Memory and intelligence

I have always ‘struggled’ with memory.  I would like to think I would pass myself off as reasonably intelligent – but would never score highly on any ‘test of memory’.  Examples – I remember very little poetry or Shakespeare from school, I remember very few telephone numbers, I struggle with birthdays and anniversaries.  When reading a book I enjoy the book – but will have limited recollection of the detail of the book.

Naturally, given importance of remembering some things, I used some aids.  For instance all the birthdays/ anniversaries are included in my online diary, appointments are noted in the diary, phone numbers available to me on my phone and I tend to create mind maps when reading business related books.

I do not think this memory issue (if it is an issue)  is recent.  Seem to remember(!) struggling with dates in history back in Fr. Lynch’s history classes in Belvedere in the mid 70s.  Later on there was never a happier student for the Chartered Accountancy Final exams when they switched to an ‘open book’ exam.  Always seemed to me to make sense that you should be able to tackle a question, using your skills, but cross reference/ check to the detailed backup materials – which is how many of us work.

Interested to read today’s piece in the Sunday Times by Hiram Morgan (‘The rise of the internet is rotting our brains’).  Of course the headline is designed to catch attention (given the location next to ‘Scarlett Johansson – The sexpot superhero’s great power is her brain’, Dr Morgan needed a strong headline).

The question for me is whether I can use this technology (internet, limitless amounts of data) to empower/ enhance my intelligence?  And I think the jury is out.  I would not be qualified to comment on his assertion that ‘as little as five days of internet surfing , with this erratic pattern of short attention spans and switching from link to link, has been shown to alter the neural pathways in the brain.  The result of this damage to short-term memory is that we do not properly build up long memory.  This prevents the brain from forming “schema”, without which the data we constantly consume is irrelevant.‘ But it would seem plausible to me.

Over the last few years I have become much more interested in history (One fellow 52 year old suggested history seems to be an obsession of 50 year old males) and as a result have read a great deal more about 20th Century US history and 18, 19 and 20th Century Irish history.  As a management consultant I also read widely in areas of business interest.  I am interested to see how much of this stuff I actually remember.

What has struck me recently is that History makes more sense (and I remember more of it) when I have some ‘intelligent’ dialogue with other interested people.  This did not take place in school for me – as I took not interest in the subject and limited my enthusiasm to maths, science and the classics.  I suppose also I now have some hunger to learn and to understand – and therefore the mind seems somewhat more active/ open/ stimulated.  In the case of consulting related reading I often have the opportunity to try out the ideas – and this seems to increase memory retention greatly.

A few years ago I attended some exam preparation seminars with one of my kids – and a great deal of the session was geared towards maximising ‘memorisation’ for exam purposes.  Again I am not qualified to comment – but I suspect, given the commercial success of the outfit, many of the students must be benefiting in terms of exam performance.  I would, however, have some doubts about ‘long term’ memory referenced by Dr. Morgan.  I also suspect they are very much geared at preparing students for exams which now lend themselves to students providing the exact piece of information answering a specific question for a specific number of marks in the paper (more specific than 35 years ago).

Returning to Dr Morgan’s assertion – for me the issue is that learning still takes effort.  That it how it has always been and how it should continue to be.  Something on the internet may catch my attention, something in the newspaper may catch my attention.  But understanding the issue, contextualising it, forming my own view – all of this requires effort – more reading, perhaps internet research, dialogue with experts.  What I fear is that many people are now struggling to give themselves the time to do this – in most cases they need to get offline, read, reflect, analyse, converse.  And perhaps, at some stage, bring it back online.

 

 

 

 

 

Future of Television

[facebook_ilike]Thoughtful piece by Tom McGuirk in the Sunday Business Post. Part of an interesting debate in Ireland at present re the value of television presenters (lots of pressure to cut their remuneration further in light of the tough economic climate). Tom takes a different angle: plenty of examples of people being able to step in, at relatively short notice with practically no training, to run chat show time programmes. But his other concern relates to the quality fo the content e.g. a chat show that juxtapositions Tony Blair and Jedward. I drove past the studios that night myself – a confused grouping of Any Blair demonstrators and pro Jedward fans gathered at the entrance.

