Moleskins, Commonplace Books, and Blogs

JLM Our most liked commenter, JLM, gave us his thoughts on moleskins the other day.

In a comment to The Office Matters, JLM shared this wisdom with us:

If you have never used Moleskine notebooks, then you owe it to yourself to go buy some in every size. No conversation, meeting, phone call or set of notes ever fails to be entered into those notebooks.

Using a Moleskine notebook for a year and looking back and seeing what you did is as close to perfection — making love to Catharine Deneuve in her prime kind of perfection (where did that come from?) — as you can get.

Where did that come from JLM? You crack me up.

Anyway, I know a bunch of people who swear by moleskins in the same way that JLM does. They tell me that writing things down helps them remember things. It helps them determine what is important and what is not.

Back in 17th century england, the educated class used a similar technique called commonplacing. A commonplace book was a scrapbook of sorts for things that were deemed important. The philosopher John Locke went so far as to invent an elaborate indexing scheme for his commonplace book that he taught to many others.

I have never kept a moleskine and I had never heard of commonplacing until I read Where Good Ideas Come From. But it occurred to me that I have come to use blogging to accomplish a similar goal. If something is important to me, then I have either blogged it on my tumblog or written about it here on AVC.

And there are at least two huge advantages of doing it this way. First, I can search for stuff using Google instead of John Locke's 17th century indexing scheme. Second, and way more important, is that by doing this publicly, I can get everyone else's opinion and commentary on the thoughts.

In the words of Steven Johnson, "chance favors the connected mind." That's my new motto.


Comments (Archived):

  1. William Mougayar

    JLM for Comment-Blogger AVC Award of the Year!I use the electronic Notes app on the iPhone a lot to jot down quick notes and thoughts. Being able to search and retrieve is so important now. But nothing beats pen and paper for sketching out big thoughts into clarity as Charlie said.I leave you with this favorite Peter Drucker quote that I instantly memorized the minute I saw it:”Ideas are somewhat like babies–they are born small, immature, and shapeless. They are promise rather than fulfillment. In the innovative company executives do not say, “This is a damn-fool idea.” Instead they ask, “What would be needed to make this embryonic, half-baked, foolish idea into something that makes sense, that is an opportunity for us?” — The Frontiers of Management (1986)

    1. JLM

      I suspect that the next generation will discover Drucker like my 21 year old daughter has discovered the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.My daughter took some convincing that the Stones were “cool” when I was her age — something she says is not possible because I could never have been her age — because my generation is just so pathetically “uncool”.

      1. William Mougayar

        Well, at AVC you’re cool.Most Liked! It doesn’t get cooler than that.

        1. JLM

          Thanks. I will let my daughter know. LOL

  2. RichardF

    completely agree…my on line common place book is filling up with JLM’s comments at the moment.

  3. David Radcliffe

    I use Evernote for this. Keeps all my notes electronically and in the cloud so I can access them from any device.

    1. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      Yes, Evernote is absolutely awesome.

    2. SF

      Evernote has spoiled its users to expect data to “just be there” on any device if it entered on any device. I now really get annoyed at any service that does not just synch my data from one device to another automatically.Since being introduced to Evernote 2 or 3 years ago, I have converted a dozen of my colleagues after that. As soon as people leave the confines of “all my data is on this laptop” the synch features because so critical, it almost does not matter what else the software does.I also feel Evernote team does a great job optimizing features of each device version to that device’s capabilities and usage patterns. It is amazing this is not a ‘Fred investment’ 🙂

  4. Harry DeMott

    Funny, I’ve been slogging through ” A series of Unfortunate Events” by Lemmony Snicket withmy daughter (read aloud at bedtime) – almost through the 13 book series and a few of the main characters uses a commonplace book.I never figured I would hear the term outside of old novels.I like the blogging idea.I tend to write an e-mail to myself and send it to gmail – thus I have the ability to search it out.A also spend a lot of time bookmarking blog posts I like (I probably have enough Seth Godin posts in there to collate a new book for him). I only wish Google’s reader could categorize these better. Not the best system in the world.

    1. Fernando Gutierrez

      Like others have said before, try Evernote. It can be complicated or too much if you go crazy with it, but for what you are doing you can set it up quite easily:-You can send the notes by email (you have a custom email address for that)-You can collect post there with the web clipper (I believe you can do it even from GReader). Or you can just copy and paste them. In any case, it will keep the content and the linkNice things about this setup:-You can access everything from the cloud and locally (web, desktop app and mobile apps, all synced automatically)-You keep those thoughts/post separated from email/reader, which can get messy. Also, you can have different notebooks and tags for a categorization as complicated as you want-You have full and quite fast search-Free. There is a paid version of Evernote, but it includes features you wouldn’t be using (collaboration on notes/notebooks, more monthly uploads to sync files and a couple more things)I started to use Evernote for easy things like those. After that I’ve been adding new uses slowly when I found it had sense. Now I could not renounce to it.

  5. reece

    i keep a thin pocket-sized Moleskin on me most of the time.can’t beat it – lightweight, portable, flexible…i even use it for business meetings. vaguely ‘unprofessional’ (whatever that means) but it’s what works for me.

  6. Carl Rahn Griffith

    A traditional whiteboard is a great thing to have, for general free-thinking doodling and mind-mapping of ideas, projects, etc. My wife doesn’t exactly like the idea of my having one in our home office, but I am working on it ;-)Have also used notebooks for many years – not moleskine, however (sorry, JLM – I am more of a Ellen MacArthur – the sailor – man!) – I simply use cheap ones from Staples and the like. I keep an archive of them for a few years at any given time. Is interesting looking back at them from time to time. I always take notes using whichever Lamy retractable pencil I have at that time.When all else fails re: stimulation/ideas, I try working in a wholly different environment – for example, right now I am sat in the charming yet contemporary design cafe at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which is only 5 minutes from our village – overlooking the fields and works by Heny Moore, etc, as I tap away on my MacBook with my MiFi device sat by my cup of coffee…I should do it more often. Try the same, if you don’t do so already. It’s all too easy to become very insular in this business, staring at a monitor.

