IMG_2016It"s 5:30pm and I"m reviewing the list of attendees for the night"s Fusion-io event - an event celebrating their top 100 customers in Japan. Yeah, Japan. I"m trying desperately to make some sense out of all these crazy looking names I"m reading. Takenori, Takeshi, Katsutoshi, Yoshihiro, Kazuhiko, the list goes on. To a native, names like these are no problem, but for me they literally look like Japanese. I"ve memorized rooms full of people before, but with names like Bob, Steve, Carol, and maybe a lengthy asian name here and there - but for the most part not. At 6pm, I"ve positioned myself at the entrance of the banquet hall where the clients will enter once having registered. At first two stroll in: Yuta and Toshikazu. I bow and introduce myself and they politely return the bow and present their business cards. I pause for a moment, work my memory magic, and I"m good; I"ve memorized their names.

A few more people walk in and I repeat the process. So far so good. But soon, the volume of people coming in is too much for me to handle and I can"t introduce myself to everyone so easily. I do my best but soon find myself flustered in a room full of 40 (and climbing) Japanese men. What"s worse, and I hate to say it, is that I"m having a hard time telling the difference between many of them. They"re all wearing similar business suits and they all have very similar facial features (at least to me, an American who"s not accustomed to being around asians). I can typically pick out a feature on an a Westerner in a split second, but here it"s a real challenge.

Time is running out - I only have until 6:30 to make my way around the room and learn as many names as possible, then the event will start. Ryusuke, Yousuke, Kensuke, Horishi, Tonesuki, Daniel (phew, an easy one), Hideki, the names keep coming. I make it through about 60 or so people before time finally runs out.

The event begins. Founders David Flynn and Rick White do their magic on stage, and soon after The Woz joins them for a Q&A. A sake barrel is hammered open in custom, a toast is made, and dinner is served. It"s nearly showtime. I scan each of the 11 tables in the room to make sure I remember all the names. I"m drawing a lot of blanks. This is gonna be a disaster.

Finally I"m ushered backstage. They play a short media clip about me and I"m called to the stage. "If you remember shaking my hand when you entered, please stand up." Over half the room stands up. Yikes. "If I say your name correctly, have a seat. If not, stay standing. I apologize if I mis-pronounce your name, I"ve never had to memorize so many Japanese names in my life! It was quite a challenge." The audience lets out a polite laugh but I know I"ll have to nail everyone"s name or else it"s not gonna be very impressive.

I walk over to one of the tables in the front that I feel very comfortable with. I nail the names of the 5 people standing. Each one lets out a resounding "OHHHHHH" as I correctly say their name. Okay…I got this, I say to myself as I move on to the next table. Boom, Bam, Boom, name after name I fire them off almost without thinking. More ooohhhs and ahhhhhs. "I"ll come back to you later" I say to one guy in particular whom I can"t remember. I circle the room, flawless. I mispronounce one name, but I can see they are very understanding and still impressed. I come to the last table and name "Toshikazu" - "Aha!" I turn to the gentleman I had previously skipped over in the front of the room. "Your name is Toshikazu too!" DONE. The room bursts into thunderous applause. I have no idea how, but I"ve done it.

That was a short recap of my recent business trip last week. The point of the story is to emphasize how important it is to trust in your memory. I"ve talked about this before, but I"ve found that the fastest times and best scores I"ve achieved while memorizing have all happened when I wasn"t really thinking. I know that sounds odd. How can you memorize something, which in itself is a process that requires a great deal of thinking, without thinking? I don"t have a solid answer for that, but I do know that memory works better when confidence is high. I guess because a lot of the thinking/memorizing power can get lost in the thoughts of self-doubt and unsureness while memorizing. If you remove that and just "look" at what you are memorizing (using techniques of course - just looking at stuff won"t help you memorize better) it"ll flow and stick better.

Performing at a high level without thinking is a phenomenon that applies to a bunch of different arenas. The idea is that you become so proficient in a skill or task through practice, that you can almost operate without thinking. Think of when a basketball player catches fire. He has no idea why, it just happens. And then compare it to someone in a slump, à la Tiger Woods. Suddenly the best golfer in the world sucks and everything he tries to do to fix his poor performance just seems to make him even worse.

So if you"re ever frustrated with your performance, in whatever field that may be, just remember that sometimes less thinking can improve performance. So just let go. Step back form the situation and just do it.