[00:00:19.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success. Introducing your host, Matt Bodnar.
[0:00:11.8] MB: Welcome to the Science of Success; the number one evidence-based growth podcast on the internet with more than two million downloads, listeners in over a hundred countries and part of the self-help for smart people podcast network.
In this episode, we explore the power of moments in our lives. Moments are the way that we remember our lives. They define us, and yet, we don’t have a coherent way of thinking about and understanding them. Can you engineer the defining moments of your life? Can you create more moments that are powerful and impactful? We discussed this and much more with our guest, Dan Heath.
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In our previous episode, we looked at the gap that exists between learning and doing. Why it is that so many smart ambitious people invest hours in their growth and development, but fail to see breakaway external results for the time that they've invested? If you sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the things you know you could, or should be doing to level up your life or career, then our previous episode will blow your mind.
We explore what science is telling us about the actual execution of concrete individual growth and measurable upward mobility across various dimensions of life. We share the most effective tactic for moving yourself from learning to doing with our very special guest, Peter Shallard. Our interview last week is what you need to finally take action on what you've been procrastinating on.
That episode is one of the most unique and powerful episodes we've done on the Science of Success. I highly recommend checking our previous episode out, our interview with Peter Shallard. It will make a tremendous impact on you.
Now, for our conversation with Dan.
[0:03:25.4] MB: Today, we have another awesome guest on the show, Dan Heath. Dan is a senior fellow at Duke University's Case Center, where he founded the Change Academy. He received his MBA from Harvard Business School and is the co-author of several New York Times bestsellers. His recent book Switch was named one of the best non-fiction books of the year and spent almost an entire year on the bestseller list. Dan, welcome to the Science of Success.
[0:03:51.5] DH: Thanks for having me on Matt. It's a pleasure.
[0:03:53.3] MB: Well, we're really excited to have you on the show today. Your books are obviously really well-known and me and Austin are both big fans of you and your work and your brother's work.
[0:04:01.5] DH: Thank you.
[0:04:02.0] MB: To get started, I'd love to dig into your most recent book and talk about the power of moments. What led you to think about moments? Why was that the catalyst of the new thing that you wanted to dig into and study next?
[0:04:17.2] DH: Well, appropriately enough the power of moments actually emerge from a very specific moment when Chip and I were together. Chip and I live on opposite coasts. He's on the West Coast and I'm East Coast, and so we only actually see each other maybe once or twice a year. One of those is at Christmas. A couple years back, we were at our father's house in Durham, North Carolina where I also live and we had squirreled ourselves away into an office to do some work. We’re actually working on a different book, and it was a book that had just become a bit of a slog. We had put in probably six or nine months’ worth of work,
We were getting into that sunk cost stage of, we were reluctant to give it up because we put in so much work, but we weren't super jazzed about keeping going. At some point in this conversation, this phrase popped out of conversation defining moments. I think mainly as a way to procrastinate our real work, we started just riffing on defining moments and talking about defining moments and politics, like some of your older listeners will remember when George Bush Senior was running for president against Clinton, he had that moment where he professed amazement at a UPC scanner in the grocery store. That was supposed to illustrate that he was old and not a touch. That was a defining moment in politics.
You think about defining moments in sports, and as an example that beautiful medal ceremony that happens at the Olympics and just all the pageantry and the pride that goes with that. The amazing realization that there was a human being that just thought that up. I like to picture them in a conference room with a whiteboard and they're like, “What if the athletes were standing here and here and the flags go up and the anthem?” In other words, the moment was designed. We started getting into the academic research that that plays into what makes moments special.
Anyway, we riff and riff on this and it's just this uncontrollable brainstorming session and we probably filled up 10 or 12 pages in a Word document just with associations and mysteries, and we come out an hour later into the living room where everybody's gathered and we tell them, “We've got a new book idea.” There was this visible sense of relief on all their faces, because apparently, they had all despised the other topic we were working on, but hadn't had the heart to tell us.
That was the birth of this book. The gist is true to that original moment, to be honest. It's a book about why it is that certain brief moments in our lives have such disproportionate memorability and meaning, that if you think across your life there are probably 10 or 15 or 20 moments that are worth in the sense of their relative importance in your life 10 years. The question is why? What makes these moments? Can we learn to be more in control of them, to be more intentional about creating more defining moments in our life and work?
[0:07:22.3] MB: Why is that the case?
[0:07:25.3] DH: Well, there are some patterns that we found as we looked at very different kinds of moments. When I talk about moments, of course there's a strong personal element here. You think about the moments when you found your calling, or you found your partner, or even just moments that were special to you, moments with your kids around vacations. We're also talking about moments at different scales, so we're also pointing out that really for any given span of experience, whether it's a lifetime or the span of a hotel stay, or the span of a college semester, for any given span of experience there are certain moments that are disproportionately memorable and meaningful.