    1. JLM

      The coffee houses of Europe — which arguably kept the light of learning and knowledge enflamed during some very difficult time — are again the coffee houses of Europe.Great ideas spewing forth.

    2. Dale Allyn

      Conventional whiteboards are great in home offices too. Perhaps framing it in quality hardwood, as I have done, would help with the negotiation. One can also add a roll-top-desk-type of closure (wood or tapestry for example) to obscure it when needed.

      1. JLM

        I tried to make that sale w/ the Princess but she was not buying 12 x 4 of anything. I do have a boathouse w/ a really great whiteboard. LOLJust kidding, she wouldn’t even go for the boathouse, alas.

    3. Peter Beddows

      I solved my “wife’s objection” problem by setting up a board for own use … it’s now covered completely with ideas she thinks that I should be following up on. Talk about law of unexpected consequences!

      1. Carl Rahn Griffith


  7. awaldstein

    JLM amazes.Putting wisdom in a tale is an art that informs and entertains.

    1. RichardF

      he is the consummate story teller

  8. LIAD

    tumblr is the very definition of a 21st century commonplace book.A couple of years back I swallowed the extortionate price and bought a moleskine. Talk about a company with great branding – charging £15/$25 for a notepad! In using it I discovered, that far from the mythical superpowers they are portrayed to have, they are just very expensive notebooks.Having said that I find great value in writing things down. I have worked out my preferred ‘representational’ system is VISUAL (NLP – – as in my brain best processes information through it’s visual faculty.Knowing which representational system your mind prefers does wonders for your ability to learn, concentrate, remember and much more.

    1. Tereza

      I think the value of an expensive notebook may in part be that as a result of price, you hold onto it. Kinda like how you lose cheap sunglasses, but expensive ones — you treat with respect.I fell for Moleskines a few years ago. I use one type as my definitive place for To Dos and the other as a running log of things that don’t have an electronic place. When a book is done, it goes on the shelf and it looks quite beautiful. A spiral-bound book doesn’t have that respect. It is important to me to have the record of my thoughts and conversations land in an attractive place, for what it’s worth.One page in my To Do notebook is dedicated to a running list of ~30 blog entries I mean to write. Oy. Where does the time go? (probably writing blog-length comments like this one)My husband keeps a 10-year diary. Anyone have one of those? He’s on about year 8 and on any day we check to see what we were doing the same day 1,2,8 years ago. Very cool.A year ago I got the Livescribe. Great for market research and running in-depth interviews. Ideally when I conduct interviews, in the old days, I would have an analyst come with me and take notes. If you are being a panther in your interviewing it takes brainpower and there is not so much of you left to take good notes. But Livescribe takes care of that, it’s a transformational efficiency.I do have some issues with Livescribe, though. It’s ugly, it has bad “hand-feel” (should be heavier and thinner with better balance), the ink cartridges run out and you have to be diligent about charging it, because if the battery dies in an interview you are hosed. I’m sure they’ll be improving on those elements.

      1. Fernando Gutierrez

        10-year-diary… that’s discipline.Another uncommon thing today: letters. Not all that crap we receive full of ads. I mean long handwritten letters to someone you care about. It so uncommon now that the receiver feels really special.I tried this year as my girlfriend is living away while doing a master degree (I guess I’m a romantic!)… but I had to give up soon. All charm was lost the first time I had to read one aloud through a skype webcam because she could not understand some words… embarrasing! Back to email.

        1. Tereza

          Long handwritten letters do not get thrown away.Some day you’ll have kids, grandkids, great-grandkids. Know what they’re read? The one long letter that embarrassed you, but it’s the only piece of you they have.I have a box of old letters from the 60’s from Czecho to US written on the onion skin air mail paper. My grandma would write edge-to-edge, no margins, and so small — to try to keep it to just 1 page. All to keep the price of postage down.Priceless. I need to get them scanned before a pipe bursts and ruins them.But you know, realistically, I have a hard time imagining my kids/grandkids would sort or rummage through “old electronic files” like they would a dusty box. I have the feeling electronic files would be left unopened.Know what I mean?

          1. Fernando Gutierrez

            I know what you mean. Most of our beloved digital belongins will never be opened again, not even by us, a few days of weeks after we create/get them. The low cost of storage has made us lower the bar about what we keep and what we don’t, so the truly good things, like scanned handwritten letters, will get lost easily. If you had, together with those letters, most of the paper docs your grandmother used/read/wrote during her life, you would not have found those letters either!

