Memories are not simply nostalgic gifts from the past; they guide our future decisions.  To get another person to do something, you must plant a memory in his or her brain that gets triggered at the right moment in the future.

Consider the example of Trevor Bayliss, a British inventor. Back in 1991, he had an insight. He was watching TV and happened to see a show on how AIDS was spreading throughout Africa. The point of the show was that the disease could be tackled through radio-based educational programs, but the trouble was that many African regions lacked electricity, and batteries were too expensive.

This cued Bayliss to search his memory. First, it went to the old-fashioned gramophone, which could play sounds when you wound it up. From there, it leaped to: why not create a radio that you could wind up?

“I had a prototype for the wind-up radio within half an hour,” Bayliss says. “The original ran for 14 minutes before needing to be wound up again, but it improved.”

With Nelson Mandela’s help, Bayliss was able to make his invention available in Africa. “I went to a village in Botswana to present them with a radio,” Bayliss recalls. “When I turned on this little radio, it suddenly became a theater on a stage; it was awesome.”

In everyday life, our next move is largely based on cues and searching memories for connections between those cues and rewards. We can’t act unless we remember some information and rewards we’ve received in the past. At the time he was watching TV, Bayliss did not have an iPhone that he could consult. He did not ask Siri, “What is the best way to tackle AIDS in Africa?” He did not go to Google. He went inside his head and used his memories, which sparked his next action.

We don’t remember just to remember, we remember to make decisions. And those decisions are dependent on remembered rewards. We repeat what served us well in the past and avoid what didn’t. Before his wind-up radio invention, Bayliss had applied his knowledge of mechanical and structural engineering in a few other jobs, and with satisfying outcomes. An accomplished swimmer, he had worked in the research and development department for a swimming pool company. He merged his swimming background with his newly acquired knowledge of running a pool business and formed his own aquatic display company performing as a stuntman and entertainer. He became popular for performing high dives into a glass-sided tank. He also worked as an underwater escape artist in the Berlin Circus. Through this work, Bayliss developed a kinship with those forced to end their athletic careers early because of injuries, so he used his engineering background to develop products for disabled people.

Memory matters because it influences action. Someone out there taught Trevor Bayliss about mechanical and structural engineering, and he stored that knowledge long-term. What memories are you placing in your audiences’ minds and how are you ensuring long-term storage? And are you linking those memories with something people find rewarding?

Take for instance the ad by Nissan below, promoting its GTR model. The ad could have simply told us to buy this car because it is super fast, and speed is rewarding to many. Instead, they force us to participate and figure it out on our own.


Or, consider this ad from Brazilian bookstore Sebo Museu do Livro. Their tagline is, “A part of a story is lost when it becomes a movie.” Reading books is rewarding and they illustrate their mantra in a way that triggers memories and invites us to participate.


Participation works for long-term memory because it activates more brain areas at encoding and allows the chance for more memory traces to form.  The brain enjoys passive communication because it does not require much cognitive effort. But it is engaging content that leads to lasting impact.

Whether you speak about marketing, sales, leadership, or structural engineering—involve others as much as you can to stay on their minds long-term and fuel inventions that can help us all evolve. The next Trevor Bayliss may be in your audience tomorrow.

Carmen Simon, PhD, is cofounder of Rexi Media. She is the author of Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions.

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