Memory

60 Minutes

I don’t know if you watched the 60 minutes story last night on endless memory.  You can see the first part of the story here and there’s a link to the second part on the player.  In a nutshell, the story shows 5 folks – including a famous actress – who have complete recall of every moment of their lives since they were kids.  You pick a date, they tell you what happened.  A lot of people think it’s some kind of parlor trick but the research clearly demonstrates that it’s real.  I thought it was fascinating and I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Of course, as I was watching, I had a business thought which I’d like to share with you as well.

I have a pretty good memory.  I’m usually able to recall language in contracts and other business terms without notes, for example, and my recollections are usually accurate.  That said, I’m not even close to being able to do what these people can.

I can also tell you that this week in 1995 I had conversations with clients at Hershey and MetLife, phone calls with organizers of  three different events, a recruiter called, and we were in a panic over a figure skating event only getting a 4.9 rating (for a weekend date in December!)  How do I know this?  Like many executives, I kept a running journal of what was going on since even my excellent memory isn’t perfect.  More importantly, even though I tend to recall the big points, if I someone else had to take over from me on a project, I needed to make sure I didn’t leave out the little stuff – how we got to a deal, notes on negotiating styles – whatever someone would need to step in.  This is the part of institutional memory that’s often overlooked in a time when some companies throw away executives like candy wrappers.

Unless you’re like one of the folks in the piece, you need to make sure there are records, both personal and departmental, that can make sure that everyone’s recollections are accurate. I always used to ask departing employees to write a transitional memo with contact lists and whatever personal notes about partners they thought were important. This could range from something as simple as assistant names and birthdays to negotiating styles and hot buttons. These were life-savers on many occasions.

Do you keep a log? How’s your institutional memory? And don’t tell me you don’t remember!

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