Nine months ago I was visiting a vendor for my company. It was a technology I was not familiar with, but I was there discussing non-technical issues. The company insisted on giving me a plant tour, and although I wasn't really interested, I went along.
As the plant manager droned on I nodded in the right places, raised my eyebrows in feigned interest, occasionally asked a question. During this whole time half my brain was on other issues: Would they feed me lunch after the tour? Would I get upgraded on my plane ride home? Were there any cute girls working on the line? (alas, there were not).
Fast forward nine months and during my discussion yesterday (which, as predicted, turned into a consultation), I was asked if I knew how a certain product was manufactured - the same technology where I took the plant tour nine months before.
To my own surprise I launched into a detailed discussion of the manufacturing techniques, equipment, machinery, and process, using all the correct engineering terms and vernacular. The original plant manager would have thought I hung on his every word since I gave a complete summary of his presentation, although at the time I thought I barely listened to him at all.
I find this sort of thing happens regularly. I'll sit in on a conference call while doing email, not really paying attention. Asked a week later what was discussed I can give a complete summary of the key issues and action items.
So this, what, trait? Technique? Subconscious learning? Has really been useful in business.
The only problem is that it doesn't work on Mrs. Director. She will be talking to me while I am doing email or reading the paper and then ask me "Did you hear what I said?" And when that happens all I do is give her a blank stare.