Evergreen notes are a safe place to develop wild ideas

When you have some inkling about a novel idea, it’s tempting to try to immediately write down the idea and develop it in-place. But often, that’s not possible, practically or emotionally: the idea may just not be solid enough yet to attack directly. The blank page may feel intimidating; the claims may still feel mushy.

Instead, nurture the wild idea and let it develop over time by incrementally writing Evergreen notes about small facets of the idea. Those notes have much tighter scope: they just have to describe one atomic concept (Evergreen notes should be atomic, Evergreen notes should be concept-oriented).

The idea doesn’t even initially have to be related to any pre-existing line of thought. But over time, you can incrementally connect it to other concepts, old or new. See also: Spaced repetition may be a helpful tool to incrementally develop inklings.

You can Create speculative outlines while you write to tie those pieces together, and in time, they’ll accumulate into a more coherent whole. (Notes should surprise you and Knowledge work should accrete).

By contrast: Brainstorming may often substitute for missing insight accretion systems


Ahrens, S. (2017). How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers.

Steven Johnson, who wrote an insightful book about how people in science and in general come up with genuine new ideas, calls it the “slow hunch.” As a precondition to make use of this intuition, he emphasises the importance of experimental spaces where ideas can freely mingle (Johnson 2011). A laboratory with open-minded colleagues can be such a space, much as intellectuals and artists freely discussed ideas in the cafés of old Paris. I would add the slip-box as such a space in which ideas can mingle freely, so they can give birth to new ones.

Every intellectual endeavour starts from an already existing preconception, which then can be transformed during further inquires and can serve as a starting point for following endeavours. Basically, that is what Hans-Georg Gadamer called the hermeneutic circle (Gadamer 2004).

Pirsig, R. M. (1991). Lila: An inquiry into morals. New York: Bantam Books.

Because he didn’t pre-judge the fittingness of new ideas or try to put them in order but just let them flow in, these ideas sometimes came in so fast he couldn’t write them down quickly enough. The subject matter, a whole metaphysics, was so enormous the flow had turned into an avalanche. The slips kept expanding in every direction so that the more he saw the more he saw there was to see. It was like a Venturi effect which pulled ideas into it endlessly, on and on. He saw there were a million things to read, a million leads to follow… too much… too much… and not enough time in one life to get it all together. Snowed under.

Last updated 2023-07-13.