The question is, are there patterns that link these ideas that happen on very different scales? The answer we came up with was yes. That in fact, they share four patterns, or four elements, if you will, that they seem to be made of similar ingredients. The first of those ingredients is elevation; that these moments seem to lift us above the everyday. You think about some birthday party and there's games and decorations and cake. It's engineered to create positive emotions.
The second is insight. These are moments when in an instant, we realize something about ourselves, or our world and sometimes those insights are amazing and pleasant. You look across the dinner table and you realize the person you're dining with is going to be your spouse, your soulmate. Sometimes they can be sobering. You realize you can't take another day of this job that you're in. The point is that in an instant, your view of the world can shift.
The third of these elements is pride. What's interesting about pride is, my guess is everybody listening right now has a stash of personal mementos that you keep somewhere in your house, and maybe in a box, in the attic, or buried in the back of a drawer. It’s like if there was a museum of your life, these would be some of the exhibits; just things that you can't bear to throw away. They have special significance to you and would probably be valueless to anyone else, but to us they're priceless.
My guess is that a lot of those mementos are actually relics of moments of pride in your life, or potentially your kids’ lives, their awards, or certificates, or thank-you notes from people who are important to you, or trophies that you couldn't bear to throw away, or diplomas. Moments of pride are times when we're at our best and times when we’re recognized for what we're capable of.
Then the final element, so we've talked about elevation, insight, pride, the final element is connection. It's so often these meaningful memorable moments are moments when we deepen our ties to other people. That could be in a personal relationship. It can sometimes be among groups too. What's interesting about groups is groups often bond together in times of struggle. What brings groups together is not just happy, happy, happy time. You think about boot camp, what creates lifelong attachments among people who've been through boot camp together is that they had to struggle.
You think about volunteering for Habitat for Humanity and spending a weekend putting up a house, like that's connection born of struggle. The point is two things. Number one, if you look at powerful moments, they tend to be composed of these four elements we talked about. The more important point is that you can flip that around and make it practical. That is to say if you want to create better experiences in your own life, or for the customers you serve, or for the patients you serve, for the students you serve, these are the ingredients, these are the colors in your palette in order to create greater experiences.
[0:11:27.4] MB: That's fascinating. I want to dig into how we can be more intentional about creating these moments. Before we get into that, I want to dig deeper into the importance of moments and why they're so critical. When we look back across our lives and the way we think about our memories and our experiences, do we weigh and treat each memory and each experience equally?
[0:11:53.3] DH: Certainly not. Yeah, and in fact, that's one of the most important realizations that came to us through this book and that we're trying to communicate to our readers. Let me back up and I'll tell a quick story and then I'll overlay the academic research on that, so we understand these peculiar properties of memory.
There's a hotel in Los Angeles called The Magic Castle Hotel. My guess is most of the people listening haven't stayed there. Just conjure up in your mind, The Magic Castle Hotel. Let me first tell you, it looks nothing like your mental image that you're conjuring up. It is an utterly ordinary looking motel, really more so than a hotel. It's actually a two-story apartment building that was built in the 50s that was later converted over to this hotel use; painted bright yellow. The rooms are totally average. I stayed there myself. It would be doing well to compete with the Holiday Inn Express. The lobby is completely underwhelming. It looks vaguely like the waiting area of a place you might get your oil changed.
The question is why am I talking about this totally normal unassuming place? The reason is because if you go to TripAdvisor right now and you search for LA hotels, the Magic Castle Hotel is rated number two in all of Los Angeles ahead of the Ritz-Carlton, ahead of the Four Seasons. How in the world could that be true? Well, what The Magic Castle has figured out is that moments have power. One of my favorite examples is by the pool in a courtyard of this facility, there's a cherry red phone mounted on the wall. Just above the phone there's a sign that says, “Popsicle hotline.” If you pick up the phone somebody says, “Popsicle hotline will be right out.”
Within minutes, somebody comes out wearing a suit, holding a silver tray that's loaded up with grape and orange and cherry popsicles. They bring the tray over to you at poolside and they're carrying the tray wearing white gloves like an English butler. They do all of this for free. They have a snack list menu where you can order cracker jacks and sour patch kids and root beer at the front desk, all that stuff is for free just for asking. You can check out board games to play with your families, or movies to watch, they have magicians doing tricks in the lobby several times a week. They'll do your laundry if you drop it off in the morning, return it washed and folded by the end of the day.
When I describe that side of The Magic Castle, you can start to put it together how – if your family's taking a vacation in Southern California, you might actually choose the Magic Castle straight up over the Ritz-Carlton. Why? Because they're delivering a better experience. This is where the research on memory comes into play, because what we know about our memories of experiences are two things.