This all takes place in the context of the ongoing debate about the future of television, newspapers, journalism. Major initiatives from Google, Apple, etc re TV promise a new TV experience, integrated fully with the web – including all the social functionality which has become commonplace on the web.

However think Tom’s final comments may ring true with many of us: ‘ But in the 36 years since I started out, I hope television has also become more accessible and more utilitarian for the viewers and licence payers. There should no longer be any mystery or mystique about it. Already, a new generation are emerging who make their own excellent TV programmes with equipment bought on the main street.

They see TV as merely functional, just another means of expression. Most of the time, television is boring and banal – and the truth is that, as you get older, you will probably enjoy a good book far more.’

Barriers to Collaboration

Have just been rereading Morten Hansen’s excellent book: “Collaboration”. Hansen concentrates on collaboration within the enterprise. He draws on significant research across a range of large corporates – including well known companies such as Proctor & Gamble, Apple and HP. I have been reviewing his ‘Barriers to Collaboration’ in the context of my own experience across a range of companies.

Not Invented Here
Particularly struck by Hansen’s reference to ‘insular culture’ and ‘status gap’. An example of this often arises where consultants are introduced to assist in some form of business transformation/ BPR – but there is a tendency within certain groups to hold meetings behind closed doors – excluding the consultants. I actually think the status gap is more serious in terms of junior personnel not wanting to open up with senior personnel – because they have experienced a lack of interest/ responsiveness in the past of their suggestions.

Hoarding
In the current climate of economic pressures, cutbacks, rationalisation Hansen’s reference to ‘Being too busy’ certainly rings true. People who are hard-pressed to get their own job done are less willing/ available to assist others. This is a real challenge for management – to provide the environment and opportunities for effective research and collaboration.

Search
It is disappointing that finding people and information seems to be such a challenge. However from my own background in Business Intelligence I think we all know that it is pointless to expect people to contribute data when they do not understand the ultimate use/ benefit of this data. There is any number of technological solutions available – but these require an understanding upfront and commitment to improved processes and technologies.

Transfer
There are real challenges in transferring what Hansen describes as ‘tacit knowledge’. All very well to capture basics of relationships in a CRM system – but the valuable information is often difficult to put down in writing and requires genuine collaboration for its effective transfer. Tacit knowledge transfer takes us into the area of emotional intelligence and ability to intereatc and share ideas.

Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom

Today's Irish Times includes detailed reference to 'Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom' – book by Soumitra Dutta and Matthew Fraser of INSEAD.  It's another piece calling Irish business to action in terms of availing of web 2.0 technology.  Companies have lots of employees who are used to using Facebook, Twitter, etc in collaborating in their daily lives – surely it is time to exploit the very real opportunities in Irish corporates?  We all know the benefits and necessity of collaborating – be it family events, school projects, playing team sports, organising school runs.  There is no argument about the merits of collaborating in the workplace – both internally and externally.  We now have technologies which make all of this a great deal easier.  And we have lots of people who want to use them.

The web site associated with the book is an excellent working example of the use of these technologies – incorporating the use of traditional brochure type avertising, a blog for publishing views of the authors (and inviting comment) and a wiki  to encourage collaboration with interested parties across the globe.

Developing the corporate wiki – real life experience

We redeployed our company (www.ciall.com) wiki (iCiall) a few weeks ago – based on Microsoft Sharepoint. Generally uptake has been very positive and has resulted in much better sharing of information.  One of the interesting challenges we have seen is the ongoing discussion – should I put that information directly into the wiki or should I document it using a traditional Office application e.g. notes from meetings – directly in the Wiki or documented using a minute template in MS Word (with a link from the wiki)?  And so it goes – merits of tracking business development efforts in CRM or entering on the wiki – balancing the reporting features of the CRM solution and the ease of use of the Wiki.