In the 50th an American psychologist George Miller worked at the Bell laboratories. He conducted experiments to find out how people's memory worked. He discovered that human short-term memory is generally limited to holding seven pieces of information, plus or minus two. He described his findings in the monography The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information), published in 1956 in Psychological Review.
But then Nelson Cowan from Missouri-Columbia University questioned Miller's conclusions. For example, he noticed that when people need to memorize, say, a phone number, they subconsciously divide it into several blocks, three o four digits each – we all do so, don't we? And on 17 of April 2008, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences magazine published the result of his research. Cowan claimed that, regardless of race, sex, or age, a human being is capable of keeping in mind not more than four objects plus or minus one, whether they are numbers, faces, job tasks, or any other aspects of our lives.
Then imagine that you are a participant in the strategic meeting, and an opportunity to expand the business to other countries is being discussed. How many questions do the attendees need to answer to make a considered decision?
- Are there any undiscovered opportunities on the domestic market? Does it make sense to disperse precious resources for foreign markets?
- Is there a demand for our products in other countries? How high is it?
- What about competition in those lands?
- What are potential customers' price expectations?
- How many recourses will it take to enter whose markets?
- What risks will we face while entering them?
- Do we need to modify our core products for new markets?
This is not the full list, it is only an example, but there will definitely be more than four points. If you, being a human, unable to keep more than four issues in your mind, it means as soon as you start thinking about the fifth or sixth, one of the previous four will drop down from your short-term memory. So, we can't discuss any decision keeping in focus all the necessary factors if there are more than five of them. What would a strategist think?