How can you elevate a moment—and can every moment be truly powerful? We’re joined by Chip Heath, one of the two brothers who wrote The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Powerful Impact. Discover the Heath Brothers’ four defining moment types, and how your organization can create more powerful moments.
Please note: this transcript is unedited.
Peter: Welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast. I’m Peter Bregman, your host and CEO of Bregman Partners. This podcast is part of my mission to help you get massive traction on the things that matter most. We are lucky enough to have with us today, Chip Heath. Chip and I met right around when he and Dan, together they write as a brother duo, Dan and Chip Heath, they were writing Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, and we spoke about that book. I had already read Made to Stick, which I thought was an absolutely fantastic book. I really loved it and had already given it to some clients. They also wrote Decisive a few years ago, and they are out with a new book, The Power of Moments: Why Certain Moments Have Extraordinary Impact. We’ve got half of the bro duo. We have Chip with us today. Chip, thank you so much for being on the Bregman Leadership Podcast.
Chip: Thanks for having me.
Peter: So Chip, what led you to write this book? You’ve written, this is your fourth book. Why this one?
Chip: There are so many moments that we have in our lives that are incredibly important, and we’re good as a culture about thinking about birthdays and retirement dinners, but there are so many moments that pass unacknowledged, and yet those moments can have great impact if we take a little bit of time to think about them, so consider the first day at work. It’s a huge day for the employee, but the typical employer, you wander up and you introduce yourself to the receptionist, and that person’s really happy to see you, but they actually thought you were coming in next Tuesday. And so they take you to your cubicle, and the computer’s not quite hooked up and there are cords dangling, and somebody thrusts an employee manual in your hand, and says, “Well, I’ve got to run off to a meeting, but maybe you could read this for a while,” and so you spend the morning reading about expense policy and sexual harassment policy, which is actually shockingly more relevant today than it was six weeks ago, but it’s not the ideal first day. And so the amount of inattention that we pay to really important moments for people is just shocking to Dan and I.
Peter: And you define a moment as sort of a short experience that’s both memorable and meaningful, and this sounds like maybe a silly question. But why is it important in life to have these defining moments? Why not just live your life the way you’re living a life? What’s the importance of making a moment, a moment or having? Why is it important that that first day of work is a memorable, impactful moment?
Chip: Yeah. I think it’s important because those are the things that we remember, so the things that we take away from life. We go on a vacation for two weeks, we don’t remember the whole two weeks. We can’t run the film strip of the vacation. What we remember are a handful of dinners and spending moments with our family. And why don’t we take control of that, as opposed to letting it happen to us? And so there are the things that we can do to make moments for meaningful for ourselves and for the people around us.
Chip: Yeah. I think it’s a nice observation. And I think the memory of the moment versus the moment that matters is, I think, a key distinction that we would like to draw. I don’t think we drew it in the book, but thank you for that. I think selfies are an attempt to make memorable things that fundamentally aren’t very memorable. And what we wanted to talk about in the book is, suppose the first day at work, we’re putting you in touch with the history of the organization and the great stories from the organization. Those would be memorable to you without selfies, and they would be probably more useful to you in the future going forward because if you understand what made this organization great in the past, then you’re likely to be able to leverage those strengths in the future.
Example, John Deere went into China and India. In the states, a lot of us are a couple of generations away from people that actually were farmers. And so you may have encountered a John Deere tractor or encountered somebody that used one. In India, you’re less likely to do that. In China, you’re not likely to do that. And so they had real trouble getting people up to speed on the organization. And so they revamped the first day. And so one of the things that they did was have your first email, so your computer was hooked up when you showed up and you’re capable. And it was showing beauty shots of tractors. And the screen shot said, “Welcome to the most important work you ever do.” And you click over and your first email’s from the CEO.
