Incremental learning promotes creativity by association of remote ideas coming in proximate sequences during the learning process. This characteristic of incremental learning can be used for all sorts of creative processes that need a boost from extra knowledge or better recall. The most useful cases of creativity enhanced with incremental learning are:
Incremental learning can assist you in problem solving. It will be particularly useful for the classes of problems with the following properties:
Many technical issues and bugs in SuperMemo have been solved with incremental problem solving methods. Incremental approach is most suited for complex problems with multiple reasoning paths or requiring rich input of new information. Some bugs in SuperMemo would be particularly intractable due to their complex technical background or difficulty in reproducing the problem. In most severe cases, it makes sense to set up a separate collection for working on a single issue. That collection can later be integrated with larger bodies of knowledge (incl. problem solving knowledge).
Incremental problem solving works as follows:
SuperMemo can be used in the process of creative writing, which combines two processes:
The technique of incremental writing was used to compile some of the materials at supermemo.com. Most notably, Good sleep, good learning, good life (2012), and the present Incremental learning (2013) article.
The main difference between traditional writing and incremental writing is that the writer is free to re-organize the material and review it with incremental reading tools.
The main difference between incremental reading and incremental writing is that the "big picture" of the article is built primarily within the collection, and to a lesser extent in the writer's mind. This is suitable for large fact-packed material that is difficult to organize sequentially. In addition, one's own writing may be the source of most input, as opposed to external electronic sources. Incremental writing is also suitable in a compilation of a large body of prior writing, esp. of materials that are repetitive, fact-rich, and often loosely connected. Incremental writing is less useful for texts with a linear line of thought.
Incremental article writing is an open-ended process that can be interrupted at any stage for the article to be exported to as a single document for text-flow rewrites.
Articles written using incremental writing may be particularly suitable for incremental reading. They can be compared to Wikipedia. Crowdsourced Wikipedia is an excellent source for incremental reading due to its incremental growth and solid local context. For the exactly same reasons, materials compiled with incremental writing are highly suitable for incremental reading. They may be bloated and repetitive, however, with incremental reading, they can be prioritized in a rational way. Incremental writing leaves the texts highly granular and the flow of thought is jagged, however, in incremental reading, this is an advantage as all individual articles and subarticles carry sufficient local context to be read independently.
The incremental writing algorithm involves the steps presented below. Note, however, that these steps are not executed one after another. All steps are executed incrementally and interleaved in unpredictable sequences that assist the creative process. Unpredictable association of text component is also useful in:
The steps involved in incremental writing:
Let us consider Good sleep, good learning, good life (2012) as an example. The source material for the article included its decade-old original version, several articles related to sleep and published at supermemo.com, as well as a great deal of basic knowledge taken from various scholarly sources involved in sleep research. Those materials were supplemented with the review of knowledge of sleep from a general knowledge collection compiled by the author. The whole process started from a massive review of the entire material with incremental learning. The construction of a rough outline of the structure of the article proceeded in parallel (in the Contents window). Supplementary materials were imported to fill in or complement individual pieces of knowledge. Figures, annotations, links, and literature citations were also processed incrementally in order of priority. This process quickly resulted in an article bloat, however, this was a bloat of valuable information rather than a bloat of excess writing. Towards the end of the process, individual topics from SuperMemo were imported to a single-page wiki. Some manual wikification was necessary at that step. Alternatively, multi-page wikis, blogs, or plain-HTML sites could have been used as the target of exports from SuperMemo.
The presented article: Incremental learning (2013) has been compiled from a number of older articles on incremental reading, priority queue, incremental video, visual learning, as well as older articles such as Devouring knowledge, Flow of knowledge in SuperMemo, FAQ pages, SuperMemopedia, etc.
The most tangible advantages of incremental writing in SuperMemo are:
When the fun of writing is gone, the writer's block can ensue. SuperMemo makes writing fun as compared to traditional methods (e.g. writing in a word processor). If you are in no mood to write about one topic today, you might be more inclined to try something else. If you are in no mood for writing anything, tackle some minor clean up jobs. Very often, once you start writing, you get sucked into the effort and the mood returns. A piece of information can trigger new ideas. If it happens in your writing slot, you can instantly write down new ideas. You can write them rough and short. But you need to write them instantly. If you keep waiting, the memory of the inspiration whittles down to just the need to write about a subject! This is how forgetting affects your own ideas! Strike the iron while it's hot. Process inspiration incrementally, and pick the pieces that raise most enthusiasm at any given moment. Those pieces will generate most new creative value.
