Three important lessons I learned from my “new” 1950 Smith Corona Typewriter

My birthday was 2 weeks ago. Thanks to all the well-wishers (and those of you who may have missed it, don’t feel bad – I made all my Facebook info private in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, so it’s not your fault). But the clear highlight of the day was picking up my typewriter – a gift from my parents, my wife, and my kids (who asked “I don’t understand – why don’t you just get a really loud keyboard for your computer?”)

About a year ago I watched the great documentary “American Typewriter” and it planted a seed in my mind that this was something I needed to have. A real, authentic manual old-school typewriter. But one that was in working condition and that I could actually use – not just sit on a shelf for show (thank you, Mr. Hanks, for your insights!). Thanks to the great folks at Kensington Office Machines, I found exactly what I was looking for.

What am I doing with it? So far, sending thank you notes, typing out random thoughts, and looking cool on my desk in the office. But I’m also learning a lot from having it, and the experience of using something non-digital to capture my thoughts. I thought I’d share them with you here:

  1. SLOW DOWN!! A manual typewriter jams pretty easily. It’s also hard to remove mistakes. It requires you to think before you start hammering the keys. And to have a complete thought ready to share. This ties into the work I do every day for my clients. We often want solutions immediately because we’re used to instant-everything these days. But sometimes, the right solution takes time. Consider the pros and cons. Do some research. Check the numbers, and then check them again. With a little time, the best ideas become better, and the worst ideas end up being eliminated before you start implementing.
  2. YOU CAN SEE YOUR MISTAKES, AND THAT’S NOT ALWAYS A BAD THING. My manual typewriter doesn’t come with a back button or an erase key. Even with a healthy supply of white-out, you can still see where the errors happen. What have I learned from that? Mistakes WILL happen. But don’t hide them. Sometimes those mistakes can show you the thought process, lead to an under-explored area of thinking, or even require you to start over from scratch. That’s okay – if we always hide our mistakes trying to “look perfect”, we never have the opportunity to learn, or remind ourselves of what’s going wrong. Mistakes can be a positive thing, so long as you take it as a chance to grow.
  3. DO YOUR HOMEWORK. When I set out on this mission, I wanted an old-school typewriter. A real one. Not a replica made last year. Why? I wanted it to have heft. I wanted parts made of metal (not plastic) and a machine made for work (versus a toy). That required me to search online to find the right machine that I could test out and try in person. Chat with experts to understand the difference between different models. And find one that fit my needs and my budget. It makes me appreciate what I have more than if I just clicked a button on Amazon. Putting in that extra effort made a real difference in achieving my goal, and it’s a reminder that doing so in business is just as critical.

So, next time you get a thank you note or a memo from me, it may be slightly smudged, there may be some misspellings and there will definitely not be a range of fonts. But, it will be an authentic message from me, written on a 1950’s Smith Corona Sterling that’s been in use for nearly 70 years. I’m not sure any of us will ever be able to say that about our computers.