brain_vs_machine

Now that we have our smart phones, search engines, vast amounts of digital storage and information available online; is it still useful to remember raw data – the facts and figures? The answer is YES! Improving and using your memory will allow you to synthesise new information and come up with creative suggestions on the spot, rather than going back to a PC or smart phone to search for things, digest them, put them in a spreadsheet, analyse and then try to come up with good ideas. The memory palace technique is worth a look.

The digital age; vast amounts of storage and information widely available

Remembering facts and data is not so useful, as the information is all widely available; it’s knowing how to find it and how to apply it that’s important. Machines are excellent at storing and recalling data; much better than humans. So we should be using machines for this, and focussing our energy on things that machines can’t do. Right?

We’ve got

  • Google and Wikipedia,
  • Documents and spreadsheets,
  • Terabytes of space on a basic hard drive.

Why should you bother remembering data about market rates, property, management theories, leadership and motivational techniques? You can simply research anything online and save the information in a document on a hard drive.

Results of this approach – can’t think on the spot

Maybe you find yourself in a meeting with general managers and they ask for your thoughts on what the team should do. You have no idea because you need to go and research the topic on Google first, to find out how it’s been done before by others, what the relevant data are, what the theories and best practices are, and examples of how to apply them. You can’t think and be creative on the spot because nothing is in your head, it’s all written down on paper, or stored in files or it needs to be researched online to refresh your memory.

Why human memory is still relevant

Now a colleague who has a lot of data in their head can combine this data with what has been said so far, synthesise and make a creative suggestion on the spot. Doesn’t matter if the idea is right or wrong; it’s an idea! People will think:

  • This guy is intelligent,
  • This guy adds value to the team,
  • This guy is a leader,
  • I should involve this guy more and ask their opinion in the future.

You want to be in that position!

Training your memory – the Memory Palace technique

One idea that’s well worth a look to help with this issue is the Memory Palace technique. It is based on knowledge discovered thousands of years ago by the ancient Greeks and Romans; the human brain is very good at remembering spatial data, linking it to physical locations and making connections between things.

Here’s a highly simplified version to get you thinking. Follow the links at the end of this post to get a better understanding.

  1. Create a memory palace. This should be a physical location such as your house, or a route you walk through a city. Memorise a route through the palace and storage places along that route. The palace and the route must be 100% committed to long term memory. It’s easier to use a physical location you already know very well, otherwise you need to spend some time memorising your palace in vivid detail.
  1. Take your subject, break it into parts and encode them in rich visual imagery and sensory data in your mind; the more obscure the imagery, the better. Make connections between the obscure imagery and each part of the subject.
  1. Walk along the route through your memory palace and deposit the parts of your encoded subject into the storage places, making connections in your mind. Then walk along the route to recall the encoded parts, your mind will translate them into the subject matter as you’ve built connections between the encoded parts and your subject, and the brain is very good at remembering things that are connected.

memory_palace_stepsNote:

  • When you want to memorise a new subject, you can replace the contents of the storage places with your new subject; or,
  • You can build as many memory palaces as you like and have as many storage places in each one as you like. Then you can use each palace to hold different topics.

More detailed explanations of building a memory palace:

  1. This how to guide from Wikihow is a very good and easy to follow step by step guide to help you build a memory palace: http://www.wikihow.com/Build-a-Memory-Palace
  2. Another great article on building a memory palace from Litemind: https://litemind.com/memory-palace/

 Further inspiration on the topic:

  1. Joshua Foer’s TED talk on his experience with memory athletics is inspiring: http://www.ted.com/talks/joshua_foer_feats_of_memory_anyone_can_do?language=en
  2. Idriz Zogj’s TEDx talk on his experience: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ebJlcZMx3c
  3. NY Times article by Joshua Foer; this is a longer version of the story: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/02/20/magazine/mind-secrets.html?_r=0
  4. Wikipedia has a succinct article with some of the history related to this technique, method of loci: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Method_of_loci
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