          2. Satish Mummareddy

            I have a really nice book with only one essay I wrote in Dec 1998 (when I was 19) “@Window To My Past” about how I had wasted away the last 3 years of my life and how i wasted away my potential. That everyone had high expectations for me but I was busy chasing girls, fighting with friends and crying over stupid things. That I was always ambitious but I lacked the discipline to achieve my goals. And that it was high time I fixed my life. 🙂 And that I didn’t have a past but I sure can have a future. :)I ended it with””For I dare to dream, For I live in castles in the air, It’s time I built the castles, Time to fulfill my dreams, For the alarm is ringing, it’s time to get to work”I have worked my my ass off since then. It has been a decade since I came to the US. Every couple of years I reread that essay and think, I’ve come a long way from the day I wrote that essay. But I’ve got miles to go before I rest. :)I smile a little at my theatrics but I’m proud that at 19 I had accepted responsibility for my failures, that I knew I had no one to blame by myself, that I needed to change, and that I could fix my life.Maybe it’s time for a moleskin for me. 😛

          3. RichardF

            great story

    2. JLM

      Liad, my friend, it is not the notebooks which have the “…mythical superpowers…”, it is YOU — when you are at the pay window looking at the notes you made three years ago which gave rise to that moment and caressing a big fat check.The only thing better would be running your fingers through Catharine Deneuve’s blonde locks. But I digress.I have decades of Moleskines. Some for specific subjects — 2001 Lakehouse Renovation. And I can see my life unfold in those notebooks. I even admit to every once in a while getting a big cup of coffee, cracking open the notebook from 1998 and reading through it. It gives me just a bit of perspective and it allows me to enjoy how my thinking has changed.As to the expense, my God, man, YOU are worth every penny of it.On a serious note, you are doing the exact same thing but in your own style. Bravo!Having been in business since before the invention of the PC, I cling to those traditions while thumbing away on my iPad.OK, I will share a secret with you — they really are mythical and superpowered and if you keep a set for 5 years you will go to the pay window at least once or I will make up the difference!

      1. LIAD

        thanks for the comment JLM.I do appreciate the value of what your saying. I will increase and broaden my note-taking.I get how the stature and quality of the moleskines themselves increase their value and the chance they will be kept as keepsakes and re-visted and not just discarded.Do you use a certain pen when making notes? – I’m quite particular when it comes to my ‘note’ pens and lately found a style which really works for me.Regarding this pay window to which you refer, they sound quite exciting. Pray tell where they are best found and in most abundant supply. I must make a point of making a visit

        1. JLM

          Ahh, yes, the pay window. The elusive pay window.Envision something like the pay window at a race track but much more grand with thick green glass, slightly tarnished bronze trim and a marble counter worn smooth and with the slightest evidence of a pit in the middle worn by the sliding of millions of dollars across its tongue. Each surface is cold and the fit is tight and substantial.There is a door just on the other side. Made of a flat finished but warmly polished mahogany upon which simple gold leaf letters simply say — PAY WINDOW. No other adornment.It is the opening and closing of this door which transforms dreams into reality and then back into dreams. I myself have only seen it open several times — perhaps more than others but surely less than some. Like seeing a double rainbow — rare but remarkable.The pay window is found most easily at your desk at 6:00 AM and at home beside your computer at say, 1:00 AM. Or traveling with your boxers slowly struggling to strangle you while stranded at O’Hare.The pay window requires its own non-negotiable single minded tuition. It is ethereal, escaping capture for years at a time and then, voila — you are an overnight success!The pay window opens without warning, like the Bermuda Triangle, and it conveys great abundance upon those who have paid their dues and have faithfully pursued it. Abundance that results in a feeling of guilt, just a twinge, and a renewed appreciation for luck, mojo, karma and lagniappe.But in the final assessment, guys like you and me, we don’t really care about the money, it is the excitement of the hunt, the sport of business, the building of a successful team and the thrill of solving a problem. The thrill of seeing the door at the pay window open and the sound of those banknotes sliding across that burnished marble — not for their material value but for the memories of a job well done — captured perhaps in a stack of treasured Moleskines?It is a very dangerous kind of capital — addictive really — because the money guys cannot fashion golden handcuffs from such brittle material. It does not respond to their touch.As to pens, I personally favor Pentel 0.5mm in black, red, blue and a couple of yellow and blue highlighters. Cheap pens for wealthy thoughts. Expensive notebooks but cheap pens.I love looking back at my notes, diagrams and scribbles in different colors, each meaning something different to me, and the colored highlights. An orderly and disciplined symphony of color which shows great ideas taking shape a line at a time. All lines leading to the pay window.But, hey, that’s just me.

          1. Mark Essel

            Would you consider making them into published works at some point down the road? Or is there too much potential for our greatest enemies and dearest friends (attorneys) to misuse such precious information.In lieu of the Moleskins I’d settle for a JLM autobiography. Too many people don’t have the pleasure of reading your comments and thoughts on a regular basis, this is an injustice you can remedy!

          2. JLM

            They would mean nothing without the context being explained. They are mostly quite pedestrian and mundane. But they are useful to me.

          3. CJ

            It’s the explanation and the context that make the book. Occurrences are nothing without them, you have only to look at your explanation of Pay Window to understand what I’m saying.

          4. JLM

            I was born in a snow storm at Camp Kilmer my mother having trudged to the dispensary through the drifting snow to be delivered of her burden by a psychiatrist — hey, he was the only doctor available. I was trouble from the start.I was an Ash Wednesday baby — the Irish think to be the luckiest persons in world.I have lived the American Dream and realized we are all fundamentally the same — all mostly good people. All quite ordinary until thrown into extraordinary circumstances. And that most of life is just luck but the earlier I go to work the luckier I seem to become.I have encountered luck at every turn even while lying beaten and vanquished not realizing that luck had saved me from an even worse fate. I have taken some real beatings and never been tempted to revenge, karma having been my ally and having exacted its own form of revenge.I have a sense of humor which I am still able to operate from time to time. Knowing myself well, it is impossible to take myself seriously.I have carved the earth, been tested in mortal struggles, fathered two fantastic kids, built tall buildings and planted trees. I have made a modest little scratch upon the world and know it to be completely meaningless. I love the leveling humility of life. I have been a friend without recompense while earning a huge reward on that investment.I love people of all types and stations and have noticed that nobody in a sauna is able to convey their own status and affectations effectively. I think all men equal. I particularly like women.I have charged the fires of Hell with a half full thimble and got out w/ nothing more than first degree burns.I have married the woman of my dreams and found out I really had small black and white dreams. She has helped me to dream in color. There is just something about those Southern bondes. I was smitten at the first “ya’ll” and it took 10 years to close the deal.I intend to live forever and fight death the best out of five and having lost, I will ask for the best of seven, etc. When Hell freezes over, I will lace up my skates and fight the Devil on the ice. I am not going without a fight.Everything else has been a blast.Autobiography.

