Imagine you are getting ready to board the plane to the vacation of your dreams. Just before getting on the plane, a person comes to you and says “I hope you have a great vacation but I just wanted to tell you that when you return, all your pictures will be deleted and you won’t remember anything about the trip.”
What do you do? Get on the plane anyway? Take a different vacation? Go home? Throw a tantrum? Cry?
A similar question confronted people in one of Daniel Kahneman’s research studies exploring the cognitive process people go through to make choices. In his research, he found most people would change their plans because the main purpose of the vacation was to make memories.
Kahneman became curious about discovering the mechanisms or processes our brain uses to make something memorable. Over the decades of his research, Kahneman made many important discoveries earning him the Nobel Peace Prize and touching off the creation of a new field called Behavioral Economics.
Two of his discoveries, the ‘selves‘ and the Peak-End Rule, are particularly pertinent to the choices we make to ensure experiences with our organization are memorable.
In what ways are we missing opportunities to be memorable to our clients, customers, beneficiaries, funders, donors, stakeholders, partners, volunteers, etc…?
One discovery, the remembering-self and experiencing-self, describes how we make choices and Kahneman uses parenting as an example to illustrate the difference.
Inspired by his research I began asking friends, who recently had children, if they ever regret giving up their freedom to have kids. Without skipping a beat, they respond by proudly regaling me with stories of first steps and funny first words.
‘On the whole‘ they would say ‘it is the most rewarding experience of my life‘
This response is coming from their remembering-self because the answer is informed by the memorable parts of parenting. They are referencing the highlights over the years to make a judgement about whether having children has been a worthwhile endeavor.
Then the 3 year old has a 5-alarm meltdown making me think he is either on fire or possessed. With a calm roll of the eyes and a face that momentarily says ‘I might have made a different choice had I known about the volume and frequency of 5-alarm emergencies‘, my friend goes to ensure someone isn’t actually on fire.
Responses like my friend’s facial expression come from the experiencing-self. They rely on information available in the moment and do not have the benefit of past memories. Have you ever sent text when you were furious? Sure felt good in the moment……
OK. Makes sense. Sounds obvious. We use past experiences to inform future decisions. This is not new.
For me the new part emerged when he Kahneman began speaking about the Peak-End Rule.
99% of us are not able to remember every moment of an experience. Instead, our remembering-self identifies positive or negative snippets (highlights) during the experience Kahneman calls Peak moments. Additionally, we are prone to remembering how an experience ended which he cleverly calls the End moments. (During the podcast and TED Talk, he talks about the colonoscopy study to illustrate this more thoroughly). The result is a string of memorable moments we use for making decisions in the future.
So naturally the question becomes; how do we ensure people have memorable moments so they continue supporting our organization?
When I think back to all the events I helped organize over the years, I quickly realize the standard we had for success was whether or not everything went perfectly. Which really meant everything went as we planned. Everything was perfect.
Kahneman would say trying to achieve perfection leads our decision-making down a blind alley. Instead we should be asking ourselves how we can create multiple peak moments and be more intentional about the manner in which the event comes to a close. What ‘material’ can we provide to satisfy multiple remembering-selves from diverse backgrounds, ages and perspectives?
How would intentional consideration of Kahneman’s discoveries influence the ways your organization interacts with its community?
(48 mins)Hidden Brain: Think Fast with Daniel Kahneman
(20 mins)Ted Talks: The riddle of experience vs. memory
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