Entrepreneurial Learning Journey: My Moleskine

I started a new Moleskine notebook last week, always a special event. I’ve kept a notebook for nearly a decade now, a habit I picked up from an inspiring entrepreneur I met. It’s a journal for private scribblings and I was delighted to open a new one and start a relationship with a trusted companion.

The Moleskine notebook is the legendary notebook used by artists and thinkers over the past two centuries, among them van Gogh, Picasso, Hemingway, and Matisse. They became famous in the Montmartre district of Paris with the Impressionists, the entrepreneurial flair of the people, the place and the notebooks synonymous with creative thinking.

A simple black rectangle with rounded corners, an elastic page-holder, and an internal expandable pocket, the Moleskine was produced for over a century by a small French bookbinder that supplied the stationery shops of Paris, where the artistic and literary avant-gardes lived. A trusted and handy travel companion, the notebook held invaluable sketches, notes, stories, and ideas that would one day become famous paintings or the pages of books.

In the 1980s, the Moleskin became increasingly scarce, and then vanished entirely, the manufacturer, a small family-owned company in the French city of Tours, went out of business. Le vrai moleskine n’est plus, were the lapidary words from the mouth of the owner of the stationery shop in the Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie, where artists usually purchased them.

In 1997, Modo & Modo, a small Milanese publisher, brought the legendary notebook back to life, and resurrected the name with a literary pedigree to revive an extraordinary tradition. Today, Moleskine notebooks have resumed their travels, providing an indispensable counterpart to the new portable technologies that pervade our lives.

Capturing reality in writing from glimpsing and recording details, inscribing the unique nature of experiences on paper that stores ideas and feelings, releasing its energy over time, is far more intimate than digital recording. While Evernote enhances my work productivity and scheduling, my Moleskin enhances my thinking and creativity.

I’m a huge advocate of the Moleskine as a tool for ubiquitous capture of thoughts, jotting down ideas whenever and wherever they occur to me. I also use it as a conversation log, to take notes about all my conversations – or even ones that I overhear – that give me new ideas or insights, stimulating my thinking. It becomes a ‘mind atlas’, a book of mind-maps.

A new, blank notebook is full of promise. It’s an opportunity to reflect, to create, and to express yourself. I’ve kept all my old notebooks for the last decade, so I have a record of my journey, my thinking, my conversations and my inspirations.

My notebooks are of no consequence to anyone other than myself, unlike the collection of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, probably the most valuable notebooks ever created, which are beautiful works of art in themselves. Leonardo’s notebooks are a fascinating insight into his mind, they encompass all the interests and experiments of this self-taught entrepreneurial thinker, from mathematics to flying machines to art.

Da Vinci’s notebooks span most of his life as an artist, engineer and philosopher. He wrote in them daily, finishing with around 13,000 pages. His notebooks reflected his artistic innovations and natural philosophy based on his careful observation and precise scientific analysis. They are a tumultuous, sprawling feast of words and images, covering the astonishing range of his mind as he moves from problems of mechanics to art.

I’ve found that self-exploratory writing done on a regular basis into a personal journal has contributed to my emotional well-being and created a strong sense of self-knowledge, self-trust, contentment and sense of self. I find it therapeutic, it gives insight and perspective into finding your authentic voice, a practice that consists of listening to your own thinking and slowing down the thought process to the time it takes to write down a reflective and honest exploration of your thoughts.

Think of yourself as an archaeologist on a dig, curiously scrutinising and examining each thought, without judgment. At the end you can read what you wrote out loud to yourself so that you can hear your thoughts again in your own voice. This practice helps to remove the mental clutter or debris that builds up daily and often stands in the way of our creative potential.

Studies conducted by psychologists have traced many benefits to the practice of writing things down on a regular basis, and I’ve tried to copy da Vinci’s habit of always having a notebook with me. I often start with ‘note to self’, recording interesting conversations I overhear, capturing ideas for blog posts, jotting down one-liners I come up with – or just to capture random thoughts and insights.

I’m also a squirrel for capturing writing and thinking of others in newspapers or magazines, weekly and monthly publications. I tear the pages out, I love the physicality of having other peoples’ thinking with me on scraps of paper stuffed into my Moleskine and taken along for reading wherever I may be. I’m a digital magpie too with more bookmarks and printed web articles and blogs than I know what to do with.

I find the experience of keeping a journal much more creative on paper than on a computer. I’ve tried to do it on various digital devices but it has no authenticity and seems to lack purpose. When I write, I’m physically immersed in my own thinking and slow down, whereas on screen, I use my senses in a less engaged way – and I skim more, and I’ve got concrete fingers which don’t help with efficiency and flow of the keyboard.

Something different happens to my brain when I put pen to paper, the pace of writing or drawing diagrams slows you down and gives you more time for thoughts to come in, creating richer pictures. Learning never exhausts the mind, and simplicity of thinking in a journal is the ultimate sophistication, all our knowledge has its origin in perceptions, so let the journaling begin.

So for me, my Moleskin is a constant companion on my entrepreneurial learning journey, here’s a summary of what the habit brings to me, and how I use it.