Number one, there's a phenomenon called duration neglect which says that we tend to forget the length of experiences. What we're left with when we remember things are certain moments, certain scenes, certain fragments. This is very easy to test for yourself. Just remember some semester in college, or a work project from a year or two ago, or the last vacation you took and you'll notice our memories aren't like videos that we can watch beginning to end. They degrade. What we're left with are a certain set of seemingly random snippets, except that of course they're not random.
In fact, psychologists have discovered that there are two kinds of moments that we disproportionately recall. We recall the peak, or the peaks of the experience, which are the most positive moments and a positive experience, and we remember the transition points, the beginnings and the endings. If you think about the Magic Castle story through this lens, what you see immediately is that the Magic Castle Hotel is really good at creating peak moments.
What's fascinating about that is it's almost they've exploited in a good way this property of memory. They know that a year down the road, you're going to forget that your room was average, you're going to forget that the amenities in the bathroom weren't fancy, you're going to forget that the lobby wasn't that cool or well-designed. What you're going to remember is there was this phone by the pool that if you picked it up, it was a popsicle hotline. That's the significance of this is that that all of us to some extent are in the business of creating experience for other people.
Again, it might be our kids, or our customers, or our patients. What we need to realize is to create a great experience for people, that doesn't mean nonstop perfection. There's a lot that's imperfect about the Magic Castle Hotel. If we get the peaks right and if we get the transitions right, we can create a great experience that doesn't bankrupt us, or doesn't mean we have to have every detail impeccable, and that's what moments can do.
[0:17:09.2] MB: That's fascinating and such a great story, especially I've looked at some of the photos of the Magic Castle and I know you have a YouTube video where you share some of those images, and it really is – it's almost shockingly unremarkable. I mean, it literally looks like a Holiday Inn or something. It's totally plain and yet, it's amazing that they're literally more highly rated than the Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons.
[0:17:33.4] DH: Yeah. I love the fact that that number three, and the last time I checked on the list was the Four Seasons Beverly Hills. I mean, if that doesn't tell you something about the power of these ideas, the fact that that somewhere that is one-twentieth as nice and as luxurious as the Four Season Beverly Hills can actually win the competition and the customers minds, I mean, that's extraordinary.
[0:17:57.2] MB: I think it underscores this broader point that you're talking about really, really beautifully that we don't – we think in moments, and we remember our lives not as a clean narrative of this and this and this and this, but really as a series of experiences and moments that happened.
[0:18:14.9] DH: Yeah. I think that's well-said. I think the aha for Chip and me was this is one of those things that Chip and I both love things that are obvious in retrospect. Like obvious when you say them, and yet, no one is living that way. What I mean is, I think all of us, we realize when we look back on our experiences, hey we don't retain the whole thing, hey there are moments that we recall, and moments are really the medium of memories. Yet, we don't live in a way that is intentional about creating more moments. I'll give you an example of how this changed my life in a small way. You remember the solar eclipse from gosh, was it last year or the year prior?
[0:18:58.5] MB: Oh, yeah.
[0:18:58.9] DH: I live in North Carolina and we were not in the – what do they call it? The path of totality. We were not in the path, but we were close. I had to drive from Durham where I live to Asheville. My wife and I were talking about this and it meant we would have to take a day off at work and we'd have to deal with childcare.
It was like a three and a half hour drive each way. We knew, there were going to be a ton of other crazies on the road too, so it may be a five-hour drive by the time you add in the traffic. Anyway, we were weighing this in a cost and benefits way. The evidence was pretty conclusive that we should have just stayed at home and watched this on YouTube, right? I mean, there's just so much inconvenience and nuisance tied up with this. When you start thinking about this through the lens of moments, what you realize is two years from now we're not going to remember that it took an hour to line up childcare, we're not going to remember there was a nuisance to be stuck in traffic, or that we had to take a day off of work.
What we're going to remember is being there at this very special time. We did it. You know what? It was exactly as we expected it to be. Most of that day was a nuisance. We listen to some good music and good podcasts on the road, but nobody wants to spend five or six hours that day on the road, no matter how good the podcast is. When we got there, would you believe it was so overcast, we couldn't even see the eclipse. Of course, what we did see was that in a matter of seconds, the world goes completely dark. The insects start to chirp, because they think it's nighttime, and then a minute or two later when the sun starts to dawn again, the birds start chirping like it's the beginning of the morning, and it was extraordinary.
I can already feel the fading happening with all of the stuff surrounding the eclipse. I really cherished that moment that we had there. That's an example of how this property of memory that seems obvious when we think about it can actually become if you flip it around, a filter for how to think about living a more meaningful memorable life.
[0:21:09.3] MB: That's fascinating and it's really interesting, because there's this counterintuitive element where you're actively inconvenience – you're inconveniencing yourself and making yourself less happy in the present, but creating a memory that actually makes you think that you're happier, feel happier in the future.
