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Review – The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath

MomentsThis review first ran in the Nov. 6 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact

By Chip and Dan Heath

Simon & Schuster

$39

How do you get students from priority neighbourhoods to stay in school and go to college?

Yes Prep Public Schools in Houston has a great solution.

Senior Signing Day was launched in 2001. It’s modeled after the day when graduating high school football players sign letters of intent with American colleges. Staff at Yes Prep wanted to recreate the same level of excitement for their students’ academic achievements.

Last year’s Senior Signing Day was held in the Toyota Centre, home to the NBA’s Houston Rockets.

Students, family, friends, staff, alumni and supporters pack the arena for the two hour celebration. Each graduating student walks across the stage, steps up to the podium and announces what college they’re attending in the fall. Some of the students break the news by unveiling t-shirts, ball caps and pennants. The crowd goes wild. This is not a staid and somber ceremony.

The graduating students then make it official by signing their enrollment papers.

Maybe you think this event seems like a ton of work. You could ask why Yes Prep doesn’t just list the graduating students and their future colleges in a program and instead invite an alumnus, donor or celebrity to give a speech like the one given at at every other graduation ceremony.

But then you’d be missing the point.

Senior Signing Day was engineered to be a defining moment for everyone in the arena. It’s a celebration for the graduating students. It gives families yet another reason to be proud. It reminds staff and supporters that they’re transforming lives. And it inspires the younger students who picture themselves up on stage and getting rafter-shaking roars of applause in a few more years.

Every organization can create defining moments for customers, students, patients and employees, say brothers Chip and Dan Heath and authors of The Power of Moments.

“Moments matter,” say the Heaths. “And what an opportunity we miss when we leave them to chance. Teachers can inspire, caregivers can comfort, service workers can delight, politicians can unite and managers can motivate. All it takes is a bit of insight and forethought. We can be the designers of moments that deliver elevation and insight and pride and connection.”

You don’t have to fill an NBA arena to create defining moments. The Magic Castle Hotel in Los Angeles uses a Popsicle hotline. You pick up the phone and order a free cherry, orange or grape Popsicle. A white-gloved staff member then delivers it poolside on a silver tray. It’s a peak moment that guests will remember, rave about online and talk about when they return home.

So why don’t more organizations create these peak moments? The Heaths warn that it’s easy to fall victim to the soul-sucking force of reasonableness. Creating peak moments takes a lot of effort and it’s rarely in anyone’s job description. It’s far easier to stick with the predictability and safety of the status quo.

So instead of experiencing a few unforgettable peaks, we get unrelenting flatness. Learning, working and spending money start to feel like a never-ending road trip across the Canadian Prairies.

Your first day at a new job should be a defining moment. But how many of us have spent that day memorizing the corporate policy and procedure binder at an empty desk followed by a whirlwind round of introductions that interrupt busy coworkers who had no idea we were joining the team?

Along with succumbing to reasonableness, the Heaths say organizations are preoccupied with filling lots of potholes and pay little to no attention in creating a few peaks. Yet it’s these surprising moments that make us overlook or put up other moments that fall short of expectations. “When we assess our experiences, we don’t average our minute-by-minute sensations. Rather, we tend to remember flagship moments: the peaks, the pits and the transitions.”

For inspiration, the Heaths showcase defining moments created by at all kind of organizations. The only problem with their book is that you’ll find it impossible to sit and suffer through peak-free events and experiences that stick to the same old script and settle for reasonableness.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, reviews business books for the Hamilton Spectator and lives in Hamilton.