As I watched the movie UP, I got a kick out of the dog, Dug. Dug could speak but his flaw was that in the middle of a conversation with you, if a squirrel darted in his line of sight, he completely forgot what he was saying to you.  So the conversation would go something like this, “Hi, I am Dug. I love to play… Squirrel!…Hi, I am Dug, I love to play”.  Literally the dog could not remember what he had been just talking about.

Well the scary thing is the new report on how the internet is affecting our brain and thinking is similar to Dug.  Literally the link from your working memory to your long-term memory is getting overloaded.  Why is this so important?

Your working memory is the part of your brain that takes in information and sorts it out. It is small in size and can easily get overloaded. Think of it like a 1 GB flash drive.  Once it’s  full, nothing else goes in unless you empty something out. What information makes it past the sorter in your working memory than gets moved to your long-term memory? Your long-term memory is infinite- it has no storage capacity. Think of your long-term memory like a huge data storage center that goes farther than your eye can see.  The more you can get in it, the better ability you have to connect things in new ways, be innovative and get incredible insights.  But the information has to move from the short-term working memory to the long-term memory for those benefits to pay off.

What they find is happening with the internet is that your brain is actually distracted by the hyperlinks and pictures. Literally, with each hyperlink you see, your brain checks out of what you are looking at to try to think “Do I want to click on that or not?”. This dual thinking stops your brain from completely processing what you are reading.  Your comprehension goes down dramatically.  At the same time all this extraneous information either has to come in to your working memory or be tossed on the floor.

So what is the implication of this long-term for business?

  1. More Tactical Thinking From People– It means the thinking of your team is getting more and more distracted.  They have less ability to pull in knowledge from the past and utilize it in future decision making because that past knowledge is not transferring from the working memory to the long-term memory. Instead it is spilling out onto the floor where it is lost forever. Therefore, they will resort to more tactical “task” type thinking.
  2. Higher Number of Repeated Errors– If the brain can’t learn from what just happened and store that learning long-term, it simply vanishes.  This means that people will be like gerbils on a wheel repeating the same cycle of errors over and over again.
  3. Ability to Grow Experts in Your Organization Dimishes- Expertise comes, not from having the most book knowledge, but rather by the ability of the person to have so much knowledge in their long-term memory and an expanded short-term memory so they can instantly see a problem, and intuitively reach back in their brain to know how to handle it.  If your team isn’t transferring their knowledge though from their short-term memory to their long-term memory, you will end up with a lot of 1 GB sticks which will never be as powerful as one 500 GB stick.

Take Action: Look at how your ability to focus is being impacted.  Do you allow people to bring cell phones in to meetings where they can read emails during a meeting? If so, you are probably running in to the same “disengagement” that I was talking about above.  How effective do you think decisions being made in that environment are?

Try this experiment.  Try for one month to commit to all meetings being 30 minutes.  Require people to leave cell phones on silent for the meeting and keep focused at the items at task only.  See what happens with the quality of decisions being made!