[0:21:29.9] DH: Exactly. Right. I mean, I think that's one of the real tensions that we came across in researching this book is that a lot of our lives are engineered to make things smoother. To a first approximation, well what we try to do in our lives is what we did yesterday, but a little faster, a little more efficient, fewer kinks, fewer problems. It's like we're in a smoothing operation.
There was a great quote from the authors of a book called Surprise, that they said, “We feel most comfortable when things are certain, but we feel most alive when they're not.” I think that captures the heart of this tension that the normal routines of everyday life are designed to iron out wrinkles and problems and bumps and novelty. Yet, it's precisely novelty that is memorable. There's a phenomenon called the reminiscence bump in psychology, where if you ask people just unprompted to talk about their memories from life, they tend to disproportionately recall memories from the period roughly from age call it 16 to 30, which if you're talking to a 75-year-old is what? A fifth of their life and yet, the dominant portion of their most memorable moments comes from that era. The question is why?
The answer is this is a period of extraordinary novelty in our lives. It's our first kiss, it's our first girlfriend or boyfriend, it's our first time away from our parents, it's our first job, it's our first falling in love, it's our first time moving cities, it's our first time managing our own finances and on and on and on and on. It's this extraordinary time of upheaval both good and bad. Then as you go through life in your 30s and 40s and 50s, there's nothing that dramatic that really happens, right?
You find the person that you want to spend your life with, you find the job that you really appreciate, you find the community where you want to put down roots. Those are incredibly positive things. I'm not arguing that we should rip up our lives for the sake of ginning up memories. One side effect of that is that we are not laying down as many dramatic and memorable moments as we were in our youth. The question is what do we do about that?
I think that the answer is really as simple as that old saw variety is the spice of life. Notice it doesn't say variety is the entree of life, right? It's variety is a spice. Meaning that we can get a lot of bang for our buck with moments. What it means is as we say in the book, we've got to learn to break the script more often, to disrupt those routines. When we were writing the book, we would periodically test out ideas with our readers.
We were both surprised, Chip and I, that one of their favorite exercises was something that we thought was just so simple and almost corny. We called it the Saturday Surprise. The assignment was all the things that you usually do on your Saturday, whatever that means for your family, maybe it's the same breakfast and cartoons and a visit to Home Depot, or whatever the norm is for you, your job is to disrupt those norms.
People would do these crazy things. They would treat their own city as if they were a tourist and go to the top couple rated sites, many of which of course they hadn't seen, because they were locals. Or one family put their daughter in charge of the day and let her run all of the activities. Another group decided to drive three hours away and spend the day with family they didn't get to see very much. They just felt extraordinarily positive about these experiences. It was like, they got this rush of joy and memorability. It was nothing fancier than just saying, “Hey, part of what we've got to learn to do is resist our routines sometimes, to just disrupt them.” That's the source of novelty and novelty is the source of a memory.
[0:25:37.7] MB: Really, really interesting. I mean, I think as especially someone I spend a lot of time thinking about memory, it's fascinating to play with the idea of how do I engineer life and engineer experiences that are going to be more rich and more fulfilling?
[0:25:55.5] DH: Yeah. Well, I'm curious about your experience. Have you played around with things that seem to be working? How has that philosophy changed what you seek out?
[0:26:04.4] MB: Well, I think this – I mean, your book and this conversation especially, I actually, I wrote the words ‘create more moments’ in gigantic letters, taking up basically an entire page of a word document and I'm going to print that out and put it up right behind my computer just as a reminder for myself to create more moments, because I think it's something that with a little bit of whether it's either for side or spontaneity, or whatever, you can really create so much more richness in your life and something that I find inspiring and personally for me, something that I want to move towards.
[0:26:39.9] DH: I should also say – I mean, we're talking a lot about the importance of these ideas for our personal lives, and I think that's key to the book. There's this whole other layer of thinking outward, of thinking about the people that we serve. I'll give you an example, when you start thinking in moments you start spotting these things that are just absurd if not infuriating.
I was working with a retail bank in Australia and we were talking about this special relationship that banks have what their customers is very unusual; a relationship that lasts decades. Banks are actually privy to a lot of the most important things that happen in your life. Banks will tend to know when you get married, because there's another name on your account, and they'll know when you start and stop jobs because your direct deposit changes, and they'll know how things are going for your retirement, because you're saving or not saving and on and on and on.
We were talking about what kinds of moments could a bank create, or its customers to deepen that relationship? One of the things we landed on was imagine when you finally pay off your mortgage. Potentially, the fruits of 30 years of diligent payments and how good that should feel, and then we were saying, that should be a capital M moment, where the manager from your local branch comes to your door and knocks on the door and brings you flowers and shakes your hand and says, “Congratulations, you finally got there.” By the way, and they pull out your deed that's now yours. They've been holding it to secure your loan, but now it's yours free and clear.
