It improves your memory. It forces you to consider what information is valuable. And when focused, the result — deep domain knowledge – increases your creativity.
With practice, any healthy person can significantly increase their memory. This was demonstrated in experiments conducted by the psychologists William Chase and Anders Ericsson. After 250 hours of training over two years, their subject was able to able to recall a list of 82 numbers spoken to him at a rate of one per second. They concluded: “There is apparently no limit to improvements in memory skill with practice” [Colvin, p. 38].
Finally, a vast memory bank bears many fruits. Popular belief be damned, you cannot be “too close” to a problem. Rather, breakthroughs are made by people with deep domain knowledge [Colvin, p. 149 – 156]. This means being able to recall key facts, at will, immediately. The chemist Linus Pauling used to deny his students the comfort of a cheat sheet; it was his memory, he explained, that enabled him to discover the alpha helix on train ride from London to Oxford. The discovery won him the Nobel Prize.
References and further reading:
Geoff Colvin. 2008. Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. Portfolio
Joshua Foer. 2011. Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. Penguin
Samuel E. George. 2008-08-13. Letter to the WSJ
Jim Holt. 2009-04-02. “Got Poetry?” NYT
Gary Wolf. 2008-04-21. Want to Remember Everything You’ll Every Learn? Surrender to This Algorithm. Wired