Sometimes just a single moment can have a huge impact on our lives, or even on history. A particularly dramatic example of this is the moments leading up to the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A less extreme (but still important) example could be the moment at which you first met your spouse.
In this book, Chip and Dan Heath ask an important question: Why leave our most meaningful moments to chance when we could instead go out of our way to artificially create them? Here, they share the stories of a wide variety of different people from all walks of life, and all of them have one thing in common – they explore the ways in which they create these standout moments.
The two Heaths have worked together before, most notably with their bestselling books Switch and Made to Stick. Here, they provide a whole range of quirky stories along with the practical lessons that can be taken away from them. Aiming to help people to understand the power that they have to transform ordinary experiences into unforgettable ones, the authors cover everything from “the owners who transformed an utterly mediocre hotel into one of the best-loved destinations in Los Angeles” to “the scrappy team that turned around one of the worst elementary schools in America”.
It’s a cracking read with a lot to offer for people from all different walks of life, and while there’s so much here that we could never cover it all, we’re going to do our best to take a look at a few of the highlights. Here’s what you need to know about The Power of Moments.
“We all have defining moments in our lives,” the authors say. “Meaningful experiences that stand out in our memory. Many of them owe a great deal to chance: A lucky encounter with someone who becomes the love of your life. A new teacher who spots a talent you didn’t know you had. A sudden loss that upends the certainties of your life. A realistion that you don’t want to spend one more day in your job. These moments seem to be the product of fate or luck or maybe a higher power’s interventions. We can’t control them. But is that true? Must our defining moments just happen to us?”
This is the crutch of the book, and after arguing that it is indeed possible to create these moments, they start to investigate just how we can go about doing that. They start by asking the reader to think about their first day at their current or most recent job. Most people have a pretty similar experience in their first day, as the authors explain:
“You show up. The receptionist didn’t think you were starting until next week. You’re shown to a desk. There’s a monitor and an Ethernet cable on the desk but no computer. There’s also a single binder clip. The chair still bears the imprint of the previous owner, like an ergonomic buttocks fossil. Your boss has not arrived yet. You’re given an ethics and compliance manual to review. The sexual harassment policy is so long and comprehensive it makes you wonder a bit about your colleagues. Eventually, a friendly person from your floor introduces herself and whisks you around the office, interrupting 11 different people to introduce you. As a result, you worry that you’ve managed to annoy all of your colleagues within the first hour of your employment.”
The Heaths describe this lack of attention to people’s first days as “mind-boggling”, and they make a good point. Getting someone’s first day right should be easy, and it should also be a priority. After all, it sets the tone for the entire tenure at their company. And yet, instead of creating a powerful, positive moment for their new employees, too many companies are creating negative moments – not deliberately, perhaps, but through sheer inaction.
To start “thinking in moments”, the two authors suggest thinking of these moments as “where the prose of life needs punctuation”. Every culture has its own set of big moments, from those that we all have in common (like birthdays, weddings and graduations) to those that are unique to specific cultures (like bar and bar mitzvahs or quinceañeras).
“Notice that every last one of them was invented,” the authors say, “dreamed up by anonymous authors who wanted to give shape to time.” They suggest that there are three situations that deserve punctuation:
Transitions: Classic occasions for defining moments, such as coming-of-age rituals or marriages. That first day at work is also a transitional moment, whether employers recognise that or not.
Milestones: Major moments such as 40th birthdays, 25th anniversaries or 30 years in a given job. The authors say that we tend to do a good job of spotting these milestones as a society, but there’s still room for improvement. “Students get short-changed, for instance,” they say. “Sure, they advance in ‘grade’, but why not celebrate their 1,000th day in the classroom, or their 50th book read? And why don’t we celebrate teachers for their 1,000th student taught?”
Pits: “Pits are the opposite of peaks,” the authors say. “They’re negative defining moments – moments of hardship or pain or anxiety. Pits need to be filled. Disney knows, for example, that people hate long lines, [so they invest] in ways to fill that pit, by creating interesting displays as a distraction, and having performers interact with guests, and setting expectations about the wait.”
The two authors say that there are four key elements of memorable experiences, starting with elevation. “Moments of elevation are experiences that rise above the everyday,” the authors say. “Times to be savoured. Moments that make us feel engaged, joyful, amazed, motivated. They’re peaks.” This, of course, makes them the opposite of the pits that we’ve already talked about, and the authors suggest that moments can be elevated by boosting sensory appeal, raising the stakes and breaking the script.
