpected.

Also, it opens up opportunities to connect thoughts over the course of years which in turn will generate moments of surprise. This eventually leads to discoveries of unforeseen connections and enables you to think out of the box.

Last updated 2023-07-13.