BOOK REVIEW: The value of being unforgettable | Fin24
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BOOK REVIEW: The value of being unforgettable

Jul 12 2016 07:04
Ian Mann

Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions, by Carmen Simon,PhD

THE holy grail of everything from selling to training is the ability to get your audience to remember what you said when they are ready to make a decision. Dr Carmen Simon is a specialist in neuroscience research, and uses the findings related to memory for decision-making.

We now know that “most of the brain areas involved in reminiscing about the past are the same brain areas involved in planning for the future”, Simon notes. This understanding has profound implications for communication. Evidence for the connection between memory and the future can be seen, for example, from the difficulty amnesic patients have with both recalling the past and imagining the future.

Research shows that 60% to 80% of our memory problems are related to forgetting to do what we knew we should. You need only recall your last week to validate this for yourself. The relevance of this fact is that our audiences are no different; they may listen to us, agree with us, even find what we tell them to be helpful. While they may still remember some of what we said soon after they leave, they don’t act on it when it is appropriate.

This book is designed to correct forgetfulness by viewing memory differently. As opposed to thinking of memory as something in the past, which hopefully was strong enough to propel action at some future time, Simon’s technique is to look at “memory from the lens of the future”.
There are a number of justifications for her approach.

Our brains have evolved to be predictive

People’s brains are on fast-forward, and even as others listen to us, they are anticipating how this will manifest in the future. Our brains have evolved over thousands of years to become predictive, because survival is more likely when one can accurately foresee what may happen next. Consider that you complete others’ sentences, salivate in anticipation of biting into food, or laugh before being tickled, and this predictive quality of memory will be apparent.

Our fast-forward brains are also seeking the possible future value we may be able to extract from action in the present.

The third reason to approach memory with a view to the future comes from the communicator’s perspective. We share at Point A in time in the hope that at Point B the listener will act on it. When we know more about others’ lives, we can prepare for Point B, so they will act on our intention at that point.

“If we identify people’s existing intentions or clarify a new intention that they would benefit from having, the better we can plan on how to be part of their memories,” Simon explains. This is called ‘prospective memory,’ remembering a future intention. If you want to stay in business you need to be “impossible to ignore”, by becoming “a choreographer of delayed intentions”.

Research shows that when people complete three steps they act on their future intentions: Notice cues that are linked to their intentions; remember something related to those cues and intentions; and see the reward as significant.

In the morning you tell yourself that when you pass the liquor store on your way home, you must buy wine for your dinner guests. The wine is the intention, the store is the cue, and the reward is being seen as a good host. When you see the store – the cue – you stop and make the purchase.
“Currently, in the business world, the process of prospective memory is left to chance, and as a result, our audiences forget a lot,” Simon notes. We remember so little that without the cue introduced at Point A, expecting action at point B is wishful thinking. That is why we need to provide cues linked to the intention, that have a significant reward, so there will be execution when the cue is seen - just as with the liquor store.

What will our audience see or hear at work, long after our presentation, that will make them more likely to make a decision to act on our suggestion? That requires that we structure our presentation to implant the cues so we raise important memories, that help the listener act on intentions in the future.

This could be as simple as asking a colleague to call you at 1pm, a time-based cue, or when she arrives at her office, an event-based cue. The effectiveness of the cues depends, clearly, on how strongly they are related to a desired intention. (Many more instances of cues are demonstrated in the book.)

If you have intended to take your own shopping bags to the supermarket, you have probably found yourself at the check-out thinking: “Oh no, not again, I left the bags in the car.” Some stores in the US have started to display huge signs in their parking lots: “Bring your shopping bag.”

This is a cue at a time when it counts, or what Simon calls Point B messaging. If the cue is not strong enough (large enough,) we will miss it, but we will also ignore it if the reward is not great enough.

If we were primed at Point A to save the planet or to save money by reusing the bag, and that mattered to us, this could be effective if we feel the reward is worth the effort.
“We must ask constantly at Point A, what will they likely see at Point B that is distinct enough and relevant enough to trigger memories and action?” Simon explains. We are only as memorable as the cues we leave for others.

Most people are humble about their memory for the past, but vastly overestimate their ability to remember to do things in the future.

Simon’s book is full of sharp insights and practical advice. This book will add value in innumerable ways, as you try to get others to act on your communications.

Readability:       Light --+-- Serious
Insights:           High -+--- Low
Practical:           High -+--- Low

* Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy and is the author of Strategy that Works. Views expressed are his own.

ian mann  |  opinion  |  book reviews


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