And the CEO comes on a video and says, “Look. This company has 175 year legacy, started with John Deere, who had a patent for a plow.” It’s kind of a wooden plow with the two hands, but there’s a metal fixture on it that kept the plow from fouling with roots. And this is 175 years ago. We had the first technological innovation by John Deere, and it was a wood handled plow. And so for 175 years, we’ve been making machines that help people feed themselves and help create shelter, and that’s important work, especially in a world with a growing population. And so you go through that, and all of a sudden you have a different picture of your work and things you’re about to hear from your manager of your assignments and the things that your colleagues are doing. You’re helping provide food and shelter for a growing world. And you’re doing it in a company that has 175 year legacy at that.
Peter: That’s great. I have one other question sort of related to this power of moment before we get into some of the details. I think of mindfulness experts, who talk about having each moment be powerful, like chewing a raisin should be a powerful moment. Right? You chew a raisin. You do it slowly enough and you pay attention enough, and that moment, you elevate that moment to something greater than just gobbling down a whole bunch of raisins. Is that possible? Or does part of what makes a moment powerful is that it’s scarce? It’s not one of the four elements that you talk about. But I wonder whether scarcity and space between moments becomes a critical element to having that moment be important and powerful and meaningful and memorable.
Chip: I think it’s an important concept. The first response is, we’re nowhere close to making most moments that should be powerful, powerful. And so I don’t think we have a problem with scarcity quite yet. But I’m reminded of a quote that I loved when I was in high school. Music is not the notes, it’s the spaces between the notes that make the music. And I think that’s your point, and I agree with that. If we were really able to be mindful enough that we could store every single thing that happens to us, I don’t think we’d be better off.
In fact, the function of memory … People that study, cognitive psychologists that study memory really come to appreciate forgetting because there are occasionally people that remember everything, and their life is miserable. People that remember the library card that they had when they were a kid and the numbers on their telephones for the last 10 houses. It’s an impossible life to sustain. But I think we would be happy if people remember 50% more things that they should be remembering. And I think we’re a long way away from the quirky memory people that can remember everything in their life.
Peter: It reminds me, Dan Pink was suggesting an app that’s … I don’t think it’s called 360. I downloaded it. I can’t quite remember what it’s called. But you basically take a one second video.
Peter: Upload a one second video every day, and then at the end of the year, you’ve got six seconds … I mean six minutes of the video of your year. And that’s sort of an interesting concept, which is that it brings you, elevates a moment in the day, actually. I’ve been using it.
Chip: It’s a great concept. And I have a friend that’s been doing it for several years now. I think he was one of their early adopters. It’s stunning to watch his videos because it is … I know enough about his family and his life that I watch his videos, and I love his memories for that. I don’t have the self discipline to take a second a day. But it’s a beautiful thing.
Peter: There’s this challenge, I think, with the expectations that we set up by creating a powerful moment. And I think of it as the challenge of New Year’s resolutions, which is that we sort of set this expectation that we may, sometimes maybe even often, fail to live up to. So if the first day at John Deere is as amazing as you’ve described it, and the CEO is talking to you. And this is the most important job. And the second day, they’re like, “Here’s 12 files of things, and slowly work your way through,” and et cetera. It’s like, whoa, I had such high expectations of what this might be. And now the follow through is disappointing. You’ve heard people say, I’m sure sometimes, the key to great customer service or great customer satisfaction is low expectations. It’s not something I would suggest, that you create low expectations. But it’s people’s satisfaction is so determined by the reality related to the expectations that they had. And I’m wondering what you saw in your research and in the stories you heard people told of the risk of that.
Chip: I think we worry about that risk more than we should because for the most part, the things that we find meaningful are things that are actually quite boring, like mundane. So if you think about being a parent, one of my favorite books of recent years is a book that talks about … The title is All Joy and No Fun. And I think that summarizes parenting. There is incredible joy in being a parent, but if you did a beeper, on a minute by minute basis, it’s miserable. You’ve got to haul the kids back and forth between this practice and that practice. When they’re younger, you’re just trying to maintain sanity and get meals on the table and get food in the babies and get them cleaned. And so there’s a lot of joy in being a parent, but people have actually done beeper studies, and your moment to moment satisfaction as a parent drops when you become a parent and stays down until the kids graduate and leave the house. And then the satisfaction trends upward again.