They framed the deed, they hand it to you. They say, “Congratulations. This place is a 100% yours.” This great moment of elevation and pride and connection. We were brainstorming about this and somebody in the back of the room raises their hand and says, “I work in the mortgage department here and not only do we not do that, we actually charge people a deed transfer fee when they complete their mortgage, and we charge them $75 or whatever it was to flip the deed over into their name.”
The whole crowd just groans, because you start to realize that when you tune in to the fact that moments have this disproportion and importance and you tune in to the fact that we can to a certain extent predict which moments should be more important than others, like this this cresting the mountain moment of paying off your mortgage, you realize just what an asinine idea it is to charge someone of be at that moment. I think instantly they all realized it and unfortunately, to their credit I came back about 18 months later they said they had actually started piloting this this home visit idea, which I thought was just genius.
[0:29:31.0] MB: That's fascinating. I think this is a good opportunity to broaden the focus and segue more into how we can think about not only engineering these moments for ourselves, but also how we can engineer them for other people. Before we dig into that, one other thing that I wanted is just circle back to that, I thought was really fascinating in the context of coming back to this idea of the magic castle and the story behind that.
One of the things that, I forget if you said it in a speech, or you wrote it, but it was this idea and juxtaposing the furnishings and how simple they were, versus how amazing the experiences were there, was this idea that fixing problems is not what makes people happy. Could you extrapolate on that, especially now that we're moving into the transition of talking more about creating moments outside of ourselves?
[0:30:21.4] DH: Yeah. For anybody who cares about the customer experience, I think this is a really important point. The idea is the way that we've been trained in the business world to create a better customer experiences is what do you do? Number one, you gather feedback from your customers, you take surveys or interview them or whatever. Then you fix the things they're complaining about. That makes sense, right? Of course, you want to fix things that your customers find dissatisfying. The issue is that fixing problems doesn't make people happy. Fixing problems whelms people.
What it means by whelmed is it doesn't overwhelm them, it doesn't underwhelm them, it just whelms them. Things are working as they expected them to work. If your cable TV functions exactly as it's supposed to for a full month, that's not something that makes you giddy with excitement. You're not going to look back on that period nostalgically a couple of years down the road. It's whelming; things are working as they're supposed to.
Whelming is good, because lord knows there are a lot of products and services in the world that are underwhelming and it caused us frustration and disappointment. We have tech support calls. Whelming means we've basically delivered the goods as expected. That's a very different thing than delight, or joy, or having such a delightful experience that you determined to share it with all the people in your network. The way I would explain that is to say imagine two versions of the Magic Castle Hotel.
We've described this place. There's this very mediocre looking place. Imagine 20 years ago, or whenever the Magic Castle converted over from an apartment, imagine two doppelgänger versions of the Magic Castle. They're starting with the same physical facility, but they run it in different ways. In doppelgänger one, they run the game plan that I talked about earlier, with the focus on moments and experiences and the popsicle hotline and the board game menu and so forth.
In doppelgänger two, imagine that they just relentlessly take survey data and fix all the things that people are complaining about. When people complain their pillows are too soft, they firm up the pillows, and when people complain the rooms are too dim, they add lighting and when people complain it took too long to check in, they add staffers to fix that. My question to you is where do we think that those two doppelgängers would end up on something like the TripAdvisor rating system? My contention is that the problem fixing doppelgänger of the Magic Castle would end up at about rank 1,100, while the moment creating version is where it is which is number two.
I think there's this divide that is a little bit counterintuitive that if what we want is to create a memorable experience for people, great experiences hinge on peak moments, but peak moments don't create themselves and furthermore, fixing problems won't create peak moments.
[0:33:29.0] MB: If peak moments don't create themselves, how do we set about creating them? Let's start for ourselves and then ultimately for others as well.
[0:33:40.3] DH: Well, I think that's the very topic of the book is once you clue into this idea that great experiences hinge on peak, moments how do you create them and that's where the four-part framework elevation insight pride and connection comes in. As you think to yourself, what great experiences are made over these four elements? How can we boost these elements? I'll give you an example of something that was done for employees. There's a woman who worked at John Deere named Lonnie Lawrence Fry, and one thing she had observed was that they were not really investing in the first day of work for a new employee, which is the reason we can know in advance that's an important moment is because it's a transition point.
Remember we talked earlier about peaks and transitions are disproportionately memorable. If you're clued into that, you have some natural intuition like, “Hey, we better get this right, because this is a big transition for new employees. They're coming to a new place, working with new people on new work, it's a physical environmental and social transition, we better get this right.” Yet, the vast majority of companies half-assed that day. You show up and the receptionist didn't think you were starting until the next week and you get to your computer and it's there, but it's not set up and you have to wait for IT to set up your internet account.
