If you want to learn learn business development, really learn it, you have to “do” business development. If you want skills, you have to practice. Reading, watching videos, webinars, that’s all necessary, but not sufficient.

You don’t learn that way. Sure, you’ll understand what you’ve digested. But you won’t have learned it. Why? Because shortly afterward, you’ll forget most of it unless you reinforce it with practice and repetition.

I know you’re smart, and I’m willing to believe that you have a really good memory. However, you’re human, and the way that humans forget is highly predictable, following what psychologists call the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve. When we acquire knowledge, much of our forgetting occurs right away. Ebbinghaus discovered that

  • a significant amount of information was forgotten within twenty minutes of learning;
  • over half of the example material he learned was forgotten within an hour, and
  • almost two thirds of the material he learned within a day

Retention of the material did not decline much beyond that period. In other words, the third of the information he retained for a day was there to stay. I suppose that’s good news -- in the unlikely event that you can somehow succeed by retaining only a third of what you learn.

This curve shows how information is lost over time when there is no attempt to retain it. A related concept is the strength of memory that refers to the durability that memory traces in the brain. The stronger the memory, the longer period of time that a person is able to recall it. The forgetting curve shows that humans tend to halve their memory of newly learned knowledge in a matter of days or weeks unless they consciously review the learned material.

The forgetting curve supports one of the seven kinds of memory failures: transience, which is the process of forgetting that occurs with the passage of time.

Ebbinghaus came up with the effects of "overlearning." Essentially, if you practiced something more than what is usually necessary to memorize it, you would have effectively achieved overlearning, which ensures that information is more impervious to being lost or forgotten, and the forgetting curve for this overlearned material is shallower.

His premise was that each repetition in learning increases the optimum interval before the next repetition is needed (for near-perfect retention, initial repetitions may need to be made within days, but later they can be made after years). Later research suggested that, other than the two factors Ebbinghaus proposed, higher original learning would also produce slower forgetting. (Did you know that technology-based training is more effective than instructor-led training, by a huge factor?)

Spending time each day to remember information will greatly decrease the effects of the forgetting curve. Reviewing material in the first 24 hours after learning information is the optimum time to re-read notes and reduce the amount of knowledge forgotten.

So, what can you do to reduce your own forgetting curve? In a word, “repeat.” That’s right. If you read an insightful article explaining a business development technique. Read it again the next day, then a few days later, and again a couple of weeks later.

If your firm retreat includes a presentation about marketing or sales, take notes. Ask questions. Discuss the main points with colleagues afterward to reinforce it. Bring it up again over drinks or dinner later. Send an email to the presenter, complimenting the presentation and mentioning the specific points you found most helpful. (They'll be appreciative, but you're doing this to add another retention modality for yourself.)

If you attend a webinar, take notes. I like to use my screen-shot tool to capture slides during the webinar. Review those notes and slides the next day. Set aside an hour the following weekend to watch the recorded webinar.

If you’re given access to an online course or simulation, repeat it the next day, and again a few days later, and again a week later. It doesn’t have to take as long as you fear. However, if you forget it, as the science shows that you will, you’ll have wasted the initial time spent on it.

Here’s an example from our RainmakerVT online learning. It shows the weekly mix of new courses, repeating courses, practice sessions, and skill-validation sessions over the course of a year. As you see in the graph at the bottom, it’s somewhat front-loaded, as is all learning. However, over a year it averages 15 minutes per day, 1.25 hours per week, for a total of 60 hours per year. If you don’t have 15 minutes per day to learn the skills that will enable you to have a future, please stop talking about business development. You’re not serious about it.

Abraham Lincoln once said, "Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." Practice and repetition is your business development axe-sharpening.

Mike O’Horo


Want to learn BD skills inexpensively, at your convenience, in the privacy of a virtual world where nobody sees your mistakes, and where the only clients lost to error are virtual ones? Take a look at what you can learn online with RainmakerVT’s video courses and interactive simulations.