Last week talking to a colleague, we agreed that a skill that seems to have been lost in the rush to electronic aids is being able to look at a bunch of numbers and know if it is approximately right or wrong. It seems that many over 50 just “know” if the column is OK, whereas a youngster who has all the electronic skills has no idea.

There seemed to us to be something cognitive at work that we did not have a grasp of, then I came across this article on theĀ  impact on learning of writing, and realised that the same phenomenon is possibly at work with numbers.

As kids at school, we worked with numbers, wrote down all the exercises, before we worked them, I can even remember not being allowed to bring a calculator into exams because they just gave an answer when understanding the process of arriving at an answer was as important as getting the right answer, so we had to show the workings to demonstrate understanding.

When involved in improvement projects in factories, I often find the default position is to buy some software, when time and time again the best outcome is achieved with simple visual recording and labeling. Now I understand a bit better why that is.