I wrote about memory as the enemy of learning a few weeks ago and got a healthy response. And then last night, I was watching 60 Minutes, the News Show on TV (www.cbs.com/60minutes), and they did a piece on a woman who had been raped in her home. During the attack, she paid great attention to the assailant – what he looked like, how he spoke, what he wore, etc … so that on the off-chance that she would survive this ordeal, she could identify him. A few days later, a suspect with a criminal track record who worked nearby and who fit the description was found. The victim identified him from both his pictures and from a line-up. In court, she looked at the Judge/Jury and pointed straight at him and identified him as the rapist. Eleven years later, the man was released after DNA evidence proved he was not the man and when another man, who looked eerily similar to the first one, confessed to the crime.
The 60 minutes show then did a deep dive into memory and how emotions can actually alter memory. In the vehement pursuit of justice and accountability, the victim truly believed that the first man was the rapist. And he did fit most of the characteristics of the man she saw. The story revealed troubling truths about memory as one of the most unreliable pieces of evidence. The reason is that when a crime is being committed, most events are happening so quickly and with so much emotional power that the trauma can dilute the veracity of memory.
Why am I bringing this story up on a Monday, the start of what I hope is a great week for all of us? How is this relevant to the workplace? As I shared in my previous blog entry, our memory is not like a hard drive on a computer where once an item is stored, it can be searched for and retrieved in the same manner it was stored. No, our memory, which most of us use either predominantly or exclusively to make decisions every day at work, conciously or subconciously, is a tool that is clearly susceptible to emotions — it is unreliable, transient, and as the 60 Minutes story revealed, inaccurate.
It truly a shame that the academic system rewards those with better memories in schools and testing. In a world where we now have truly unprecedented channels that can reliabily connect and access people, communities, and knowledge sources, the primary tool for good decision-making should not be your memory. Instead, your primary tool should be your versatility and resourcefulness to adapt and connect from anywhere and at anytime. I am convinced that the most successful of working professionals in the new decade (which, can you believe, is just 6 months away) will be those who have this versatility and resourcefulness. In contrast, those of us stuck in the ways we were brought up, from a learning perspective, will become increasingly irrelevant.