The Power of the Analogue in a Digital World
By Samantha Rockey
Two things I remember from my childhood that have no intrinsic value any more are the telephone numbers of my best friends and their handwriting.
There was a phase when I was a tween of writing letters on ‘special’ paper. Some marketing guru must have sold the idea of writing paper being the ‘thing’ because I had quite a collection of different types. The postal service did a grand job of whizzing hand written letters across the country and the sound of pen on fancy paper could be heard everywhere.
We all had pen pals too. Mine was a young man in Canada who was no doubt forced by his teacher/ parent to ask me questions about South Africa and provide a tiny drop of information about his own home town which sounded to me like some sort of wilderness dream. There we were, young people writing and opening letters on the daily. (As a complete aside, my husband’s cousin in fact married his pen pal from Germany who he started writing to when he was 12.)
All this letter writing encouraged some level of self reflection, or at least a structuring of thought – enough to ensure one would receive a letter in response. I am not harking back to days of yore but there is something both important for the writer to watch ideas unfurl in ones own hand and also to engage with the handwriting of others. There is an intimacy to a handwritten note or letter and while handwriting analysis has gone completely out of fashion (it had a solid three hundred years of some standing though) but there are still those who believe that handwriting is revealing at multiple levels.
In the world of leadership development, hand writing has a very particular impact. An analogue activity in a digital world signals a shift into a more reflective and careful space. Handwriting takes concentration and effort - it is a different, now unexpected mode of acting. But for most there is still muscle memory: seeing ideas and thoughts begin to take shape on paper has an effect. A blank sheet of paper prompts a response. For some it is an opportunity to put into handwritten words the thoughts and worries that gnaw at the edge of consciousness. Once written - these concerns lose some of their power. For others a blank sheet of paper encourages imagination and creativity - ideas flow when there are no limitations except for the edges of the paper.
In our work over many years we have seen how the physical act of writing is an important act of self-development. When given the space and time, busy people so enjoy this quiet act.
There are many things leaders can do to enhance their leadership but at Thompson Harrison we are fans of this practice that requires no training, no special equipment, no technology (pen and paper aside) but that can yield breakthrough insights and even, if done consistently, the sense of calm and ease that so characterises the best leaders.