An acquaintance opens up about a personal situation rather than making the usual small talk, and in a flash a lifelong friendship is born. A grade school teacher tells a child she has a talent for math and in just moments sets the student on the road to a career in engineering. A concierge goes above and beyond to track down a child’s lost toy and instantly converts the whole family into lifelong fans of the hotel chain.
These are defining moments—they can be positive or negative, and they have the power to shape our lives, our opinions and our preferences.
Bottom Line Personal interviewed Dan Heath, coauthor of the new book The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact, on how the tremendous power of these defining moments offers opportunities that usually are overlooked. We can seek out defining moments that will bring new meaning and happy memories to our lives…we can encourage defining moments with other people to deepen our relationships…and at work, we can create moments for our colleagues, employees and customers to build loyalty. Six ways from Dan Heath on how to make the most of defining moments…
Deliver—or seek out—moments of magic: The secret of the Popsicle hotline. The rooms at Los Angeles’s Magic Castle Hotel are spare and a bit dated—yet the hotel is one of the best-rated in the city by guests. The Magic Castle achieves its incredible popularity by creating unforgettable positive moments that cause most guests to look past its shortcomings. Example: There’s a red “Popsicle hotline” phone by the pool—guests use this to request free Popsicles, which are delivered to them poolside on a silver tray by a staffer wearing white gloves.
What you can do: To make your life more interesting and rewarding, seek out restaurants, hotels, stores and destinations that are described in reviews as distinctive or unique, not those described as flawless—distinctive creates moments that are remembered long after flawless has been forgotten. If you own or manage a business, inject personality and positive surprise into things that usually are mundane to create moments and build loyalty. Just make sure these moments feel special. It isn’t Popsicles that make the Popsicle hotline special—many hotels offer free snacks at the reception desk. It’s the drama of the red phone and the silver tray.
Transform transitions and milestones into celebrations: The secret of John Deere’s first day. When new hires arrive for their first day of work at John Deere, the farm-equipment manufacturer, a video screen in the lobby welcomes them by name…a banner by their desk alerts officemates to the new arrival so that they can stop by and introduce themselves…a small group gathers to take their new colleague to lunch. Contrast that with the conventional first-day-on-the-job experience—new hires often struggle to navigate an unfamiliar workplace, read a poorly written employee handbook and eat lunch alone. John Deere understands that transition days, such as the first day on the job (as well as milestone days, such as an employee’s tenth anniversary with the employer), are among the days most likely to produce defining moments. If the employer can make these days pleasant, it greatly increases the odds that employees will be happy and loyal.
What you can do: Seek out unusual transitions and milestones to celebrate in life (not only at work). Surprise your spouse with a gift to celebrate your 10,000th day together…surprise your neighbors with a bottle of Champagne to celebrate the anniversary of the day they moved in.
Create memorable moments to transition out of difficult times: The secret of the reverse wedding. Six years after her husband’s death, a widow finally was ready to move on, but she felt guilty about doing so. Her counselor’s solution—a “reverse wedding ceremony.” The woman’s friends and family gathered in the church where she had wed decades earlier, and her priest asked questions that followed up on her wedding vows. “Were you faithful in good times and bad? In sickness and in health?” The widow answered, “Yes,” to each, then the priest said, “May I have the ring, please?” She removed her wedding ring, and it was tied with her husband’s ring and placed in front of a picture of the couple. This ceremony became a defining moment for the widow—when guilt about moving on from her late husband welled up inside her, she recalled the ceremony and remembered that she had transitioned into a new phase of life.
What you can do: When you struggle to make a transition, you can stage a ceremony, celebration or some other memorable event to mark the end of one phase of your life and the start of another. Or turn the transition into a New Year’s resolution. New Year’s resolutions often work because the start of a new year lets people see a clean slate and mentally start anew—“last year’s me” might not have had the willpower to quit smoking, but “this year’s me” does.
Turn mistakes into positive moments: The secret of the custom home builder’s paradox. An executive at a company that builds custom homes recently shared one of his sector’s secrets—if a builder wanted to receive the highest possible customer-satisfaction scores, he wouldn’t build perfect homes. He would build homes that have one or two flaws…and then fix those flaws very well, very promptly and without complaint when the customer points them out. (Though this home builder insisted his company never intentionally made flaws.) Research suggests that he is right—correcting problems well is an excellent way to create positive defining moments. When a study asked participants to recall a recent satisfying customer experience, nearly one in four pointed to a service failure that was fixed to their satisfaction.
What you can do: Stop becoming defensive when you are told that you have made a mistake, whether it’s by your spouse or in your career. Instead, own up to the mistake and fix it to the best of your abilities while maintaining a positive attitude. You might end up looking better than if you had never made the mistake in the first place.
Let people discover the truth for themselves to inspire “aha!” moments: The secret of the Microsoft Azure rebuild. When Microsoft exec Scott Guthrie asked customers about the company’s Azure cloud-based computing service in 2011, the feedback was clear—the service was too hard to use. But Guthrie knew that this message could be met with resistance and defensiveness by his colleagues—nobody likes to be told bad news. So rather than tell his bosses and colleagues that there was a problem, he called a meeting and asked senior execs to use Azure for what should have been a simple task. These execs discovered for themselves that their product was hard to use, and they quickly ordered a rebuild.
What you can do: When possible, don’t tell people what you think—instead, put them in a situation where they can experience your insight for themselves. Let them experience their own “aha!” moment. These moments will stick with them much more than simply stating your opinion.
Turn ordinary conversations into relationship-transforming moments: The secret of Art Aron’s 36 questions. Participants in a study conducted by Arthur (Art) Aron, a social psychologist and professor with Stony Brook University, were each paired with a total stranger and given 36 questions to answer. The questions were designed to make them open up to each other, such as, “What would constitute a ‘perfect’ day for you?”…“What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?” and “Complete this sentence: ‘I wish I had someone with whom I could share…’”
Afterward, these participants were asked to rate how close they felt to the strangers with whom they had been paired. They had spoken for a total of only 45 minutes…yet they felt closer to each other than many people feel to their closest friends.
It turns out that it doesn’t take lots of time or even common interests to build a close relationship—all it takes is one moment where someone shares something personal and the other responds in kind.
What you can do: Stop answering with a rote “I’m fine” when people ask you how you’re doing. Instead, present them with an issue you’ve been mulling over, such as, “You know, I’ve been wrapped up with trying to figure something out all day…” Better yet, answer all 36 questions with someone with whom you would like to share a defining moment. (Download the free “36 Questions” app from iTunes or the App Store [iOS] or Play.Google.com [Android], or search online for “Arthur Aron 36 questions” to find them.)