At Winter Session, a bag and wallet maker in Denver, employees not only craft many products manually; they are also encouraged to keep handwritten notes about manufacturing processes. Co-founder Tanya Fleisher says that "writing things down helps you internalize and process the information on a visceral level," yielding better-quality production.
The brain reacts differently--research says better--when you use paper and not a computer. Studies show that students' performance on tests improves when they take notes on paper instead of laptops, and kids who learn to write by hand are better at recognizing letters than those who learn to write by typing. Other research shows that working on a computer, as opposed to paper, saps concentration and willpower. Cal Newport, an author and professor at Georgetown University, argues in his new book, Deep Work, that achieving ultra-focus on a single task is a key to boosting productivity, and he's convinced that working on paper is a great way to do that. (To arrive at the mathematical theorems that make up the bulk of his research, he writes by hand in a notebook.)
While there's no scientific evidence quantifying any productivity benefits of paper over a computer, companies that integrate paper into their workflow report positive results, from fewer meetings to better, more thoughtful ideas. This may explain the recent paper boom. Doane Paper, a notebook company in Kansas City, Missouri, says its sales have grown 30 percent in 2015 over 2014. Tim Jacobsen, founder of Word Notebooks, reports an 844 percent increase in sales over the same period. Founders who like handwriting's benefits share their tips for getting your team to unlock the power of paper.
1. Make It Fun
To entice employees to write by hand, work the "hot newness" angle. "I buy notebooks and give them to employees whenever I can," says co-founder Pasquale D'Silva of Keezy, a music app developer. Working on paper makes his employees "more focused," he says. "If you try to do all the problem-solving at a computer, you can become precious about your ideas. If you draw on paper, you have this low-fi prototype. On paper, anything goes." D'Silva finds that employees' paper-based ideas frequently "end up being more thoughtful" than those built on a computer.
2. Take Baby Steps
Zach Sims co-founded Codecademy to teach digital skills, but he's been encouraging his team to use paper more often, because he feels that technology can be distracting. Sims urges employees to use paper instead of laptops in meetings. If someone opens a laptop, he asks the person to explain why. The result has been shorter meetings, because "paper forces you to be present with the people in the room and your thoughts," he says. "When people aren't messing around, they're more engaged and finish faster."
3. Be Patient
Gadi Amit, principal designer and owner of NewDealDesign, the San Francisco firm that helped design Fitbit, warns that getting some employees to embrace paper can take persistence. "Young designers are being trained to believe in the supremacy of computers," he says. He urges his employees to work on paper at least once a day. He says the messiness of writing and drawing by hand forces designers to break away from preconceptions. Once, when employees were sketching ideas for a wearable health device, Amit says he noticed a doodle in the corner of a sketch page. That doodle ended up as the basis for the winning concept.