The concept of a ‘paperless world’ was a bold prediction by George Pake more than 35 years ago. The rise of technology in the workplace is bringing us closer to that prediction. Today we see people attending business meetings with nothing more than their laptop, tablet, or smartphone. The business world is increasingly plugged-in, as we use technology for our research, transcribing and storing information, connecting to people, and communicating our ideas.

That is what made a recent conversation with Brian Scudamore, founder and CEO of 1800GotJunk, so unusual. When asked about the technology he used, Brian said, “I don’t even have my own computer.  If I really need one, I borrow one from IT.  For me when I really need to focus and capture ideas, to think clearly, I use paper.  Most of my ‘think days’ (which for Brian is every Monday) start with a blank sheet of paper where I capture everything going on in my head”.

Unusual? Yes, but maybe Brian is on to something.

How our brains work

In a recent HBR article by Zachary First states that technology is lousy at “helping us absorb, process, and retain information from a focused source”.  Scudamore is successful because he is dedicating time to think critically about his business without the distractions of technology.  First suggests that the use of pen and paper not only “deepens conceptual understanding”, but also improves how well you “understand, and make sense of crucial information about your organization”.

Similarly, a recent article by NPR pointed to several studies that looked at university student performance relative to the use of technology in the classroom.  The studies found that those students writing longhand outperformed those typing away on computers and tablets during lectures and seminars by a significant margin.  Writing by hand is slower and forces students to actively engage more in the content in order to summarize it.

Leadership thinking

In organizations, we expect our leaders to be forward looking, creative, and a source of new ideas and opportunities. Great leaders see patterns both inside and outside the organization, and help align priorities accordingly. Therefore, leaders need to maximize their thinking power in whatever way possible. Although technology has its benefits in the workplace, when it comes to brainstorming and generating new ideas – it may be best to stick to pen and paper.

In this world of abundant technology, could paper still play an important role in helping you think, learn, and lead?

Article by Tim O’Connor
photo credit: Pen and Paper via photopin (license)