Each of us has unforgettable life moments – a special holiday, the recognition of a big achievement, your wedding, the first time you held your baby’s hand, and so on. At a smaller scale, a single meaningful moment can change the tenor of your day or shift your opinion. A word of insightful praise can put you in a good mood at work all week, while a genuine gesture of support could be the beginning of a staunch alliance. Big or small, these extraordinary moments are what enrich and elevate our lives.
Best-selling authors, Chip and Dan Heath in their great new book, The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact, take this idea one step further: they suggest that if we can understand what makes such moments truly memorable, then we can create more of them, thus further enriching our own lives and those of people around us – our loved ones, colleagues, customers. Why wait for random chance to bestow these powerful experiences, when we have the ability to design and execute them?
The possibilities are endless. Imagine an educator who uses this understanding to deliver a critical life lesson to students, ensuring that they remember it forever. Or a manager who builds greater brand loyalty by crafting such vivid moments for consumers. Or a parent who harnesses this knowledge to form a closer bond with their child. In each context, extraordinary moments have the potential to infuse a person or a relationship with positivity, to catalyse change, and to become a cherished memory.
So, this week, my message focuses on what makes a moment extraordinary and how we can intentionally create more standout moments at the workplace.
The elements of extraordinary
The authors explain that powerful positive moments are driven by four elements:
- Elevation: when we are lifted up out of the ordinary, finding inspiration and a deep sense of joy
- Insight: when we undergo a shift in the way we see ourselves or the world, experiencing an epiphany or “aha!” moment
- Pride: when we achieve something incredible or are recognised by others for our accomplishments
- Connection: when we strengthen our bonds with others, either one-to-one or as a group
Special moments capture at least one, if not more, of the above traits. A wedding, for example, could combine three out of four elements – elevation (a celebration that delights), insight (stories and traditional that shape our view of love and family), and connection (sharing the special experience with loves ones).
Moments that matter
The Heath brothers identify three workplace situations that are naturally ripe for us to create extraordinary moments:
Times of transition or change are worthy of our attention. Yes, certain transitions are already accorded importance at the workplace, such as retirement. But what about other significant experiences, for instance, a person’s first day at work or the launch of a new team? These key transitions are often overlooked – the big day simply passes by, like any other day.
In an interview with WIRED, Dan Heath shares the example of John Deere, which created an unforgettable welcome experience for newcomers:
Employees received a proper induction: someone met them in the carpark and showed them to their desk; they show you a flat-screen TV that says your name and “welcome”; people come and introduce themselves all day and there’s a six-foot-tall banner set up next to your cubicle alerting people to the fact you are new. You are taken out to lunch by your boss and you receive a package on your desk which informs you of the company’s history and their aims, making you feel connected to the company’s mission. It was an experience that made the employee feel like they belonged and the work they did mattered and that people were paying attention to them.
Again, certain milestones are traditionally recognised in corporate culture; for example, completing a certain number of years with the company. But there are many other victories that hold the potential for a standout moment. You know that colleague whose fantastic mentorship initiative has now successfully mentored twenty people? Or the team member who has exceeded expectations in every project over the past year? Aren’t these smaller milestones also deserving of appreciation, of something out of the ordinary?
Annual awards are great concepts, but let’s face it – they are very much part of the routine, whereas an extraordinary moment of recognition is generally unexpected and personally meaningful. This could be something as small as taking the time to compliment a colleague, or something a bit more elaborate such as a personalised fun celebration.
It is especially up to leaders to notice achievements that go beyond tenure. There is no “one size fits all” formula that the organisation can apply, since the nature of these accomplishments is so diverse. Take a moment to consider your peers and team; can you think of a recent milestone worth celebrating, in a unique way?
This includes stressful situations, from facing a health-related problem to losing a loved one. Yes, even painful experiences hold the potential for extraordinariness. When we pitch in and carry a colleague through a difficult time, that becomes a positive and defining experience.
Remember, you don’t have to come up with grand, elaborate schemes. Instead, invest in simple actions that genuinely ease the other person’s burden, such as taking on a portion of their work to give them some flexibility or helping with logistics like food and transport.
Research suggests that in the world of customer experience, about 25% of memorable moments actually start out as “pits”. The customer is faced with a problem, which is then satisfactorily resolved – perhaps with a special touch. Thus, a potentially negative experience is transformed into a positive one.
The imperfect standard
Do not get hung up on perfection, warn the Heath brothers. They highlight the example of the Magic Castle Hotel, the top-rated Los Angeles hotel on TripAdvisor at the time the book was published. Compared with other luxury hotels in the city, the popularity of the Magic Castle is puzzling. Dated rooms, unimpressive interiors, a small pool….why do people love it so much?
The secret to the Magic Castle’s success is its focus on creating extraordinary moments. At the poolside, a red telephone connects you to the Popsicle Hotline, which sends you ice-cold popsicles in a silver tray – for free. Thrice a week, magicians show up at breakfast to delight guests with their sleight of hand. Similar pops of unexpected joy can be found throughout the stay.
The Magic Castle has understood something crucial – that people have highly selective memories. We forgive and forget minor imperfections, as long as we have a “peak” experience. Think about your own standout memories. Chances are you don’t really think about the inconveniences before and after – what stays with you is the heart of the experience.
The problem is that many of us are perpetually in firefighting mode. We try to fix everything and make sure nothing goes wrong; in the process, we fail to make an effort to get a few thingswonderfully right.
As Dan Heath puts it: “The absence of a problem is not a memorable moment.” Instead of focusing all our attention on perfecting the routine, let’s also make space in our priority list for “wow!” moments – whether it is with regards to yourself, your team or the customer base.
An authentic interaction can constitute a special moment all by itself. One way to do this is by pushing beyond small talk:
When someone asks you “How are you?”, and you’re just about to give the automatic answer, “Fine, how are you?”, take a breath. Then give the actual answer. Share something real—maybe something you’re struggling with. Trust that the other person will care and reciprocate with something real from their life. You may be amazed at how such a simple moment can deepen a relationship.
This is especially relevant for leaders, who may not find it easy to be open with their team members. In such a context, an authentic exchange can be the first step towards building greater trust. Another way of fostering meaningful moments is through insightful questions. Chip and Dan Heath give an excellent example:
Sara Blakely, the billionaire founder of Spanx, says that she owes much of her resilience to a question her father asked at the family dinner table: “What have you failed at this week?” And if Sara and her siblings didn’t have an answer to give, he’d be disappointed. That taught her not to fear or dread failure but to embrace it, as evidence that you’re pursuing something you care about. So that’s a very simple moment-something any parent can create-that has a lifetime of significance.
We all have the ability to create moments that matter, that make life richer and more meaningful. Let’s not waste this incredible gift.
What extraordinary moment will you create this week?
As always, I look forward to your thoughts.