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Why forgetting is good for business

A new study reveals that being able to offload information, even just temporarily, onto a digital device is crucial for creativity and innovation in the workplace.

It seems that too much data kills our ability to think freely, and that far from making us lazy or dumb, connected devices play a significant supporting role in helping us to clear our brains for inspiration – but only if we protect them properly.

What sparks creativity in the workplace?

For most of us it’s an intuitive, often unpredictable process, a case of suddenly spotting something in seemingly random and unrelated facts – or a ‘Eureka’ moment that hits you in the supermarket on a Saturday afternoon.

However, according to a new study the sheer volume of information employees are now bombarded with on a daily basis stifles the freedom of thought required for creativity – even though it also provides the golden nuggets of information required to spark new ideas. So while three-quarters of the business professionals surveyed are desperate to hang on to even the smallest facts since they contain the seeds of future creativity, just under half admit that the more of this detail they have to remember, the less creative they become.

Minds have limits

The human mind is unable to process or prioritise all the information it receives. The brain’s processing capacity of 120 bits per second is the equivalent of following a conversation involving two people talking – and only processed information makes it into the long-term memory. Further, neuroscientists believe that the brain can’t easily distinguish between important and trivial information, so it doesn’t instinctively know what’s worth remembering. So if all we have to rely on is our brain, much of the information received on a daily basis will simply disappear.

The study focused on the workplace impact of Digital Amnesia - the experience of forgetting information you entrust to a digital device. The findings show that Digital Amnesia allows business professionals to overcome the limitations of their mind’s processing and memory bandwidth by offloading data they don’t need to remember at that moment in time.

This frees up mind space for creative thought while at the same time building up a digital bank of facts that will fuel future inspiration.

The digital data bank

Devices carrying data serve another important purpose, helping to power the collaborative innovation that transforms creative ideas into new products and services.

Digitally-stored intelligence can be easily, accurately and instantly shared with others. Over two-thirds of the business professionals surveyed believe that company networks and devices are ideal for sharing their business knowledge with others for the purpose of collective thinking.

A moving target

Unfortunately, data and devices on the move are vulnerable. Devices can be damaged, stolen, left behind on trains, and their information hacked into, intercepted, spied on or even locked by ransomware. With ever more people relying on their smartphones for digital data storage, it is particularly worrying that these are often the least protected devices of all.

People forget information they’ve offloaded onto a device. It follows that if this information is lost, the ideas and innovation that could stem from it are likely to be lost too. In other words, if you fail to protect the data then the whole process of creativity is at risk.

Securing the future

Without new ideas a company cannot survive. Information on its own, whether locked in our mind or stored on a device, is inert – its energy only released when it combines with others to spark an idea, before spreading outwards to combine with other ideas to drive innovation.

Our mind’s ability to think beyond boundaries and our devices’ capacity for storing facts make for a deeply potent partnership that many businesses are only just starting to appreciate.

David Emm, Principal Security Researcher, Kaspersky Lab

Image source: Shutterstock/Robert Kneschke

David Emm
David Emm is Principal Security Researcher at Kaspersky Lab.