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  • Doug Dunn

Are We Missing the Point of Memory?

Updated: Sep 11, 2020

When you ask people to remember their behaviour and why they behaved that way... well they are so often inaccurate that the question and answer approach to research is just wrong. Behaviour and understanding System 1 (the instinctive, more emotional decision making that governs behaviour) is the only thing that matters... and you can't get that by question and answer... it is practically worthless.

...says another wannabe radical disrupter in the world of research.

  • This is not an uncommon belief and is held by many who work within and with insight - particularly those who have read (probably a small part of) a Daniel Kahneman book or have been to a talk on Behavioural Economics.

  • It's a belief that is dangerous, reductionist, and worst of all just plain stupid.

  • What if we don't treat recall and memory as an accurate 'record' of the past - which it undeniably isn't - but view it as what it truly is...

If we start to think about memory and recall as part of the person, rather than an accurate access to their behavioural and emotional history, then we can begin to explore, analyse and interpret it appropriately. That is to say, to treat recalled memories as one of the major systems that human beings use to relate and make sense of the world.

What if we treat memory and recall of the past not as fact but instead as part of who that human is now and as such how they want to relate to the world (and brands, products and services within it) in the future. We can then use 'memory' as accessed by question and answer as a powerful tool in developing ideas that truly connect to people on a human level.

Restricting our understanding of humans to mere behavioural codes and basic stimulus and emotional response system 1 vessels, is a reductionist approach that could possibly explain why we are in the mess we are in today. It also goes some way to explain why we have some of the world's 'brightest' minds working on the science of 'attention' rather than meaning.

Tristan Harris – Technology Design Ethicist – works to reform the "attention economy"

Maybe we need to take a fresh look at memory and understand that it is a vital part of being a human being and to ignore it could lead us into a meaningless dystopian world. Ignoring it could lead to brands, products, and services that merely compete for the briefest attention moment rather than connecting to humans in really authentic ways... ways that form connections that last longer and are more powerfully meaningful than a press of a like button or the search for the emoji with exploding brain 👍🔥🤯.

Here at One Minute to Midnight we are taking a fresh look at memory and have a series of gamified ways to tease out great 'memories' from our humans. Via these games our humans can begin to understand themselves and explain why they relate to the world around them the way they do and importantly what they want from a future world and the brands, products and services that occupy it. This has led to some breathtaking insights that have been true agents of change in a variety of businesses and resulted in complete rethinks around product and communications platforms. (Love to tell you more – just click here at and one of the team will give you a tinkle).

One final thought, beyond the commercial benefits of really getting to grips with this construct of memory, is it not far more fulfilling to seek to understand people in real human terms than reducing them to mere behavioural traces and unthinking emotional response machines? Treat people as humans and you may well feel a little better... and as a nice side effect create more powerful connections between humans and your brand, products and services!

Special thanks to the New Scientist Memory Special Issue that stimulated some interesting thought on this subject... Now what's Donald Trump saying on Twitter today, he hasn't no!!!... Angry face, share, like... ping ah 32 WhatsApp messages, I feel so much better about myself.

[1] George, A. What is Memory For? <em>New Scientist. </em>2018. Memory: The Exquisite Illusion That Creates our Sense of Self. pp 32.

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