Excess creativity and wish to include valuable information or ideas may cause an unstoppable bloat of writing materials and a never-ending writing loop. It is vital to keep all ideas well prioritized in a TO-DO branch, while the article grows independently in the ARTICLE branch.
Separating TO-DO from ARTICLE is the best solution that makes it easy to cut off the writing process at any stage depending on the writing goals, opportunity costs, and/or deadlines. Whatever is left in the TO-DO branch can be processed later or not at all. As long as strict priorities are applied, loss of value to the main article should be minimized.
Incremental writing will always be superior over linear writing for a class of non-fiction texts, however, the toolkit is difficult to master, and the strategies are not obvious. This is a new set of techniques that requires a high degree of innovative thinking on the part of the author. This is why we do not expect any significant degree of adoption at the moment. Incremental writing should primarily be considered by authors who are already masters of incremental reading.
If you combine incremental learning with incremental problem solving and plain old brainstorming, you will arrive at incremental brainstorming. The brainstorming part may be executed face-to-face or over e-mail.
Incremental brainstorming sounds like an oxymoron. Incremental brainstorming has very little to do with "storming", but it makes a very good use of the brain's capacity to build creative associations in fertile knowledge-rich conditions. Incremental brainstorming might be slow, but it can deliver more than plain face-to-face brainstorming. At worst, the outcome will be different, and in creative work, this is always a desirable complementary effect.
In face-to-face brainstorming, two or more brains, preferably with different strengths, specializations, and biases, engage into a fast exchange of ideas, where Idea X from Brain A might generate ideas Y and Z from Brain B, which in turn may cause a chain reaction of creative inspiration in other participating brains. Moreover, brainstorming requires a degree of mental discipline that may be missing in brainstorming with oneself (in one's mind, i.e. without incremental learning). Converting thoughts to speech slows down the thinking, but increases the discipline and may dramatically enhance creative outcomes.
In incremental brainstorming, this process is taken a few steps further. Incremental learning is a form of brainstorming with oneself, as mentioned in the Creativity section, however, it can also be used in remote brainstorming via e-mail. The main tools of remote incremental brainstorming are:
Incremental brainstorming may be slow, and yet it adds an additional degree of discipline with an archive of written communications. Most of all, it adds more sources of inspiration to the mix. In addition to the participating brains, incremental brainstorming adds inspiration from external sources of knowledge (with non-participating authors providing further inspiration). It also adds from the history of the communication. Due to forgetting, incremental brainstorming makes it possible to brainstorm with one's past self. In other words, the participants of incremental brainstorming include:
The main advantages of incremental brainstorming are:
The main disadvantage of incremental brainstorming is its snail's speed. Naturally, it won't be of much value right before a project's deadline. However, despite the hype speed receives in the media in reference to technological progress, the hardest problems are always solved by collective efforts of multiple brains working over generations. Incremental brainstorming might be less useful in hurrying a new iPad model, but it would be handy in slowly developing or slowly adopting theories like those of Darwin, Mendel, Wegener, and the like.
Incremental brainstorming is not intended to replace face-to-face interactive collaboration. However, it should serve as its rich supplement. It carries all the advantages of incremental learning: creativity, attention, prioritization, meticulousness, consolidation, long-term sustainability based on long-term memories, and more. It requires a lot of training before it brings fruits. Therefore, if problem solving or creative work are vital for your progress, you might consider mastering the following progression of skills: classical SuperMemo (for better memory), incremental reading (for processing text), incremental learning (for overall learning), incremental problem solving (for employing knowledge in solving problems), to finally arrive at incremental brainstorming, i.e. combining incremental learning with classical brainstorming.
The advantages of a slow and incremental approach to writing articles (and possibly in any other type of creative endevour) are similar to regular SMIR. But because the creation process is in most ways the opposite of the learning process i think that this opposite process may need its own features although i'm not sure what, exactly :)
Anyway, it's just something for you to experiment on if you'd like, if you haven't already.
-- Georgios Zonnios