CIPS Informatics: Memory expert offers secrets

Recalling often detailed internal business processes and recognizing some 500 clients by name are good enough reasons to sharpen memory skills, said an IT professional.

Donna Forbes, an IT director with Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, said that besides recalling the tasks that encompass day-to-day processes, good memory skills are ideal for those processes not often put into action, such as business continuity/disaster recovery.

“We could work as a team to put recovery procedures into a list, and in the heat of the moment, we could recall certain things that we had to do, where things would be, etc.,” said Forbes.

Name recall, too, would allow Forbes and her team of 20, to provide IT support along with great customer service to the 500 faculty and staff and 4800 students on campus.

“[My staff] may see someone three times a year, or once a week, but being able to make people feel that we really care and that we remember them is a great skill set we could use everyday.”

Forbes was attending the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) Informatics conference in Halifax this week where Bob Gray, president and founder of Memory Edge, gave a keynote and workshop demonstrating how memory skills can enhance recall, and therefore, increase job performance and productivity.

“I’ve yet to come across a business, industry or profession that can’t work more effectively through better recall,” said Gray, who has taught memory skills for two decades, and holds a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for being able to speak phonetically backwards.

The four systems he teaches are Chain, Peg, Phonetic Index, and Names and Faces (actually, these models have been around for centuries, however, Gray has tailored them for his workshops):

  • Chain: for memorizing and recalling a specific sequence of items.


  • Peg: for memorizing a group of 20-30 items. Items can then be recalled in random order, in other words, “what was number 8, or number 12?”
  • Phonetic Index: a 300-year-old system developed in the 1600s, and updated in the 1700s, said Gray. “Nobody knows about it outside the magic community and people who are passionate about memory.”


  • Names and Faces: making an association between a person and their name in order to facilitate recall. According to Gray, the average individual can remember the names of two out of 10 people they’re introduced to. This technique, he said, permits 100 per cent recall.

Once these skills are learnt, certain elements can be filtered out if they’re not relevant to the business, and then “be adapted for pretty much memorizing anything.”

For instance, these memorization models can be applied to numbers and words in random or sequential order, said Gray.

He recommended practicing the models for 15-20 minutes a day over 21 days (6-7 hours over a three-week period) because it takes around 21 days for new habits to form.

Shafiq Qaadri, Toronto-based medical writer and family physician, doesn’t deny that sharper memory will enhance job performance. “IT professionals can understand better than anyone because they know that 64 kilobytes is not as good as a gigabyte, and which is not as good as a terabyte.”

Enhancing the speed and efficiency of thinking, making associations, deriving new solutions to problems, and multi-tasking are just some benefits, said Qaadri.

He does, however, think the memory skills such as those that Gray imparts, can be a bit gimmicky. “[Gray’s models] do help your memory, if there’s a context.”

Qaadri said these models only teach people to store discrete points of information that is vastly different from, and not transferable to, skills memory, which is more useful and can only be learned by doing (i.e. there’s no shortcut).

However, he added, Gray’s models are useful for learning shortcuts or macros – by creating a unique mnemonic – that an IT professional might need to know to work more efficiently.

As for Forbes, she said she’ll definitely consider having her team learn the memory systems, and possibly work with Gray to further develop practical uses for her IT staff.

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