Tag Archives: Quartz

Read as if You’re Presenting: A Backdoor Argument for Oral Exams

In my experience, the best way to retain the material you’re reading is to be giving a presentation on said material. That might sound a little odd, but consider it for a moment. If you have to present on a topic, when you’re reading about that topic, you (should be) reading just a little bit closer and maybe a little bit harder such that when you’re up in front of a crowd, you’ll be more inclined to remember what you read.

It turns out, this anecdotal experience has been studied:

A recent study in the journal Memory & Cognition showed the effect that reading with intention and purpose can have. Two groups were given the same material to read—one was told they’d have a test at the end, while the others were told they’d have to teach someone the material.

In the end, both groups were given the same test. Surprisingly, the group that was told they’d have to teach the material (rather than be tested on it) performed much better:

When compared to learners expecting a test, learners expecting to teach recalled more material correctly, they organized their recall more effectively and they had better memory for especially important information.

Having a clear question in mind or a topic you’re focusing on can make all the difference in helping you to remember and recall information.

Intuitively, this should make sense. When some folks read “for the test,” they’re not necessarily reading with the intention that they’re going to remember the information after the test. Put differently, they’re almost always not reading the material for an oral exam. This reminds me of something I wrote a few years ago:

Presumably, the students could get through the entire semester and finish with an “A” in the class without having to say anything. I realize that a great deal of communication in today’s world is completed online and through writing, but isn’t our ability to communicating orally important, too? At least, shouldn’t there at least be some time spent on it?

In that post, I was suggesting that there be a rebalance from written exams to oral exams — in part — because in my experience, there’s a deficit in the oratory skills of students in university. Even if we ignore the epidemic of fear of public speaking, most students don’t get nearly as much time practicing their oratory skills as they do their writing skills.

As luck (?) would have it, should there be this shift from written exams to oral exams, not only would the education system be strengthening people’s ability to communicate, but there would also be an effect in having people better remember some of the things that they’re learning.

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To be honest, when I sat down to write this post, I had no idea that I was going to be strengthening my argument for having more oral exams in university and that’s — in part — one of the arguments from the article I initially referenced:

Association is a peg upon which you hang a new idea, fact, or figure. When you know where the peg is located, it’s a lot easier to find what you’ve hung upon it. As you read and come across new ideas and thoughts, you’ll want to connect and associate these with familiar memories as a means of creating a bond between old and new. There are many different ways to create associations in your mind, from pairing new thoughts with familiar objects, to creating acronyms.

So, next time you sit down to read your saved article on Pocket, catch up on a book on your Kindle, or read the Sunday Times, consider that the best way to retain some of the things you’re about to read might be if you were to pretend you were going to be giving a presentation on the material.

An Alternative to Coffee During the Afternoon Lull — Meditation

No doubt you’ve come across articles that explain that we have a tendency to fall into an afternoon lull. There have also been a number of article that offer a solution to beating this afternoon lull. However, I’ve yet to see any of these articles offer what could be the best use of that time, yet — meditation.

The benefits of meditation are endless not the least of which is mitigating the effect of cognitive biases. So, instead of reaching for another cup of coffee, why not try doing a quick 2-, 3-, 5-, or 10-minute meditation when that afternoon lull comes along. In fact, to up the stakes, I’d be interested to see some research on this. My bet is that meditation would be more effective (and sustainable) than coffee in picking you up. Of course, researching this might prove a bit difficult, but I think it’s doable. Let’s break it down.

I’d want to see three groups: meditation, coffee, and control. Of course, we’d need to have a representative sample, controlling for people who already have a proclivity towards meditation and/or coffee. If at all possible, it’d be great to have two meditation groups, actually: one that already regularly meditates and one that doesn’t.

Initially, I hypothesized that meditation would be more effective. We’d need to determine how we were going to measure effectiveness. I suppose one could consider the remaining hours at work, as the pick-me-up during the afternoon lull is likely a way to get one to the end of the day. In that sense, we’d also want to control for the amount of hours that people continued to work after the meditation/coffee break. At a minimum, it’s something we’d need to measure to maintain internal validity.

I also hypothesized that meditation would be a more sustainable solution to the afternoon lull. Again, how are we going to measure this. My thinking would be including some sort of fatigue/health factor in the study. I suspect that those inclined to have a cup of coffee as an afternoon pick-me-up are probably already drinking coffee to start their day and as a result, might just be taxing their system by having that extra hit of caffeine in the afternoon. Conversely, plenty of research has been conducted on the health benefits of meditation. So, not only would some folks be eliminating the overtaxing nature of a second dose of caffeine, they’d also be reaping the benefits of meditation.

Can an Holacratic Organization Be Successful?

Because of some of the work that I’ve done, one of the things that really interests me is organizational structure. I like peeking into the ways in which an organization functions because I think that we can learn a lot about how and why they succeed. As a result, when I heard that Zappos was going to be transferring over to an holacratic organization, I was very interested:

During the 4-hour meeting, Hsieh talked about how Zappos’ traditional organizational structure is being replaced with Holacracy, a radical “self-governing” operating system where there are no job titles and no managers. The term Holacracy is derived from the Greek word holon, which means a whole that’s part of a greater whole. Instead of a top-down hierarchy, there’s a flatter “holarchy” that distributes power more evenly. The company will be made up of different circles—there will be around 400 circles at Zappos once the rollout is complete in December 2014—and employees can have any number of roles within those circles. This way, there’s no hiding under titles; radical transparency is the goal.

Typically, when people think about organizational structure, three systems come to mind: divisional, functional, and matrix. [Note: as an aside, I wrote an answer for a question on Quora a couple of weeks back about how organizational structure can support an organization’s strategy.] A divisional structure is one in which there is a degree of redundancy to the organization (each division has their own HR, accounting, etc.). A functional structure is one in which there are “shared services,” such that there would be only one HR, accounting, etc. Lastly, a matrix structure is a hybrid of the two.

Now, Zappos is throwing all that out the window and is adopting a new kind of organizational structure: holacracy. To be perfectly honest, I have no idea if they’re going to be successful. I don’t think anyone can honestly say whether Zappos will be successful in this change and in fact, I don’t think we could definitively say that this organizational structure works (or doesn’t) based on how Zappos performs under this structure. However, it’ll certainly give us a window into how a bigger organization (1500+) functions in this kind of structure. From what I’ve read, this is the biggest organization to attempt to use a holacratic system.

One interesting tangent I find to this discussion about holacratic organizational structure is this idea of holons and who’s associated with this idea. I first heard about “holons” in conjunction with Ken Wilber. I’ve written about Wilber only a few times here, but he’s someone who’s certainly worth checking out, if you haven’t already. He presents some fascinating ideas on a number of topics. That’s not to say that he’s right or wrong, but he’ll certainly present a perspective that you likely hadn’t considered. And if you’ve been reading me long enough, you know that I’m a major proponent of perspective. With regard to Wilber, I’m, in particular, thinking about the work he’s done with Spiral Dynamics. That is, I wonder if, in order to ensure that an holacratic organizational structure is successful, would the “participants” of said organizational structure need to be from 2nd or 3rd tier of development or the “yellow” or “green” memes in spiral dynamics.