Why you should keep a notebook - Part 1

Why you should keep a notebook - Part 1

Innovation Method
Genius Journey
Published On:
May 22, 2023

What is one thing that Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Edison, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, and Richard Branson each have in common? Among others, all these creative leaders are known for being passionate about maintaining a notebook. Do you? If yes, congratulations. But do you also regularly keep adding to it? You should, as all the aforementioned creative notebook aficionados have done. Today and in two weeks, let’s discuss some of the benefits of actively maintaining a notebook and how you can best do this in our modern age to preserve most of these benefits.

Background: Browsing through my notebooks

Over the past few weeks, I have been running a new round of my creative leadership course based on Thinkergy’s Genius Journey method. One of the things that I ask of the creative leader candidates is to actively maintain a notebook over the duration of the program. In particular, in their notebooks, I invite the candidates to do their weekly “genius exercises” (which help them become aware of limiting mindsets and action routines and develop strategies to replace these with empowering ones).

To illustrate to the delegates how I approached different exercises earlier in life, I decided to share the respective sample pages taken from my old notebooks. So I set aside some personal time to review my old journals. While hunting for the desired pages with the said genius exercises, I also browsed through all the other entries I made in my notebooks over the years. My notes triggered in me myriad feelings — satisfaction and happiness, surprise and astonishment, frustrations and disappointment. (More on some of these sentiments below.) Overall, I felt intrigued by what I saw — and it gave me the idea to write this present article.

So what are some of the benefits of keeping a notebook?

I passionately believe that maintaining a notebook is a must for a creative leader or creative business professional. Here are six reasons why.

#1. Create a personal record.

A notebook is an unofficial record that documents what’s going on in your life and what you’re working on at a specific period. In my notebook, I record personal thoughts and experiences; professional notes on client calls, lectures, keynotes, or workshops that I attend or run; and, of course, all my ideas and intriguing inspirations, as I will explain in greater detail below.

#2. Safe-keep your ideas.

I believe life is easier if everything has one place — and your notebook is the place to write down your ideas. When I ask people when and where they get their best ideas, it’s typically not while working in the office but rather while living and relaxing (such as exercising, driving, taking a shower, resting on the bed, partying with friends, among many others). When I ask them the follow-up question of whether they also write down a good idea when they get it, many people admit they don’t. Unfortunately, ideas are transient; they vanish from our minds if we don’t jot them down immediately.

What if your notebook is not at hand when a good idea comes to mind? Then, grab whatever is close at hand (a scrap of paper, a Post-it note, or a napkin) to scribble down the idea, and later stick or glue this note into your notebook. So, make your notebook your one collection space for all your ideas. And consider keeping a specific page where you collect ideas for something you need to do frequently (such as my ideas and titles of possible new article topics for this blog/column that I have run biweekly since 2007).

“I love inventing names, but I also collect unusual names, so that I can look through my notebook and choose one that suits a new character.”

— JK Rowling

#3. Collect inspirations.

A notebook is also a great space to record any noteworthy inspirations you encounter while going through your daily life. Perhaps you spot an interesting “quotation of the day” in your favorite coffee shop. Or you hear someone pose a profound, thought-provoking question in a meeting. Or you laugh about an excellent joke cracked by a friend. Or you relish a particular line uttered by a speaker because they have a punch. Or you read a poem with beautiful words that eloquently express an essential truth. Whatever inspiring food for thought you come across, please write it down in your notebook. You preserve it now and may use it later in your creative work.

#4. Create a log giving evidence of your work and creations.

A well-kept notebook can become a sort of official record offering evidence of your work activities and your ideas and creations that might even help you make a case in a legal proceeding (especially related to intellectual property). To do this, it’s essential that you date and possibly even “timestamp” key entries, elaborate on your points, and perhaps even visualize critical aspects of the subject matter. Based on his lawyer’s advice, Thomas Edison resolved that for “all new inventions, I will keep a full record” in his notebooks.

#5. Bridge the outer world with your inner world.

Scribbling your thoughts and sketching visuals in your notebook in a free-flowing way can help you to connect what’s currently going on in your “outer world” (your life and work as perceived by the conscious mind) with your inner world and subconscious mind. A compelling way to build a creative bridge between these two worlds is stream-of-consciousness writing. Take a look at my earlier blog post titled Boost your creativity with stream-of-consciousness writing, which explains in detail how this technique works. Consider integrating this practice into your notebook-keeping routine, or at least practice this every once in a while when you feel stuck or out of flow.

#6. Cultivate a treasure trove of wisdom.

If you get into the healthy habit of keeping a notebook regularly, you will amass a wealth of wisdom over time that reflects your soul and essential being and speaks from the depth of your heart. At least once a year, take half a day to review your notebooks to experience a rollercoaster of emotions speaking from the depth of your heart. Chances are that while browsing through your notebooks, you will feel:

  • Deeply satisfied noticing that, in the meantime, you have transformed some of your ideas noted down in your notebook years ago into tangible innovations and valuable outputs.
  • Happy to realize your amazing creativity and uniqueness of thinking.
  • Surprised to spot an idea you wrote down years ago that you can use for a project you’re working on right now.
  • Astonished about how some things that concerned you in the past now seem petty in retrospect.
  • Curious to investigate ex post why certain projects and initiatives you started in the past didn’t work out or deliver the hoped-for results and use this as an opportunity to learn from failure.
  • Frustrated that you haven’t been able to achieve some of your goals yet — and, on the other hand, notice how some goals you eagerly wanted to pursue years ago have lost relevance.  

In short, a regular review of your old notebooks can allow you to rediscover former ideas, renew your aim to go after unrealized goals, and learn from failure (= temporary setbacks). Most importantly, though, it gives you deeper level insights into who you are and what truly matters for you in life. And to reconnect to your full genius potential, it is essential to “Insist upon yourself. Be original.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

“I also jot down my own thoughts. Anything I see and hear can spark an idea in me. I note it down at once and often look back through my old notebooks to gain fresh ideas or to see what I might have missed. I would advise young people starting out in life to keep a notebook with them. It’s a good habit to get into.”

— Richard Branson

Conclusion: Creative leaders appreciate the value of keeping a notebook

Today, I made a case for why you should maintain a notebook like most geniuses and outstanding creative leaders have done across the ages. But how to keep a notebook effectively in our hectic, modern times? Come back in two weeks, and I will share in part 2 of this article some tips on how I maintain my “genius notebook” these days.

  • Have you identified other benefits of maintaining a notebook that I failed to address in my post? Feel invited to add on any points you think I missed in a comment.
  • Genius Journey, Thinkergy’s creative leadership development method, discusses ten opposing mindset pairs that either limit or empower you to reconnect to your full creative potential. Check out this video to understand how the Genius Journey works.
  • Thinkergy runs experiential Genius Journey training courses (of one to three days) for companies. Also, we can compose a tailored, more extensive Genius Journey development program for a group of executives who are eager to rediscover their inner genius. Contact us to learn more.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2022. This article is earmarked to be copublished in an abridged version in the Bangkok Post in the coming weeks.

Credits: Title photo by Emmanuel Ikwuegbu on Pexels.