Stories are all about memories

“Somewhere deep in my memory there had to be a frozen mountain lake that was slowly starting to thaw.” – Herman Koch in “Finnish days” (translated)

Yesterday, I listened to a radio interview with Dutch writer Herman Koch, who talked about his new novel “Finse dagen” (Finnish days). In his book, the author tells stories about the time he spent in Finland when he was 19, making a living as a farmer and lumberjack.

Being a perennial blogger and aspiring storyteller myself, one of the excerpts from the interview, in which Koch muses about memories, particularly appealed to me. “Writing makes you remember things of which you thought you didn’t know them anymore.” Memories are records of people’s personal experience. Records of trial and error, of success and failure. Past successes will help you (and others) to gain courage and confidence to move on, while past failures will warn you against repeating them.

Koch’s also talks about becoming an author. How certain pleasant or unpleasant events in one’s life can provide useful material for later use. Already at secondary school, the future writer was observing his teacher and thought: “One day, this guy will find himself in a book.” It’s almost like one can – or maybe should? – (pro-)actively and consciously record his/her memories.

About creating an ideal mix of facts and (a tiny bit of) fiction, Koch says that “reality is sometimes not believable enough.” So, sometimes we need to repaint our memories. As I wrote earlier on this blog: all stories deserve embellishment

Unfortunately (at least for the non-Dutch-speaking readers of this post) the interview is in Dutch. If you want to replay it anyway, you can find it here. Still, after listening to Herman Koch’s inspiring words, I’m almost sure what will be the next book on my reading list.


A few days ago, I joined a brainstorming session at work. To kick off the session, to make the participants acquainted with each other, and to get their creative and communicative juices flowing, the facilitator asked all people in the room to talk for three minutes about a remarkable incident or achievement in their respective careers. Actually there were a quite few nice stories told. About successes and failures. Some serious ones and some funny ones too.

While listening to the experiences, adventures and confessions of my fellow brainstormers, I started thinking about my own imminent introduction pitch. What past event was important, memorable or entertaining enough to share with my colleagues? And so I departed on a rush trip down memory lane…


“Brainstorm” (by Michael Zhang)

Would I tell them about the user interface I once developed for one of the world’s first video-on-demand trials? Or about the paper I co-authored and that was published in the prestigious IEEE Communications Magazine? Or rather about me traveling thirty hours to New Zealand to deliver a mere thirty minute long customer presentation?

After no more than a few minutes of reflection I decided to tell them about the clash I had with a translator while I was presenting to Chinese government officials (you may read the full story here, in one of my first posts on this blog.) Probably a good choice, because it allowed me to tell something about myself, my area of expertise and my passion for presenting.

Thanks to this brainstorming meeting, a lot of good and bad reminiscences, colorful anecdotes and long forgotten stories came back to my mind – into which I will surely tap for some of my future blog posts. So, why don’t you start exploring your own memories and maybe you’ll stumble upon some good material for your next brainstorming session or your next public presentation…

Click the links below for a few related articles and some of my own stories: