If only we were elephants blog

They say that an elephant never forgets. Well, if that is indeed the case, it’s Elephants 1 – Humans 0 when it comes to the Memory Game.

In the late 1800’s Hermann Ebbinghaus discovered a concept he called the “Forgetting Curve”. Ebbinghaus was interested in studying how long individuals remembered information and his findings are fascinating. He found that within 20 minutes of being presented with new information, individuals had forgotten over 50% of that information. Within 24 hours, individuals would typically forget 2/3 of the information, and a month later, these same individuals had forgotten 80% of the information presented just 30 days prior.  Now think about this – Ebbinghaus was conducting his research far before all of the technological advances we enjoy today that not only increase the amount of information we need to process but also often cause a constant distraction with additional information and attention-diverting stimulus. It makes me wonder what those percentages would be today – not good!

Whether the percentages in Ebbinghaus’ “Forgetting Curve” have changed in our current day of technology is a moot point. Without a doubt, there is a real forgetting curve that is hard to deny and should not be ignored IF we strive for the maximum benefit out of anything we learn. Indeed, it takes more than a great memory to get the long-term value out of a speech, a training event, or to implement a new idea into our selling and/or coaching tool box.

The challenge of maximizing the benefit of learning does start with memory, but there are 2 more elements that cannot be ignored and the first of these is follow-up. There is significant data supporting that following up on whatever has been learned at least 3 times in a relatively short period of time can increase retention dramatically. In some cases that retention can be as much as 90%. Other studies show that the most effective follow-up occurs weekly for at least 6 weeks. Thankfully, the same technology that we maligned above can make it possible to follow up much easier and more effectively than ever before to drive retention.

However, even a perfectly designed follow-up program will not ensure that the information we retain will be used correctly to actually build skills or capability. The second, and possibly more critical element to ensure true learning, is the act of actually applying the new learning.  Incorporating our learning into our selling and/or coaching behaviors allows us to grow professionally and personally from our new insight or knowledge.

I read once that knowing and not doing is really not much different than not knowing at all. That’s why our application of new learning is paramount to us retaining our newly acquired knowledge and skill. Next week I’ll talk about how to do just that – especially when it comes to incorporating those learnings into our selling and/or coaching behaviors. Hope you’ll join me for the discussion and together we can close the gap between us and the elephants!