This spatial memory hack can help tackle government tenders and other complex tasks

Ken Murray explains how ancient spatial memory skills and practices can be used to tackle complex problems, including making sense of government tenders.

Has anyone else noticed that in the SME world, marketers are the go to hammer for every project too complex for the average sales consultant to tackle?

Complex government tenders can be a real test of your organisation’s ability to manage projects across different levels and units, and to collate and focus the specialised resources (engineering, R&D, corporate, financial). When the pressure is on, making sense of a government tender and constructing the compliant response is enough to send most SMEs into a tail spin.

In the tender writing world this is a process of screening and risk management: if you can’t keep up with the documentation – what good will you be as a vendor?

If your organisation is teeming with talented multi-disciplined personnel then you don’t need this, but if you’re in a pinch, or working in a small overly saturated team, this could save you some serious headaches.

Firstly, why am I making the distinction between ‘complex government tenders’ and private or publicly listed business tenders?

Government is held highly accountable to the people.

Picture this: if the media heard a local company did something untoward – dodgy building materials or fraud, for example – it would barely make the paper. If it media heard a publicly traded company did the same it would maybe make page 16. However, if the Government does it, not only would it be a headline, the news would go viral, and would potentially be discussed in parliament, twisted beyond comprehension and brought up in the next political smear campaign.

Therefore, given the increased element of liability and accountability I have noticed a definitive difference between government tenders and otherwise, both in the requirements and structure.

For example, most publicly traded company tenders stipulate $20,000,000 in public liability insurance cover but in the case of government tenders, the baseline starts at $50,000,000. The complexity and level of response follows a similar ratio.

Check out your next government tender. Go to about a third of the way through, grab a ruler and put it on the page. You’ll notice every three or four centimetres, it will read ‘see schedule X, section Y’. Go to that and every six-to-eight centimetres: ‘see Appendix X, Section Y’, from there ‘for more information see some external document that has nothing to do with the tender’.

What your brain ends up doing is following this choose your own adventure novel and losing track of where you were.

A compliant tender is one that covers the full scope of the tender in the format ‘the customer’ expects. It needs to be as easy as possible for a procurement person to be able to follow the template they expect from the potential vendor and to ensure all expected requirements have been met.

The paradox of the convoluted tender specification is the response should follow checklist-esque logical and linear simplicity.


Unravelling these documents and transforming them into a linear and clear compliant response is no easy feat. This technique will give you the required mental bandwidth to unwind even the most complex of tenders and help you to get perspective on the project for you to;

  • Understand,
  • manage,
  • present,
  • respond, and
  • win millions of dollars of work over 10-15 years.


Use ‘spatial memory’

Use spatial memory to solve complex problems, or in this case, government tenders. I stole the concept from memory athletes who are well known to warm up by regularly shuffling a deck of cards and within two minutes memorise and recall the entire sequence (heck, they can do with ten decks of cards altogether!).

In an MRI test performed on control subjects (untrained memory) and memory athletes there was only one fundamental difference in brain activity – the activation of spatial memory.

Here’s how you apply it to government tenders:

  1. Find the section of the tender that actually informs your response (starts at around 10-20 pages in, after the tender writers’ are done patting themselves on the back),
  2. put it on your left hand screen or print it off,
  3. type out a short summary of each point without the fluff, keeping only the relevant details (this will help you keep track),
  4. every time you see a ‘refer to X’ go to it immediately and include a short summary of that information in your summary – print that page and put it in on the floor – you want to physically have to step to the appropriate section as you read through the tender.
  5. continue this process until you finish identifying and deconstructing the deliverables,
  6. print your summary off and begin grouping the interconnecting sections like a physical mind map, and
  7. stand in front of your physical mind map and walk through the summary picking up the sections and engaging your spatial memory to reconstruct the convoluted tender as a linear process. What was once complex and painful is now simple navigation.


Evolutionary biology and psychology would suggest that the human brain’s most abundant memory resource is certainly spatial memory, consider the way you can walk around your entire house at night with the lights off, knowing there are five steps to the bed or the the door handle.

It is a skill that we have honed since hunter gatherer days.

Our ability to memorise numbers and words, on the other hand is not as well developed, and why would it be? This has only recently become vital for our survival.

There’s a lot to be said about memory and the rate at which we now create and disseminate boundless information – but rarely are we taught how to use memory – almost all of us can keep lists and use all of the productivity and ‘to do list’ apps, set up automated reminders or go through a ton of sticky notes.

The techniques and value of memory are thus all but lost, our attention spans ever shrinking. This can be observed by the disparity between workers from separate generations; the desire of a millennial to read a short email versus the baby boomer who wants to have a comprehensive whiteboard meeting.

Related: Laura Demasi says it’s time to rewrite the marketing rulebook on generation, age and life stage »

The practice and use of memory enhancing techniques or improved mental bandwidth has been a great way for me to get more leverage on my productivity and results. I firmly believe the more information we can hold, the better we can solve complex problems, and therefore the greater capacity we have for creativity, strategy and ideation.

If you’re curious about memory development watch this TED Talk:


At the very least, you won’t have to do that ‘I lost my phone, what’s everyone’s number?’ Facebook post anymore.

I hope this saves you some pain and helps you to achieve the results your organisation is aiming for. It will, of course, work for other projects but Government tenders are known to be particularly complex.

Ken Murray
BY Ken Murray ON 26 July 2016
Ken Murray is the director of marketing for MEI Group, having now clocked over seven years of senior marketing experience specialising in the industrial sectors and B2B. 
Ken's background stems from a keen interest in pattern recognition and problem solving, which would eventually lead to an academic background in sociology (the 'why' question) to strategic marketing and business (the 'how' question). He believes success in business and marketing is about connecting the individual customer's 'why' to the business' 'how'. Next step is to operate efficiently and then you've got results, which is all he's interested in. Follow him @Kengetsitdone.