Here’s why you should USE your notes, not just keep them.

Keeping notes is one thing. Using them, something completely different.

I have no idea how many sentences I’ve written in the twenty years that I have been professionally active. The number of emails I’ve sent. The amount of documents I’ve read.

It has to be an unbelievable amount of knowledge.

And though I managed to take some of it with me, most of the information is gone.

I used to rely on my mailbox and a company dataserver that always had some kind of structure. I was good at retrieving stuff when I needed it (hello, search function!), but leaving an organisation would mean leaving behind everything.

Not that I didn’t try. I’m sure there are hard drives with all of my old emails and work files somewhere in the house. If only I could find them.

It is not about how much information you store, it’s about what you do with it.

In the old days I used Evernote to keep my notes. Even if I’d scribbled down only a couple of things after a meeting, I’d take a picture of the piece of paper and Evernote would turn it into a useable note. The technology was great but I was a poor information user.

What’s the point of having a giant inbox when you never take things out?

When I switched from Evernote to Roam Research as a note-taking app, I finally started doing that. I now have a far better information system set up.

One that actively resurfaces information.

The other day I was asked to write a text on nightlife policy and I found more than 80 hits in my notes on that topic. How’s that for a starting point?

Having a good system in place turns the bottomless pit of information into a fountain of knowledge.

No Email November. Why email gets in the way of new forms of team collaboration.

Here’s a joke.

John studied German abroad for a year and it had been a succes. Everybody in the German bar had tremendously improved their English.

If you move to a new country, it is easy to pick up the local language. Unless of course, you come from an English-speaking background. People will always switch to English as the default language when you are around.

Sticking to the default makes it hard to learn new things.

Email is a lot like English in that regard.

It holds the position of default communication tool in every organisation. Over the years we have developed various better techniques to work together on projects but email still claims a central role.

We use email not because it is perfect but because it is the norm.

It is a one way street where people send you stuff whether you like it or not. It is always a request for attention, never a collaboration.

And it gets in the way of new forms of collaborating.

Just like in the German bar, as soon as one person in your team sticks to email only, everybody switches to email. By doing this, all of our attempts to become better at collaboration are turned into ‘extra work’ not THE work.

What would it be like to ban email from your team for a while?

Imagine that ‘No Email November’ was a thing.

  • How would you prepare your team for it?
  • What arrangements would you make?
  • What would be the biggest challenge?

I have indeed met English students who learned a new language during their year abroad.

The way they did it, was by politely but systematically refusing to switch to the default.

Let me change the way you look at the word game-changer

“The pandemic is a game-changer.” I wrote the sentence and immediately regretted it.

Game-changer. Seriously?

I had this nagging feeling that I was overusing that specific word and decided to think about it more deeply. But instead of chucking the word in the bin I ended up liking it even more. Game-changers aren’t rare superlatives to be saved for special occasions only.

All strategy is about changing the game.

Every strategic approach is about trying out a specific solution after you’ve defined a problem. Defining the problem is mostly about narrative. It is storytelling. A good story helps us preserve information. It helps us make sense of the world.

But making sense of the world isn’t enough. We are the kind of monkeys that need to go out and change that world. After we’ve defined a problem, we set out to solve it. Strategy is action.

That’s how I understand Peter Drucker’s famous warning that culture eats strategy for breakfast. If you never get out of the talking stage, not a lot will change.

Narrative and strategy are a two-way street.

If a strategy ends up solving a problem, this will change the way we look at the problem itself. Without changing the narrative, strategy is just novelty, not innovation.

Therefore every meaningful solution to a problem is a game-changer. And since we’re the type of monkeys that enjoy solving problems on a daily basis, it is only normal for ‘game-changer’ to be a common word in our vocabulary.