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Public notebook

Pencils for notes, keyboards for ideas

TL;DR: “Type as quickly as you can and always carry a pencil.” — Clive Thompson.

When the late Iain Banks talked about the inevitable “where do you get your ideas?” question that authors are dogged by, he said, “we have exactly the same amount of ideas as everybody else – authors are just better at capturing them”.

Getting thoughts out of one’s head and onto something where they can make use of is an essential practice for everyone who works with their mind.

The moment when the idea or insight occurs is where every great inspiration starts where every new novel, screenplay, strategy and scheme either sparks into life or winks out of possible existence as if it had never occurred to anyone.

In the last post here we looked at how an app like Drafts can be An Inbox for the Mind, but what about notebooks?

When it comes to meetings and listening to presentations I currently prefer a notebook over a tablet or laptop for taking notes. Actually, I’ll use a smartphone if it’s more discreet – say on a crowded restaurant table. I’m always careful to make it clear I’m taking notes, however – if people suspect you are attending to email or other things they can find it distracting and even a little stressful.

For focused note-taking, though, nothing beats the reliability and – it turns out – self-editing and précis skills required of physical note-taking.

This video of a short talk by Clive Thompson, a journalist who writes a great deal about how our minds work with machines, confirmed many of my suspicions about why I like note-taking by hand, as well as why when it comes to developing ideas and getting them down in a document, nothing beats the ability to type quickly.

Since watching this I’ve got the pencils and sharpener he talks about finding as a result of his obsessive search for the best example of each. I can confirm that they are fantastic.
For more of Clive’s excellent thinking, one of my favourite books is his Smarter Than You Think.
Categories
Public notebook

Online media: Finding balance between stock & flow

I’m grateful to Lloyd Shepherd for the point to a post by Robin Sloan called Stock & Flow. Recalling studying for his degree in economics, Robin recalls:

There are two kinds of quantities in the world. Stock is a sta­tic value: money in the bank, or trees in the for est. Flow is a rate of change: fifteen dollars an hour, or three-thousand tooth picks a day. Easy. Too easy.
But I actually think stock and flow is the master metaphor for media today. Here’s what I mean:

  • Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind peo ple that you exist.
  • Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interest­ing in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people dis cover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.

Over the past few years I’ve thought of hurly-burly of daily online interactions as being very different to the bigger content artefacts I’ve created. In the case of the e-books I wrote for iCrossing, at times they felt a bit like avatars, going off into the world doing their own thing under creative commons…

I’d meet a client and the e-book was already there engaging with various people. It was an eery feeling for someone who’d never been published much before anywhere, your thoughts-as-content travelling the world causing things to happen, people re-using them in all sorts of ways (translating into Chinese, incorporating in textbooks in India, using it as an appendix to a business plan, to name just three).

One challenge is trying to balance out investment of your energy and effort in flow/stock. Interesting especially if you are fitting these things around a day job.

Blog posts are a bit of both really aren’t they. Sometimes they simply let people know you’re still there – hello! – and other times (and you’re not always sure when) they become stock, a focus for a conversation, a defining statement about what you believe, a new turn of phrase that captures an important wisp of the the zeitgeist.

Generally, I walk an erratic personal media path, subject to wild swings into stock or flow. When I was writing my book on personal reputation online last year, I was all stock creation. It took me over to the point of madness. Other times, perhaps toward the end of last year I was living too much in the Twitter stream without much time for reflection, time for creativity to take shape.

As Robin puts it:

And the real magic trick in 2010 is to put them both together. To keep the ball bounc ing with your flow—to main tain that open chan nel of communication—while you work on some kick-ass stock in the back ground. Sac ri fice nei ther. It’s the hybrid strategy.

Balance. Equilibrium. Great idea, so hard to get it right…