Saturday, 24 September 2016

The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard

Taking notes in long hand might sound a bit old school, in fact some of us were probably pretty good at it when we were in school. These days we probably go into a meeting with our tablet or laptop booted up and type away a summary of a meeting or update bullet points on a spreadsheet or email. If we have been put through a barrage of PowerPoint we may just request a copy of the presentation and use that as our notes. Scribbling notes on a foolscap page is literally a lifetime ago. That is not a good thing.

Several studies have looked at how note taking impacts on how we understand and retain information. One recent study by Princeton University looked specifically at how note taking using a laptop compared with long hand. The laptop note takers scored poorly and were associated with impaired learning and a reduced grasp of conceptual issues, when compared to their long hand counterparts. The shallower processing involved when we just retype what we hear compared to the more complex processing it takes to physically sketch and write notes is suspected to be at play here, or as psychologists call it, Levels of Processing Theory.

If you are hiring someone who will be customer facing, a business analyst or integration specialist, ask about how they take notes. A good note taker will be able to describe their own style, be that their own methods they have developed over the years, mind maps or something more formal (the Cornell Method).

Good note taking requires someone who can identify key words, is organised and can get into the flow of what is being discussed. These are all key skills if you are hiring someone to capture customer requirements, understand a business process or detail what was committed to in meetings.

If you do hire an analyst and are wondering how they are getting on, take a look at their notes. It could be a window into how organised and up to speed they are in their project work. As part of staff induction, splash out on a good pen and fancy jotter. It is not just a perk, it also reinforces the importance of note taking, by hand. If someone asks you for a copy of the presentation you just gave, you can assume they will recall very little of what was discussed. That may or may not be a good thing.