“We think of our future as anticipated memories” or when our emotional memory takes over from our factual memory…


Didier Marlier

September 12, 2010

From Disruption to Engagement

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Finally back to our blog… Thank you for your patience and numerous requests (sometimes orders) to move on. So here we go again!

An interesting event took place during my family’s trip to Brazil, hosted by the Portuguese airlines TAP. On the way to, our collective memory has been firmly anchored around the very poor conditions of the aircraft (run down), the poverty of the imposed movies (no choices) anyway only visible on two out of the four TV screens (as the others weren’t working properly in our Business Class seats), the indigent food (alcoholic drinks limited to two, which had little impact as I was in my non alcohol month) and, above all ,the arrogance, rudeness and antipathy of the crew on board… Having just experienced the superior quality of Qatar Airways, TAP felt like prehistoric!

On her way back and to my surprise, my wife called me claiming not to be able to connect her two experiences: The crew had been so respectful, so helpful to her and our family, “It was incredible to see how smiling and engaging they were! Let’s give TAP another chance!” was her closing statement. Although, when I asked her about the infrastructure, the plane was still in a dubious state, the movies continued to be from a cheap kind, and she hadn’t eaten during the flight. So nothing had changed there…

Obviously, the emotional memory was far more powerful than the factual one.

Doug Dean, a Strategic Marketing wizard working in Asia, recently sent me this clip from Daniel Kahneman’s 2010 intervention on TED.com. Daniel Kahneman is the 2002 Nobel Prize of Economics. He is a psychologist and teaches in the USA and Israël. I found it fascinating and decided to edit it as the original clip is 20 minutes long (visible on http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/daniel_kahneman_the_riddle_of_experience_vs_memory.html)

Dr. Kahneman distinguishes the Experiencing self from the Remembering self. In short, he claims that the experiencing self, the part of us which lives the present experience is always the “victim of the tyranny of the remembering self”, which is where we store emotional memories of our experiences.

The whole point of Kahneman is that our emotional memory distorts the way we remember things, in a positive or negative manner. Another famous scientist, Portuguese born Dr. Antonio Damasio claims in his “Somatic Markers Hypothesis”[1] that, although our mind uses both cognitive (logical, rational) and emotional criteria to help us taking a decision, the more complex the decision environment is, the more we will use “somatic markers association” (in simplifying terms, emotional markers from the past) to help us decide the best alternative. Damasio sometimes uses the word “memory of the future” about somatic markers.

In a simpler although equally stunning way, you may always experiment is yourself in what I call the “Kouzes & Posner test”[2]: Ask someone (or better an audience) what jumps to mind when evoking “Paris”… Expect to hear things such as “Romance, food, Eiffel Tower, bookstores, Marché aux Puces, Le Louvre or sometimes burned cars or abusive and rude taxi drivers…” and when the boys have been away for too long you may even, occasionally hear “Hilton”… But never, ever did I hear someone respond in quoting the number of inhabitants, size of the city nor its yearly budget… People remember emotions not technical descriptions.

This is precisely what we use when creating powerful “emotional markers” during times of change. These markers will help people create positive memories which will engage them towards the future (supporting Kahneman’s Remembering Self) and lit up inspiring light towers which will inspire people forward in troubled moments of change.

These emotional markers are sometimes powerful symbols, inspiring narratives or stories, moving testimonials, spectacularly different ways to behave from the “significant leaders”, etc…

Thank you, Doug for sharing this. I hope it will stay into everybody’s “Remembering Self”. On my way to London, Helsinki and Zürich. have a great week all,


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somatic_markers_hypothesis

[2] Kouzes, J. & Posner, B. (2007) “The Leadership Challenge”, (4th Edn) – Jossey-Bass – ISBN: 978-0787984915.


  1. Francisco Ferraroli

    Indeed, many people explore this concept today. Recently I read “Buyology” from Martin Lindstrom, bringing some light about people emotional involvement in marketing campaigns. The book could be written with one third of the pages it has, but leads to refletion about the huge amounts of money spent for nothing…

  2. Dimitri Boisdet

    Welcome back Didier!

    I’m not sure I fully understand the experience you’re describing about your wife’s trip in the context of your note. Isn’t it that she just had a better experience on her way back than on the way in, period? She probably doesn’t forget the bad one, but just enjoyed the good one, even more confronting it to the previous, making it a really nice surprise. The fact that she tells you that TAP deserves a second chance (or a third in that case) says that she’s still not fully convinced (perfectly remembering her way in) and needs one more experience to build a final and clear opinion.

    (Private french joke: finalement, ils ne s’en TAP peut-être pas tant que ça ! :-))

    We can probably all agree with the remembering self being stronger than the experiencing self: how many memories we have where our brain mainly keeps the pleasant parts, and emotions rather than facts? A lot, like the experience you and me shared (although years apart) in the boarding school we went to in Villars: we had some hard times, but it’s generally burried under the good ones. We remember some very good friends, but sometimes we can’t put a name on their face anymore or don’t precisely remember if that girl was younger or older than us.

    The concept you’re sharing brings to my mind Apple’s marketing, and success! Jobs’ keynotes play with emotions. You hardly ever listen to technical data when he presents a new product; he always insists on the emotional experience, as he does focusing on it right from the start when working with his R&D, inventing or concieving a new device. And when you personaly use an iPhone or iPad you experience that same emotion; although tecnologicaly well achieved, Apple’s products bring emotional “wows” in the first place. Others can be better from a technological point of view, but they lack of emotion when used (Blackberry vs. iPhone…). This is probably why competitors have a hard time, and why Apple has been so succesful lately. As of now, it is maybe the difference between Nokia’s “Connecting People” and Apple’s “”Connecting Emotions”… 😉

  3. Didier Marlier

    Thank you both Francisco and Dimitri, for your posts…
    @Francisco: Try http://www.summary.com, they save us huge amount of time and money by summarizing those books of 500 pages from which the substance can be shared in 8 pages. Really worth it. I am betraying a secret of many “consultants” and “great professors” pretending to have read them… 😉
    @Dimitri: My example was trying to show that although the flights had been sensibly quite the same in measurable terms, the emotional experience made it completely different and so has been the memory of TAP to my wife… I like very much your reference to Apple and admire once again your sense of the formula 😉 Thank you both


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