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Introducing Notebook Mentor

Welcome to ‘Introducing Notebook Mentor’.

If you’re reading this because you’re curious about the concept of Notebook Mentor, then that’s brilliant. I hope I can answer your questions and shine some light on how we might support you at work and in your career.

If you’ve recently purchased one of our notebooks, I hope the material that follows helps you better deal with the situation you are facing. Reading this paper should help you get the most from your purchase, but don’t forget there are additional free resources available on our website at www.notebookmentor.com

Let me introduce myself. I’m Elisa Nardi – the Founder and CEO of Notebook Mentor.

In the material that follows I’ll be introducing the concept of Notebook Mentor. This includes a little about me and where the concept of Notebook Mentor came from. I’ll be describing how Notebook Mentor can help you lean into, tackle or overcome meaningful experiences at work. I’ll be touching on the subject of neuroscience; importantly how key neural networks in your brain play a role in helping you make sense of the world and of your experience. I’ll also be looking at how you learn through your different senses, explaining why our notebooks are only available in physical form and how your emotions and senses combine to help you learn in different ways. Finally, I’ll be looking at the concepts of reflective practice and the skills and traits of personal inquiry, restraint, perspective and judgement. These are things you will become well practised in as you progress.

The concept of Notebook Mentor

I started work on the concept of Notebook Mentor back in 2017, when I transitioned out of a three-decade corporate career. I’d worked in Human Resources for over thirty years, and was on the Group Executive of a number of large global organisations – as Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO). Being a CHRO is another way of saying that I’ve been in the senior role that takes responsibility for everything to do with managing and looking after people – from hire to retire. I loved my role and feel privileged to have worked with and supported so many fantastic and talented people.

In 2015 I went through a life changing experience – breaking both wrists, having reconstructive surgery, being diagnosed with a brain tumour and having brain surgery – all within the space of a few weeks. Although I went back to work quite quickly, in 2017 I decided to step down from full time corporate work. I still wanted to do something meaningful, but something a little different. I certainly didn’t want to loose nearly thirty-five years of skill, knowledge and experience – I wanted to share it, helping other people – hopefully people like you, thrive in the workplace. This is when the idea of Notebook Mentor started to take shape.

At its heart Notebook Mentor is a mentoring and learning system. Experts share advice and guidance with you on specific, common workplace experiences. They test and challenge your thinking, encouraging reflection and evaluation of your experience. Focused tips and actions help you move through your experience, pocketing useful learning to take forward and use again.

As it says on the front cover of our notebooks – we share our expert know-how and through reflective practice help you build your will and skill to resolve, make the most of and learn from meaningful experiences. By working together we hope you can build key traits that will keep you healthy, happy and successful at work.

Meaningful work and career experiences

As a business leader and human resource expert I recognise that everyone needs support when it comes to dealing with meaningful work and career experiences. What’s a meaningful experience? Well it’s anything that’s significant to you. It could be a hurdle you have to overcome, it could be a new experience you’ve never tackled before, or it could be an unexpected opportunity you have the chance to grasp. Tackling experiences at work isn’t just about acquiring knowledge or learning a new skill. It’s about learning from your environment; it’s about using all of your senses, engaging your brain in reflection and inquiry – taking quality time to make sense of what you are going through.

There are plenty of common but significant experiences out there – and this is where we’ve started with Notebook Mentor – tackling challenges such as ‘starting a new job’, ‘not getting on with someone at work’, ‘becoming a first time manager’ or like me ‘dealing with work and a serious illness’. We’ll be adding to our list of Notebook Mentoring titles as we go through 2020. Do let us know if there’s a title you think you’d benefit from – just contact us at info@notebookmentor.com

When you go through something significant at work, you choose how it makes you feel. You might be feeling drained just at the thought of having to tackle this experience! Perhaps it’s an exciting opportunity like starting a new job and you feel energised and happy? Maybe what you are facing is going to be daunting and difficult? Different people will go through similar experiences at work – how you feel about yours is entirely personal and we make no judgement here about those thoughts and feelings. There’s no right or wrong.

Having a helping hand to guide you through an experience is certainly likely to be of value. Of course this isn’t limited to you and your Notebook Mentor. You could also work through your notebook with your line manager, or a friend or colleague and combine our resources with other support, learning and development opportunities on offer in your workplace.

Anyone who has a hand in writing our Notebook Mentors has a background in business, psychology or human resources. They’ve either been through these experiences themselves or they have supported innumerable other people going through something similar.

Neuroscience and experience

I’m not a neuroscientist but I have always been interested in the brain – or the biology of the mind. My personal experience of recovering from brain surgery, observing my recovery in the moment and also after the moment has only fuelled this fascination. We need to be careful though, that the tidal wave of interest in how the brain functions, doesn’t lead us into over simplifications. Even the most qualified and experienced neuroscientists often disagree about how the brain works, so I’m not going to pretend I have some magic answers that will make you a better leader, more accomplished manager or successful employee!