The next element of memorable experiences is to develop moments of insight. “Moments of insight deliver realisations and transformations,” the authors say. “Some insights are small but meaningful. Many moments of insight are serendipitous. Lightning strikes, and there’s no explaining why. You can’t schedule epiphanies.”
That doesn’t mean that there’s nothing you can do to encourage them to happen, though. The authors suggest tripping over the truth and stretching for insight. “Tripping over the truth is an insight that packs an emotional wallop,” they say. “When you have a sudden realisation, one that you didn’t see coming, and one that you know viscerally is right, you’ve tripped over the truth.”
As for stretching for insight, they suggest that one of the best ways to do this is to find a mentor. “A mentor’s push leads to a stretch,” they say, “which creates a moment of self-insight. What can be counterintuitive about this vision of mentorship is the part about pushing. It requires the mentor to expose the mentee to risk. That can be natural; our instinct with the people we care about is to protect them from risk.”
But sometimes we need to expose ourselves to risk if we want to learn, and a good mentor recognises that and can help us to stretch. When we’re children, our parents might teach us to ride a bike despite knowing that we’ll fall a few times. That might hurt, but it’s also necessary if we want to be successful at learning to ride.
Up next are a couple of chapters on pride and the process by which you can create moments of pride. The authors say the recipe seems clear: “You work hard, you put in the time, and as a result, you get more talented and accomplish more, and those achievements spark pride,” they say. “Simple as that. There’s a lot of truth to that ‘roll up your sleeves’ advice.”
They also note that if you think about your own moments of pride throughout your career, it’s likely that many of them were examples of recognition. There are also three individual chapters dedicated to three of the ways in which we can spark pride, including by recognising other people for their work, multiplying milestones and practicing courage.
From here, we move on to moments of connection, which deepen our relationships with other people. The goal is to create a shared meaning between people, and there are different ways to go about doing that. One way to do this is to make people laugh – in fact, there’s research which shows that people laugh much more often in public, even if exposed to the same stimulus. Laughter is bonding and it brings us together.
It’s also important to work on responsiveness, because relationships are stronger when we perceive that our partners are responsive to us. Note that the term “partner” here doesn’t refer exclusively to romantic partners but rather to anyone with which you’re building any form of relationship. Responsiveness encompasses three things:
1. Understanding: My partner knows how I see myself and what’s important to me.
2. Validation: My partner respects who I am and what I want.
3. Caring: My partner takes active and supportive steps in helping me to meet my needs.
“Once you realise how important moments can be,” the authors say, “it’s easy to spot opportunities to shape them. Take a high school student waiting for her college admissions decisions. Years ago, the decisions would arrive in the mail; now they’re as likely to come via email. But her emotions are the same. When the moment comes, her stomach churns. There it is! The sweet word ‘congratulations’. She lets out a shout of delight and reads it again. Seven times. That’s a great moment of pride and elevation. But, let’s be honest, the university deserves very little credit for making the moment matter. A letter? An email? That’s the best they can do?”
When you think about it, it’s obvious – no matter which industry we’re in, we’re creating these moments amongst our customers every day. Just because we’re not proactively thinking about them, it doesn’t mean that they’re not happening. It falls to us to spot these moments ahead of time and to go out of our way to make them as enjoyable as possible.
And this is ultimately the crux of the book. The two Heaths suggest that there are two ways for us to take advantage of the power of moments. We can either know that they’re coming and go out of our way to make them as memorable as possible, or alternatively we can try to proactively create those moments and to make them happen artificially. Either way, moments are being drastically underused by modern businesses, and the authors have set out to change that.
Now that you know a few of the highlights from The Power of Moments, it’s over to you to put what you’ve learned today into practice. For a start, perhaps you should spend some time rethinking your onboarding process and making sure that this important transitional moment isn’t left as an afterthought.
More broadly, you need to think more about the defining moments in your life, both those that are in the past and those that are yet to happen. The first step is to start to notice these moments as and when they occur so that you can capitalise on them. The second step is to proactively create these moments as much as possible, and this gets easier the more you spend time thinking about it and making it happen.
Of course, if you’re still struggling and you need a little more help, you could always pick up a copy of the book. After all, while we’ve done our best to give you the highlights, there’s so much more just waiting for you to discover, with plenty more examples and a few extra tips to boot. It really is a fantastic book and one of the best that we’ve come across to date. What’s not to love?
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