Build Your Memory to Build Your Business
Because we now carry powerful computers in our pockets 24/7, we often invest little effort in actually remembering much of anything. But when building a business or growing a career, a lot of your success will depend on your ability to process new information efficiently, connect it to things you’ve learned before, and nurture relationships with a wide range of people. That requires remembering — lots of it.
When you actually remember people you’ve met even briefly, the concerns direct reports and colleagues have shared with you, a challenge a customer mentioned briefly in passing, or even that someone’s child was sick last week, you demonstrate genuine caring while also forging new neural connections that support your own brain health. Both are good for business.
From papyrus to pixels
According to historians, ancient people could remember most of what they heard and talked about during an entire day. They didn’t have much choice because they had no other way of capturing it. But once writing was invented, and then more convenient ways of capturing that writing, it seems our natural inclination was to offload memory keeping to external means.
But we may have taken offloading too far. A team of researchers from four universities found that ongoing access to the Internet can lessen our ability to pay attention and actually decrease our ability to process memories.
Memory as strategic advantage
In his book, Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, neuroscientist John Medina, Ph.D., explains how the brain works and shares insights on how to use yours more effectively. Memory, he says, had a big survival advantage because it allowed us to recall where food grew or where dangers were. It also provides our ongoing sense of self and conscious awareness so that we recognize who we are and how the world works day after day.
While some memories lock in automatically, most memory formation requires effort. Exerting that effort can provide a distinct professional advantage. Without it, Medina says, forgetting often starts just seconds after learning something. Ever asked, “What was your name again?” sixty seconds after meeting someone?
Consider these practical strategies from Medina and others to improve your memory, and your professional and personal relationships.
- Repeat over time. Repeating someone’s name when you first meet is a great first step, but it’s really not enough. Neither is just reciting something four or five times in quick succession. A better approach is to repeat the information over spaced intervals. That could be as simple as referring to the new person by name a minute or two later with a simple question like, “Brandi, what do you think?” Most information is better retained when you expose yourself to it multiples times over several minutes, hours, days, or even weeks later.
- Make memories more complex. Ironically, more complex and detailed memories tend to be “stickier.” When meeting someone new, if you can “see” yourself in the moment (your physical surroundings, what the person is wearing, how he looks a bit like your favorite uncle, the sound of music playing in the background or smell of freshly brewed coffee), you will more easily recall the “story” of the memory later.
- Tune in to your own learning style. If you find greater success remembering information presented visually, you might focus on looking carefully at your new surroundings, someone new you meet or information presented in a graphic or visual format. If you learn more through listening, articulating new information aloud could be more helpful. Experiment to find the techniques that work best for you.
- Limit distractions. Extensive research proves that people cannot multitask, but that being fully present can increase memory. Eliminate physical and digital distractions and focus on the task or person at hand and you are more likely to retain information. If a record of a meeting is critical, consider delegating note taking to an assistant.
- Reinforce in myriad ways. Repetition that’s too, well repetitive, may not capture your brain’s attention because brains love novelty. Bringing the same information forward in varied formats can help. That might mean looking someone up on Linked In before or after meeting with them. Asking a colleague to describe someone to you or tell you about their professional background. Following a meeting, jotting down impressions and ideas that bubble up. Pay particular attention to helping your brain connect something you just learned to something (or someone) you already know.
A strong memory can make important information more readily available and enable you to spot synergies you might otherwise miss. It can also strengthen connections with others by giving them a sense of being seen and valued that they won’t soon forget.