Memory as an Extreme Sport

This fascinating New York Times piece profiles the Extreme Memory Tournament (XMT):

The competitors gathered here for the XMT are not just anyone, however. This is the all-world team, an elite club of laser-smart types who take a nerdy interest in stockpiling facts and pushing themselves hard.

In his doctoral study of 30 world-class performers (most from Germany, which has by far the highest concentration because there are more competitions), Mr. Konrad has found as much. The average I.Q.: 130. Average study time: 1,000 to 2,000 hours and counting. The top competitors all use some variation of the memory-palace system and test, retest and tweak it.

This concept of how these people invoke a “memory palace” is very interesting:

Each competitor has his or her own variation. “When I see the eight of diamonds and the queen of spades, I picture a toilet, and my friend Guy Plowman,” said Ben Pridmore, 37, an accountant in Derby, England, and a former champion. “Then I put those pictures on High Street in Cambridge, which is a street I know very well.”

As these images accumulate during memorization, they tell an increasingly bizarre but memorable story. “I often use movie scenes as locations,” said James Paterson, 32, a high school psychology teacher in Ascot, near London, who competes in world events. “In the movie ‘Gladiator,’ which I use, there’s a scene where Russell Crowe is in a field, passing soldiers, inspecting weapons.”

More here.

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On New and Inexperienced Managers

This is a very good question on Quora: What are common mistakes that new or inexperienced managers make? Ian McAllister, general manager at Amazon, has one of the most up-voted answers:

Performance Management

  1. Being slow to deal with performance issues – Smoke becomes fire. If you take note of performance issues early you can give gentle corrective feedback. If you’re too slow to notice you have to give stronger feedback, and the performance issues may be harder to reverse.
  2. Not documenting poor performance – Documenting poor performance via email helps employees understand the gravity of the situation (“This email summarizes the discussion we just had”) and it is also helpful to have on hand if it comes time to terminate the employee.
  3. Not documenting good performance – Documenting good performance via email, to the employee alone or to a wider audience, is a great way to recognize their contributions to the team and company. It’s also a good habit to regularly document good performance of team members for your own purposes, so you can remember what you want to praise them for at annual review time.


Career Development

  1. Not getting to know your employees – It’s great to know the names of all your employees’ kids. It’s even better to know the type of work each employee most likes to do, their particular pain points within the team or company, what their career objectives are (depth, breadth, management), or why they might be thinking about taking a different job or moving to a different company. You need to develop a rapport and level of trust with each employee before they’ll start to share these things with you.

  2. Not paying attention to your high-performing employees – If you’re very satisfied with how an employee is performing you need to turn the tables and invest in making them more satisfied with their job. Find ways for them to do more of what makes them happy and less of what doesn’t.

  3. Not investing in developing your employees – Every employee needs to be developed, either to support the career development (and retention) of strong performers or to improve the performance of weaker employees. Every year you should be trying to raise the level of performance of every employee.

Worth reading in entirety. And definitely worth keeping in mind.