Why you need to be far more careful when making notes

David Emm
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Medieval Scribe
Our brains cannot store, let alone process, all the facts that cross our path on an average working day (Source: Getty)

Of all the information your colleagues shared with you yesterday, how much do you remember? What happens to the rest?

There is a limit to what we can take in. Our brains cannot store, let alone process, all the facts that cross our path on an average working day. If the information is in a document or email, we can at least file it for future reference. But if it’s spoken and we want to make a note of it for later, we could be in trouble.

Business professionals, especially those in more senior roles, face a dilemma when it comes to taking in information: the more important it is for them to listen, the harder it can be. This is because listening and remembering are easier when you already have a sound grasp of the subject under discussion, and that’s a lot to ask of an executive with wide ranging responsibilities.

A common solution is to get something down as it’s being said – and invariably, most of us now do that electronically. But there are some both initial and consequential issues to keep in mind.

Digital amnesia

First, our new study shows that we can’t listen and remember if we’re typing something at the same time. Such a big issue if you’ve then got a hard copy note of what was just said? Yes, it transpires – because as many as one in seven of the business professionals surveyed, including some senior business leaders, have, one way or another, lost meeting notes they typed into a device and then discovered that they couldn’t remember a single word of what was said.

The study and previous laboratory-based experiments show that typing notes into a device during a conversation directly impacts the writer’s ability to grasp the most important points being shared – which leaves the digital record as the only memory of the conversation.

We’ve termed this “Digital Amnesia”: the experience of forgetting information entrusted to a device. Digital Amnesia might reflect an increasingly embedded relationship between people and their personal devices, yet it also carries risks, particularly when people are tempted to make real-time notes during a meeting or important conversation.

Hacked off

Which brings us to the second challenge. It’s easy to forget, but our devices and the data stored on them are vulnerable in ways that our brains are not. They can be hacked into, stolen or lost, with the data they carry intercepted or even held to ransom, particularly if it’s company-confidential. This is even more worrying if the device lacks basic security, such as a password.

Many businesses believe that their everyday information couldn’t possibly be of interest to a cybercriminal. But data security incidents happen to everyone – it is a case of “when”, not “if”. In 2015 alone, eight in 10 companies experienced at least one breach, with a third being hit almost weekly. Moreover, attacks in search of company intellectual property increased by over half last year – and the IP that makes the business special isn’t just the big, critical stuff, but also all the “little data”, the nuggets of information you carry around on devices and likely don’t give much thought to.

So what should firms do? People will continue to take devices into meetings and presentations and type notes, so the challenge – as with any area of data security – is making sure your employees are doing so safely. Much of that comes down to education, but also ensuring that you’ve got the programmes, software and digital storage in place to make it easy for them. Are they using their own devices? Are they sitting in coffee shops and working on public wifi?

The positive relationship between people and their devices plainly benefits businesses. But it also presents security risks that must be addressed.

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