          5. Mark Essel

            Even though we live in separate worlds and only communicate through a few words and tales, I consider myself fortunate. For having bumped into you here in this place that is not a place, where dreams collide with reality, we discover when one is more important. Dreams can’t feed hungry bellies and food can’t guide dispassionate souls. My interest has always been building something that matters, just once. But recognizing real value and letting it soak into my bones has been no small, quick, or pleasant thing.It’s not the tools, technology or sleek designs that make an impact. Each time I pick up a new language or framework I use it as a gauge for it’s crafter. The real wealth is art and wisdom, the words and forms that convey them, the selfless acts they inspire, and the lives they change that matter.All the games I play here mean little to those without clean water, food, shelter or hope. Satisfying the current and conjured desires of man means selling what is most needed, not what is easy to sell. Only then do I have a chance of become another missionary for the value of distributed knowledge, communication and how we redefine education.I can see a long time from know, where the motivation of profit (attention) is measured against lasting social value and community impact just as we weigh environmental impact today. No longer will corporate efforts be shrouded in gimmicks which prey on man’s unquenchable thirst for something greater than himself, with nothing more than sparkling sand.If the world were to end tomorrow, I’d relish one more day building something to be proud of.

          6. JLM

            Most impressive! Real wisdom and passion.

          7. Peter Beddows

            The eloquence of both of you (Mark and JLM) here makes reading this both greatly interesting and informative. Really enjoyable.

          8. panterosa,

            I am interested in the colors you chose – black, red, blue and blue and yellow highlighters. What do they stand for?I have to have a full rainbow plus purple and pink(not in spectrum), brown and black, grey if available. We have been amassing and merging sets of whiteboard markers to have the array above for my daughter.I add a note-taking form here too – iPhone pix. I often no longer write but snap. I think I will put up whiteboard vinyl in the shower since today I almost lost a few thoughts via interruption from shower to pen. I could have just written it there and taken an iPic. It would join my picture file, which eventually needs to be bound. That would be nice. I can think of the pay window already.

          9. JLM

            Black is for the base notation.Red is for emergencies. Lots of red stars, boxes and clouds.Blue is for follow up by someone else. I then check it off when I have delegated it. When I review my notes, I can check to see if I delegated the requiremenet.The yellow highlighter is for me to do something or to note something.The blue highlighter is for someone else to do something.My whole job is to get someone else to do everything that needs to be done.

          10. panterosa,

            Interesting.I like the idea of blue as ‘delegate’.I clearly do not use blue enough!! Perhaps I will begin now.

          11. Tereza

            Whoah. I’ve climbed the mountain and met Buddha.

          12. joeagliozzo

            “My whole job is to get someone else to do everything that needs to be done. “Love that line.There is no shame in delegating – words to live by.

          13. fredwilson

            i’m doing that with JLMi just tee him up and he provides endless words of wisdom to everyone here at AVC:)

          14. Peter Beddows

            Small wonder then Fred, that you have enjoyed the successes that you have had: You have shown that you know how to open the door and encourage the follow-through with little effort expended: Great ROI!

          15. Kelvin

            Do you have a pocket protector to carry also those pens?

          16. JLM

            No, but sometimes I do employ a Masai or Maori gun bearer. LOL________________________________

          17. Tereza

            I like a cup of Blue Bic Round Sticks, and retractable Papermate pencils.Always work, they don’t run, and easy on the hand.I love not worrying if I lost my pen. There are always 50 more.

      2. Mark Essel

        “OK, I will share a secret with you — they really are mythical and superpowered and if you keep a set for 5 years you will go to the pay window at least once or I will make up the difference!”Sold.I’m sticking with my blog/email records for easy searching but there is something beautifully nostalgic about paging through an old book that carries my dreams ten years from now. Do I trust ink more than bits though? And my hand writing is atrocious and slow, it will give me pause as I write each word but without the ability to edit my entries I’ll be cursed to a train wreck of grammar and skipped thoughts.

        1. RichardF

          There’s a bit of a theme going on here with bad hand writing. Mine is also appalling. But I do have a love for pens and tend to buy them to celebrate special occasions. I might have to try using a moleskin just to see if I use my pens more often!

  9. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

    That’s pretty much how I use Tumblr as well, especially with the bookmarklet. And Twitter. And I know a lot of people use Delicious that way too. Hmm, what do these three have in common? ;)It reminds me of Quora’s mission statement, to put the knowledge that’s inside people’s heads on the internet. It seems to me that most of the great social services, perhaps unwittingly, accomplish this, to different extents and in different ways. And that that’s very good indeed.

    1. fredwilson

      not just quora’s missionstack overflow’s too

      1. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

        I knew you’d have to mention StackOverflow. :)PEG

  10. ErikSchwartz

    When I did the singlehanded transpacific race back in 2002 and again in 2004 I started using those school composition books as log books. A place to jot down notes, where my competitors were, roll call information, barometer readings. Anything really.…They’re bound . They are cheap (~$2). You can get them anywhere. They were great on the boat and I still use them now. I like paper because it’s easy to diagram stuff and that’s how I think.The other thing I am using now is speech to text on Android (especially for ideas when driving)

    1. JLM

      Forget notebooks — singlehanded across the Pacific? Damn!Now that’s a story I want to hear!

