Information is precious and fleeting. Unlike physical objects that can be “cleaned up” at any time, information disappears if it is not captured and stored. If you have a choice between recording your information or cleaning up your desk, deal with the information—it will never be there again.
Capturing is the first step in the Documentation Process. It is all about getting information in or on somewhere. This is the art of getting information out of someone’s head, a conversation, a meeting, a machine, and so on, and onto paper or digital format into a workable form.
The point is that you need information in front of you in some form or another to start building documentation. You can only work magic when you have something to work with. Documentation – or projects, products, systems, or any other initiatives for that matter – does not come from thin air.
When companies today talk about Information Management, they immediately jump to storage systems, metadata classifications, and fancy tools. This is the common problem with too many so-called Information Management experts and courses on documentation. There is too much focus on what is already out there and not enough focus on what has never been captured in the first place (e.g. information trapped in people’s heads).
In today’s age of incredible technologies, finding documents and information is, while still a challenge, not the key problem. Retrieval technologies will get better and better over the years and we will be able to find anything—almost anything, that is, but we need to have it captured in the first place.
Types of Information Capture
Capturing opportunities come in many shapes and forms. The key is to be on the lookout for these opportunities. When it comes to developing your documentation skills, here are some of the most common forms of information capture:
1. Getting Information Out of Your Own Head
Our minds are full of life-changing ideas, thoughts and potential projects. Most of us have bouts of inspiration daily, if not weekly. The problem is these thoughts and ideas often don’t make it very far. They stay stuck in our heads.
If you are like most, capturing your ideas and actions items is not something that you do perfectly. (I am by no means an exception to this.) Ideas and actions items are always swarming around our brains and we, for the most part, have learned to live with this. The problem is that we lose these ideas and actions items if we don’t have a good system (e.g. notebook, app, whiteboard, journal, etc.) for capturing them.
Capturing what’s in your head comes from a consciousness of capturing the ideas, decisions, and to-dos that might hit you at the strangest times—in the shower, in meetings, while driving, and so on. Capture these ideas and put them somewhere to start the process.
2. Pulling Information Out of Someone Else’s Head
Barbara Walters, Anderson Cooper, Oprah, Jimmy Kimmel, David Letterman—they have the ability to solicit information from people. They are trained. They have intuition. They engage with and pull information out of their guests. They make the process look effortless.
Why are these people paid 1000 times more than your local broadcaster who reads off a series of written questions? They are masters of the interview.
The Documentation Process demands a Barbara Walters-level of interviewing skills. It demands that you pull information out of your interviewee through a structured and deliberate process. We connect. We ask the hard, right questions. We use our intuition, collect valuable information and make it look easy. We then excel from the local newscaster level.
3. Capturing What Was Said in Meetings
In a meeting environment, we think, talk and make decisions as a group. Therefore, this type of documentation is distinct from the previous style. In my experience, capturing from meetings is the area of documentation where companies struggle the most. That is, when things are said as a group, we have a higher tendency to write down nothing and have lousy follow-up.
Why is that? If things are said as a group, then we believe someone is taking care of it. Most corporate employees can (and sadly get used to) hide behind accountability through a false sense of security. To have productive meetings, use documentation practices and exercise all the basics. What is different in terms of note-taking in meetings than directed interviews is that discernment is even more critical.
4. Capturing Information from Presentations and Conferences
Information to be captured from presentations and conferences is probably the easiest and least ambiguous of all. Just record key information and maintain files for this information. Like meetings, discernment is critical for this type of documentation. Depending on the number of presentations and conferences you attend, you can’t take unlimited notes or maintain unlimited files and information.
If you have attended all-day presentations or a conference (assuming you don’t record everything on a computer), take 15 minutes to download key notes, themes and feelings then apply them to your own area. Often times, 15 minutes is all you really need to ensure that this information isn’t lost forever.
5. Machine and Data Capture
If you were to Google the definition of documentation capture, you would find many results for software that focuses on scanning technologies. In Information Management circles, the “capture” process has traditionally focused on scanning technologies (yawn) or importing documents into a content system.
The definition of machine capture is broadening and blurring as our world becomes more data-centric. Data capture is a vast area where companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google are showing just how much power you can have from data. I can’t pretend to be an expert on all the technology and setup of how they make this work, but data capture is a large and growing area of Information Management and documentation too.
So, capture information while you can! Take the leap and make the effort to get down the gems of ideas, actions, and information that will start the documentation process – and other great things in doing so. Capture to help improve your work, your career and your life.
Looking for help in capturing the valuable ideas, actions, information or intellectual capital in your company? Or looking for help with your documentation practices overall? I’d love to help you! Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.