Anant Jain

The Power of Moments

Book Review

Certain experiences have an extraordinary impact. We don’t have to wait for them to happen — we can intentionally engineer these moments into our lives, or at least create conditions for them to emerge. This is the premise of the Heath brothers’ latest book that came out later last year. It’s a very easy, quick read full of engaging examples. You should give it a shot if you like some of the ideas below.

What are defining moments made of?

Memorable or defining moments are usually peaks, pits or transitions that consist of one or more of the following four elements. Note that we will discuss the phrases in the latter part of this post.

  • Elevation: Defining moments rise above the everyday. There is something extraordinary and often unexpected about such moments. You have to Build Peaks and Break the Script to create moments of Elevation.
  • Insight: Defining experiences may consist of “a-ha” moments when we experience a burst of revelation and understanding. They rewire the way we understand ourselves — or the world. You have to Trip Over the Truth and Stretch for Insight to create moments of Insight.
  • Pride: These moments capture us at our best —they are moments of achievement and courage. You have to Recognize Others, Multiply Milestones and Practice Courage to create moments of Pride.
  • Connection: Many defining moments are social moments — we share them with others. You have to Create Shared Meaning and Deepen Ties to create moments of Connection.

An acronym that you can use to remember these four elements: EPIC.

How can you engineer these defining moments?

The phrases in Italics above are how you can create those elements. I will very briefly mention a thing or two about each below:

  • Build Peaks: Take the example of The Magic Castle Hotel in Los Angeles, the highest rated hotel on TripAdvisor. They have figured out how to build peaks for their guests with their popsicle hotline. A cherry red phone is mounted to a wall near the pool. If you pick it up, someone will answer, “Hello, Popsicle Hotline.” You place an order, and minutes later, a staffer wearing white gloves delivers your cherry, orange, or grape popsicles to you at poolside. On a silver tray. For free.
  • Break the Script: Southwest Airlines’ funny announcements break the script. No other airlines had previously seen the entertainment potential of the safety instructions.
  • Trip Over the Truth: Scott Guthrie, the executive in charge of Microsoft’s Azure cloud service knew that their product wasn’t very usable in its early days. So he devised a simple and elegant plan. He invited his senior managers and software architects to an off-site meeting and challenged them to build an app using Azure just as their customers would. “It was a complete disaster” in Scott’s words, and that helped his team trip over the truth and spun them into action.
  • Stretch for Insight: The formula for mentorship that leads to self-insight: high standards + assurance + direction + support. Great mentors make their mentees stretch for self-insight, which usually is a defining moment in their careers.
  • Recognize Others: 80% of supervisors say they frequently express appreciation. Less than 20% of employees agree. We dramatically underinvest in recognition and miss out on creating defining moments for our employees.
  • Multiply Milestones: Success comes from pushing to the finish line. Milestones compel us to make that push, because they’re within our grasp, and because we’ve chosen them precisely because they’re worth reaching for. One way to create peak moments is to multiply the milestones that your team has to hit to get to the same destination.
  • Practice Courage: Courage comes from practice. From historic protests to everyday acts, from the civil rights movement to an employee asking a tough question, this is the lesson we’ve learned: it is hard to be courageous, but it’s easier when you’ve practiced it. Also, when you stand up, others will join you.
  • Create Shared Meaning: When one hospital system desperately needed to upgrade its services, it did so by bringing its 12,000 employees to one place to unify them around a new customer-experience vision. Company conferences or graduation ceremonies unify people and create shared meaning.
  • Deepen Ties: What deepens individual relationships is “responsiveness”: mutual understanding, validation, and caring. Responsiveness coupled with openness leads to intimacy. The moments that deepen our ties with others are indeed quite powerful.

My favorite example from the book was of YES Prep’s Senior Signing Day. High school seniors walk onstage and announce the college they are choosing to go to in front of the entire school and their parents. This defining moment has all four elements. The Elevation of students having their moment onstage, the Insight of a sixth grader thinking “That could be me”, the Pride of being accepted to college, and the Connection of sharing the day with an arena full of thousands of supportive people. Above all, the Senior Signing Day is an engineered moment. It’s created from start to finish to have a deep impact on the students and their future.

This post is the tip of the iceberg of ideas, examples and case studies presented in the book. The Heath brothers are masters of making academic ideas and studies accessible and actionable through their books. I’d recommend this one as much as any of their other ones.

This is #10 in a series of book reviews published weekly on this site.

Photo by Jonas Kaiser