      1. fredwilson

        me toowe’ve got some interesting folks around here

        1. JLM

          Transpacific guest blog?

      2. Carl Rahn Griffith

        Ditto!What Ellen MacArthur did is awesome enough but this sounds a fantastic story/experience to share, Erik.By the way, if not read it already I can highly recommend Ellen’s book ‘Taking on the World’ – inspiring stuff, quite a lady:…I’ve experienced pretty much most things I wanted to in life, in many respects, but I really want to crack sailing/the seas, one of these days. So much respect for people who take on such challenges.

    2. Peter Beddows

      Always wanted to do that. Closest I came was in owning a Transpac equipped Islander Peterson that, sadly, was forfeited in the divorce but at least I got to sail a few times in the annual Labor day SF to Santa Cruz race on a friends boat ~ a small fraction of the distance to Hawaii! {grin}

  11. awaldstein

    Fred…your comment on blogging to remember and community to jostle the idea about captures it for me.I started my wine blog to remember what I liked to drink and why, my blog to clarify my ideas to my clients and friends, and my tumblr to chronicle my daily thoughts past a Facebook wall. Add this to a comment world connected through Disqus, Delicious for bookmarks, a homegrown contact database and a discoverable idea map starts to form.Pre all this, emails to myself, memory and forgetfutfulness I guess.

    1. fredwilson

      i was searching for some details on a red wine the other night and the first hit from google was your blogi read your post and bought the winethank you

      1. awaldstein

        Cool that we connected through Google to a shared interest around the wines of the Jura.A side note on the magic of blogs…I decided to connect my wine and tech/lifestyle blogs together from the onset. Seemingly unconnected except through personal passion but I rarely make a new connection who doesn’t bring up wine at the first meeting.Enjoy Philippe Bornard’s Trousseau.

  12. kagilandam

    As a part of research we are compelled to write down everyday activity in note book with date (or dedicate 1-page /day). So on an average every researcher would have scrambled about 1500-2000 pages. While doing research we call it “Toilet napkins” … because it was a pain to write and you boss will go through it whenever he finds time (even in your absence as well).It was a pain BUT …Sometimes it is fun to go back and see what you thought as “eureka finding ” sounds stupid after a really really really helps when you finally sit down and write your thesis.

    1. RichardF

      lab books are really important when establishing patents.

      1. kagilandam

        Yes… “first to invent” proof. I understood the importance just before completing my degree… But as a student everyone hates writing (including exams) and that is too if someone is going to sniff around. Secondly during party hours it was fun to say ” My boss will be sniffing my Toilet paper now”.

  13. Joshua LeVasseur

    I use a Mead Five Star, as it remains open while you write in it because it is spiral bound, but it fixes the problems of a spiral: it sheathes the spiral to stop it from binding on the environment around it.

  14. William Mougayar

    There’s this interesting app where you can share your notes between desktop and mobile, kind of cloud-notes . The tough part is switching to a new system.

  15. panterosa,

    In art school we had 8×10 blank books for drawings, notes and loose pictures glued in. I have one which has a 2″ spine but was filled to 4″ from 1985 and it is so rich with that year. I liked the chronological component of having that time capsule.Having moved on to work in many disciplines, I have some moleskin type books, and my fountain pen so I can draw as well as write, but then have myriad other places where notes live. Chronology did not serve discipline specifics so well since it is not continuous linear trajectory, and disciplines have different size paper needed.That said, I have hoped to then archive the multi-discipline stuff into year boxes. Mind mapping style helped to organize this at least, since it all became color coded. SInce I work in color consulting I found it the fastest visual finding mechanism. But then I rather play colorku than sudoku.I hope reading Edward Tufte will clarify my thoughts for the next round.

  16. Gary Sharma

    Fred, thanks for the introduction to Steven Johnson. I watched the TED talk last nite, loved it and am pre-ordering the book. Always a thrill to discover an interesting new author and cannot wait to read some of his earlier works.+1000 for JLM, great commenters everywhere and Disqus. Back in the early days of blogging (Om, Dave, Anil) it was always as much about the thought provoking posts as the community around it (not too different from Steven Johnson’s coffeehouses, eh?)Somewhere along the road as blogs started to go mainstream, reading (and participating) in comment threads started becoming painful as anonymous trolling and sniping became the norm. So I think what Disqus is doing in terms of not only bringing back accountability but also rewarding good comments is pretty neat.Of course tools only go so far and in the end lot of kudos goes to the blogger for utilizing them well.I guess what I’m trying to say is that is a coffeehouse that I like to hang out and get inspired at and here’s hoping we start seeing more such coffeehouses spring up everywhere 🙂

    1. fredwilson

      me too gary

  17. DonRyan

    First things first- JLM is amazing. Truly a modern renaissance man.Second- I do have a Moleskin but candidly, I rarely use it. In fact, I use notes in Outlook more often because it syncs across all of my electronic platforms. I like being able to search for thoughts (my own and others) electronically. I’m with you on this one Fred.

  18. Mark Essel

    Same here Mr. Wilson, our moleskins are our blogs. Private thoughts can be emailed to self for later pondering.Many of us are finding that the extension of memory to remote devices is incredibly powerful. I can look up old posts or emails and rapidly pull up details, links, thoughts, and shared feedback in an instant. Now my memory has become trained to sort and store information by where I can find it. Silly, that this simple trick has actually improved my memory enough so that I can recall old posts and link to them quite regularly without having to search first by topic (550 posts and growing). I haven’t quite got the full url and names of old posts down but I’m working on it.

