The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact
by Chip and Dan Heath
Because our company claims to "shake up the day to day," the subtitle of this book got my attention. Our workshops and keynotes have generated powerful, impactful moments, but I wanted to gain a better sense of how to plan for and create them more intentionally. I knew this book would be a good fit when it encouraged the reader to "defy the forgettable flatness of everyday work and life by creating a few precious moments."
I've enjoyed previous books by Chip and Dan Heath and this one didn't disappoint. They organized research and stories around four elements that contribute to a defining moment or "a short experience that is both memorable and meaningful." Elevation, insight, pride, and connection contribute to making moments matter. These elements make sense, but a few themes captured my attention because they have been coming up in other things that I've been reading and reflecting on lately.
See and Be Seen: As we become more attached to our phones and big data reduces us each down to a set of data points to be run through algorithms, there seems to be a growing need to feel seen as an individual full of skills and talents. The need exists for adults as well as our students whose value is often reduced to a test score.
The book contained inspiring stories of defining academic moments like one school's "Senior Signing Day" or another's "Trial of Human Nature" or another school's implementation of home visits. But these seem to be exceptions in our school systems. Recently, a concerned parent told me about their teenager wanting to take a gap year after they graduate to recover from the stress of high school and another talked about her son taking a break after his sophomore year of college because after two years he still lacked direction. I fear that the ever increasing focus on testing along with larger and larger class sizes has led to graduates not knowing how to value themselves other than a test score and not feeling valued by adults other than maybe their parents. How can we provide them with more powerful moments of elevation, insight, pride, and connection in which they are seen?
There needs to be systemic shifts to fix problems in our education system, but grass roots efforts can work, too. In the examples I mentioned above, the ideas came from motivated, creative teachers. We need to see the important work of educational professionals in schools, afterschool programs, libraries and camps who go above and beyond the "forgettable
flatness" for the benefit of students. I taught in three different high schools in my teaching career and in only one did I get the sense that the administrators had any idea of how/what I taught. One of the schools created a recognition program that became a token, check-the-box type program that made no one feel good. As the Heath brothers identify, recognizing others needs to be personal and authentic, not programmatic. Seeing others can be as simple as saying, "I saw what you did and I appreciate it."
This obviously goes for companies as well as schools. It applies even to a two person company like ours in which your business partner is also your spouse. You've probably partnered with someone because they complement your strengths and weaknesses. We sometimes get lazy and assume that our partner will do X because he's good at it. He knows it, I know it. So why do I need to point it out? On the flip side, how many times have you felt unappreciated or felt that your skills and work are taken for granted? In many of those situations, I've felt that even a simple acknowledgement would have satisfied me. After being married for fifteen years and in business together for ten, we realize that we still need to work on really seeing and recognizing each other. It's not easy because it requires attention as well as vulnerability, but the results so far seem to be paying off.
Name It to See It: As I have shared many times throughout this blog, stretching outside one's comfort zone plays into the work we do and the way in which we try to live. As articulated throughout the book, stretching elevates us above the everyday. It's where we gain insight and feel pride. And shared struggle can be a source of powerful connection. So why don't we do it more? In addition to seeing people more clearly, words can help us to identify the unseen forces that get in our way.
One of my favorite quotes from the book comes from the section on elevation in which they encourage readers to raise the stakes and break the script. They warn us, however, to "beware of the soul-sucking force of reasonableness." Personally, I often struggle with this. The practical planner in me starts to come up with the various reasons why something won't work or what I'd be better off spending my time doing. Now that I've identified that the "force of reasonableness" can deter me from growth, I'll be better able to see it. Can you name what's getting in the way of your growth?
Whether learning new skills or creating memorable moments, we need to get comfortable with stretching and the messy, unexpected results. Talking about it and sharing experiences can help. I loved the story they included of the father that asked his kids at dinner "what did you guys fail at this week?" and if they had nothing to tell them, he'd be disappointed. Such a simple practice redefines failure as "not trying" instead of "not achieving." It also makes conversations about struggle and messiness part of everyday life - not something to be embarrassed by or hide.
The book names elements that make moments more powerful, but I think a large part of their power comes from being able to name and see things that we normally take for granted or choose to ignore/hide from. Below are reflection questions that this book inspired me to ask in order to build awareness and be more intentional with our programs.
- "I saw what you did and I appreciate it." When was the last time I said this out loud to someone that deserved to hear it? Who do I want to hear it from and how can I ask for it?
- How can I make more participants in our programs feel seen?
- What am I working on? What did I fail at this week?
- When am I letting "reasonableness" win?
- What else is getting in the way of me stretching and growing? What can I name it to help me see it more clearly in the future?
- Who in my circles can I have conversations about stretching and failing with?
[Writer's Note: The Chamber book discussion group has selected this book for its November 2018 read. I didn't want to wait until then to explore the book, but may come back and add notes after that discussion.]