THE INC. LIFE

How Forgetting Can Make You a Smarter Entrepreneur

It may even help you make better decisions about yourself and your business

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BY Marishka M. Cabrera - 10 Jul 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Ever had memory lapses right in the middle of a conversation and worry that you might be losing your intelligence? Science says that’s not necessarily the case.

The fact is our brains actively work to forget, according to a new review paper from Paul Frankland, senior fellow at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) Child and Brain Development program, and Blake Richards, associate fellow in the Learning in Machines and Brains program.

In a report by Science Daily, the two researchers propose that the goal of memory is not to transmit the most accurate information over time but to guide and optimize intelligent decision-making by only holding on to valuable information. The paper looks at research pertaining to remembering and forgetting, revealing that forgetting is just as important a component of our memory system as remembering.

“It’s important that the brain forgets irrelevant details and instead focuses on the stuff that’s going on to help make decisions in the real world,” Richards says in the report.

Evidence from recent research suggests there are mechanisms that promote memory loss, Frankland says, and these are distinct from those involved in storing information. In addition, by applying artificial intelligence (AI) theories to understanding the brain, Frankland and Richards argue that the interaction between remembering and forgetting in the brain allows humans to make more intelligent memory-based decisions.

Forgetting helps us make better decisions in two ways: first, by allowing us to adapt to new situations by letting go of outdated and potentially misleading information, and second, by helping create simple memories (by forgetting insignificant details), which is more effective at predicting new experiences.

In a constantly changing environment like the start-up world, founders need to make wide-ranging decisions day in and day out. And failing to remember those little details is a small price to pay for having the ability to make intelligent decisions.

Some founders even go to great lengths (and even peculiar rituals) in order to arrive at a decision they can be at peace with.

When making hard decisions, Chris Franke, former co-founder of Indonesian start-up YesBoss, likes to go out of the office to observe people as they go about their day. It reminds him that everyone makes decisions everyday—and that clears his head. Sven Yeo, co-founder of Singaporean start-up Archisen likes heading to the beach and listening to music underwater. Philippine job-matching platform Kalibrr co-founder Paul Rivera may stay under the radar for a while before coming to a decision.  

So the next time you forget something, don’t fret; it may just mean that your brain is preparing itself to tackle bigger, more important challenges.