    1. fredwilson

      blog search isn’t perfected yettumblr’s search is particularly weak

  19. Josh M.

    Bet his definition of perfection has something to do with the “Most Liked User’ Status! 😉

  20. Pete

    I take detailed notes during every business conversation I have– it helps me remember. I’m a great listener, but only a decent rememberer. I remember things if I read them, so writing them down helps.The best way I’ve found to deal with my voluminous notes is to open a new Word doc for each phone call, meeting, etc., and save them individually. Use this file approach along with Google desktop search or Spotlight, and it is near miraculous when you can instantly pull up details on the 15 conversations you had with a specific customer. Can’t do that with paper. I’m not always online, particularly when traveling, so I prefer to keep everything on my local drive vs cloud.For face-to-face meetings, especially with new people or in delicate situations, I use a moleskine. Typing on a laptop in someone’s face can be off-putting, particularly if you don’t yet have a strong relationship with them.

    1. fredwilson

      sadly, i have never taken to note takingdidn’t do it in school and don’t do it at work

  21. Fernando Gutierrez

    My handwriting has always been terrible. When I was in school teachers gave me a couple of bad grades because they could not understand what I was writing.My problem is that I can’t get my hand to move fast enough and I cut the corners to keep up… sometimes I have a hard time to understand what I wrote. So I’ve moved to keyboards. I can type really fast. However, I don’t like typing when I’m talking with people, so I take my terrible hand notes in cheap legal pads and type them after the meeting to keep them in order and searchable.But I love handwriting. It’s like that girl in school who was older than you and didn’t know/care about your existence, but you kept hanging around, just in case.And this is were Moleskines and fountain pens enter. It’s the only way I can keep decent handwritten notes if I want them to last. I think it’s the respect that nice things inspire in me (I agree, Moleskines are overprized, but I think that very few will discuss they are nice) and the slow speed the fountain pens force to have. These way I can write quite decently, but with all these constraints I rarely do.

    1. fredwilson

      fernandoi can’t write. my hands just won’t cooperate with my brain. my signature is a couples slashes of the pen.the computer changed my life when i got one.i could express myself the way i wanted to

  22. Nick Grossman

    This reminds me of Scott Adams’ notion of the “Exobrain”…Everything we create becomes a de facto data storage device and brain accessory. A wall can be a physical storage device for land survey data, it can be a reminder of history, and it can be a trigger of personal memories. A business is also a way to store data. As a restaurant owner, I was fascinated at how employees came and went, but their best ideas often stayed with the business, especially in the kitchen. The restaurant was like a giant data filter. The bad ideas were tested and deleted while the good ideas stayed, most often without being written down.I think this last part is part of what Fred was getting at in the Etsy post.Scott focuses mostly on the physical world (how to design your house or a garden to elicit certain feelings), but the parallel the the web is clearly there — especially when you think about the value of exo-ing your brain in open places like a blog/tumblr/delicious, as opposed to closed places like notebooks.I personally use a small notebook (not exactly a moleskine) and have books going back for the last 4 years. Same with text notes on my laptop; my new into-exo-brain is a combination of Notational Velocity (ridiculously awesome) and OmniFocus (which really does resemble my brain now). I still haven’t nailed nailed the pure web exobrain just yet, though I started using Tumblr about a month ago and it is catching a bit of fire for me.

  23. G__S

    someone has to explain to me why a moleskine is any better than my blueline notepad from staples that comes in at 1/3 the price (and most importantly, my employer has in the stockroom).

    1. JLM

      Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway Bruce Chatwin and YOUWhich one did NOT use a Moleskine? LOL

      1. ShanaC

        Because blick carries far nicer papers if you are into drawing (oh for the love of vellum…). I’ve found their paper quality inconsistent-though I do use them. I recently found a paper notebook that specializes in grey and white gridded paper, very little tooth, made through windpower, which is more consistent in paper quality per page. I’m not sure what I think yet though

      2. fredwilson

        moleskin needs to sign you up as their spokesperson

        1. JLM

          JLM — the M stands for …………….. Moleskine? Lol

    2. Guest

      I use both a moleskine and a yellow notepad. The moleskine is nice and compact. You could carry it in a coat pocket, or just hold it as you’re walking around. The yellow notepad is clunky in this regard.Moleskine has done a great job associating it’s product with famous artists. There’s some interesting research that shows this is a good idea.In one study, people who were shown an Apple logo scored higher on a creativity test than those who were shown an IBM logo:…. Perhaps the same thing happens to people who buy moleskine because of the Picasso association.And there’s this idea that “neurons that fire together wire together.” So if the person is thinking about Picasso, and then thinks about their idea or project, the positive thoughts could carry over and give them better ideas.…Interesting stuff!

  24. jameskupka

    ‘chance favors the connected mind’… there’s a wake-me-up for my slow starting thursday!

  25. jameskupka

    ‘chance favors the connected mind’. if i had a moleskin, i’d write that down.

  26. Peter Zotto

    Evernote is great for this. Also, for those of you with an iPad you should check out Penultimate. I use it mostly in business settings as it is easier for me to keep track of my meeting notes, discussions, etc. It has a pretty phenomenal pen/finger recognition technology as well.

  27. RJ Johnston

    Just ordered one for myself and one for the wife, thanks Fred!

  28. andyswan

    My brain is a moleskine. Next to “Catharine Deneuve” it just says “must have been the pappy.” Odd, no?

    1. Tereza

      ANDY HAS A NEW PICTURE!!!!and he’s…..SMILING!(maybe he just came from the pay window? or is it the early-afternoon Pappy?)

