I wrote about how scientist Charles Darwin, TV star Charlie Rose, and finance billionaire Martin Sandquist used their own versions of commonplacing to collect valuable archives of their work. (read about it here).
Here are some other examples of successful people who used different methods of commonplacing to amplify their work and impact:
- President Ronald Reagan’s collection of Jokes & Stories
- Billionaire Tycoon Aristotle Onassis Notebooks
- President Bill Clinton’s Rolodex
- John D. Rockefeller’s “Ledgers”
Let’s look briefly at each of them.
President Ronald Reagan’s collection of Jokes & Stories
Ronald Reagan is known as a charismatic and funny guy (look up some of his jokes and famous speeches on YouTube).
The secret behind his success as a quirky speaker? His long habit of collecting jokes, anecdotes, aphorisms, and interesting trivia. He’d write it down on these cue cards and file them by category in boxes:
Billionaire Tycoon Aristotle Onassis’ Notebooks
Aristotle Onassis was one of the first mediatized tycoons. He said the secret to success was to know something nobody else knows. This is not so hard if you’re an autodidact who’s constantly learning new things.
“Wait for the night to come, and don’t celebrate until your thinking is done.”
Onassis and his family fled from Greece to Argentina during the Greco-Turkish war in 1922. He got into the tobacco business, where he made lots of money as a young man. He then used that money to get into the shipping industry and built one of the largest fleets in the world. Though he went into many other areas of business, shipping remained the linchpin of his empire.
He ended up as a self-made billionaire, and was the second man to own an airline (Howard Hughes being the only other person to have done so). However, what I personally find most interesting about him is that…
He Didn’t Even Have a Regular Office!
And, mind you, this was before the “computer age”.
Onassis liked working from home or from strange remote locations (like night clubs) or from his yacht’s library (which contained thousands of books).
How was he able to stay on top on things and manage all his businesses?
By keeping all the information he needed at hand, organized neatly in a system of special notebooks.
This was an idea he gained from his studies of the greats of history and business.
One of his special notebooks resembled the Rolodex system; another one was a detailed list over all his business tools, subcontractors, and things like that.
President Bill Clinton’s Rolodex
Bill Clinton. You can think what you want about the guy, but damn he is socially astute. The secret behind his political success is the Rolodex.
Starting in his early twenties, Clinton set his mind on a political career and started cultivating his network (like an investment).
Each day he would go out of his way to meet new people he thought could help him later in life, and each night he would record their names, occupations, and the topics discussed on cue cards.
Over the years, as his contacts from different areas of life grew and grew, he organized them into different categories for easy reference.
When he launched into his political career he was able to rise through the ranks swiftly by tapping into his large Rolodex, writing some 30-50 letters per day asking for the support of the people he’d met. This made the job of fund-raising and gaining votes easy.
In just four years’ time, this allowed him to be elected into House of Representatives, become General Attorney, and be elected as Governor of Arkansas, at which point he was the youngest Governor in the United States (called “The Boy Governor”).
John D. Rockefeller’s “Ledgers”
How did Rockefeller become so rich and successful?
One of the main reasons he became successful was his unfailing consistency. Once he had devised a system that worked, he would stick to it forever.
Rockefeller was a master at organization and compartmentalization; both in his own life and in the business activities of Standard Oil.
To mention just a few of his systems:
- His ledgers: Before becoming a businessman, Rockefeller was an überaccountant, known for his talent and precision with numbers. From his late teens, he kept track of every expense and receipt in his personal life (and for Standard Oil, until its business activities grew too large for him to oversee).
- The paper piles on his desk: In his mid-thirties or so, when Standard Oil grew into a conglomerate, Rockefeller had to make the mental transition from that of a maverick entrepreneur into a master-manager. He then started organizing the piles on his desk so that the papers on the left side were decisions to mull over and the papers on the right were decisions to be made.
- His Red Book: Throughout his career, Rockefeller carried a red book. It was feared by those working under him, for it was a business journal detailing his observations and conversations. He would tour Standard Oil’s facilities, quiet as a mouse, recording everything of note in the red book. The red book kept sub-par employees on their toes.
These information systems helped Rockefeller organize his thinking and make better decisions as Standard Oil grew into THE WORLD’S LARGEST BUSINESS.
What kind of system would it make sense for you to create?
Check out the Ultimate Commonplace System for the systems I use to manage my life.
Note: I use two of the ones listed in this article.