Are you taking it all in? What typing does to listening and leadership

Of all the information your colleagues shared with you yesterday, how much do you remember? And 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 so we can remember it later, we could be in trouble.

A new study undertaken by Arlington Research shows that we can’t listen and remember if we’re typing at the same time. The effect of this could be quite serious. As many as one in seven of the business professionals surveyed, including some senior business leaders, have lost meeting notes they typed into a device only to discover that they couldn’t remember a single word of what was said.

Typing tampers with our ability to take stuff in

The study explores the business impact of Digital Amnesia, the experience of forgetting information entrusted to a device. Digital Amnesia is natural and adaptive and reflects an increasingly embedded relationship between people and their personal devices. However, it also carries risk, particularly when people are tempted to make real-time notes during a meeting or conversation.

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 responsible for a wide range of job roles and areas of expertise. Typing notes into a laptop, tablet or smartphone during a meeting to capture what is said so they can think about it later is an obvious solution to the challenge of incomprehension.

But it comes at a price. Our 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. Leaving the digital record as the only memory of the conversation.

Digital records are a tempting target

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. In fact, data security incidents happen to everyone: eight in ten companies experienced at least one during 2015, with a third being hit almost weekly. Moreover, attacks in search of company intellectual property increased by over half – and the IP that makes the business special isn’t just the big, critical stuff, but also all the ’little data’, the nuggets of future insight carried around on devices and otherwise forgotten.

Accidental deletion, hacking, malware, cyber-espionage and ransomware, not to mention device loss, damage or theft – sooner or later at least one of these is guaranteed to apply to your business – and the content, could be lost forever.

Listening and leadership in a world of digital dependence

So, what should a business do? The positive partnership between people and their devices, exemplified by Digital Amnesia can benefit the business, helping it to harness all its knowledge, whether expressed in thought, words or kilobytes. But it also presents security risks that must be addressed.

The fact is that people will continue to take devices into meetings and presentations and type notes, so we need to ensure they do so safely and effectively. Devices can hear, but only humans can listen. Leaders need to understand this new, collaborative way of working and protect it.

David Emm, principal security researcher at Kaspersky Lab

Photo credit: Richard M Lee / Shutterstock