So I think the John Deere situation could be setting people up for a fall the second day because the second day can’t be quite as meaningful and as memorable as the first day. But I think another way of interpreting it is, I’ve gone through that first day and I get the 12 boring files to file, all of a sudden I’m thinking of myself as doing something meaningful and important in the context of John Deere as opposed to showing up the first day and it was boring, and your computer wasn’t set up. And the second day, you get 12 files to file. And then I think the third day, you’d be wondering whether this was the right place or not.
Peter: We’ve been dancing around it. Let’s talk about the four elements that you talk about in this book that make up, that we need to focus on, or manipulate, or master, or be thoughtful about to make up a powerful moment. You intentionally do not acronym-ize it EPIC because it would remind you too much of a stoned surfer. But the idea of elevation, insight, pride and connection, can you just give a sentence or two about each to give us some context of? Here are some things you talk about in a lot of detail about how to elevate a moment or how to create a powerful moment.
Chip: Yeah. I don’t think we’ll have time to talk through all of them today. But elevation is, a lot of the moments that people remember are moments of heightened sensory experience, so you go to the fireworks show, and there’s the sound and the sight of that. You go to an amusement park and you get the thrill ride. You get a favorite food at a restaurant with your family. It’s a meaningful moment, so that’s a moment of elevation. There are moments of insight when we learn something new about ourselves or about the world. We decide this is not the job for us, or that’s the person we want to marry. Those are moments of insight that we carry for a lifetime.
There are moments of pride, so people love being recognized for things that they’ve accomplished. People love the feeling of accomplishment when we tackle a challenge analytically or intellectually, and master that challenge. And then there are moments of connection. Those are some of the most important moments of life. So all the pictures that you talk about earlier, if your house, God forbid some day it burns down, those are the things that you grab in those final moments is the pictures that you have about the people that you’ve been close to. And so what we find when we ask people, what are the most meaningful moments in their lives, we find those themes of elevation, pride, insight, connection coming up over and over again.
Peter: You have this amazing line. It actually might be my favorite line of the whole book, which is related to elevation, which is, beware of the soul sucking force of reasonableness. And I love it. I think it’s great. Can you speak to that and its role in creating a power … It’s importance in terms of creating a powerful moment.
Chip: Yeah. I think the insight is that the bureaucracies, as wonderful as they are, are designed to suppress good things. Right? They’re designed to do normal things reliably and well. And so one of our favorite examples in the book of an elevated moment is hotel in Los Angeles, one of the top three hotels in Los Angeles. And the competitors are these chic boutique hotels that Hollywood, have the big massive pools and the beautiful interiors, and cost $800 a night. And so one of the top three is one of the kind of boutique hotels. Another is the Four Seasons of Beverly Hills, which we know is a classic service brand. It’s an amazing facility. The other one is called The Magic Castle Hotel. It’s a converted 1960s apartment building painted kind of canary yellow, not particularly attractive shade of yellow. And yet, it is one of the top three hotels in all of Los Angeles. And one hint about what they’re doing right is by the pool, there’s red phone. Looks like Cold War era surplus, you know, the president might’ve used to call the premier of the Soviet Union at a tense moment.
And you pick up the phone … Well, above the phone is a sign that says, “Popsicle hotline.” And so you pick up the phone and somebody on the other end says, “We’ll be right there.” And a few minutes later, out of the office comes a person carrying a silver tray with white gloves, and they pass out popsicles to the people at the pool. And it’s a moment that everybody remarks on. Everybody remembers it after vacation. They called the Popsicle hotline and they get popsicles delivered by the pool. And yet, bureaucracy, the soul sucking force of reasonableness, would be anti Popsicle hotline. You can just hear the [crosstalk 00:15:45].
