The idea of “transactive memory” is fascinating to me. In short, it’s the idea that you allow others to remember parts of your life (and vice-versa) so that you don’t have to hold it all in. For example, my wife is helping my daughter get ready to head off to the University of Georgia this fall, so she is well-versed in how the UGA scheduling works. On the other hand, if our wifi at the house goes down, she relies on me to know how all of our routers and switches are connected in order to get things back up and running. It works well.
It was summarized well in the book “The Bomber Mafia“, as shared here:
The psychologist Daniel Wegner has this beautiful concept called transactive memory, which is the observation that we don’t just store information in our minds or in specific places. We also store memories and understanding in the minds of the people we love. You don’t need to remember your child’s emotional relationship to her teacher because you know your wife will; you don’t have to remember how to work the remote because you know your daughter will. That’s transactive memory. Little bits of ourselves reside in other people’s minds. Wegner has a heartbreaking riff about what one member of a couple will often say when the other one dies—that some part of him or her died along with the partner. That, Wegner says, is literally true. When your partner dies, everything that you have stored in that person’s brain is gone.
You know I’m a big fan of cramming my head as full as possible, using tools like Anki to help me get there, but there is only so much I can hold. As time goes on, I’m appreciating the benefits of transactive memory more and more, particularly when it comes to business. Early on, Ali and I had to know literally everything about all of our clients, but that’s less and less the case.
- Ashlea knows the ins-and-outs of the code on every site we build, far beyond the rest of us.
- Brooke knows the status of every project, even ones I might not be aware of at all.
- Natalie knows what to expect from each maintenance client each week, which ones are on shaky hosting, and where problems are most likely to arise.
- Robert has deep conversations with some of our clients (as well as their clients) to really understand what their goals are.
The list goes on, but you get the idea. Now, we work hard to keep this information captured in various systems so that people can take vacations and such, but it’s nice to hand off some brain space to other people so that we can focus on what matters from our individual seats.