It smells like…

The smell of fresh cut grass reminds me of football. Every time I smell it, I immediately have fond memories of my youth: running, sweating, hitting, and learning about hard work, discipline, and team play. You might know that there is a whole science that studies this tie between the sense of smell and memory and this type of memory is often referred to as a “Proustian Memory”. It’s named after Marcel Proust, the novelist. He describes this phenomenon, spurred by madeline cake and tea, in the opening chapter of Swan’s Way, the first novel in his work, Remembrance of Things Past.

So the other day, I was walking the neighborhood and due to the circumstances explained above had my recurring Proustian Memory.  And it got me thinking are there other smells that provoke clear memories for me? I realized that there are plenty of “smells” that have provoked certain memories throughout my business career.

  • The smell of a poorly performing employee and the memory that I thought they would get better
  • The smell of a difficult, slow paying customer and the memory that I thought we could work things out
  • The smell of a not quite perfect job candidate and the memory that we hired them because we needed to fill the seat.

There are plenty more of these Proustian-like Memories throughout my career both good and bad. Oh, by the way, the complete memory for each of these scenarios is that I was completely wrong. The poor performer didn’t get better. The difficult customer got worse. And you should never fill a job just to fill it.

Unlike my football memory, those cited above are not fond. Sniff through your business. The smells of today will bring back the memories of yesterday. While you can’t change the past, you can learn from it and change the future.  What Proustian Memories do you have?

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