Defining moments shape all of our lives yet they often seem to happen by accident or luck. But Chip and Dan Heath maintain that we can become the authors of these defining moments in life, in relationships, and in our work. In fact, they’re so fascinated by this idea that they’ve written a whole book on the topic. If you have been reading "The Power of Moments" and you’re like me, you have become fascinated with this idea, too.
The book has two aims: First, the authors explore the traits that defining moments have in common and what makes such experiences particularly memorable. Second, they want to show us how to capitalize on these traits to create these defining moments.
Whether you are a professional speaker looking to create memorable moments for your audience, a CEO or HR director looking for innovative ways to re-energize your employees, or perhaps a customer service director wanting to enhance the experiences of customers, you will benefit from the Heath brothers’ insights in this book. When you reflect on what goes into creating defining moments, you will start to spot ways to create them everywhere.
What are the elements of a defining moment?
Chip and Dan Heath talk about a defining moment as “a short experience that is both memorable and meaningful.” There are big defining moments, such as getting married or landing a job that leads to a career path you love, that capture who you are. And there are smaller experiences, such as getting a warm chocolate chip cookie when you check-in to your hotel, that are defining moments within the context of a vacation or product development cycle. Paying attention to these defining moments opens up a world of possibilities.
According to their research, the Heaths found that these big and small defining moments share one or more of the following elements:
Elevation: Defining moments rise above the everyday. They tap into not just a fleeting moment of pleasure, but a deeper, memorable experience of delight. To construct elevated moments, we need to think about how to elevate sensory pleasures to make them extraordinary. The Heaths use the example of the Popsicle Hotline to demonstrate elevation. At a particular mid-level hotel in L.A., you can pick up a red phone and order free popsicles. They are delivered poolside on a silver tray, of course.
Insight: Defining moments rewire our understanding of ourselves or the world. It’s that moment when you realized: “now is the time to start my business” or “I’m ready to go after that promotion.” These are the moments when people suddenly understand their circumstances in a new light. Although these moments of insight often seem serendipitous, the Heaths show that we can engineer them or at least lay the groundwork so others “trip over the truth.”
Pride: Defining moments capture us at our best—moments of achievement, moments of courage. When you discover the architecture of pride, you can plan a series of milestone moments that build on each other and are so much more effective as a motivational tool than a simple imperative like “sell more.” For example, instead of creating a recognition program like “Employee of the Month” or an annual banquet, consider spontaneous recognition of individuals that is targeted at specific behaviors. Effective recognition makes employees feel noticed for what they have done.
Connection: Defining moments are social: weddings, graduations, baptisms, vacations, work triumphs, bar and bat mitzvahs, speeches, sporting events. These moments are strengthened because we share them with others. The Heaths discuss one experiment where two people walk into a lab as strangers and walk out, 45 minutes later, as close friends. Through a series of questions designed to create connections, people can really feel connected in a short period of time. This might make you rethink your typical interview questions or how you relate to your audience during a business presentation, for instance.
Defining moments possess at least one of these four elements, but they need not have all four. Many moments of insight, for example, are private. And a fun moment during vacation like calling the Popsicle Hotline may not offer much insight or pride.
How to create defining moments for others in business
Now that we know how to identify these defining moments, what does it take to create defining moments in business? I took away some important business lessons and reminders from The Power of Moments. These lessons are applicable to whatever you happen to do and in whatever stage of your career you happen to find yourself.
1. Use defining moments to combat problems in business.
One of my favorite parts of this book are the Clinics. There are five of these sprinkled throughout the book and designed to help readers understand how to use the core framework above to create defining moments. Each Clinic introduces a problem in business and explains how creating a defining moment can solve this problem.
Clinic 5, about combating the “silo” mentality in business, piqued my interest. The scenario is about the VP of marketing and the VP of sales at a large company trying to figure out how to get their two departments to work together more effectively. They decide to do this by creating a defining moment: a two-day off-site meeting.
They add elevation:
- The meeting itself breaks the script by being in a different environment and disrupting everyone’s routine.
- They boost sensory appeal and raise the stakes by creating intermixed “pit crews” of marketing and sales members to collaborate on the task of changing the tires on a real Formula One race car.
They add insight:
- The VPs cause everyone to “trip over the truth” by inviting an actual customer to address them and describe the “whiplash” of interacting with each department.
- They invite both departments to “stretch for insight” when they reveal that for the week prior to the off-site meeting, there were two salespeople “embedded” with marketing and two marketing people embedded with sales. They are invited to share what they learned in presentations called “What marketing doesn’t understand about sales” and “What sales doesn’t understand about marketing.”
There’s much more to this Clinic, but I’ll leave it to you to discover along with other insights. I really appreciate how Chip and Dan Heath make it so easy to apply their ideas to my work. It’s even easy to turn to a section, read it in isolation from the rest of the book, and practice using just that small tidbit.
2. Many defining moments are free and unproduced.
Speaking of small tidbits, it’s true that some of the examples in the book are produced moments (e.g., school signing day where seniors announce which college they’re going to during a ceremony similar to the NBA draft). But it doesn’t take a huge production to create a defining moment.
Actually, some of the most memorable moments cost nothing extra. Consider the example of the nurses who decided to bring a bucket of snow to a little girl confined to her hospital bed for months (Chapter 12) or John Deere’s “First Day Experience” for employees (Chapter 2). These defining moments took little more than some thought about what a memorable experience would look like. We all can create these types of defining moments.
3. Target a specific moment.
If you want to start creating powerful, defining moments, start by targeting a specific moment. Then ask yourself a series of questions:
- How can I elevate it?
- Spark insight?
- Boost the sense of connection?
Life and business are full of “form letter” moments. When we focus on building up to a moment and consider what might make that moment extraordinary, we increase the odds of standing out. Yes, it takes more effort and you might be wondering “what’s the payoff?” Well, the Heath brothers suggest the following tangible outcomes:
- More revenue (e.g., the Southwest Airlines anecdote, p. 74-76).
- Greater customer satisfaction and loyalty (e.g., the Magic Castle Hotel anecdote, p. 9-11).
- More motivated employees (e.g., data on recognition, p. 146-148).
- More effective employees (e.g., employees who felt their jobs had purpose performed better overall than employees who felt passionate toward their jobs, p. 216-222).
Of course, the most important thing to notice about the stories of powerful moments in this book are that they are moments of action. It’s not enough to spot opportunities for creating moments, you have to follow through to actually create these defining moments.
Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication advisor specializing in high-stake presentations. She has 25-plus years experience of coaching experience and eight years teaching presentation skills for Duke University. She has provided presentation coaching to over 3,000 individuals in professional practices, Fortune 500 companies, high-level government officials and international business executives. Learn more at ProfessionallySpeaking.net and ProfessionallySpeakingBlog.com.