Sit Still, Observe and Take Notes

Early on in my blogger life I wrote about observation (Sit Still and Observe).  In that post I reflected on my educational background in Anthropology to make the case for leaders to use the power of observation.    I still find observation to be a vital tool and process for leaders and thus, today we return to discuss observation further.

“You see, but you do not observe.”  “Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.”

These lines are from Sherlock Holmes and Socrates  and speak to the importance of observation for everyone and certainly leaders – A level of focus, interpretation, and simple excitement to observe and learn.  Clear the mind (good luck with that) and sit still and observe what is happening now around you.

Observation for the leader start with the external and easily seen.  Observations can also be internal and unspoken.   By sitting still and observing the external you create the space where you can observe your own thoughts and feelings.  Your observations can then extend to what is unsaid with the group around you.  What are we avoiding and what remains unspoken?

I will not dive into specific skills to improve one’s observation skills.   For today I leave it to intention.  Do you intend to sit still and observe the seen and unseen around you?  If you answer yes, you are on your way.  Yet I will point to a tool to aid your ability to observe and interpret what you observe.

As a leader do you use a notebook?  An observation – these days many people I work with do not use a notebook.  For those who use a notebook, it typically has only a list of tasks and reminders.

I have always been obsessed with notebooks and shifted my approach many times on how I capture information.   I went through a time when my business notebook was an artist sketch pad and I used colored markers to capture notes.   Recently I use ruled paper and a black pen.

Well, I got to be me – I am shifting back to adding color to my notes.   The colored pens remind me that my notebook serves a purpose beyond just listing tasks and reminders.   With that anthropological mindset, the notebook transforms to a Field Notebook.

The Field Notebook.  My field Notebook will  contain descriptions and even drawings of my world as I observe it.  What do I find important?  I capture in my notebook what I find important.  A random observation one day has meaning once I take the time to check my notes and connect the dots.   Meaning is rarely directly evident.  Observe, take notes and review over time. That is the power of the Field Notebook.

There are details and patterns all around me.  Side by side with my work notes (yes, tasks and reminders), will be notes on what I observe, both seen and unseen.  It is my world.  I will learn from it and my Field Notebook is a powerful tool to aid my observation.

“To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe.”
―    Marilyn Vos Savant

5 thoughts on “Sit Still, Observe and Take Notes

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  1. Love your post Michael. I have struggled with this for ages. Poor handwriting. Sloppy note taking. Inability to search and find quickly. Have you found a technological solution for note taking or do you do tithe old fashioned way?

  2. Thanks David. I remain low-tech with notebooks and pen. I tried to use iPad for everyday note taking and not fully comfortable yet. The best iPad app I found is Notability, but I own several.
    I am a big fan and user of Evernote and recommend it. I have it on computer, iPad and iPhone with seamless sych for all devices. I plan to try out the new Moleskine notebook coming out Oct 1. It will have special paper to allow for a photo from iPhone to transfer the page to Evernote and apparently allow for searching and indexing for the words on the page. Maybe the best of both worlds – paper and then transfer to electronic. If interested check it out on Moleskine’s website and same for Evernote.
    Overall it is a struggle for me too and I am working to focus.
    All the best – Michael

    1. Thanks Michael. I appreciate the color. I have Evernote and I’m ashamed to say it has become the overflowing drawer that you can’t close that has all of your nicknacks – a jumbled mess. I will check out Moleskine. Thanks for pointing me too it.

  3. Michael – really like this. Great and practical leadership counsel. There is something magical with pen and paper. Been adding entries in journals for 30+ years. It is spiritual in nature. 100 years from now, someone is going to uncover these fragmented documents and say, “who was this crazy dude?”

    1. Thanks – yes, pen and paper. I will continue as such and for you continue to do the same. It is not just some folks way down the road, it is interesting for ourselves to read back what we wrote years previously.
      – Michael

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