Our lives are a long string of small moments. Often, we’re like passive actors in our own lives, with these moments happening to us rather than being created by us.

Defining moments

When people assess an experience, they tend to overlook its length – a phenomenon called duration neglect’. Instead they tend to rate the experience based on 2 key moments.

  1. Peak – best or worst moment
  2. Ending

We don’t’ average our minute-by-minute sensations. Rather we tend to remember flagship moments, the peaks, the pits and the transitions.

EPIC – 4 ingredients of defining moments

  1. Elevation
    • Boost sensory appeal – turn up the volume
    • Raise the stakes – add productive pressure (game, deadline, commitment)
    • Break the script – understand the routine and introduce a bit of randomness
  2. Insight
    • Trip over the truth
    • Stretch for insight – push to stretch
  3. Pride
    • Recognize others
    • Multiply milestones
    • Practice courage
  4. Connection
    • Create shared meaning
    • Deepen ties
    • Make moments matter

Elevation – Boost Sensory Appeal

Imagine if your first day at new job went like this:

Shortly after you accept the offer, you receive a call from the hire, let’s call him David. David introduces himself, shares some of the basics: where to park, what to dress, and so forth. David tells you he’ll be waiting to greet you in the lobby at 9am on your first day.

When your first day comes, you park in the right place and make your way to the lobby. There’s David! You recognize him for his photo. He point to the display in the lobby – “Welcome John!”

David shows you to your cubicle. There’s a 6-ft banner set up which rises above the cubes to alert people that there’s a new hire. People stop by over the course of the day to say hello.

As you get settled, you notice the wallpaper “Welcome to the most important work you’ll ever do.” It seems you’ve just received  the first email from CEO. He talks a little bit about the company’s mission and closes by saying “Enjoy the rest of your first day, and I hope you’ll enjoy a long, successful, fulfilling career as part of the John Derre Team.”

You noticed a gift on your desk. At midday, David collects you for lunch with a small group. They ask about your background and tell you about some of the projects they’re working on. Later in the day, department manager comes over and makes plans to have lunch with you the next week.

You left the office that day thinking I belong here. The work we’re doing matters. And I matter to them.

In customer service, fill pits. Then build peaks.

Many business leaders never pivot to that second stage. Instead having filled the pits, they scramble to pave the potholes – the minor problems and annoyances. It’s as if the leaders aspire to create a complaint-free service rather than an extraordinary one.

Research says when customers contact you because they’ve problems, you should focus on defense – that is you should focus on efficiency and not try to ‘delight’ them.

Research says you’ll earn 9 times more if you elevate promoters (e.g. ratings from 7 – 9) than eliminate the negatives (from 0 – 6).

Same way reviewers on TripAdvisor are more likely to unconditionally recommend the hotel when they are ‘delightfully surprised’ than when they are ‘very satisfied’.

Elevation – Raise the Stakes

Elevation – Break the Script

Variety is the spice of life. But it still is not the entrée of life. Learn to recognize your own scripts. Play with them. Poke at them. Disrupt them.

We feel most comfortable when things are certain. We feel most alive when they’re not.

Insight – Trip over the Truth

When you have a sudden realization, one that you know viscerally is right, you’ve tripped over the truth. The ‘A ha’ moment should always happen in the minds of the audience. You can’t appreciate the solution until you appreciate the problem.

Action leads to insight more often than insight leads to action.

Insight – Stretch for Insight

Push to stretch. Say your team:

I have high expectations for you and I know you can meet them. Try this new challenge and if you fail, I’ll help you recover.

If you’re always in a life vest, you don’t know if you can swim. We’ll never know our reach unless we stretch.

Pride – Recognize Others

The most important factor to recognize “full appreciation of work done”. Most recognition should be personal, not programmatic. “I saw what you did, and I appreciate it.”

It’s not about Employee of the Month. If you judge this award fairly, your best employee will win every single month.

For formal recognition programs, stick to objective measurements such as sales volume. Conduct a gratitude visit, you’ll feel a rush of happiness that lasts for weeks.

Pride – Multiply Milestones

To identify milestones, ask “What’s inherently motivating? What’s a hidden accomplishment that’s worth surfacing and celebrating?” We’re not just stuck with just one finish line. By multiplying milestones, we transform a long, amorphous race into one with many intermediate finish lines.

Take an ambitious goal and turn it into a game. Design the levels so that you feel a sense of accomplishment and level up to a bigger goal.

Level 1 – Order a meal in Spanish.

Level 2 – Have a simple conversation in Spanish with a taxi driver.

Level 3 – Glance at a Spanish newspaper and understand at least one headline.

Level 4 – Follow the action in a Spanish cartoon.

Level 5 – Read a kindergarten-level book in Spanish.

Compare that to the typical way we pursue goals.

Level 1 – Try to squeeze in a Spanish study session.

Level 2 – Try to squeeze in a Spanish study session.

Level 3 – Try to squeeze in a Spanish study session.

Level 4 – Try to squeeze in a Spanish study session.

Level 5 – Try to squeeze in a Spanish study session.

Same way to boost customer satisfaction by 20% at the year end, you can design

Level 1 – Receive a glowing thank-you from a customer

Level 2 – Make it a full week without any surveys scoring their satisfaction as a 1 out of 7

Level 3 – Solve number 1 complaint from the last month of surveys

Level 4 – Get halfway there – boost satisfaction by 10%

And so on…

Same way you can design levels at the workplace.

Here are the skills you can build, demonstrate your value to the organization and when you do so, we will salute you for that.

  1. Turn around a product/service line that is struggling.
  2. Have a direct report promoted to a managerial role
  3. Solve a business challenge by collaborating with another group
  4. Receive a compliment that you run meetings that are actually worthwhile
  5. Deliver a major project on time and on budget
  6. Contribute an idea that is adopted company-wide

Connection – Create Shared Meaning

Laughter is 30 times more common in social setting than private ones. Bring people together for a synchronizing moment. Invite them to share struggle. Connect them to a larger sense of meaning. Give them purpose which conveys their work as a broader meaning.

People welcome struggle when it’s their choice to participate, when they’re given autonomy to work and when the mission is meaningful.

When conducting meetings, consider having a ‘plant’ in the audience and give you a tough question to ask. It’s always a question you know people are asking and talking about but are afraid to actually bring to leadership.

The magnitude of the organization cannot be replicated via a memo. When you have 4,000 workers sitting in an audience who get up every day to help people’s health care, to heal their lives, that’s powerful. It’s physical. The hair on their bodies stood up. It is a shared experience.

Connection – Deepen Ties

When it comes to performance, purpose trumps passion. And purpose isn’t discovered. It’s cultivated. And you can share a purpose, unlike a passion.

Responsiveness encompasses 3 things.

  1. Understanding – my partner knows how I see myself and what’s important to me.
  2. Validation – my partner respects who I and what I want.
  3. Caring – my partner takes active and supportive steps in helping me meet my needs

Relationships do not always deeper with time. They do reach plateaus. Only with the right moment, they can deepen quickly.

Responsiveness accompanied by turn-taking and openness stimulates deep and meaningful relationships.

When we look back on our lives, the incidents that changed us and left the biggest impact are moments – special, powerful and memorable moments. When we realize this and keep it in mind, we can start to harness this power and begin to plan moments rather than just wait for them to happen.

Bonus: 6 most revealing questions to assess employee satisfaction.

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  3. Can I do what I do best every day?
  4. In the last 7 days, have I received recognition or praise for good work?
  5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

Kyaw Wai Yan Tun

Hi, I'm Wai Yan. I love designing visuals and writing insightful articles online. I see it as my way of making the world a more beautiful and insightful place.