How to work faster with less knowledge


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My last blog post shared four ways that memorization can hurt employee performance. Now, I’d like to share a few solutions for overcoming this obstacle.

The trick is to allow employees to rapidly access vital information without having to memorize it. There’s an amusing anecdote about Albert Einstein that illustrates this point. I don’t even know if this story is true, but I like it just the same.

According to the story, a colleague once asked Einstein for his phone number. Einstein surprised his colleague by reaching for a telephone directory and looking it up. The colleague asked, “You don’t even know your own phone number?” To which Einstein famously responded, “Why should I memorize something that I can look up in a book?”

We can modernize this quote a little bit, but the principle still stands:

Never memorize something that you can easily look up.

I recently discovered a great example of how to do this while walking my dog on San Diego’s Harbor Island. We came across a strange contraption and I wanted to know more about it.

There was a small sign on the side that briefly described the contraption and then provided a QR code for additional information. With a click of my smart phone I was able to access a wealth of knowledge.

Scanning the QR code takes you to a website that explains all about this experimental wind turbine.

This allowed me to satisfy my curiosity. It also allowed me to retain the information without having to memorize it. All I had to do was scan the QR code again to quickly re-access the information.

QR codes are a great method of quickly connecting people to information so they don’t have to memorize it. Here are some examples of places where a QR code might be helpful:

On a piece of equipment to allow a repair technician to access a repair manual.
On a product display to allow a customer service rep (or a customer) to access more product information.
On a bulletin board to allow employees to access more information about an announcement.

You can get even more ideas for QR codes from Larry Straining’s book, 111 Creative Ways to use QR codes.

QR codes aren’t the only way to help employees avoid memorization. Here are a few other ways you can give employees access to the right information at the right time.


Sometimes instructions are so simple you just need a sign. I once helped a client solve a security problem by suggesting a small sign above the intercom they used to screen visitors to a secure office. Employees weren’t following the proper procedure because used it infrequently and often forgot. The sign made it easy to do things correctly.

Job Aids

A job aid is a quick-reference guide that simplifies information. Employees in the parking office of a large university hand out campus maps to visitors and use a pen to draw a suggested route. The map is a great job aid that helps both the employee and the customer! Joe Willmore’s Job Aids Basics is an excellent resource.

Performance Support Systems

These tools embed necessary information into the workflow. I bet you know how to use an ATM machine even though you’ve never taken an ATM machine training class. That’s because the instructions are embedded in the machine. Many software programs use this same approach by walking users through step-by-step instructions. There are even services such as WalkMe that will provide customers with step-by-step guidance to navigate through procedures on your website.

Knowledge bases

Wikipedia may be the ultimate knowledge base since it allows you to look up just about anything. Many companies have their own specialized knowledge base where employees can enter search terms to find product information, policies, documents, and other resources on the company intranet or website.

Brain power is a precious resource

There’s a limit to how much our employees’ brains can process. As with any limited resource, we want to conserve it. That means eliminating waste while allowing our employees’ brains to focus on important tasks like serving customers, solving problems, or increasing productivity.

Memorization is just one source of brain waste. Here are a few other resources to explore.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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