Peter: The CFO would say, “What are these costing us? How much money could we make if everybody paid a dollar for that at the end of the year?” And the staff time and et cetera.
Chip: Yeah. And the HR person’s going to be saying, “Well, we’ve got critical resources. We train our front desk people very intensively. And can we really afford to have them taking off and putting on gloves and walking around the pool?” And the operations person is saying, “Well, instead of the Popsicle hotline, why don’t we just have a self serve cooler by the pool?” So the organization, which you can and do with organizations do, which is to streamline things to make them normal, to make them standardized. And yet, what makes moments stand out very often is the un-standardized, the surprising, the different. And I think we do that in life.
If we’re planning a vacation, we plan probably a lot more relaxation than we should relative to novel events and novel things that we do with our families. So we’d go eat a burger or a pizza because that’s what the kids want to do, instead of trying the Hawaiian food that might be … We might not enjoy the meal even as much at the time, but later on when we talk about the trip, we’re going to be talking about that Hawaiian meal.
Peter: So we’re on this podcast, and there’s all sorts of things that we could do to make this a memorable moment for listeners. And I’m wondering how you take a moment that’s, in many ways, mundane. I am interviewing you and we’re having a conversation around the book and around the power of moments. And I don’t even know if this is a fair question, so tell me if this is not, you can’t think of moments in this way. But if we wanted to elevate this moment or hopefully we’re creating some insights, or do something to increase the power and memorability and meaningfulness of this moment for everybody who’s listening, what’s something that you would suggest?
Chip: Well, I think we’ve been doing it already. We’ve been telling stories. We’ve been making applications to people so that they will have insight in their lives. I think that’s my answer, is if organizations just told more stories, that would lead to more insight, lead to more elevation. I think the other point that we make in the book is, it takes some time to do these things. And so one of my favorite examples is a group of teachers that set out to create a moment that was as memorable as junior senior prom, but that was academic in nature. And it’s ironic that kids spend most of their time in class, and yet our memories of junior high and high school are probably the dances that we went to, the football games, the athletic competitions, the debate competitions.
And so they set out to create a moment. And what they did is, they came up with this idea of the trial of human nature. Remember The Lord of the Flies, this book that the kids get marooned on the deserted island and end up committing murder and devolving into this nasty, brutish behavior. And they said, “So you’re sitting in English class one day and somebody slaps a big, important looking legal document on your table. And it turns out it’s a lawsuit against William Golding, the author of Lord of the Flies, for libel against human nature.” And the way that this trial unfolds is they’re [inaudible 00:19:02]. Look, you’ve created this very popular book that defames humanity. And because of that, people look and violence and they say, “Oh, that’s normal. That’s expected because that’s human nature,” and yet, we should be outraged when there’s violence. We should be outraged at war. And William Golding, you’re responsible for this.
And so the way the trial unfolds is, the kids get to call any witness on the prosecution or the defense side that they would like. So you could call Ann Frank to testify about how brutish behavior is. You could call Tupac Shakur. Actually, there was a feud between East Coast and West Coast rappers at one point in the states, and so over the years, people have called lots of rappers. In fact, one of the only rules that they put into this event is, each side can only call two rappers in to testify on their side.
But every year, they conduct this trial. It’s conducted in a real courtroom in San Mateo County. It’s Hillsdale High in San Mateo, California that does this. A sitting Superior Court judge has agreed to preside for a day every year over the trial of human nature. And so the kids call their witnesses. They’ve called Darth Vader. They’ve called Jane Goodall to testify about chimpanzees, their closest relatives, and whether they’re violent or not. They called royalty from England. We’ve called Lady Macbeth. They called Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. And so they spend weeks preparing for this. The lawyers, the kid lawyers, know procedure incredibly well. The judge is always impressed by how well they do their objections and insight about the process of the trial.
