Its not a great secret that I'm a rabid Yankees fan, I suppose.
So I finally found something that is both relevant to the new business models that I'm always harping about and is a bit of a delicious consolation for our (Yankees) loss in the 2004 ALCS to the Red Sox. And it comes from Harvard no less. This is just so cool - sorta that is.
A Rare Study, Indeed
A study was completed at Harvard by an as yet fan-interest unknown researcher, though I could guess, named Elizabeth Kensington on the relationship between emotion and memory. Recently published in the Harvard Gazette, the article about the study proved that "...a person with a positive memory is more likely to be more confident of her or his distorted memory than someone who has a negative memory of the same event.".
The events that they used were the 2004 American League Championship Series where the Red Sox came back from a 3 game deficit and took 4 straight...from....the....Yankees (still hard to talk about).
The idea was to see how participants reported (remembered) the events right after and awhile after the events were over with. The three control groups were rabid Red Sox fans, avid Yankees fans (note the clever use of the word "rabid" for Red Sox fans and "avid" for Yankees fans. Smart, huh?) and neutral people - who clearly are people with severe issues. How can you be neutral about such momentous happenings? There were 76 "subjects" all told. They filled out questionnaires six days after the last game, and then 23-27 weeks later. The scores were based on quantity and consistency of information (between the two surveys), confidence in the memory and the vividness of the memories. If the information was entirely different on the survey, the constancy score was a big zero. Emotion, vividness was 1-7 with 1 being highly negative and 7 being highly positive about how the memories "felt." So the Red Sox fans averaged 5.5 and Yankees fans 2.5 though of course my personal preference on a 1-7 scale was minus 10. There was an interesting line after this was explained in the article: "None of the participants reported a history of psychiatric or nervous disorders." Which makes me think that none of the participants have ever been to either Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium.
The study looked at event and personal memories. Event memory = Johnny Damon (Ha! Ha! Red Sox fans) hit a homer into the upper deck." The personal was "I dropped mustard on my Yankees Suck classless teeshirt." (I don't think that was an actual personal detail, but who knows?)
Here's what they learned:
"It turned out that both happy and unhappy fans remembered an equal number of personal details. However, the losing Yankees fans recalled more details related to the game than the Red Sox fans. "This finding is consistent with prior evidence that negative emotion enhances memories for detail tied to the game itself rather than to personal details," the researchers report in an upcoming issue of the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review. Taken together, the Harvard results show that memory distortion can be less for negative events than for positive or nonemotional happenings."
So the results conclude that those with a negative response to events have a richer contextual and more vivid memory. Which makes me conclude that Yankees fans are thus smarter than Red Sox fans.
Okay, that's small consolation, but it does say, hey, Red Sox fans, if you want to be smart, lose to the Yankees again and again and you'll be geniuses with a photographic memory. Actually, over decades you ARE geniuses with photographic memories.
The Real Lessons Here
There is something to actually take from this, aside from the 86 years of Red Sox fans' brilliance.
The reality is that this kind of study validates something about the differences between creating a customer advocate and a verbal terrorist. Sadly, it shows that it is a lot easier to create a dangerous verbal terrorist who can use the tools that he/she has access to for the destruction of your credibility as a company or at least damage to it. Think about this. Positive memories around events are less accurate, less vivid and more distorted with less emotional investment. Negative memories around events are vivid and detail rich. Meaning simply, that a verbal terrorist is more likely to be able to convey what they hate about you for a longer time period than an advocate can convey what they like about you. That implies it will take continuous good deeds to create and retain that advocate. On the other hand, we all know that people love to complain, so it may not take more than a loss in game 7, so to speak, to create an enemy who will be ruthless in their recourse against you.
The obvious lesson? Work hard to not just to create your advocates - but work even harder to retain them so that they will spread the joy and be vivid about it to those they speak to in person or online. But the results of this study also point out the volatility and power of bad memories too, so watch your step as you move along whatever business path you choose - or you'll litter the field with verbal terrorists (remember Dell Hell?) and you will be hurt badly - as we will do to the Red Sox in the next ALCS we meet up.