Are you thinking in Moments?

Sometimes an idea comes along that changes how you think about things…

Brothers Chip Heath and Dan Heath are research driven academics who have written some remarkable books over the last 10 years and their latest book is no exception.  The authors of Made to Stick, Decisive and Switch have turned their attention to a fascinating idea that has a lot of applications – both from a business and a personal perspective.  Their latest book is The Power of Moments (why certain experiences have extraordinary impact) and it will have you thinking about a lot of things in a whole new way.

The core idea in the book is that we fundamentally don’t remember things in a linear fashion – or minute by minute.  Instead we latch onto certain key experiences and those dominate our memories and influence our perception of what happened to us.


Here’s a fun example of what that means…  researchers had participants do 3 painful trials of submerging their hands into cold water (57 degrees, which is colder than it sounds when you’re submerged).  For the first trial, the participants were asked to hold their hands under the water for 60 seconds.  The second trial was extended to 90 seconds – the first 60 seconds were exactly the same (57 degrees) but the last 30 seconds, the water was slightly warmed up to 59 degrees – a small, but noticeable relief from the cold.

Then the participants were asked which of the trials they would like to repeat for the 3rd study.  Keep in mind that the 2nd trial was every bit as long and painful as the first trial plus an additional 30 seconds on top of that at only slightly warmer temperatures.  Surprisingly – 69% of the participants chose to repeat the longer 2nd trial…!

The reason for this ties back to how we remember our experiences – instead of remembering 60 or 90 seconds of discomfort, we tend to remember the best or worst of an experience (the peak) and the end of the experience.  The peak experiences were the same for both (the most pain towards the end of the 60 seconds) but the longer trial ended more comfortably than the shorter trial – and therefore was regarded as a ‘better’ experience.


How does this apply to business?

Once you buy into the core idea that we remember experiences based on moments… and you recognize that you have the ability to author those moments (and fundamentally change someone’s experience), this idea becomes very powerful.

Think about it in terms of a customer service model.  Many companies will spend a lot of time and effort to make every second of their interaction with customers go smoothly – but since those customers don’t remember all of those seconds, that turns out to be a lot of wasted time and effort.  And to make matters worse, if there are no ‘peak’ experiences for someone to latch onto, the whole process is most likely going to be remembered as a non-event, or unremarkable.  That’s not the reaction that you’re looking for from customers.


What if you could instead create a true ‘peak’ experience for that customer during your interactions?  It turns out that can have a huge, out-sized impact.  Consider the case of The Magic Castle hotel in Los Angeles.  It’s a converted 1950’s era apartment complex that’s painted canary yellow with limited amenities and nothing special about the rooms or the location.  And yet it’s listed as one of the 3 top-rated hotels in all of Los Angeles on TripAdvisor – beating out big names like The Four Seasons and the Ritz-Carlton!  Over 93% of the thousands of reviews grade the hotel as either ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’…!


How is that possible?  It turns out that the Magic Castle does some unusual things – they offer their guests free laundry, a free snack menu, a board-game and DVD menu (also free) and they have the Popsicle Hotline out by the pool, where guests can pick up the red phone and hear “Hello – Popsicle Hotline, how can I help you?”.  The hotline allows you to order (again free of charge) your favorite flavor Popsicle – where it’s delivered poolside, on a silver platter.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal – but it creates a memorable, peak experience that people love and will tell their friends about.  The end result is a hotel that’s physically very average (as compared to other budget hotels) that can charge a premium for a night’s stay and people love it and tell their friends.  Pretty sweet deal, right?


This idea of a peak experience can also apply to your employees as well.  They don’t tend to remember the day to day routine, but they will absolutely remember an event or an occasion that triggers one of the 4 components of a memorable moment:

  • Elevation – rise above the everyday… unexpected fun things that surprise and delight
  • Insight – defining moments that change the way we think about something
  • Pride – moments of achievement and moments of courage, where you’re at your best
  • Connection – the social aspect, when we share milestone events with others in a meaningful way.


Moments can be created and if you do it right – and include at least one of the ingredients listed above, you’ll fundamentally change how someone remembers something.  And that kind of engagement is extremely powerful.


Are you thinking in Moments?  What could you create that would have an impact on your customers?  On your employees?  On your family?  Would your last family vacation benefited from a peak moment or two?  Or are you having trouble remembering that last vacation?  Maybe that should tell you something…

What do you think?  This is an abstract idea – do you buy into it?  How would it play in your world?  We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Shawn Kinkade    Kansas City Business Coach