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  • Cameron M. Clark

The Commonplace Book

There are bits of information that we come across from time to time that can profoundly change our outlook on life, or our attitudes toward the specific problems and worries of the day. Here's one that I discovered just last week that I can't seem to stop thinking about:

If a problem can be solved, why worry? If a problem cannot be solved, why worry?

What do you do when you come across a gem of quote like this (or an idea, or a design, or a joke, or a solution to a problem) that you want to remember for many years to come? Do you write it down somewhere? Where? Perhaps on a notepad? Or maybe on a lone sticky note? Or maybe in the pages of your daytimer? Each of these conventional options ultimately seem inadequate for the task of preserving this inspirational material well enough into your future that you will be able to make sufficient use of it later. What we need is an semi-organized system of saving useful ideas and anecdotes, so that we at least know where we might start looking for them in the future. When inspiration, motivation, curiosity, or aha moments strike, we need a way of bottling that mental lightning.

One promising solution here is what is known as a 'commonplace book' - a personal central repository of all the ideas, quotes, and anecdotes that deserve more than a scrap piece of paper, the back of an envelope, or a half-used napkin. I've been using one for the better part of a year now. As a result I have found I now have the superpower of being able to refer back to a seemingly unlimited number of witticisms that captured my attention when I first encountered them, but would have certainly forgotten if I didn't take a moment to capture them from the wild marketplace of ideas. Like this one:

Attitudes are skills.

or this one:

The right solution is expensive. The wrong one costs a fortune.

or this one:

A plan is only useful if it can survive reality.

I could go on...

The physical form of the commonplace book is not important. Any bound collection of pages will do (paper or electronic). What matters is the habit of recording personally important information so that you know where to start looking for it when you want to refer back to it, or so that you can peruse through your collection of personally meaningful insights as it grows over time. Just as leaving your keys in the same place day after day results in reliably being able to find your keys when you need them - so too it is with ideas. Taking a moment to write ideas down as you encounter them is expensive in terms of time. However not doing so will cost you everything you can't think of in this moment. Make a plan to record your ideas that can survive reality.

This week's sharp thinking question is:

What ideas may have captured your attention a year ago that you wish you still had access to today?


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