Don’t fear the blank page You don’t need to create a masterpiece, you just need to write or draw something in the journal every day, you’ll realise how much you see each day. Give yourself permission to experiment, play around with material and make a mess.

Above all, stop caring about the outcome. It doesn’t have to be great, but exists as something that caught your attention that day. The whole point is getting stuff on the page. Once it’s out there, it can become a catalyst for other ideas related to your venturing endeavours.

Brings clarity to your thinking Writing every day logs your experiences and sparks new ideas. Writing is thinking. It forces you to examine your thoughts more critically and provides an opportunity to work through and gain clarity on the ideas, giving them some structure by having second or third thoughts about an original idea, that might otherwise sit as rolling tumbleweed in your head.

By noting those spur-of-the-moment ideas and random insights that you want to remember later, your racing thoughts become recorded and not lost on the hamster wheel of everyday stuff.

You get to know yourself My journal is a record of personal reflection. Taking time to shut out the loudness of the outside world and reconnect with your own thoughts in silence can lead to incredible self-discovery. The process of pouring out your unadulterated conversations in your head onto a blank page is both satisfying and motivating.

Write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought for are commonly the most valuable. Fine ideas can pop up at the strangest times but they tend not to stay for long in your head, so you need to capture them or they are gone in the wind.

I do my best thinking when in my ‘note to self’ mode jotting down in the rough that would otherwise have been swept out the door with the ordinary dust of the filtered mind. Social psychologist James Pennebaker has proven, writing expressively can uplift both your mind and body.

It improves your memory My memory is like a leaking bucket. Writing expressively improves working memory, like replaying a film from our mental archives. Recording the ins and outs of your thinking gives more permanence to an often fleeting moment, as journaling is not for posterity but for future signposting, a way to keep sight of what happened behind you that has given you a sense of direction and momentum.

The beauty of journaling is that it can be messy, and that’s okay, you don’t have to follow any pattern or rules, you can just write what comes into your head. The more free we allow our thoughts to be, the more effective the process of journaling becomes, and a better record to refer to for stimulating future thoughts.

Unlocks your creativity My Moleskin enables me to capture the often random stream-of-consciousness to get a great idea out into the light, you can nurture what was a small seedling into a sequoia of brilliance. It frees up thinking space to gain clarity on what to do next. By becoming mindful with what you are thinking, you can move yourself from knowing into a doing state.

Because you’re in a direct and unfiltered dialogue with your own thinking when you write in a journal, it can be both a clearing-house and incubator where you tap into your imagination and unleash your creativity and ideas. a jumping ground to transform from the light bulb brain sketch into reality.

Content is yours Find a quote you’ve come across and write it down, hear someone say something – a one liner – that has meaning, learn something new from an online course you are enrolled in and write it down. However you are learning or searching for ways to grow as an individual, being able to write down reinforces the concept.

If you’re anything like me, we often have a hard time juggling so many thoughts throughout our day, and end up forgetting some of the stuff that was important in the moment, overwhelmed or simply unable to process the jumble of inputs, floating thoughts and ideas.

Provides perspective Sometimes our perception of a situation can blindspot us. Journaling helps to provide perspective on a situation, and assists our brains in properly processing it in a way that fosters a healthy outlook. This allows us to function better and get more done.

To write things down, you have to think a little bit to find the words or to figure out what it means.  Right off the bat, the act of trying to write something down shapes your thoughts.   Once it’s down on paper, you can now list things in a way that helps you think.   Whether it’s because you cross things off, or prioritise them, or shuffle them to make you feel good, you are in control.

Build your sense of purpose When you start to write about the things that have caught your eye and are important to your thinking, you gain the ability to start to process them against your own sense of purpose. Not only can a journal be a place where we store ideas, information, quotes or sayings that move us, but it’s also a wonderful tool to help us analyse where we are at and where we want to go.

Journaling, I believe, is a practice that teaches us better than any other the elusive art of solitude, how to be present with our own selves, bear witness to our inner voice and personal experiences, and fully inhabit our inner lives. It translates the inner to the outer.

At its heart, journaling with my Moleskine is simply taking the experiences, reflections, and ideas that I engage with and are in my head, and writing them down for mindfulness. Few of us can write one thought and think another at the same time. As Jim Rohn said, A life worth living is a life worth recording.

This helps stuff to sink in better by creating more of an experience and at the same time, calms your mind. The Zeigarnik Effect says we tend to hang on to things in our mind, if we don’t finish what we start. If you write things down, you free up your mind from worrying about what you forgot or what you need to remember.

Now you have a bird’s-eye view, you can decide what matters and what doesn’t and you can rehydrate your ideas later on as you need them. For me, it’s a pivotal element in capturing the living moments in my entrepreneurial learning journey.

Of these the most important is naturalness and spontaneity. These elements sprung, I observed, from my freedom of selection: in the Moleskine I only wrote of what interested me genuinely, what I felt at the moment, and I found this fervour, this enthusiasm produced a vividness. I never travel without my Moleskin. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.




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