On April 29th, a Saturday morning, I delivered the keynote at the Type-A West 2017 conference in Denver. I called it Plan Your Next Evolution. The inspiration came from my long-time love of writing with pencils and notebooks. Everyone in attendance walked away with an Apogee branded Field Notes notebook and random pencils from my personal collection. About half of those given away were Palomino Blackwings, the best pencils in the world.
I talked about my days as a newspaper reporter and the lessons I learned about how important it is to keep notes. After following Speaker Newt Gingrich on the campaign trail for all of 1996, my election night reporter’s nightmare came true. At the 11pm deadline, I accidentally deleted the entire electronic version of my front page story. Because I had no way to get it back, the editor and publisher were behind me for the next 15 minutes as I rewrote the entire story based off memory and handwritten notes.
Throughout April, I centered my research for the keynote on the science of writing things down. I shared a personal story about how my wife and I planned out our first ten years back on New Year’s Eve 2009. We are still working on some personal and business goals because life happens—that’s why you write in pencil. But I mastered my professional list fairly quickly, including public speaking. At no point back then did I think I would be a keynote speaker. But I firmly believe writing down what I wanted helped me achieve those goals. I often refer back to that list to see what else can be checked off.
The journalist in me turned my keynote into storytelling using other people’s words. I quoted experts in the science of memory and writing things down. The keynote wasn’t entirely memorized so it helped that my notes and all of the relevant quotes were in two Field Notes notebooks: the new yellow utility edition and a pitch black edition. Here are some of the quotes:
I prefer my paper system for a number of reasons. It gives me a break from staring at screens. It also causes me to stay in the moment and plan my days with intent. I feel satisfaction when I physically check an item off my list.”
Fast Company copy editor and writer Michelle Lewis.
Beyond treating individual letters as physical objects, the human brain may also perceive a text in its entirety as kind of a physical landscape. When we read, we construct a mental representation of the text in which meaning is anchored to structure.”
According to Scientific American
…writing stimulates an area of the brain called the RAS (reticular activating system), which filters and brings clearly to the fore the information we’re focusing on.”
Maud Purcell, a psychotherapist and journaling expert.
The present research suggests that even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing”
Mueller and Oppenheimer, The Pen is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking.
My goal for the keynote was to motivate the bloggers in attendance to consider the larger questions. “How am I going to make money next year?” “What’s going to change this year that will force me out of my comfort zone?” “What can I do now to start getting ready for the next evolution?”
I gave them a list of action points to write down in the notebooks with the pencils I game them. And they did. It was heartwarming to see them actually writing and not just typing on their laptops. I was already making them think differently. I told them that pencils give them flexibility to erase, then when they’re done, use pen to cross it off because that makes it permanent.
Type-A West 2017 was a fantastic time and I appreciate the opportunity to get to know all the attendees that took the time to speak with me before and after the keynote. Thank you to Kelby Carr for giving me this chance. I hope to see you all again at a future event.