I've always placed a serious emphasis on dessert, with an understanding that that is what people are most likely to remember from a meal.
The difference between the dining experience and the memory of the dessert was what was on my mind this weekend, while watching the U.S. soccer team loose to Ghana at a bar with some friends. Someone brought along his eight-year-old daughter. At the end of the game she wanted to confirm that the U.S. had, in fact, lost and her father proceeded to assure her that it was true and that no lost match can be fun. I suggested to her that the fun was in the watching and she asked whom she was supposed to believe – her father or a stranger.
To me, it was simple. I love watching the World Cup but it's difficult to separate the joy of the game from the social aspect of it all – the friends, the bar, the beer, the cheering, the camaraderie. My team of choice is often driven by flawed rationale – affiliation through friends, great looking uniforms, or just countries I want to visit. The point, for me, is that the World Cup has created a spectacular event that is special, entertaining, emotional and competitive. It is a happening – a unique event that occurs only every four years, in real-time, in a very specific geographical location and holds great significance and prestige. No one really cares about the sponsors, the tags on the players' uniforms or the animated logos on the field. It's about the experience of the game.
So I told the eight-year-old that she had a choice. She could believe her father and from now on only enjoy matches where her team won, or she could enjoy the experience and always walk away happy.
That same weekend I came across an intriguing TED lecture by Nobel laureate and founder of behavioral economics, Daniel Kahneman who, in 18 minutes, helped me understand all this a lot better. In his riddle of experience vs memory, he claims that the whole study of happiness has been obstructed by our failure to distinguish between what he calls the "experiencing selves" that live the moment and the "remembering selves" that have highly affected, emotional stories of past events. "A very critical part of the story is how it ends," he says.
It makes perfect sense. Dessert, in the case of the World Cup, is who wins. My father friend was of the "remembering self." His daughter was just trying to understand how to resolve the tension between her joyful "experiencing self" and the regretful "remembering self."
Why does it all matter? Because if we want to create moments of happiness that attract people and catalyze an emotional connection as well as positive memories then we have to remember that we must speak to both selves of our audiences. The experience has to both be compelling in real-time and generate a great after image. Maybe it will even require us to design differently and simultaneously for both of those selves. Designing for experience and all its complexities is the name of this game.