Some Good Samaritan whisks you around to meet 22 people in eight minutes and you forget all their names immediately, and that's the first day. This woman Lonnie Lawrence Fry said it can be something more. They created this extraordinary experience, I'll walk you through this from the perspective of a new hire. You sign your offer letter and before you even start, you start getting e-mails from a buddy on your team and they send you a photo and they introduce themselves and they tell you about where people eat lunch and where to park on your first day, what to wear to the office.
You show up on your first day at 9:00 a.m. and there's your buddy at the front door. They're holding a cup of coffee for you, they're there to greet you, shake your hand and of course, you recognize them from the photo they sent. They bring you into the lobby and the first thing you notice is your name is in bright lights, like on the on the monitors in the lobby it says, “Welcome Dan.” You’re like, “Wow, that's cool. That was thoughtful.”
They bring you up to your desk and you've already got your first e-mail and it turns out is from the CEO of John Deere, Sam Allen and he sent a little video in which he talks about his career at John Deere, he wishes you luck. He talks about the mission of John Deere, the place that you're joining and he says, “Our mission is to try to provide the food and the shelter and the infrastructure that are going to be needed by a growing global population.” Then your colleagues take you offsite to have a nice lunch and they pepper you with questions about your background and tell you some of what's going on and over the course of the afternoon, your boss and your boss's boss both stop by to make appointments to take you out for coffee in the next week.
I've just hit a fraction of what actually goes on, but the point is by the end of the day you walk out thinking, “Man, we're really doing work that matters here. I seem to matter to the people around me. They seem to want me here.” That's a powerful feeling. Back to that framework we've been talking about, I mean, this is all four elements. The elevation of seeing your name in bright lights in the lobby and the insight that comes from learning what your colleagues are up to and how it fits into the big picture and the pride that comes from working for a place that fights for food and shelter on a global basis, and of course, the connection of getting to know someone even before you walked in the front door the first day.
That is an engineered moment that someone just created from scratch, that has a big impact on employees. If the book could be reduced to one sentence, it's we can be the authors of peak moments, in the same way that Lonnie Lawrence Fry was.
[0:37:48.2] MB: It's really interesting, because it's another great example. When you think about your first day at work in many, many of these transition points in life, there's so many missed opportunities to create these unique memorable moments for people. One of the other things that you wrote about and talked about in the book is this idea of using moments as a communication tool. I'm a very analytical person, and so when I typically try to convince someone to something, I'll explain everything and walk them through here's reason one and two and all this stuff. In the chapter where you talk about tripping over the truth, you had some really good stories about how powerful moments can be as an explanatory tool, or as a communication device as well.
[0:38:38.4] DH: Yeah, let me tell you a story that's actually not in the book, but I think illustrates this concept we're talking about. I met a small business owner who owned a manufacturing company in the Midwest. He fancied himself an enlightened owner. He'd done a lot of things to try to make his employees lives better, including starting a 401k plan, and he had a pretty generous match, it was 6% or 8% as I recall. He got a little frustrated that nobody seemed to be signing up for this.
He was expecting they had all make rampant use of it. He tried pestering them and reminding them of the enrollment and sending around the forms that you needed to sign up and so forth and nothing really seemed to move the needle. This one day, he brings everybody together into the conference room and he's the last one to enter. He comes in without saying a word and he's holding this medical bag, this doctor's bag that looks heavy, and comes over to the table in the center and unzips it, turns it upside down and out pours this huge pile of cash which gets everybody's attention in the room.
Then he explains. He says, “You see this pile here, this is the amount of money that all of you just voluntarily gave up by not maxing out your 401K contribution.” He said, “At the end of this meeting, I'm going to take all this cash and I'm going to scoop it back in this bag. I'm going to zip it back up, I'm going to take it back to the bank and I'm going to put it in my account.” He said, “My question to you is we're going to do this again at the same day next year and do you want this cash in your pocket next year, or in mine?” He said there was a rush to sign up for the 401K plan that day.
That's an example of something as you said that we call tripping over the truth. It's a moment of insight. What's interesting about it is that it comes with speed, it comes with force. There's this aha that happens in your brain when you imagine being in that room and seeing that cash and feeling this twinge of, “Oh, gosh. I can't believe I gave up that opportunity to have that be my money.” That's a very different strategy than we’re used to when we try to persuade people, or gain people's support for our ideas.
A lot of times, we just try explaining things to people. It's like we just want to dump information on them, or we want to share our conclusions and share our bar graphs and our Excel spreadsheets. What's far more powerful for that is to figure out a way that we can reconstruct the insight that we had and allow them to discover it. That's what tripping over the truth is about is can we put people in a situation where the discovery is theirs, where the insight, the epiphany happens in their brains and it's not just an information distribution effort, which is the way that I think most people and organizations function. Our call to people is if you need other people's support, can you think about a way as in this example of the table full of cash, to have them trip over the truth?
