This is a follow on post from A Technique for Producing Ideas.

Is the computer merely an execution tool? Is it a hindrance or a help in the idea generation process?

In my work, I use both a paper notepad and a laptop computer. Increasingly, more and more of my idea generation is done on my laptop. I estimate only 10-15% of my ideas now originate on paper. The main reason for this flexibility.

The computer gives me the indispensable freedom to move things around rapidly and without adding more chaos in the way of scribbles and arrows. I am sufficiently fluid with programs like Word and Illustrator to be able to forget the programs and focus on the concepts I am manipulating. The added bonus is everything I write down is forever legible, as I have terrible handwriting.

I still use a paper notepad or a whiteboard (with a digital camera to capture the output). These are great for quick diagrams and sketches, especially in an interactive session with others. I don’t use my computer when working with others; what I do is transcribe the rough sketches later – before I forget what I had scribbled down.

There is a discipline involved in using a computer for idea generation. Given the feature set of programs like Word, it is very easy to be tempted to execution mode. This is when I start choosing which typeface to use, and what colour to make a box; things which are detrimental to the idea generation process. Over the years, I have learnt to set the appropriate mindset when sitting at the computer – if I am in idea generation mode, I can ignore the immediate visual aspects of what I am doing (unless I am trying to come up with visual ideas obviously).

A computer is just a tool – like a paper pad and pen. Neither is more or less conducive to idea generation. Perhaps when computers were slower and more rigid in their acceptance of input they would have been a pain to make ideas on. But I no longer think this is the case any more. I can see the retirement of my paper notebooks eventually, when tablet PCs get up to scratch for my needs.