HRD's pocket guide to... memory training

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February's pocket guide will help you remember the facts about memory training

Why do I need to know about it?

Some of us will recall a time when we held several phone numbers in our head without effort. But a 2015 study by antivirus software company Kapersky Lab found that more than three in 10 participants could not even remember their partner’s number without checking.

The study’s findings confirm that being able to store and access huge amounts of information instantly has made us lazy when it comes to using our memory.

And this lack of mental exercise may be affecting our work. While we take for granted the ability to look up facts and figures, there are times when there is no substitute for brainpower.

“The age of Google has affected our ability to commit things to memory,” says US memory champion and motivational speaker Chester Santos. “And that can have an effect on the workplace. For example so many people are reliant on PowerPoint, the delivery is stale and the message ends up getting lost.”

Another less obvious consequence of over-reliance on digital storage is an increased

cyber-security threat, according to University of Birmingham psychology lecturer Maria Wimber. “The overall trend seems worrying to some degree,” she suggests. “Personal information can be very vulnerable if it is stored on an electronic device.”

What do I need to know?

Sticking with the theme of presentations, Eagle Training managing director Ian Henderson believes there is “a real danger in the over-reliance on visual aids for memory”.

“When people are presenting information and they are not familiar with the material it really shows,” he says. “And this leads to a reading out of facts and figures that can send listeners into a somnambulistic stupor.”

Delivering a message in an interesting and succinct manner is becoming more important for another reason, according to a May 2015 study by Microsoft. It suggested that our average attention span has fallen significantly: from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight at the time of the report. This is lower than a goldfish’s average attention span, which is nine seconds. So there’s never been a shorter window to get your key points across.

Where can HR add value?

Simply asking people to improve their memory seems a rather fruitless pursuit. But with a little lateral thinking there are ways HR can support this struggle, according to Dave Coplin, author of The Rise of the Humans. He sees HR’s role as teaching people to complement technology’s many advances with a human touch.

“When you use Google you are offered an impossible amount of information. But often the first answer you get for a given query isn’t correct or the most relevant. So employees need to sift through it and understand what is and isn’t to be trusted. That’s the x factor machines just can’t provide,” he says.

HR leaders are crucial to bringing these skills to the fore and making sure man and machine work in harmony, he adds.

“Learning and development has a part to play in developing these skills,” he says. “And also it’s about people who have the skills to work well in tandem with the technology; as well as having a culture that enables that. I am a fan of brain training and keeping the mind sharp. The brain is a muscle and you should do everything you can, both in and out of work, to keep it match fit.”

Anything else?

For a short-term fix there are very quick mind training exercises that can sharpen the mind and aid retention and recall substantially. Memory champion Santos has a technique, which he tried out on HR magazine, that he claims can teach someone to commit 15 words to memory in less than five minutes by using visualisation techniques (HR got 13 in case you were wondering).

“Using imagery is one of the most important things when trying to improve your memory because the brain is very good at remembering visual things,” he explains.

Most experts agree that keeping the mind sharp and exercising it is important for professional success. And for HR leaders to succeed they must also make sure that the minds of their teams are being used in a way that works best alongside the technology we rely on.

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