The Benefit Of Summaries

“Perhaps the best test of a man’s intelligence is his capacity for making a summary.” — Lytton Strachey

I’m going through a number of old projects at the moment and realising how useful it would have been to have written a cogent summary at the end of each one, including key contacts and new ideas generated.

Usually there’s a rush to the next income-generating activity so this task gets demoted or put into the category of ‘when I get time’ (which usually means it doesn’t get done at all).

One reason it’s not done is that it’s not at all straightforward. You have to provide a balanced and insightful overview which means sifting information from a variety of disparate and often incomplete sources (emails, memories of meetings etc).

Sometimes there are gaps, which is actually very illuminating eg why exactly did we make that decision or did we just drift into it? how many other options did we really consider? did we talk to anyone else about it? how much were we operating in our comfort zone/wishful thinking?

Formal project material is always kept of course so it’s all (in principal) there but getting it out is often a frustrating and time-consuming process.

Writing independent summaries is potentially a very rich learning experience as you have to rethink the whole project. So, as an experiment, I’ve decided to start writing them by allocating a fixed amount of time to this (at the end of each project) no matter what.

I’ve realised that having something is better than having nothing, even if it’s only purpose is to act as a nontrivial memory jerker!

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