Take note: I don't

My college notebooks are pretty consistant...  pages and pages of a lesson title across the top of the page, and then... nothing.  All blank.  Page after page.  No notes.

In fact, I rarely ever take notes.  If I'm on an informational phonecall doing research, that's one thing, but for most meetings, don't expect to see a pen and paper in my hand.  It's just not the most effective way for me to retain knowledge.

Does that mean I don't care what you have to say?  Hardly!  It means I'm really listening intently, and completely focused on not just recording what you're talking about, but actually trying to understand it... seeing the forest, not just counting trees.  I'm trying to build a system of understanding in my head that not only helps me put the facts you're giving me into context, but will help me filter and interpret new facts that will be sure to come down the pipeline going forward--all based on what I'm learning from you.

And that's the most important thing for me.  We suffer from information overload.  I don't need more information... I need context and filters.  I need you to help me build a method and system for understanding what I need to understand... not more lists.  Because if I record your list, I'm sure to get another list from someone else, and see a list online, and before I know it, I have a list of everything--a universal set.  That won't do be any good.

I used to laugh when teachers would put up new math problems in class and call on someone in class to answer.  Those students would immediately go flipping through their notes.  Sorry, this isn't a problem you've seen before.  This is something entirely new that you're expected to answer given what you've LEARNED. 

You're not synthesizing!    You don't have this particular problem in your notes.  You're expected to actually think about it, and for many people, that doesn't happen through notetaking, but they're all taught to do that.  Take notes.  That's the way we all learn, right?

A lot of times, if I've been talking to someone and they're taking notes, I stop them.  The kinds of things you often take notes about can be looked up, while actual understanding isn't easily recalled.  This is especially the case in a hyperconnected, hyperpublished world, where all my brain needs to remember is that you mentioned a "search guy at New York Times" and it will take me two seconds to look up his information on LinkedIn and remember the name. 

If you didn't see the forest the first time, you're hardly going to be able to piece together the whole thing from the three trees you took notes on... and that's usually what notes wind up being:  A piecemeal, incomplete account of information completely without context.  Often times, this information often becomes self reinforcing and you can get led down a wrong path from it.  For example, if you're an entrepreneur and we're having a conversation about fundraising, I might rattle off a few of the kinds of angels I know that might invest in your company given what little I know about it, but maybe I don't really know enough.  You write these names down and then follow up by asking me for introductions to these people.  My assumption is that you've done your homework and figured out whether these folks are a good fit for your business.  Your assumption, however, was that I fully understood the nature of your business and suggested the best three angels for you. 

On the other hand, if there was some consistency in why I was naming particular angels, and you understood enough of that to ask a question like, "Are you naming those guys because they're all in NYC or they're all likely to do deals in the music space, because I don't plan on keeping the company here" then we can narrow down exactly who might be a good fit.  If you're just sitting there recording everything I say, you might miss that. 

Of course, everyone learns and listens differently.  Alex is a notetaker.  He's got a nice leatherbound book where he furiously records notes, thoughts, lists, etc.  That works for him.  Brad works the same way and he's extremely organized about it.  I often wondered if it was about creating a physical reference to go back to or helping to commit important facts to memory--or whether it was something completely different...  some kind of internal blog of thoughts born from the meeting itself.   Fred, however, I've never seen take a pad to a meeting.  He learns by interacting, by poking holes, poking bears...  He's a tinkerer.  He'll never remember the three companies you said you were in contract with, but he'll think more about why those companies are a good fit for you.  The next time you talk to him, he'll name you six companies you should try to do deals with--the three companies you already gave him and the three that are next highest on your list that you never ever mentioned.  

Also, when I meet someone for the first time, to me, it's about relationship building, not one way downloading. People aren't information stores to be downloaded.  In my mind, and for the way I work, they're applications to be interacted with.  I'd rather build a relationship with you where I understand your interests, your market, your ideas--what you bring to the table-- nd you learn the same about me, see how passionate I am, etc...  just two people talking shop and getting to know each other.  It's all about leaving markers for me.  I'll mark in my head what kinds of information I can rely on you for later, but not necessarily the details of what information that was, because I want to make it a great conversation so that we want to chat again. 

To be honest, if this is a one shot deal and I have to quickly get from you what I can because you don't have the interest in continuing this, I'm really not interested.  There are so many people out there with great experience that I believe you can get a lot further by focusing on the ones that like you, believe in you, and share your vision. 

At the end of the day, we all have different styles and different methods of dealing with information that work for us.  It's a bad move to interpret someone else's style in the context of your own and make assumptions about what it means.  I don't have a notepad.  I'm not good with notes.  I find them distracting, they never really get processed and organized--they're not going to do either of us any good, so trust me, you don't want me taking them.  I'll do the extra research immediately after a meeting to recreate a good portion of the lists you mentioned by connecting, tagging, discovering, etc. in exchange for being able to see the bigger picture behind what you were talking about.  If you can do both, great.

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