No matter how many times we remind ourselves of their undeniable truth, certain simple ideas seem to require constant reiteration to stick in our minds. Things like: doing the hard task first (rather than last) is always a more productive approach, or that regularly exercising will almost always calm an anxious mind (a common affliction among small business owners).
As part of the Behance crew, I attended last week’s 99% conference, a unique gathering focused on how particularly successful business leaders and creatives bring their ideas to fruition. Shifting the presenters’ focus from the typical conference paradigm of “here’s what I did” to “here’s how I did it” yielded some fascinating insights. One of the most frequently cited truisms was also one of the most obvious: If you have a good idea, a hint of a thought, or even just an idle notion, for God’s sake: Write it down. (On paper.)
Throughout the conference, the importance of documentation came up again and again: Obama’s Design Director of New Media, Scott Thomas, trolled through old notepads to walk us through the rapid evolution of campaign ideas; Pentagram partner Michael Beirut revisited his retired composition books (he’s on number 86 currently) to show how design ideas originated, and artist and technologist Jonathan Harris paged through the journals that incubated the worldview expressed in his leading-edge Internet projects.
The reason that I think this simple idea bears repeating, like some of the old saws listed above, is that it’s easy to forget when we’re surrounded with so many digital alternatives to good, old paper. We can email ourselves lists, jot down preliminary thoughts in a GoogleDoc, or tap out a note on an iPhone, and yet none of these actions inculcates the thought in our memory as effectively as just writing it down by hand.
As a commenter noted on Beirut’s original Design Observer article about his notebook habit, a paper trail can be useful: “I've definitely looked back over my notebooks and discovered little trails of thoughts that led to more substantial work or ideation later. I've also learned a ton about how I work as a human being.”
Regular documentation in a single place not only helps us remember the important stuff later, it also allows us to see the big-picture patterns and themes of our own thinking – a useful tool for self-analysis and growth.
***This article is adapted from the research and writing of Jocelyn K. Glei, a creative strategist with expertise in editorial, design and publishing. She regularly collaborates with Scott Belsky and the Behance Team, who run the Behance Creative Network, the Action Method project management application, the Creative Jobs List, and develop knowledge, products, and services that help creative professionals make ideas happen.