We are seeing rapid advances in the frameworks and disciplines of neuroscience and as new insights are revealed, crucial concepts are being more widely understood. One area where there is more common agreement is in regard to key neural networks (think pathways) within the brain that appear to have roles that are now better understood. Just four of these – the Default network, Reward network, Affect network and Control network are particularly interesting.

In the January 2019 Harvard Business Review Special Issue, Adam Waytz and Malia Mason, both post doctoral fellows in neuroscience, discuss these four networks and what they might mean for us, particularly in regard to how we manage our experience. At Notebook Mentor we are particularly interested in the first network they discuss – that of the Default network.

The Default network, it is suggested, fires up when you aren’t doing anything specific. If you like it’s active when you are not – when your thoughts might be wandering, when you are daydreaming or just plain zoning out. Waytz and Mason argue this network is crucial to “processing internalised existing knowledge, not just new information from the five senses”. Put another way, your brain is spending important time working through what you’ve already fed it. Keep feeding it more sensory input and there’s a chance your brain will overload – not getting the time it needs to make sense of everyday experience. That’s important to the concept of Notebook Mentor. We talk about you using your senses (visual, auditory and kinaesthetic) to take in information and make judgements about situations. Given this knowledge we also want you to give your Default neural network the space it needs to process all this sensory data – processing will enable your brain to study and draw conclusions about the past, the present and possible futures. Unfocused, mind-wandering time is important – your brain literally needs you to unplug and detach itself from your experience! It is argued that this genuine ‘free time’ is when real breakthrough ideas happen.

The Reward network responds to rewards you experience. This could be as simple as the food you eat, or it could concern feedback, criticism or praise. Feeling good or bad about perceived reward is of course critical to your motivation in the workplace.

The Affect network fires as you experience different emotions – and can impact what physically happens in your body (your blood pressure, heart rate etc.) We’ll talk more about emotions in just a moment.

And your Control network helps you weigh up the pros and cons, thinking about the consequences of your choices. Doing so helps you decide what to focus on, depending on how that might align with what you want or with what is needed.

The key is not to think about these neural networks working independently but to see them as part of a whole system. Embracing that system and tuning into what your brain is telling you (as you process information or your mind wanders around a topic) is important. All too often at work we are told to find the answer quickly, get to a conclusion, let go of nagging doubts and move forward. Understanding just these four neural networks suggests that there is great merit to listening to the processing conversations your brain is having with itself and perhaps on occasion slow down your response to things – such that in the long-term you learn more than you might have done by just taking action or filling your head with further stimuli.

If you have access to Harvard Business Review online, do read the full and fascinating article. If not, you might want to do more of your own research on this topic.

Emotions and multi-sensory learning

We call Notebook Mentor multi-sensory learning because we combine learning through three senses – visual, auditory and kinaesthetic.

Visual learning happens when you read our Notebook Mentor, or use the website to look at webpages. It’s effectively what you see with your eyes.

Auditory learning happens when you listen to something or someone. So a Podcast is a good example of auditory learning. It also happens in conversation with people face to face or by other electronic or digital means.

Kinaesthetic learning happens in a tactile way – when you carry out something physical, like writing in a notebook or using a machine or tool to craft something.

While neuroscientists are still debating whether specific regions of the brain control our emotions it seems obvious that our emotions and senses must somehow be connected. Otherwise how can you explain that certain smells (perhaps the perfume or aftershave you wore on holiday) suddenly conjure up a vivid memory of your experience, perhaps triggering a sense of calm or joy? Smell is a powerful sense, wiring directly into the emotional and memory centres of the brain (and linked with taste can trigger very powerful reactions).

Our sight, hearing, and touch senses are also very powerful. I’ve been a lifetime lover of beautiful, well-crafted notebooks. Over time I’ve realised that I’m a visual and kinaesthetic learner. I really like to unplug and reflect – using a tactile notebook, putting traditional pen to paper. For me, an occasional detox from mobiles and other connected technology really helps me get my head straight. It’s good for my mental health and wellbeing.

Perhaps you are a very visual and auditory learner and struggle to unplug from your devices? Maybe just auditory learning is your thing? Perhaps like me you learn through reflecting and writing? If you work with flowers or food maybe it’s all about smell?

Of course most of the time we learn through a blend of sensory information. Despite this it’s worth thinking about whether you have a learning style preference.

At Notebook Mentor we want to encourage multi-sensory learning. We think finding quality time to sit and reflect, writing with pen to paper, has become a little bit of a lost art. It’s an important way to learn and if combined with allowing your default network to fire up, we believe it has the capacity to help you process your experience – reflect on it with clarity and come up will all important breakthroughs in how you might move forward.

Which leads us nicely into the subject of reflective practice.

Reflective practice

Reflective practice is a structured technique to help you study your experience. It can help you learn by encouraging you to think about the thoughts and feelings that arise as a result of experiencing something. Thinking about an event is also a good way of reflecting on how you think others experienced you during the same exchange.

