Without a doubt, one of the best books I have read in recent years. It was on Bill Gates site in 2012 — this book recommendation, is yet another reason I’ve always been such a big Bill Gates fan. While I consider myself pretty good at remembering and learning new things, I don’t think I’ve ever thought about the ‘how’ I actually end up retaining that information. I doubt I am unique in that respect at all either.
The book takes you through the years of progressive decline of memory skills and into a world of memory ‘athletes’ and their competitions (who knew they existed?). In general, we’ve all lost the art to remember and instead rely on the ability to instantly retrieve information in our connected world (or as this book posits, even from the era when pen was first put to paper in the form of a book). As if technology hasn’t made it easy enough, we are now insisting on information ‘finding’ or ‘notifying’ us so as to compensate for our complete lack memory muscles. Recall back to your days of high school and university and how many numbers could you call off the top of your head? I can still recall the numbers of my best friends as well as other ‘important numbers’ – but now most of us would be hard pressed to remember even our most immediate family members. The failing of a piece of software to remind you of a calendar event, is considered excuse enough to have missed that event. The inability for people to remember important tasks has given rise to a whole plethora of management overhead of constant meetings to ‘review items’ along with ‘scrums’ and GTD tools all of which need even their own lists to even keep track of what they all do. It could be said, that we’ve managed to relegate information that isn’t necessary to be memorized to effectively be an on demand database retrieval while focusing more on the abilities to parse, process, and utilize that information. It is hard to imagine that can be effective though – the tools in this book don’t really focus on ‘what’ to remember, but more on the ‘how’ to remember – the inability to remember process or utilization is just as difficult. The techniques he introduces could just as easily be used to remember processes, recall experiential knowledge – perhaps even to improve learning how to play an instrument – I’ve started on my ever long quest to play tabla and it has helped me break through. We’ve all done it in the past: recall your days of learning music in elementary school (remember ‘Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle’ or A!U! Give me back my Gold!) – we perhaps just didn’t put together a formal methodology around it.
While this book doesn’t really give you detailed tools to improve memorization, there tidbits throughout such as Memory Palaces (pickled garlic, tub of cottage cheese, peat-smoked salmon, half dozen bottles of white wine, 3 pairs of socks, 3 hula hoops (possibly 4), snorkeling gear, dry ice machine, email Soofia, skin colored cat suit, Elk sausages, Paul Newman movie, Director’s chair and megaphone, harness+ropes, barometer — you’ll know what that means if you read the book…), visualizations of famous celebrities in compromising situations in order to memorize cards, as well as some scattered references to Tony Buzan and the works of Cicero and Hortentius. But where it gets even more interesting is living through the author’s own experience of being like the average Joe to actually being in the US Memory Championships after one year of effort (with only an hour a day). Along the way, he delves into his research into the subject, of the various examples of individuals with unique memory characteristics, , the characters he met along the way (some dude could remember the exact order of 1528, given only an hour) and refines the notion of the 10000 hours made famous from Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point — he sadly points out, most of us play a particular sport of have a particular hobby of which we never get better at past a particular ‘OK Plateau’ – we ramble through rote repetition of the same actions expecting to get better rather than targeting those areas which need improvement. If you want specific techniques – it’ll give you starting points – but the story, without a doubt, will inspire you to do so.
It’s a great read – helping you on your way to easily remember important events or actions or to recall past experiences or even to learn to do something new faster than it would normally take you.
Unfortunately, as he points out… it won’t help remembering where you left your keys or wallet though… still looking for that book…
Have you read this book? What did you think?