The Power of Moments: Why Certain Moments Have Extraordinary Impact

Reviewed on , book by Chip Heath

Do you have one of those moments in your life that had a disproportionate impact on your life? This book about how to create those moments for yourself and others. The Heath brothers, authors of Decisive, have done it again—what an absolute pleasure. Especially the first two chapters on elevating experiences and creating moments of insight were absolutely excellent.

As the other Heath books, the structure is straight-forward. It dissects these moments into three broad categories: (1) Elevation of an experience where you build peaks, or break the script, (2) Insight, where you allow people to trip over the truth or help them stretch to gain knowledge, (3) Pride, by recognizing others and setting up work through small milestones that can be celebrated, (4) Connection by deepening ties through experience and developing a shared meaning with a group.

(1) Elevation. How do you elevate an experience? There’s a hotel somewhere in LA that has stunning reviews. It costs about the same as the Ritz Carlton and Marriott, yet it’s not a fancy building with a marble lobby or anything remotely resembling those hotels. What they do have that those hotels don’t, is a Popsicle Phone. By the pool, there’s a red telephone. If you lift the dial, you can order your popsicle to the pool—for free—from the hotel staff. People cannot stop talking about how incredible this is. It elevates an already great vacation experience with a simple, cheap gesture from the hotel found nowhere else. This hotel obsesses over creating small moments for their guests.

Intuitively, they know about the peak-end principle: People tend to forget the duration of an event and remember the worst or best moment, as well as the ending. In this case, you remember the Popsicle Phone, and how they lead you out the door and wished you a pleasant journey home—but not the average beds.

A highly interesting airline satisfaction study showed that, based on revenue, it’s 9x as valuable to focus on raising people’s average experience (5/10) to an amazing experience (9/10), than it is to focus on raising negative experiences (2/10) to an average experience (5/10). People develop much more loyalty to you if you can give them, even inconsistently, an elevated experience. How many restaurants do you keep coming back to because you’ve had one or two truly excellent experiences? How influenced are you by the Halo effect on subsequent visits?

This chapter reminds me of a story from my dad I’ll never forget. He once came home from a business trip and told me how he’d stayed at the same hotel as the last time he went. When he came to the hotel after a long day of travel, they’d had cold Coca Cola waiting for him in the room. They knew, because he’s ordered it at the restaurant at the last visit, that it was his favourite drink. I don’t doubt he’d go out of his way to come back here. That’s so simple to do.

In this chapter they described the “pit-to-peak” methodology. How can you turn a “pit” moment, into a peak? Kids hate MRI machines. In fact, they hate it so much that 80% of them have to be sedated. One engineer who built MRIs saw this on a visit to a hospital, how afraid the kids were of this machine and its rumbling, he decided he wanted to transform the experience. How could he turn this shit experience, into a peak experience? He transformed them into canoes and pirate ships and told the kids a story about how they had to lay perfectly still and explained the sounds with stories. The kids loved it so much that some asked: “When can we do this again?” Sedation rates went down to 27%. Whenever you lose trust, how can you boomerang back with more trust?

(2) Insight. In this chapter, the authors explain how people come to moments of insight. They call the first chapter ‘tripping over the truth’ which comes with a phenomenal story. In villages in Africa, an organization wanted to teach the importance of hygiene. They’d tried multiple times to introduce toilets, but it just didn’t stick. It wasn’t clear what the advantage was. An organization tried something new, to get the villagers to ‘trip over the truth’. They’d come to the village and ask: “Where do you shit?” and get them to point it out, walking around the village. Slowly, a crowd gathered, and the volunteer would keep asking questions: “Do you shit here too? How many people shit here?”. The volunteer would end up in a public square of the town with most of the village gathered there and draw a map of the village in the dirt. With yellow chalk, he asked the villagers to put it where they shit. More chalk, more shit. After he’d ask: “What about when it rains, where do you shit? If you’re feeling ill, where do you shit?”, soon, the entire village drawn in the sand was covered with chalk. The villagers were flustered. The volunteer would ask for a glass of water. “Would you drink this?”, they’d nod. He’d take a hair and dip it in some shit nearby, and put it in the glass. “Would you drink this?”, no of course not. “How many legs does a fly have?” Six, “Do you think it carries more shit than a hair?”, crowd nods, terrified. “Do you eat the food a fly lands on?” At this point, the villagers start asking: “How do we fix this? It’s disgusting? What’s going on?” At this point, the villagers are so primed for the problem that they would adopt a solution in an instant. What shit-walk can you do, to motivate the importance of a problem? It’s much more effective to highlight the importance of the problem to motivate, than offer the solution to a problem that someone may not see as clearly as you.

Another chapter under Insight is “stretch for insight”. This especially applies to mentors, where you should set high standards + provide assurance + direction + support to help them stretch, to acquire insight. This may put them in difficult situations, but with the above, you not only put them in situations just at their capability—you also assure them that they can get through it.

(3) Pride. What moments of pride do you create for those around you? Do you (1) recognize when they’ve done something fantastic, do you (2) set up milestones to celebrate, and do you (3) practise courage to do something amazing to make it part of the routine, and celebrate the act of courage? 80% of supervisors say they express plenty of appreciation, but only 20% of employees agree with them. These small acts can have a massive impact.

(4) Connection. A fascinating study introduced in this chapter looked at what’s more important, passion or purpose. Passion is individual, purpose is shared by a team. People with high passion, high purpose, perform in the 80th percentile. People with high passion, low purpose, perform in the 20th. People with low passion, high purpose perform in the 64th percentile. If you lead a team of people, this should make you stop and think. Are you leverage the massive leverage a clear purpose has? If you ask on your team what the purpose of their work is, do they all know? Have you ever seen people with high purpose, but low passion, have output (I have)? When a story was read for life-guards about the importance of their job, they signed up for 45% more volunteer hours than when told a story about how the skills they were learning would help them in their career.

In this chapter is also introduced the idea of “Responsiveness” and how it deepens relationships. There are three facets to this: (1) Mutual understanding, (2) Validation, and (3) Caring. A heart-breaking story in this sub-chapter tells us about a school in bad shape. For parent-teacher conferences, only 11% of parents attended. There was no investment from the parents, because they felt no investment from the school. There was little investment from the school, because they felt no investment from the parents. A vicious cycle. Under new management, the school went to each home and asked them questions that leverage these principles of responsiveness: What future do you see for your child? How do you think the school should approve? This is hardly new, but a good mental model for how to phrase the questions of importance. Parent-teacher conference attendance went up to 73%.

When you create shared meaning through responsiveness, you develop a purpose. This is as close as you get to a panacea when it comes to productivity. It’s also important to note that this chapter focuses a lot on how ties are deepened through adversity. If you go through something with a group of people, you’ll feel closer to them. The harder it is, the deeper the ties with them will be.

Read this book and start creating these moments for the people you care about. Set yourself up to create these moments, too. Break the script, elevate, turn pits into peaks, create shared meaning, and always think about what the Popsicle Hotline is for whatever you’re doing. This book equips you with a fantastic vocabulary for talking about these moments you’ve always known were there, but have never quite dissected.