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Kevin Meyer

Quality Insider

Learning by Writing... by Hand

Putting pen to paper creates understanding, ownership, introspection

Published: Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - 16:47

Iam an early-adopter tech geek at heart, and generally am among the first to embrace a new technology. I love my gizmos, although I focus on how they can be used to streamline and simplify life, not add unnecessary complexity. But there’s one area where I’m still decidedly old school.

I like to write—by hand. I’ve tried electronic planners and journals, but they just don’t work for me. Instead of having to open my iPad, turn it on, select the right app, and then start writing in a somewhat clumsy manner, I prefer to open my small moleskin and just start scribbling.

Each morning before I start work I write down my top three tasks for the day, and I take a moment to record some gratitude—it’s amazing how that creates focus and changes your perspective and outlook. During the day I’ll take notes on calls, ideas, and to-do’s. And at the end of the day, I'll review—hansei—my top three to see if I accomplished what I set out to do, and if not, then why not and how I’ll improve. I'll record any final thoughts, which at my age is starting to be a necessity, so the next morning I’ll remember where I left off. Instead of an electronic task manager or online personal kanban, I have Post-It notes arranged in careful symmetry and order on my desk. Portable? No. Effective? Very much so.

Journaling is an incredibly powerful tool. Robin Sharma also talks about the power of journaling in this video. But there’s another aspect of journaling that gives it power: handwriting it vs. typing. Quality consultant Mark Gavoor dug into this recently:

“Yet, there is something more intimate and old school about hand writing,” he writes. “It is a different mind, eye, hand, pen, and paper interaction and interface than the mind, eye, finger, keyboard, and screen interaction and interface. It is hard to explain, but having done a lot of both, there are differences. Perhaps it is quite simply explained by the fact that I first learned handwriting and, until recently, did all my writing that way. It may just feel more natural and comfortable. Another way of looking at it that with handwriting I am creating, more artistically, my own words and thoughts directly onto the paper. I can watch a notebook fill with my scribbling. Handwriting is more personal than typing on a screen even though there are limitless fonts to choose from. Handwriting into a notebook, where the cover gets worn and weathered (might I use the word patina?) is different compared to the anonymity and sameness of a list of .docx files stored on a hard disk or cloud.”

I would distill this into something similar: The process of writing by hand creates understanding, ownership, introspection, and thus learning.

This is also why I regularly harp on the advantages of scribbling on whiteboards over typing into “the machine” and then coercing those data onto reports or electronic displays. When you write a production number, metric, or problem on a white board, you own that number, you immediately see the relationship between it and the numbers next to it, you recognize patterns and trends, and you may have to even explain it to peers standing around you. Action can be taken immediately to change an unfavorable situation.

Typing into a computer? Not so much. Somehow those data are mysteriously transformed into other numbers and analyses that you may see a week or even a month later, and the linkage, understanding, and ownership of that relationship is lost. You end up with a bunch of folks trained to feed the machine, and a different bunch of folks trained to supposedly interpret what the machine spits out. The problem—and opportunity—is obvious.

Write it, don’t type it. You might be surprised with what happens.

This column first appeared June 5, 2013, on the Evolving Excellence blog.


About The Author

Kevin Meyer’s picture

Kevin Meyer

Kevin Meyer has more than 25 years of executive leadership experience, primarily in the medical device industry, and has been active in lean manufacturing for more than 20 years serving as director and manager in operations and advanced engineering, and as CEO of a medical device manufacturing company. He consults and speaks at lean events; operates the online knowledgebase, Lean CEO, and the lean training portal, Lean Presentations; and is a partner in GembaAcademy.com, which provides lean training to more than 5,000 companies. Meyer is co-author of Evolving Excellence–Thoughts on Lean Enterprise Leadership (iUniverse Inc., 2007) and writes weekly on a blog of the same name.


I agree!

Kevin - I also find that I listen much more carefully and get more understanding, if I take hand written notes during someone's presentation. Sometimes I actually throw out my notes as I leave the room - not because the talk wasn't good, but because the notes - handwritten - already served their purpose.