1) The first reason comes from an example highlighted by author Ben Casnocha. There is little difference between taking notes to become an expert and signaling that one is an expert by taking notes. Ben's story launches from a recent Mark Zuckerberg talk:
Recently, Mark Zuckerberg addressed a large auditorium of young entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. He shared lessons from his journey and his perspective on the state of the internet industry. Every seat was taken, and the 20-somethings who aspired to entrepreneurial greatness were listening with rapt attention.
According to my friend who relayed this story, there were two older folks in the front row who stood out: John Doerr and Ron Conway. They are both legendary investors in Silicon Valley.
They stood out not just because their gray hair shimmered in the sea of youth around them, but because they were the only people in the audience taking notes.
Isn't it funny, my friend told me, that arguably the two most successful people in the room after Zuckerberg were also the only two people taking notes?
As I wrote in the excerpts from the Five Elements of Effective Thinking, experts understand simple things deeply. They return to the basics, over and over again. eBay CEO John Donahoe is widely regarded as one of the premier execs in the Valley right now and I'm told is an avid note-taker to boot. He recently said on LinkedIn, "Great leaders are never too proud to learn."
2) Tim Ferris, of Four-Hour Work Week fame has shared his intricate system and dubbed it the Alpha Geek style of note taking. His argument, at a high level, is that increased organization begets efficiency, saves time, and frees us up to accomplish other things we care about.
Here's how Ferris geeks out his notes:
Information is useful only to the extent that you can find it when you need it. Most of us have the experience of note proliferation—notes on the backs of envelopes, billing statements, hotel paper, etc.–that somehow never gets consolidated. Consolidate and create an index.
My favorite notepads generally don’t have page numbers off the shelf. Here’s how you progress with a non-paginated pad:
A. Put page numbers on the upper-right of each right-hand page but not on the left (e.g., 1, 2, 3, etc.). I do about 30 pages at a time, as needed.
B. Whenever you complete a page, put the page number in an index on the inside cover (front or back) and a few words to describe the content.
If it’s on the left-hand page, just take the prior page and add “.5” to it. Thus, if you flip over page 10, for example, and write on the back, that second page is “10.5” in the index.
The page numbers in the index do NOT need to be in order, as you’ll be scanning for content, then referring to the page. If you write on the same topic again, simply put that page number next to the previous index entry.
Creating an index like this for non-fiction books I read allows me to refer back and review key concepts in 5-10 minutes without rereading the entire book and searching for underlined sections.
For the past three months I've put Ferris' method into practice (see proof in the image above) and I can confidently say that the time spent adding page numbers and updating an index is far less than the amount of time spent having the "where did I write that down again?" conversation. (It's always weird when someone sees you talking to yourself anyway.)
3) Step aside Evernote, Springpad, and One Day. I'd like to step away from digital note taking and bring ink and paper back into fashion. Why?
Because perhaps more valuable than being able to point your finger to a physical reference is the effect the act of writing notes has on my mental recall . I'm far more likely to remember a conversation, the nuances of a conversation, and the key takeaways of a meeting if I handwrite my notes rather than type them (sidenote: It's likely that the wearable technology industry will attempt to provide this service. See Kaptureaudio for an example. Though Dictaphones seem to have bit the dust for everyone except the journalist so I'm still skeptical).
Taking notes provides a process to carry information from speakers, colleagues, friends, and articles into fully blown out conclusions. It helps develop my own opinions rather than passively mirror what is given to me. It puts me in control of the noise rather than the vice versa. And if I'm not making my own conclusions, a goal I often strive to achieve, then why am I taking in this information to begin with?