Innovation Blog

Mommy, Daddy, Tell Me A Story – Forget It, I’ll Tell My Own! 

By Shlomo Maital






Daniel Kahneman


    “What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember   it.” ~ Gabriel Garcia Marquez

    Almost a year ago, on Nov. 4, 2009, I wrote a blog with the title “Mommy, Daddy, Tell Me a Story!”,  that began thus:

  Do you want to build a powerful business innovation? I ask my students.  If you do — tell me a story.  Build a powerful narrative that has real people in it, a plot, conflict, a story line, and above all, a happy end.   These are all elements of  every great children’s book, stories we all grew up on,   Good Night, Moon,    Where the Wild Things Are,  and so on.  Children make meaning out of the world through stories.  So do we adults, it seems.   War and Peace, Anna Karenina — great novels are all great stories

   Writing in an Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, [1] journalist Ron Pressler describes pathbreaking work by Nobel Prize Laureate Daniel Kahneman, a cognitive psychologist who won the Economics Nobel Prize in 2002.  Kahneman has for many years been studying how we remember our everyday experiences.   He has shown that there are two separate selves, “the experiencing self” and the “remembering self”.  The second is utterly different from the first.   The remembering self remembers key high points, and ignores many dull moments the experiencing self goes through.  The remembering self constructs a plot, a key part of which is the end.  “…The story we construct is usually influenced by one or several things on which we focus, and on whose importance we tend to exaggerate.”  A major thing is the end, whether it is happy or sad.

     I personally have experienced this dual phenomenon.  And I have applied it. Often, in experiencing an activity or event, I ask myself, how will I remember this in 5 years?  I try very hard to shape a happy end so that it will be remembered positively instead of traumatically.

     Innovator:  As you work on your innovation, think about the script you are writing.  Think about the high points.  Tell yourself the story as you are living it.  Make sure it is as positive as you can make it.  Even if it fails, you can still shape your story as one to be remembered positively – for example, dramatic all-night efforts to rescue a failing project.  

     Tell your own story, innovator.   Shape it as you are living it.   It is quite possible to transform a traumatic failure into a heroic drama while it is ongoing.  Bad memories can be forestalled, good ones can be strengthened.  

    The film-maker and storyteller Shekar Kapur once said, “We are the stories we tell ourselves.”  I would strengthen that.  “We are the stories we tell about ourselves, to ourselves.”

     Innovator:  What stories do you tell about yourself, to yourself?   Do you like these stories? Are they good, strong, energizing, positive, inspiring?  If not – rewrite the old ones, and reshape the new ones you are living at present.  And as you live them, think about the script you are writing and will remember.  In 10 years, you will be grateful you did. 

[1] “Living the moment, remembering the high points”, by Ron Pressler.  Haaretz Weekly Magazine, Friday Sept. 17, 2010.