[0:41:53.9] MB: Yeah, I absolutely love the story of the 401K. I think it's such a powerful illustration. What would be a tactic or a strategy that you would recommend for somebody like me who typically thinks and tries to explain everything so analytically to people. How can I step back and how can listeners like me step back and think about what's a way to turn this into a moment that can create a burst of insight for somebody?
[0:42:23.9] DH: John Kotter, who's the organizational change guru from Harvard Business School, he's got a great model that I think is relevant for this. He says that the way change happens in organizations is we think it's all very analytical and people think their way through and they make plans. He says that what he's seen is that there's a three-step process that happens. The people see something that makes them feel something that leads them to change; see, feel, change.
That's a very useful mental model of how change actually happens at the human level; see, feel change. I was working with a group from DuPont at one point and they told me about some efforts they had underway to reduce waste in factories. They said it like the 401K story. They said they had struggled and they'd communicated a lot about why this was important and why it was strategic and here's the money that's at stake and so forth. Yet, just wasn't catching on.
One of the factory foreman just one day took a bunch of his employees in a van over to the landfill where DuPont factories deposited the stuff that they were throwing out. There was a whole section of this landfill that was basically devoted to DuPont's trash. He took them out there and they piled out and they just took in this awesome, in a negative way landscape of trash and realized like this is ours, this is our waste. There was something about that that just seemed wrong, seemed emotional in a way that none of the information and the strategy and the financial logic weren't.
That, the foreman told me was the real start of the initiative, the real moment when people claimed is theirs. Then that's a classic example of what Kotter is talking about, that the people saw something that made them feel something, that gave them the desire to change. I think thinking in these emotional moments, I think would be my advice to people who are trying to change things.
[0:44:29.9] MB: What role do rituals play in crafting these moments?
[0:44:36.6] DH: Rituals in what sense?
[0:44:38.3] MB: I mean, I guess thinking about when we look at – the example I was specifically thinking of was the story of the woman who couldn't get over her husband.
[0:44:49.1] DH: Yeah. Well, what's interesting is a lot of the capital letter moments that cultures have created, we think of wedding days and birthday parties and Bar Mitzvahs and Quinceañeras and graduations, there are moments that mark transitions in life. A wedding is an obvious transition, really important transition in the life of a person. The same with a graduation ceremony and the same with the Bar Mitzvah.
What's also interesting is there are other transitions in life that seem to lack these moments associated with them. It can become a challenge for the rest of us to spot these missing moments and try to create something to demarcate them. Let me give you a concrete example of what I'm talking about. There was a woman whose husband had passed away. They had been loyal faithful Catholics and that had always been the heart of their relationship. It had been gosh, what? Six or seven years, I think since the husband had passed away. He'd had Lou Gehrig's disease and had a slow painful decline.
Six or seven years later, this widow comes to a counselor named Kenneth Dhoka and says, “I feel like I'm ready to start dating again, to maybe have a relationship, but I just can't take my wedding ring off. It feels disloyal. I believe that marriages are for life.” On the other hand, she knew that it was for life and she had honored her commitment to her husband, and so she felt stuck.
This counselor Kenneth Dhoka has written a lot about the power of rituals to help people who are grieving. He came up with this idea. He worked with her Catholic priest to create a ceremony one Sunday afternoon after mass, and he brought together most of her close friends and family members, many of whom had been in her wedding. The priest called them up around the altar and he started to ask her some questions. “Were you faithful in good times and bad?” “Yes, I was.” “In sickness and health?” “Yes.”
The priest basically led her through her wedding vows, but in the past tense. It gave her the chance to affirm to the people that were gathered together that she had been faithful, she had been loyal, she'd honored her commitments. Then the priest said, “May I have the ring, please?” She takes it off her finger and hands it to the priest and she said later that she felt at that moment the ring just came up as if by magic. The priest took the ring and he arranged for her ring and her husband's ring to be interlocked together and then affixed to their wedding photo.
This ceremony, basically what it's doing is it's allowing her to signal publicly that her identity is about to change. It was it was a moment that allowed her a fresh start. I think this is a really interesting story, because it clues you in on the fact of how pivotal moments are in our lives. The fact that we look to a moment to capture and demarcate a couple getting married, and we look to a moment in the form of a funeral to provide closure for someone who we cared about, and we look for a graduation to signal the transition from student to employee.
It makes you think, we've got to be careful in life when there are really important transitions like this one from being a widow to being someone who's ready for another relationship, that if those transitions are missing moments, it often creates this unease. This widow is struggling with, “Is it okay for me to do this and how are people going to look at me if I do this? Do I feel okay about this?” The ceremony that priest and Kenneth Dhoka created allowed all of that to be condensed into a day. It's like before that day, she was not ready, after that day. That's I think that the power of ritual and what a moment can do.
