BOOK REVIEW: Creating those memorable moments

The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

IN EVERYONE’s life, there are moments that have enormous impact.

The moment when you look at your manager doing the same work as you, only with larger numbers, and you realise that you will be her if you stay in this job for the next ten years. And so, you make plans to leave.

That moment when you find your calling because of something someone says spontaneously, as they catch you doing something exceptional.

In this very accessible book, the brothers Chip and Dan Heath examine defining moments, identify the traits they have in common, and look at what makes a particular experience memorable and meaningful.

They demonstrate how defining moments share a set of common elements. More importantly, they demonstrate how you can create defining moments by using those elements.

Why would you want to create them? “Our lives are measured in moments, and defining moments are the ones that endure in our memories,” they explain.

Their insights are a critical lesson for anyone in a service business (as we all are), in management, and in our personal lives.

A study of hotels reviewed on TripAdvisor shows that when guests say they experienced a "delightful surprise" (or what the Heaths call a 'moment'), 94% unconditionally recommend the hotel, but only 60% of guests who were "very satisfied" will do the same.

Can you remember your first day at your current company? Most likely it was not a defining moment.

The receptionist didn’t think you were starting until next week. She shows you to a desk with the previous incumbent’s remnants. Your boss has not arrived yet. Eventually, a friendly person from your floor introduces herself and then interrupts 11 people by introducing you to them. You have managed to annoy all your colleagues within the first hour. You immediately forget all their names.

Compare that to joining the John Deere office in Asia.

Soon after you accept employment there, you get an email from a “John Deere Friend”. She introduces herself and shares some of the basics: where to park, what the dress norms are, and tells you that she’ll be waiting to greet you at 08:00 on your first day.

The flat-screen monitor in reception has a headline: “Welcome, Sam!” Your John Deer Friend shows you to your desk, where there is a tall banner that alerts people that you are new. People stop by during the day and introduce themselves.

The background image on your monitor is a gorgeous shot of John Deere equipment on a farm at sunset, with the caption: “Welcome to the most important work you’ll ever do.”

The first email you receive is from the CEO of John Deere with a short video, in which he talks about the company’s mission, and closes by saying, “Enjoy the rest of your first day, and I hope you’ll enjoy a long, successful, fulfilling career as part of the John Deere team.”

There’s a gift on your desk - a replica of John Deere’s 1837 plough, and a card explaining why farmers loved it. Your Friend fetches you for lunch with a small group, who ask about your background and tell you about projects they’re working on. Later, your manager comes over and makes plans to have coffee with you next week.

You leave the office that day, thinking: I belong here; the work we’re doing matters. And I matter to them. This is a defining moment, a relatively short experience that is both memorable and meaningful.

So, how are defining moments created? The Heaths have identified four elements.

Moments are created by “Elevation” – going beyond the normal course of events to create the extraordinary. A bouquet of flowers from your bank, celebrating the opening of the bond so that you can acquire your new home, and thanking you for choosing them.

Defining moments can also rewire our understanding of ourselves or the world through an “Insight”. In seconds or minutes, we realise something that might influence our lives for decades: Now is the time for me to start my own business, or this is the person I’m going to marry. It can also be a “crystallization of discontent,” when you suddenly see an awful truth about a situation or person that you have ignored.

When we attain important milestones, we experience moments of “Pride”. These are defining moments because they catch us at our best, in moments of achievement, showing courage, earning recognition, or conquering challenges.

Moments of “Pride” usually involve having our skill noticed by others. Much research show that while 80% of managers claim they frequently express appreciation, less than 20% of employees report they do. Surveys find the top reason people leave their jobs is a lack of praise and recognition and the absence of ‘Pride’.

The corporate response has generally been to create recognition programmes, like ‘Employee of the Month’ awards or annual banquets recognising star performers. These programmes are inadequate - one employee per month! How about recognition weekly or even daily? And the formality of corporate programmes often breeds cynicism.

The last element of moments that are defining is that they are social moments of “Connection”. Weddings, graduations, baptisms, work triumphs are strengthened because we share them with others.

“If you want to be part of a group that bonds like cement, take on a really demanding task that’s deeply meaningful. All of you will remember it for the rest of your lives.”

Purpose beats passion

People don’t connect as deeply around ‘passion’ as they do around ‘purpose’. Passion is the feeling of excitement or enthusiasm that you have for your work or interest. ‘Purpose’ is the sense that you are contributing to others, and that your work has broader meaning.

Passion is individualistic, and while it can energise, it also isolates, because my passion isn’t yours. By contrast, purpose is something people can share. It can knit groups together.

In a study of 32 paid lifeguards, one group read four stories describing how other lifeguards had benefited from the skills they acquired on the job. The second group read four stories about other lifeguards rescuing drowning swimmers. The difference between the two groups was striking.

The group that read about the meaning their work had for others voluntarily signed up for 43% more hours of work in the weeks following the intervention, and their helping behaviour increased by 21%. There was no increase in helping behaviour or hours worked by those who read about the personal benefits of the job.

These differences in behaviour were produced by nothing more dramatic than 30 minutes of reading and talking about what they read. Such is the power of moments of ‘Connection.’

Some powerful defining moments contain all four elements, and using all adds even more impact.

Three situations deserve punctuation. Some are “transitions” such as a new job, or retirement. “Milestones” such as promotion or graduation, and “pits” such as divorce or the death of a loved one.

We will benefit greatly by being alert to these opportunities and the huge value they can hold if done well. A good place to start is to read this book.

Readability:   Light --+-- Serious
Insights:        High +---- Low
Practical:        High +---- Low
  • Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy and is the author of Executive Update. Views expressed are his own.

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