Thursday, November 13, 2008

Thinking In Ink

I remember a long time ago reading a hint that said:

"Never think without a pencil and paper."

I found this invaluable. Thought needs to flow, but to be useful it also needs to be recorded so that it can be revised, added to, shared, etc. The application of a pencil and paper is the use of a simple, reliable tool to do this. But a pencil and paper is largely an individual tool, and in a connected, electronic world, I cannot easily share my paper based thoughts with a team in way that they can add to them.

I use a Tablet PC, and I am surprised at how few have gravitated to this technology. It is of course "cool" and a lot of people are interested, but few actually use it. I use it almost daily, as a way to take notes, browse the web, read an e-book, review documents, etc.

The use of a Tablet PC is sometimes referred to as inking (since you do not have to use a keyboard), and I can do almost anything I need via ink, including annotations, notes, writing emails, etc. All of the same things I can do with pencil and paper. Sometimes I leave it as ink (my own handwriting and drawings), and sometimes I convert it to text. Let me pause on that for a moment so I can make sure it is understood. I write on the tablet screen with a special pen, and it looks just like I wrote on paper. In fact it can even have a notebook like template in products like Microsoft OneNote. I can write in various colors and ink, thickness, use a highlighter, draw pictures, etc.; anything I can do on paper. But the disadvantage is that my handwriting is not very good, so people prefer I give them a typed document. The amazing thing is that the ink recognizer, which looks at what I wrote in my sloppy handwriting, and converts it to typed text, is better at identifying the characters than most people are, including myself. Sometimes when I cannot figure out what I wrote, I run the converter and it tells me. I could explain how it does that, but that is for another day.

What I am conveying is that the Tablet PC works like I want to: informally and quickly. I do not have to think about the form of representation I am using, which may be words, a picture, connective lines, bullet lists, tables, etc. I just write, draw, etc. This lets thought flow much quicker and more fluidly, allowing a better stream of thought. In other words, my body attempting to record thought can work much closer to the speed my mind uses in creating it. And that improves productivity.

But even beyond the tools I describe, I want to point out that the posture of a Tablet PC also is integral to the thinking and recording process. The fact that I am not tethered to a sitting up with a laptop, or even worse a desktop keyboard/mouse and monitor, allows me to work in a comfortable and thought producing way. I can lay on a couch, sit under a tree by a creek, stand in a line, ride in a cramped airplane, etc and just think. And record that thinking in a way that is effective, allows me to build upon, and yet not let the tools get in the way.

So: Think in Ink, you will likely be surprised at how much it becomes part of your day.

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