Sunday, 6 January 2013

Waiters, JR & Quiz Questions shows us how memory works

If ever wonder why bar staff, waiters and other busy front line staff can remember multiple orders? Practice, probably plays a part but there could also be another phenomenon at work , the Zeigarnik Effect.

It is named after Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik. One day back in the 1930's Zeigarnik was in a busy cafe and noticed that the waiters had great memories for orders. Interestingly though, Zeigarnik noticed that the memory lasted only up until the orders had been delivered.

Once the food and drink had hit the table they forgot about it instantly, and were unable to recall what had been so clear moments before. Zeigarniks name is thus associated with the various problems where incomplete tasks stick in memory.

So how does this matter at work? Well perhaps if your work process requires someone to recall information after a task has finished, the results may not be very good, this could have implications for handovers between staff at shift change. Finished tasks may not be discussed or recalled very well compared to those still underway.

It could also have a role in sales. The Zeigarnik Effect is part of the reason why quiz shows are so compelling. Most of the time you won't care who won the World Cup 3rd place play off in 1986, but once someone has asked the question it becomes really irritating not to know the answer. Perhaps we could promote offers based on customers answering a set of questions on an app or a website.

People also better remember tasks they have been interrupted on but not finished. So if you want your sales material to be recalled, have it ask a difficult question or have an interruption to the story. We see this all the time in the final episode of most TV series where we are left wondering what’s going to happen. Once we get the answer we move on and forget. Many of us remember spending a summer wondering who shot JR (and years later Mr Burns in the Simpsons), most of us don't know the answer today.

I'll deliberately not tell you who won the 3rd place play off or who shot JR or Mr Burns but deep down bet you wish I did and maybe you will look it up yourself.

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