I’m a big believer in taking notes. Interestingly, so is my health care provider, Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates. For years my PCP (Principal Care Provider) typed away on his keyboard while talking with me. I was always impressed by his ability to pull up his notes from the last visit for his reference. And,of course, those notes were available to any other doctor in the HVMA system.
Lately HVMA has gotten even more sophisticated and addressed the one problem with having the PCP take notes: how can you pay full attention to the patient, especially their body language and demeanor, if you are typing away on your keyboard? Well now my PCP brings in a person with a laptop called a “scribe” and asks my permission for the scribe to take notes, which I always give. Occasionally he directs the scribe to record some specific findings. This enables him to pay full attention to me, while still having the advantage of having a complete record of the appointment.
So what does all this have to do with entrepreneurs? I have to admit that I have a bias against entrepreneurs who come to a meeting with nothing to write with, no paper, no pen, no laptop, no tablet. Now I realize these entrepreneurs are all far younger than I am – but so is my PCP – and have better memories, but I think this is a big mistake.
Taking notes not only give you a record of the important points – and I hope I make at least a couple during a mentoring session! – but it’s my opinion, and I believe studies bear this out, that the act of note taking actually improves one’s ability to retain and understand information.
Let me emphasize, entrepreneurs are not PCPs, they don’t need a full record of every meeting they have. But if you are an entrepreneur, I strongly recommend you take notes of key points during mentoring sessions, even if you have to ask your mentor to pause a moment while your note taking has a chance to catch up.
MIT VMS has a great way of encouraging this behavior – they require that the entrepreneurs submit a written summary of the meeting to the office after the meeting. I see these summaries and some are practically transcripts and it’s clear that the entrepreneurs absorbed everything the mentoring team told them likes sponges, others are not as complete.
Keep in mind: you are not a stenographer. Your goal is just to capture phrases and key points for yourself and to share with colleagues. If there are two or more entrepreneurs at the meeting, one of you can take notes, or you can trade off this responsibility.
This doesn’t just go for mentor meetings – it goes for almost any business meeting: investors, partners, job candidates. Learn to take good notes, how to share them, how to organize them, and most of all how note taking can benefit your learning process.
Finally, for many of the same reasons I recommend when reading a business related or tech related book or document, you get out one or more highlighters. My former boss at MIT, Professor Jim Bruce, Director of Information Systems, was the grand master of highlighting. He had a set of about half a dozen different colored highlighters and every document that hit is desk was highlighted by a system I never learned. But I did learn that nothing every got by Jim and he was always on top of every element of running the IT systems for a large, complex institution like MIT.
If you pass your book or document along to others, those highlights of yours can also be helpful to your colleagues. Of course, modern word processors, like Microsoft Word, have a highlighting feature, so highlighting, like note taking doesn’t have to be confined to pen and paper.
So while you may have two or three degrees, your education is never over. As an entrepreneur you should always be learning, and note taking and high lighting are two techniques to help your learning process. If you didn’t learn these skills as a college student, start learning them now.