To reflect effectively you need to commit to thinking deeply about your experience. It’s often helpful to do this when you are mindful and attentive to the task at hand, as deeper reflection requires very active thinking, going back over the experience in a deep and meaningful way. In reflective practice you are likely to consider the event, experience or situation from multiple angles. You might consider the people involved, but also other important details like the time, place and general environment. You may want to think about the role you played in a given situation, or perhaps you will study the mood or climate? By examining your experience you may discover details missed in the moment or important insights that inform your thinking or how you might behave in future. By evaluating and analysing experiences you can draw conclusions and focus on what you have learnt – about yourself and potentially about how you impact others. Studying your experience may lead to key decisions and actions or it may have other less actionable benefits.

Reflective practice and Notebook Mentor

Notebook Mentor combines personal reflective practice, with practical, expert, help and guidance to support you through meaningful work and career experiences. While it is entirely feasible that you might read one of our notebooks from cover to cover without undertaking any reflective practice, we think you would be significantly diminishing your opportunity to learn from our approach.

At Notebook Mentor we want to share expert know-how with you, but we need your active participation in developing your will and skill to better manage your life experience or make the most of opportunities that come your way. By unplugging and committing quality time to reflection you not only support your mental health and wellbeing (giving your brain time to process your experience and what you can do as a result) you also have an opportunity to use that perspective (again and again) to create the future outcomes you want.

We are asking you to take your reflections and write them down – so this becomes not just reflective practice, but reflective writing. This can be very personal in nature – just think about the more unstructured version of reflective writing such as using a diary. It can also be more organised (such as in our notebooks) where you are asked to structure your answers – describing a situation, interpreting your thoughts and feelings, comparing events or describing learning and what it means going forward.

You might consider reflective practice to be easy? Perhaps it’s something you’ve always struggled with? As I’ve already said, in our permanently on, mobile, connected world, one of the biggest impediments to good reflective practice is simply finding ‘free head space’ to think! Writing things down, pen to paper may also test you, particularly if this visual-kinaesthetic learning mode is one you are unused to.

Be honest with yourself – how often do you find a quiet space where you can let you mind wander to consider an event you have experienced? How often do you think and write things down? Practice really does help, so if you can, take your Notebook Mentor at the recommended pace or at least come back to your initial reflections and think about them further.

Why don’t you have a go at some reflective practice now? As a starter for ten pause here and go and find a pen and piece of paper. Alternatively use a note page on a digital device. Spend 15 minutes thinking about one of the following scenarios. Just let your mind wander with it, mulling over the experience. Think about:

  • A 1-1 interaction you had with someone you don’t get on with
  • A team meeting you attended but didn’t enjoy
  • A business meeting you attended that really inspired you
  • An interaction with your spouse, partner or a family member that started out cordially and ended up in an argument
  • Any other negative experience at work

Now observe the situation independently and jot down what happened. Don’t just think about the conversation – consider the whole experience. Jot down some detailed notes:

  • What happened?
  • Where were you – what was the environment, mood or climate like?
  • How did the situation play out?
  • What role did you play?
  • How do you think the other person (or persons) perceived you – what you said, how you behaved, or your physical presence?
  • What did they say or do?
  • How were you feeling? What exactly where you thinking?
  • How did your thinking and feeling evolve?

Now consider any learning:

  • What conclusions can you draw from what happened?
  • What could you have done differently?
  • What learning can you take from the experience?
  • What does it say about you or about how others perceive you?
  • Is there something you might want to change as a result?
  • If the situation arose again, what might you try out that is different from before?

Everyone has the capacity to reflect deeply, but its hard work and you need space and time to do it properly. It’s also not the same as getting yourself into ‘analysis paralysis’ where you simply can’t see any way forward or anything but a bad situation. Good reflective practice balances your perspective against others and often brings neutrality and pragmatism to the table.

The challenges and exercises in Notebook Mentor are rooted in good reflective practice.

Developing character traits
In addition to reflection we also encourage you to think about personal inquiry, restraint, perspective and judgement.

Personal inquiry requires you to ask important questions about yourself. This includes questions about the type of person you are or want to be. It requires more than just a superficial assessment of your skills, education, qualifications or experience. It requires you to consider other important factors about your character, beliefs, values and morals.

Restraint simply asks that you hold back or hold the space ‘open’ for a moment giving your brain time to reflect and process experience. Sometimes you might need restraint to prevent yourself from immediately reacting to a situation – perhaps holding yourself back from being defensive, getting angry or just saying what you want everyone to hear. Restraint requires you to self-regulate, managing your emotions. It also requires you to be thoughtful, prudent and humble. These are for some, difficult characteristics to put in play, especially if everyone around you is encouraging you to speak your mind and say what you think!

Perspective asks you to look broadly, connecting the dots, considering a variety of views. Putting situations into the right context and judging them with the right degree of balance could help you find insights previously missed.

And judgement means applying logic and instinct to thinking smartly.

All these traits and intelligences are essential for creativity and good problem solving.

In summary

When I read this paper it certainly makes me think. There’s a lot to take in here! Come back to it several times over. It will help you get the best from your Notebook Mentor experience. Take in the expert advice if you can, think about how you like to learn, and practise the skills and traits we have talked about. Most of all – let that default neural network have some quality time to process what’s going on.

Good luck!