  29. CliffElam

    I write down my to-list and notes on a standard legal pad. When it’s full I look it over to see if there is a pattern to writing down things I wanted to do but didn’t. And if there is I just stop trying to do those things. This leaves me more time to get stuff done that is actually important.My second boss taught me that trick – invaluable.-XC

  30. Andrew Greene

    I use a Moleskin often, and especially when I am traveling. And as I said in a previous comment, I keep one next to my bed because I often have ideas right before I fall asleep and using a phone is too difficult in that state. It’s sometimes hard to read what I have written, but eventually I figure it out.Also, Catherine Deneuve.

  31. daryn

    That’s a fantastic motto.

  32. JLM

    The Commonplace Book is also a great concept for a small company.Take pictures of each and every significant event — big investment check, Halloween costume contest, product initiation, ground breaking on new corporate headquarters — and keep it in a big leather photo album with handwritten notes on a brass book stand in your conference room.Great conversation piece and history.It captures and creates the company’s culture and folklore.

  33. John

    I do the same with blogs. Plus, I even use the draft blog posts to store things I’d like to get to, but don’t have time. Sometimes I get back to them and sometimes I don’t. However, I’ve quite a few times remembered that I had a draft post about a subject and gone and found it.

  34. RacerRick

    Typing, especially on an iPhone, is still my hindrance to a digital moleskin.Writing is still so much quicker.I wish there was a really good web service, that worked via mobile, that could easily help me record ideas and things I need to remember.

    1. Fernando Gutierrez

      As me and some others have said before, Evernote. And they have a great appfor the iPhone

  35. vruz

    Down here we have a type of notepad kids use at school, we call them cuadernos (cahiers, in french) it’s a sort of notebook.Of course all kids have some of those at school, but I also kept some for private non-school use at home.I did more drawings, diagrams and writing at home that were of interest to me, not homework or tasks related in any way to school work.After a while I started to create my own comic books, and characters and cardboard figure designs.Later in my teens this practice helped me to design 8-bit graphics on those notebooks, which you had to then translate into binary, and push into 6502 assembler programmes.In turn, that evolved and the practice became useful to have a good idea of layouts, user experience, management of 2d space, GUI design, font types, and a lot of other things that evolved in parallel with my learning process.More than capturing thoughts and ideas, it’s making them visible and being able to tinker with them in a less abstract way, it’s solving problems, the intermediate phase which is design, somewhere between pure abstract thought and realisation of some sort.Taking two steps back, looking at what you’ve just jotted on paper, striking out the wrongs, re-drawing the good bits, and figuring out “Is this gonna work?”

  36. Jan Schultink

    1a) Many of my ideas are visual, easy to scribble and sketch, hard to post online instantly1b) Most of my notebook ideas are written down with random words, assocations, feelings, emotions, in a staccato langauge that nobody would understand when put up on a blog2) Notebooks are a waiting room of ideas, if it still good after 24 hrs, it goes up online, others get crossed out (but are still readable :-))Moleskine notebooks are nice, but any piece of paper would do

  37. Donna Brewington White

    “Where did that come from JLM? You crack me up.”To borrow from Forrest Gump, JLM is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you are going to get.But I will add that like a box of chocolates, no matter what you get, it will be good.(Okay no more comments with candy analogies. I’m ruining my online reputation.)

    1. Tereza

      I think he just sprayed us with a firehose of hot cocoa.

      1. Donna Brewington White

        That’s great!I am so not happy that I am having to miss all the fun here. Just scanning through, I see that some of my favorite comment bloggers are having a field day — including you. (So glad you are back!!!)Oh, well, gives me something to look forward to reading when I get through this very dense work schedule! This and JLM’s “little book.”Can’t wait!

  38. ShanaC

    For important links (other than the most private) I’m a big fan of delicious. Evernote for me is ok.I’m like you- born in the post handwriting world. A slate with a pull down, lightweight, keyboard for give and a stylus for drawing really is on my need list long term. The quality of my notes always went up when I typed them since I type faster and with more accuracy. And diagramming is a pain on a computer though I have done so. For certain activies, It’s actually more natural to use _UML symbols however I want them to mean and to diagram out anything at this point.It also doesn’t help that I have terrible handwriting, to the point where I am hoping by the time I get married it becomes acceptible to print out a personal note that is custom written on nice paper.(Normally my handwriting is close to unreadable, if you get a proper written note from me ever, know that I practiced to make it marginly readable). I’m one of those people waiting for something to make it not pointless to keep “written” notes on the fly. And I’m pretty sure since there has been a decline of script in the _US, there are lots of mes out there.I’ll buy a slate when I get a job and when I can deal with the imput problems- the moleskine for me never cut it nearly as much as a smartphone…

    1. fredwilson

      i bet my handwriting is worse than yoursi failed penmanship every year as a kidi basically can not write

      1. Carl Rahn Griffith

        One of my school teachers described my writing style as a “spider dipped into an inkwell and let loose on the paper” – harsh, but true, lol.I love QWERTY 🙂

      2. ShanaC

        I will buy that claim, as far as I know, I didn’t fail penmanship in gradeschool. It is still extremely bad now though.Do you want to start a revolution with me to be allowed to print out your notes and then sign them without looking tacky?

  39. eromer

    I have a bunch of moleskines. They are all empty. Near them are large piles of scraps of paper from the trash covered with my notes and doodles. What am I telling myself? I don’t know but I do like pencils.

