Excellent, excellent email here from Cristian Strat in response to last week's newsletter, "GSV#9: Get Things Off Your Head."
Here's Cristian -
Hey Sebastian! I was thinking about the impact of getting things off your head.
I'm not an expert but I was reading about Working Memory and the correlation between that and your general level of fluid intelligence and attention level. Apparently people can only hold about 5-7 bits of information at once for thought manipulations and reasoning. Apparently, being able to hold a few more things in your working memory makes a dramatic improvement in your thinking abilities. Consequently, a smaller capacity will make for an inferior thought process.
Now, when you try to keep things in your head (like "Don't forget to call mom at 4pm") while working, you effectively operate with a lower capacity Working Memory. You constantly have to refresh "Don't forget to call mom at 4pm". As an experiment, try to remember a 4 digit number while working on something.
Again, I know nothing about psychology, so don't take this as an educated opinion. It's just a persona theory. There's also an interesting parallel between your Working Memory and the Stack Memory of a running program.
Cristian shared two more notes -
Also, make it clear it's just a guess. It would be great if a real psychologist would chime in.
With regard to improving working memory, it doesn't seem there's a consensus among researchers. Only some recent papers claim it can be done. There's also a pretty good training game developed by a research group. Here's a link to the game, and a paper claiming the game works:
Awesome stuff Cristian, great observations and thanks for sharing those. Cristian's personal site is cristianstrat.com and he's a co-founder of http://summify.com/ - both definitely worth checking out.
I've learn a lot about working memory through being dyslexic. I'm going to admit, upfront that I don't have references, but I learnt this from an educational psychologist (http://www.workingwithdyslexia.com/), so I trust the information!
In the majority of the population working memory correlates really closely with other measures of intelligence. As Noel said, working memory is the ability to remember chunks of information and manipulate them. An example of the difference between remembering a list and a piece of information can be given with phone numbers. My parents phone number is 274258, I can say that number quickly and easily. But I have it as a single thing, I couldn't rearrange that number without writing it down and looking at it - that would require working memory.
In dyslexic people working memory is much worse than other measures of intelligence. I find it really hard to reorganise strings of things. One way I find this particularly difficult is in remembering sequences. I can't tell a joke to save my life - holding the whole sequence in my head at once doesn't work. From my perspective, I would say working memory isn't the thing to always strive for though. I have learnt to really use my long term memory and group data into clusters. These skills have been invaluable to me, it allows me to think about information in interesting ways. The other exciting thing is that dyslexics tend to be good at tangents: thinking about things in usual or new ways. A great example of this is the surreal, tangential humour of Eddie Izzard (e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAOLOGGftTY).
I guess my summary would be that working memory isn't everything!
Thanks for your blog, I really enjoy it.
I guess a good analogy for working memory would be computer RAM memory.
The trick is to learn to discard from our RAMs any data that is not useful in the present moment.
I wish my MacBook Pro was smarter a discarding unused RAM so I wouldn't have to type "purge" in Terminal so often.
As humans we have to get better at "purging" our RAMs of impractical thoughts and data. I can see how that would help focusing at the task at hand a lot more effectively.
Cheers Strat, Looking forward to beers tonight! Summify rocks!
I only had working memory as a small part of an introductory course, but I think that a meaningful sentence works better than an abstract code. It's called chunking: you can remember about 5 to 7 different chunks of information. The bigger chunks, the more information you can remember.
So the abstract code has you remember four different numbers while you can probably remember the sentence as one whole (at the very most as two pieces of information: "call mom" and "4pm").
Or let me use the example I got from the textbook, which has twelve letters to remember: N F L C B S M T V. You can read that as twelve letters or as four chunks: NFL CBS HBO MTV. And it can help if you give those chunks as much information as possible: if you can make one chunk contain about seven chunks of information (by association) you can use your working memory as a branching tree.
This is of course all from memory with little knowledge of the details, but I think this should give about the right insight on working memory. Improving working memory would be brilliant, but strategies you used in high school to remember information are much, much more efficient.
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