I met him first over a coffee in his apartment and is one the most interesting people I have ever met. He has helped devise brands that are household names. Occasionally, when he’s interested, he pens speeches for Fortune 500 CEOs and politicians, his words billed out at six figures.
He is exceptionally well read, and amongst his friends are some of the most powerful people on the planet — from business leaders, to politicians, actors and other luminaries of the arts.
So when he shared some of the best advice he’d ever received, I was captivated. He was in his early teens, about to start senior school, when his grandfather took him aside and told him the following:
Immediately after every lecture, meeting, or any significant experience, take 30 seconds — no more, no less — to write down the most important points.
If you always do just this, said his grandfather, and even if you only do this, with no other revision, you will be okay.
I’ve been following this advice for a number of months now. Here’s what I’ve found so far:
1. It’s not note taking: Don’t think just because you write down everything in a meeting, that you’re excused from the 30 second summation. Though brief, this exercise is entirely different from taking notes. It’s an act of interpretation, prioritisation and decision-making.
2. It’s hard work: Deciding what’s most important is exhausting. It’s amazing how easy it is to tell yourself you’ve captured everything that matters, to find excuses to avoid this brief mental sprint — a kind of 100 metres for your brain.
3. Detail is a trap: Precisely because we so often, ostensibly, capture everything, we avoid the hard work of deciding what few things count. So much of excellence is, of course, the art of elimination. And the 30 second review stops you using quantity as an excuse.
4, You must act quickly: If you wait a few hours, you may recall the facts, but you lose the nuance. And this makes all the difference in deciding what matters. Whether it’s the tone in someone’s voice, or the way one seemingly simple suggestion sparks so many others, or the shadow of an idea in your mind triggered by a passing comment.
5. You learn to listen better, and ask better questions: Once you get into the habit of the 30 second review, it starts to change the way you pay attention, whether listening to a talk or participating in a discussion. It’s like learning to detect a simple melody amidst a cacophony of sound. And as you listen with more focus, and ask better questions which prompt actionable answers, so your 30 second review becomes more useful.
6. You’re able to help others more: Much of what makes the 30 second cut are observations about what matters to other people. Even if the purpose is to help better manage different interests in future conversations, it also helps you understand others’ needs, and so solve their problems.
7. It gets easier and more valuable: Each time you practice, it gets a little easier, a little more helpful, and little more fun.
~ The story is from the article by Robyn Scott who is an entrepeneur and author. The full version is on her website at robynscott.org ~
P.S. It would be interesting to know the name of the person with the 30 Second Advice. But, not in her article nor her website does she say who he is.