[0:49:04.5] MB: I think that's a great example too of a nebulous process, finding and creating a moment that anchors that transition point and ties all those things together really neatly.
[0:49:19.0] DH: There's some research by the way on a less emotional scale on what's called the fresh start effect. A professor named Katherine Milkman was it was the lead on this body of research. Her insight was we do this thing, New Year's resolutions every year. Basically to a first approximation, everybody's resolutions are the same. It's like, we all want to lose weight and exercise more and save more. What's really interesting about resolutions as a phenomenon is that there's truly no difference in your goals, or aspirations between December 31st and January 1st right? There's no difference.
What we're doing is we're allowing ourselves to clear the slate. This is her observation that really a New Year's resolution is a mental trick we're playing with ourselves, where we say even though we may have binged on junk food every day in the previous calendar year, this resolution says the only thing that matters is what I do going forward. She said, “Aha. Well, if this slate cleaning effect is something that people are craving, if that's why we created these resolutions, shouldn't there also be more opportunities to do the same thing?”
She started studying for instance, attendance at gyms. Of course, it spikes at the beginning of every new year, but it also spikes interestingly at the beginning of every month, even at the beginning of every week. It's like, we're all doing this thing where we need an excuse to clean our ledger, to forgive ourselves a falling short in the time periods before, and on the first day of a new year, on the first day of a new month, on the first day of a new week, on the first day of a new semester, we can start with a clean slate and it gives us hope and optimism for change.
[0:51:18.5] MB: For somebody who's listening that wants to concretely implement the things we've talked about today and start using the power of moments, start creating powerful moments for themselves, what would be one piece of homework that you would give to them as an action item, or a starting place as a first step towards doing that?
[0:51:39.9] DH: Let me give you two easy ones and one stretch goal. The stretch goal first. On our, website heathbrothers.com, we've got a whole slew of resources from all of our books actually that are available for free. You just log in and get access. One of those documents is called a week of memories. It's our attempt to help people in one week create the most meaningful, memorable week of their year. Every day has this recipe and there's challenges.
I'm not going to I'm not going to underplay this. It's difficult to make this work, but we know it's possible because we've had many people write us and tell us about it. It takes effort. I think the payoff is enormous. If you're up for a challenge, check out that week of memories document and follow the plan. For something you can do in the next 24 hours, I think there's some really easy ones. Just to create a moment of elevation, tonight do something that breaks the script. Whatever it is you would ordinarily do on a weeknight, tear it up and do something else. Grab, takeout sushi to surprise your partner and bring home a movie. Or if you watch a lot of movies, get out an old board game, or get one of those cheesy conversation starter decks. Just try to find multiple ways to disrupt your routines and I think you'll see what I mean about novelty having surprising power.
The other thing that's more outward looking is and this is a theme in the book that we didn't have enough time to talk about, but recognition. That is to say find someone at work, or maybe someone in your personal life, a mentor, or our boss, or someone who's done something that that you found really precious and just say thank you to them. Tell them why, what they did was so important and so meaningful, and just give them a little bit of praise. I don't mean text, or e-mail, I mean, face-to-face, because I think that's important for these moments.
You'll be surprised. Number one, it's weird that you get butterflies when you're about to say something really nice to someone. I don't completely understand that phenomenon, but there's this kind of, you'll have to work through the nerves to go up and just say something great. I'm going to tell you, you are going to feel like you're on a high for a couple of hours afterwards. I mean, it's like emotional magic. Meanwhile, not only did you feel good, you created a peak moment for them as well and that that's something they'll remember for many, many months afterwards. Those are a couple of easy things and one hard thing to try.
[0:54:17.5] MB: You touched on this a little bit, but for listeners who want to learn more, want to find you and your work online, what's the best place for them to do that?
[0:54:25.6] DH: I would go to the heathbrothers.com site first. That's where you can find all those goodies I was talking about, their podcast and workbooks and whatnot. If you're interested in, Chip and I wrote a previous book called Decisive About Decision-Making in Behavioral Economics. If that's the stuff you enjoy, you might check out a podcast that I'm involved with called Choiceology. It's a seven-episode season, you can binge the whole thing in a few hours, and it's been really, really fun to work on.
It’s a lot of the principles of behavioral economics, but manifest in stories that are just super dramatic. People dying on mountaintops and being attacked by sharks and high-stakes negotiations by sports agents. It's fun to see these classic biases that are studied by decision-making people, but in the form of these really epic stories.
[0:55:18.3] MB: Well Dan, thank you so much for coming on the show, sharing all this wisdom. Obviously, tremendously insightful and it's been an honor to have you here.
[0:55:27.3] DH: Thanks so much for having me on. It's been a fun conversation.
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