The JIT Magician

I’ve talked before about the importance of a narrative frame, of the process of storification that helps embed a thing in the mind. Well, the other day I finally found a narrative frame to go with the philosophy and strategies of just-in-time information that people like Tiago Forte are such proponents of.

A short aside: “Just-in-time” was a manufacturing term before it became an informational mode of operation. It referred to the mini-revolution in technology and processes that meant huge warehouses of parts that might be needed could be done away with. Instead of stocking inventory just-in-case, the denizens of Toyota realised that they could remake their workflows to have their parts appear just-in-time—saving a tonne of capital and labour in the process. JIT manufacturing is the foundation stone of lean manufacturing.

Anywho. A narrative frame for just-in-time information management.

Imagine three armies of combatants in a fantasy realm. The first army is tied to its supply train. It can move only as fast as the supply train following it can move. There is some leniency with how far away from the supply train the army can advance, but not much. This dependency is also a weakness. To inflict chaos upon the fighting force, an enemy simply has to dislocate it from its supply train.

The second army is made of autonomous units. Each individual carries his weapons, his armour, and all the miscellaneous items required for him to survive for a week or two. These individuals are grouped into squads, each of which is autonomous from one another, and so on up the command chain. Providing they have robust channels of communication, the units of the army can move further and faster than the previous force, and they are less vulnerable because they do not depend on a centralised resource.

The third army is made up of magicians. They wear robes and carry only a staff which they can use to conjure up all that they need. Their staff is their weapon, allowing them to sling destruction. It is their armour, allowing them to protect themselves and their allies. And it is their life support, allowing them to make camp and survive in the wild. This army can move with terrible speed and is a near-invincible foe.

The Magician is what the practitioner of just-in-time information resembles. He need not carry a library for he has a rigorously annotated and organised set of notes and procedures. Solutions to any problems he encountered have likely been previously documented and archived, and if they haven’t the JIT Magician need only solve them once to have solved them forever.