A few small changes can make a big difference in moments at work, moments with your family, and even moments for yourself. Brothers Chip and Dan Heath have researched what matters in creating moments that matter. Here’s a great short video where they describe the value of Building Peaks rather than Fixing Potholes.
The Passport Office
Recently my husband, daughter and I had an appointment at the post office to get her a new passport. I was in the middle of reading The Power of Moments by brothers Chip Heath and Dan Heath. The book is all about how small changes can make big differences in our perception of a moment. Our time at the passport office was a perfect “before” picture — showing many possible points when a small change could have made a big difference.
The employee at the passport desk was the same one we worked with a number of years ago. The vibe she gave off both times is that she’s having a bad day, or doesn’t like her job, or is completely exhausted by the incompetence of everyone coming to her window. And I get it. I remember the days when I had one job to do and again and again customers would come to me who had not followed the simple directions that were right there. It can be exhausting and depressing.
So we slogged through our appointment. We were chastised because our printer printed our forms at 85%. We were sent away to fill out new forms at 100%. We were told everyone but the applicant must stand behind a wall — but my daughter had to repeatedly call to me–standing ten feet away–to help her answer a question or provide correct documentation. We all, on both sides of the window, got through the visit with grim determination.
On the way home, I was remembered the first time I went to an orthodontist office. I was helping out a friend whose young teenage son needed someone to drive him to his appointment. Growing up, I’d heard horror stories about the pain of having braces tightened. All my friends with braces dreaded the orthodontist. Henry, though? He was looking forward to it. He even put on a t-shirt with the orthodontist’s name on it. His little sister Lydia was jealous that she didn’t get to go. What was going on?
We arrived at the orthodontist and the kid checked himself in. Huh. He was treated as a full adult in the check-in process, and it was clear he was proud to be able to do that. After he checked in, he went straight to one of the video games in the lobby to play as he waited. He didn’t need to wait long before they took him back. He returned to me with a big grin on his face, and asked me what flavor slurpee I’d like. What? Yup. At his orthodontists, after every treatment the patient gets to pour themselves a big, ol slurpee to drink on the way home. It’s a win/win — the teens get a treat they like and the icy cold reduces any pain in their mouth. On the way home, Henry told me about the orthodontist’s point system. Patients get points for showing up, for wearing their branded t-shirt, for making their next appointment, for wearing their rubber bands and on and on. Those points add up towards a menu of prizes the patients can choose from. At the end of treatment, patients get a fancy Certificate of Completion and their photo on the office wall. My young friend’s parents got a formal thank you note from the orthodontist and staff. That whole family felt great about their experience with their orthodontist and recommended the practice to others. That practice created many memorable moments.
Spending Energy: Potholes or Peaks?
The Heath Brothers encourage us to spend less time on rectifying small problems (“potholes”) and instead spend our time and resources investing in the things that lead to memorable moments (“peaks”). With a few smallish changes, visiting the orthodontist went from being a miserable experience during my teen years to a fun part of a teen’s day for this current generation. So too, with a few smallish changes, applying for a passport could move from a slog to overcome into a memorable experience.
The Passport Office expended their energy on fixing potholes. They put up signs to remind people to print forms full size. They had tape on the ground reminding people to keep their distance. They had fresh copies of all the forms hanging conveniently on the wall. But none of these things actually lead to us feeling positive about our experience there.
What if the passport office offered sticky notes and markers, inviting people to write about their upcoming trips and stick them on the wall? What if there was a giant cardboard passport for taking selfies? What if there were passport versions of the “I Voted!” stickers? What if the passport officer’s script included, “Smile broadly and say, ‘Congratulations! Your passport information is complete.’” These small changes could help take applying for a passport from a task to get through and turn it into a Memorable Moment.
How to Make a Memorable Moment
Memorable Moments in our lives consist of some combination of four basic elements. In many cases not all of these elements are present in a single Memorable Moment. When we set out to create our own Moments, addressing a few of these can often do the trick. The four building blocks for Memorable Moments are:
We create moments of elevation when we build the peak or break the script. My kids still talk about the “All Treat Dinners” we did once or twice when they were little. On these occasions, we broke the script of eating healthy, well balanced meals and instead I served them bran muffins, knox blox made from fruit juice, frozen yogurt tubes and other “treats” which created a long-term Memorable Moment.
Our congregation builds the peak when we honor graduates. We could just send them a scholarship check in the mail. Instead, we present it to them during worship, along with a prayer shawl created in their school colors. We build the peak to make it a Memorable Moment.
To add insight into a moment, help participants trip over the truth or stretch for insight. The 2-day Racial Equity Institute Workshop does this well. Instead of only lecturing about racial realities in the US, they also ask participants to brainstorm what is good about their own race. Many times when white people are asked this question, they end up tripping over the truth that in the U.S. white is the norm. They have a difficult time answering questions about “whiteness” and that struggle gives them the opportunity to stretch for insight.
Increasing pride can be done through recognition, milestones, or courage. Simply recognizing accomplishments can increase pride — like a passport officer telling a new applicant “Congratulations.”
Parents and schools understand the value of milestones when they use sticker charts to help kids track their progress towards new goals.
The third way of instilling pride is through courage. This can be done in obvious ways by being brave, but another way to build pride is to have a plan in place to do something new or difficult, and then doing it. A person is anxious about discussing a sensitive topic with her supervisor. She role plays a conversation with her therapist, then initiates that conversation with her boss. Doing that hard thing results in a feeling of pride and accomplishment.
The final element in Memorable Moments is connection. Three ways to add or deepen connection are through shared meaning, deepening ties, and making moments matter.
The “We will!” response from congregations at baptisms and weddings is a small example of creating shared meaning. Although everyone in the group doesn’t know one another, we all pledge to support this person/couple, and in that we create shared meaning with one another.
The Heath brothers explain that deepening ties happens through understanding, validation, and caring. One simple suggestion they share for deepening connection is by purposely inviting a conversation to get to know one another better. Whether strangers or intimate partners, practicing even a relatively short conversation that invites real sharing leads to an increased feeling of connection. If you’d like to try this yourself, Greater Good in Action shows you how.
Whether you’re wanting to create a great family vacation, connect people more deeply to your congregation, or just create a special day off for yourself, finding ways to add Elevation, Insight, Pride, and Connection can take any event and make it a Memorable Moment.
How might you use these ideas at home or at work? Comment below or email me to share.