Bill Gates paid $30.8 million for a notebook of Leonardo Da Vinci's containing some seventy pages of his thoughts and ideas on gravity, refraction and biology.
In his book Management Challenges for the 21st Century, Peter Drucker suggests journaling one's performance over time as powerful tool for improving effectiveness.
Julia Cameron suggested the technique of writing "morning pages" in her book The Artist's Way.
When I began working with Toyota in the late 1990s, I was immediately struck by the fact that every Japanese executive I met carried an A6 sized notebook and seemed to write everything down in it. I picked up the habit.
It seems like a low-res, low-tech, old school method, but if you want to boost your creative output and idea quotient, there's probably no better technique on the planet than learning the art of the cahier (French for notebook).
There are two steps.
Step 1: Get a Notebook. It seems obvious, I know. But this step is critical. You have to find the perfect notebook! And there are so many choices... too many, in fact. Sure, you can do the typical Moleskine approach, and there are a lot of good options there. Fieldnotes has some fun little products. But for me, neither of these have worked that well.
I'm particular about size, the binding (for writeability), and what's on the page. I don't like ruled pages... too limiting. I don't like blank pages because I want some structural guidelines. I don't like grids because the lines and boxes are too small and close together.
Up until this week, I had been using the Muji Chronotebook (see picture), a little $5 item that actually worked as way for me to ideate and schedule, and jot ideas and thoughts down chronologically, but in a clockwise rather than liner or vertical way. Nonlinear thinking is important when it comes to creative ideas.
Then I found the new Dot Grid Cahier, offered by Behance at a bargain price of two for $7. It fits my every need unlike anything else I've tried. It's a little larger (4x6) than the Muji, but here's what I absolutely love: the dot grid. It's a perfect blend of two Zen aesthetic ideals, fukinsei (beautiful imperfection) and yugen (subtlety, suggestion).
If I need lines, I can make them. If I need a grid or graph sheet, I've got one. And since the dots are screened back, I've still a blank page if I need one. The subtle constraints of the dots is pure genius, IMHO. And there are two additional benefits: one professional, one personal.
On the professional side, the Dot Grid Cahier plays well with Behance's Action Method, which offers a separate Action Cahier. (I wrote about the Action Method here.) The two play well together. I very much like having my ideas separate from their execution. Why? Because there are two distincts thinking modes involved. Ideation is divergent thinking. Action is convergent thinking. Simple as that. Not every idea should make it to the Action Cahier.
On the personal side, my daughter and I love to play the classic "Dots" game, especially in restaurants while we wait to be served. You know, you put down a grid of dots, take turns connecting them, scoring a point for each completed square. The Dot Grid Cahier is made for this game, and who can argue that creativity and children are inseparable?
So that's step one.
Step two: Get started. This too is actually harder than it sounds. Where to begin? A lot of people recommend mindmapping as the place to start. But in the Creativity and Innovation course I teach, I have my MBA students start slow and ease into it... get to know the space, get in the habit of creating a routine around getting in touch your thoughts.
So, I have them spend the first week doing a free-form, open-riff activity. I instruct them to designate a time and place devoted to daily solitude, setting aside at least 15 minutes per day to begin with. (But don’t be limited either way -- if you only have five minutes, use it. If you’re on a roll, don’t stop.)
The activity is to simply react in words and images to a series of wise quotes relating to creativity, paired with a focusing question. It's not a linear writing exercise, which is why a non-linear notebook helps! Here they are, one per day for seven days:
1. "True life is lived when tiny changes occur."--Leo Tolstoy. What tiny change for the better can you make today?
2. "Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark."--Agnes de Mille. What small leap could you risk taking?
3. "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it, you will land among the stars."--Les Brown. What would you do if you were twice as bold?
4. "We are traditionally rather proud of ourselves for having slipped creative work in there between the domestic chores and obligations. I’m not sure we deserve such big A-plusses for that."--Toni Morrison. When, what and where is your creativity a priority instead of an afterthought?
5. "Saying no can be the ultimate self-care."--Claudia Black. What new boundary can you set to protect yourself, your time, and your creativity?
6. "Do not fear mistakes. There are none."--Miles Davis. What would you do if you didn’t have to do it perfectly?
7. "Eliminate something superfluous from your life. Break a habit. Do something that makes you feel insecure."--Piero Ferrucci. What habits, routines and practices do you suspect might be getting in the way of higher creativity and performance?
Try it. My bet is you'll like it. It's a great habit to pick up.