Memory As A Factor In Efficiency

In the development of personal efficiency we find that practical memory-training is the most direct way to develop accuracy. In fact, a poor memory and inaccuracy generally go hand in hand. Important as the perceptive faculties are, they are of little value unless accompanied by a keen memory which records and retains all observations. It is not enough to notice, we must notice and remember.

This ability is one of the infallible marks of a. good executive. Some time ago as I was looking through the pages of a business magazine, my eye was caught by the striking headline: ” You are worth to your employer just about as much as you-can remember.” If that be true, a good memory certainly has a great practical value. And if that be true, we might say to the employer, ” You are worth to your business just about as much as you can remember.” Unfortunately, some big men (as well as many little men) while admitting this to be true think that they are ” too busy ” to take the time and trouble to give any attention to memory-training. If they could only realize what a tremendous amount of time and wasted energy a good memory would save them ! These same men would not tolerate lack of filing-systems in the office, yet they fail to provide any accurate filing-index for their own minds. A trained memory means mental system, and method and system are twin rails upon the straight track of efficiency, upon which the brain can run with the least effort and friction straight to a given point, using far less of time and power and pulling a far heavier load than it would by bumping across-country with-out any track.

This question of memory-training, then, is a matter of common sense, an imperative necessity for any degree of efficiency. More than that, it is of fundamental importance in the science of the human mind. In the last analysis, it is the basis of all knowledge, the very foundation of intellectual life. In any program to improve the mind of the average person, memory-training is a very necessary and important step. In many cases it is the first step.


It may be well at this point to define memory —to consider what it is as well as how to improve it. To the psychologist, memory means only one thing, the recall of past experience, but in a broader sense memory may mean impression and retention as well as recall. As such, Kant designates it as ” the most wonderful of the faculties.” Sir William Hamilton calls it, ” the faculty possessed by the mind of preserving what has once been present to consciousness so that it may ‘again be recalled and represented in consciousness.” I like better the definition given by Kay: ” It is that in each individual which records what is constantly passing in his mind and treasures it up so that it may afterward be recalled at will.” Best of all, perhaps, for conciseness and simplicity is the definition given by Dugald Stewart: ” Memory is that faculty which enables us to treasure up and preserve for future use the knowledge we acquire.” This definition given by Lawrence is even shorter: ” Memory is the mental power of recognizing past knowledge.”

I wish to make at this time a passing reference to the distinction between logical memory and rote memory, lest the psychologist who may read these pages should infer that our treatment is to be limited to rote memory. Later on, we will find that logical memory is recognized as the superior attainment, while a mere parrot-like repetition by rote without understariding of the idea back of the words is discredited. In Chapter XI, both are fully treated, and each form is given its proper place and value.


In determining the extent of one’s available knowledge, and to measure one’s memory efficiency, there is nothing so effective as a personal quiz. This is something you must do for your-self, no one else can do it for you. Make a personal inventory. Every progressive merchant considers it necessary to take an inventory at least once a year of the stocks of goods on his shelves. In this way he eliminates guesswork about his assets. He knows exactly what stocks he has on hand, in what department he is fully supplied, and in what lines of goods he is short. So he is in a position to plan his business intelligently in advance and to supply the deficiencies. Why not take stock of your mental equipment in the same way? Why not find out just what stocks of available knowledge you are carrying on your mental shelves? Why not check up definitely on this memory of yours? Ask your-self a few pointed searching questions about your memory, and insist on honest answers.

How often do you forget to attend to some important detail in the day’s work? Can you recall instantly any piece of information which you may need from day to day? When you want it in a hurry, is it there or somewhere else? Do you have to refer to notes when you make a public speech? How many times must you see a face in order to connect it with the right name? How many times do you look up the same old telephone number, address, a price, a stock number, or a friend’s initials, before you get them recorded on the tablets of your memory ready for immediate use? Once is enough, it ought to be there. Life is short. Time is worth more than money. What a pity to go through life with a poor memory! Think of the waste of time. Think of the hours saved by a trained memory which can grasp a paragraph accurately in one reading instead of ten. It will be a tremendous amount in a lifetime. What a man knows should be available. If not, it is as useless as ” frozen credits ” at a bank.


It matters not what his field of knowledge may be, whether profound or commonplace—whether he is a statesman or a laborer, he should be able instantly to utilize what he knows, when it is needed.

A certain shipping clerk in Chicago was promoted to an excellent position because he proved to have an expert memory on figures and numbers. He could instantly give the stock number of almost any article of merchandise in a large mail-order house where he worked, and the exact date of shipment. ” Yes,” he said when questioned about his expertness in this line, ” just give me a good look at it, and after that if any-body wants to know that number, I just shut my eyed and she floats up.” Needless to say, this particular ability saved much time and many mistakes and made him a valuable man to his firm. Now it is not likely that this clerk’s stock of knowledge was very large, but what he had was available.


On the other hand, we have so many examples of notable men in public life whose remarkable memories have been a priceless asset to them, that it is useless to attempt to enumerate them, because of limited time and space. Big business men, writers, lawyers, actors, executives, statesmen,—every field of human endeavor furnishes examples, and in every case, the powerful memory was one of the traits which made the man great, as well as one of the factors which aided him to rise in the world.

If I were to mention a single example, perhaps the most outstanding figure I could name would be Theodore Roosevelt, a man of marvelous mental grasp—a man whose memory was like a great mental camera man possessed of wonderful concentration and retentiveness a man whose mind was a treasure house of facts and figures, brimful of worth-while information covering the widest possible range, which he had stored away and could recall at will. And he never lost the key. It was said of him when he died, ” There passed forty per cent of the available knowledge of the world.”


There are many milestones along the highway of memory, which leads to the land of available knowledge. Among the benefits which may reasonably be expected by all who persistently stick to the trail, the following may be briefly summarized: ability to diagnose your own memory—a thorough understanding of working principles and grasp of a definite workable system —increased mental alertness—development of the perceptive faculties and a greater degree of receptiveness; ability to master facts and information. quickly and save much time in reading and study—development of a high degree of retentiveness, with power to recollect at will—how to utilize past experience and capitalize powers of observation—how to index facts and figures in a systematic mental filing cabinet—how to remember names and faces; and ultimately a quickening and strengthening of brain power which enables a man to utilize all he knows. Available knowledge is a topic of tremendous importance to us. Some authorities claim we do not really know a thing until we know it so well that we can remember it and use it.

The ancient Greeks made memory the Mother of the Muses, but modern business experts say it is the Father of Efficiency.






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