  40. ttunguz

    Moleskin is famously Hemingway’s notebook. It’s said that James Joyce wrote the Odyssey 1/2 page per day for years. If you tie these two together, then it seems to me that Moleskins provide a simple no frills experience for writing that enables the author to focus.That’s all changed with the web. Writing a blog every day is a good exercise in concentration. I’m big fan of OmmWriter on the PC and I hear that Writer for the iPad is a similar experience. When I’m brainstorming, I use XMind’s mind mapping tool.What tools do people here use to write and brainstorm new ideas?

  41. Steve Poland

    I love my moleskin. I just finished my 9th. I stick it right behin my wallet with a pen in my pocket at all times. More convenient than my Droid X that is always on mr too.

  42. Dale

    The connected mind is also more vulnerable. We all have to choose between levels of vulnerability and levels of openness…

  43. Chris Parsons

    You could, of course, use a Moleskine in conjunction with your blog. The two are not mutually exclusive. I just bought my first Moleskine and am enjoying having it to write down ideas, etc as they occur to me. I then go into more detail on my blog. Thus, I have the best of both worlds.I like my Moleskine notebook, but Moleskine itself is just a sort of status symbol.

    1. JLM

      Yeah just like Earnie Hemingway was just a word butcher. I am expecting BIG things from Brother Parsons. Right.

  44. Cole Taylor

    I opened this post because the word Moleskine was in the title. I love them, and I’ll pay any price.Yeah . yeah . yeah … I use my blogs as journals, to organize my thoughts and for the random brain dump, but … it’s not the same, the movement of pen on paper, reinforces my thoughts, my goals. My dreams.

  45. Guest

    Hi there Fred, et al. (especially you JLM), I am an avid reader of this blog, and I have to admit, this is my first comment on AVC. I had to break my silence because the notion of a commonplace book really struck a chord with me.I recently started business school, and within the first month of school, I quickly found my notebooks to be littered with tangential ideas about how to extend my classroom concepts to the “real world” (e.g. using an operations concept to hone my investing skills). Just as my notebooks were becoming a wasteland of unorganized notes, I got the tip of creating a commonplace book (in less eloquent words) from a second-year student. So… just this past weekend I made the leap from notebook (not a Moleskin, sorry JLM) to blog. My thoughts on the four advantages of a blog over a notebook are listed in my introductory blog posting: value of a commonplace book has been emphasized enough already, however, let me take it one step further: for anyone entering an MBA program, I can’t think of a higher long-term ROI activity. Post-MBA, I guarantee I will not have my class notes with me often (or ever), but I will always have access to my key classroom thoughts posted on blog via my smartphone, PC, etc.(p.s. I realize my blog is date stamped after this post; I promise I created my blog before reading this post!)Great post!

  46. reece

    very cool. let us all know?

  47. RichardF

    Look forward to seeing it. I use mind mapping software alot so this sounds interesting

  48. William Mougayar

    Let us know. I haven’t yet found a great lists/tasks manager,- and would pay for one.

  49. Pete

    This sounds interesting Charlie, will you tweet about it, or is there a way you can let us know about access?I’m not a To Do list person, at all. But there was a product from the late ’90s called SideACT! which I loved. It was packaged with the ACT! app I was using at the time. SideACT! was a list generator where you could easily add a new item, and then a simple drag-and-drop to order the items. It really didn’t do anything else, which was perfect. It was a “bucket”. Is your product like that?

  50. Harry DeMott

    I think it has everything to do with the way we are all taught – but sketching out an idea on a computer is a complete non-starter for me. There’s something about the tactile feel of the pen in hand and paper beneath that somehow spurs creativity. I think the act of writing brings back early school days to mind – and perhaps opens up pathways in the brain that are somehow closed off even when using a stylus on a touch sensitive surface. Probably a difference between using the pen, where everything has to be created by you – and using a computer where some creativity occurs – but largely, you are relying on the machine to do the heavy lifting.

  51. JLM

    I suspect what you are talking about is how you personally “process information” — in a Myers-Briggs kind of way. It gets back to study habits, time of day personality (early morning person v late night person) and energy cycles.I find myself to be a verbal, visual learner — most comfortable learning things through the spoken word and then seeing it in writing. Thus I have lots and lots of 12′ x 4′ whiteboards in my company and like to see the ideas mapped out.A sneaky thing I do to effect change in the face of opposition is to leave a big chart up on the conference room wall for a few weeks and then the opposition slowly evaporates almost by the power of visual suggestion.I find I speak to myself and will often write out a 50-page “appreciation” of a subject — a musing conversation w/ myself. This is a technique I picked up when in the military and as an aide de camp my General would ask me to compile the information on a particular subject or to evaluate a particular command structure. Usually quite explosive stuff because it dealt with senior officers and I was just a Captain.This gets back to a theory I have about us all. Meaning entrepreneurs and CEOs. We do not compartmentalize our time enough and safeguard time for just raw thinking. We are not kind enough to ourselves to allow our own quirky ways of doing things — perhaps the most effective, mind you — and conform to the “conventional” wisdom of business protocol. Don’t get me started on “meetings”.Learning style and the way we most effectively process information is one of the kindest things we can do to ourselves.Now I really want to know — regular coffee, Americano or latte?

  52. reece

    sounds cool. keep us posted.

  53. Fernando Gutierrez

    I used to think the same about mindmapping. Lately I’ve been retrying and I’m finding it more useful, but not there yet.

  54. Pete

    Cool, look forward to trying it out!

  55. Fernando Gutierrez

    Richard, what would be your recommendation on mind mapping software?

  56. RichardF

    I like Mindjet’s MindManager but the main reason is probably because I have used it for a long time now.Freemind is a very good free alternative, I have used it but because as a company we are on MindManager file compatibility is important.

  57. Fernando Gutierrez