And this is an event that becomes one of the defining moments of that high school history. One of the teachers at Hillsdale High said, “Every graduation speech by one of the kids, they’ll mention the trial of human nature as a stand out moment.” He said, “Nobody’s ever mentioned the prom.” And that’s a victory. And so one answer to your question about: What can we do on a podcast? Well, we shouldn’t be doing a podcast if we want a really memorable moment.
But within the constraints of the medium, what those teachers have done is clearly more effort. And they’re not getting paid for this. They’re not getting paid to arrange buses to drive their students to the Superior Courtroom of Hillsdale High. But was it worth it? Well, in an academic career, you probably went to good schools. I went to good schools. I went to public schools all my life. There were great teachers. There were great exercises. But for the 12 years that I went from grade school to high school, I can remember maybe three or four years where there was something that is a defining moment for me. And shouldn’t there be at least one per year that we have going to school?
Peter: Yeah. This is a great example of what you talk about in the book around breaking the script, which is that we sort of know what’s expected every day at school. But if suddenly someone plunks down a lawsuit.
Chip: Legal [inaudible 00:22:01].
Peter: A legal brief, and it starts a color war of sorts. It’s why when I think of color war at camp. And I think, “Why does camp need color war?” Because all of camp is. But if you’re going to take what’s already kind of memorable and dramatic every single day and you need to increase the drama of it in order to create a peak moment, you do something like color war. It sort of says that no matter what you’re doing, you can always sort of elevate the game in a way that changes the dynamic by breaking the script.
Chip: Yeah. And I think there are missed opportunities even in cultural events that are otherwise very well organized. So we take birthday parties. We do birthday parties for kids and occasionally for ourselves when we get big birthdays growing older. And they always involve elevation. We always have great food. Kid version of that is a little different than adult version of that. But think about a cupcake is the perfect compact moment of elevation. You’ve got sugar, fat, and flame in the same compact object. So we do elevation well. We do connection well with bringing in friends and family. But imagine what it’d be like to add a moment of insight.
So suppose every year of your life, you had written down one tip that you learned this year, one thing that you learned this year that you would like to leave for your future self. And imagine going back, and I would really love to go back and see what my 18 year old self said when I was 18, or my 30 year old self, or my 70 year old self. And so there are these things that we could do to add a little bit of extra to even that very well designed cultural event, and I don’t think we take those opportunities.
Peter: It’s great. You’ve just given me a task to follow through on with my three kids. And I’m hitting them a little late. The youngest is 10 and the oldest is 15. But it’s a great thing to get them to start doing now because I think it would be great to look back at that and to go, “What are the insights I’ve gleaned?” And it’s sort of the annual corollary to the daily practice of taking a one second video and then looking at a picture of your life for the year.
Chip: That’s right. That’s right.
Peter: Chip, it’s such a pleasure talking to you and kind of unpacking elements of this book. The book is such an interesting read. You and Dan do what you always do, which is, write in such engage stories that the principles sort of jump out at the page. You’re not listing a bunch of things to do. You’re telling the story of how you discovered all of this, and it’s really a fantastic read. The Power of Moments: Why Certain Moments Have Extraordinary Impact. It’s written by Chip and Dan Heath, who are brothers. We have Chip Heath with us today. Chip, thank you so much for being on The Bregman Leadership Podcast.
Chip: Thank you for having me.
Peter: I hope you enjoyed this episode of The Bregman Leadership Podcast. If you did, it would really help us if you subscribe on iTunes and leave a review. A common problem that I see in companies is a lot of busyness, a lot of hard work that fails to move the organization as a whole forward. That’s the problem that we solve with our big arrow process. For more information about that or to access all of my articles, videos, and podcasts, visit peterbregman.com. Thank you, Clare Marshall, for producing this episode, and thank you for listening.