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The Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath (Book Review)

written by Kathryn Britton October 4, 2017

Kathryn Britton, MAPP '06, former software engineer, is a coach working with professionals to increase well-being, energy, and meaning in their work lives (Theano Coaching LLC). She is also a writing coach, facilitator of writing workshops, and teacher of positive workplace concepts at the University of Maryland. Her own books include Smarts and Stamina on using positive psychology principles to build strong health habits and Character Strengths Matter: How to Live a Full Life. Full bio. Kathryn's articles are here.



Idea – Stories – Structure – Research

What do you get when you mix together a compelling idea, numerous engaging stories, a clear structure, and a firm research grounding? You get a book that is made to stick and useful from the moment you pick it up.

That’s my assessment of the new book by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, The Power of Moments, released yesterday.  Let me go through these qualities one by one.

A Compelling Idea

“Flagship moments, the peaks, the pits, and the transitions” dominate our assessments of our biggest experiences.

Chip and Dan Heath take this idea a vital step further. With awareness of what contributes to the intensity of moments and what makes peaks as opposed to pits, they contend that we can intentionally enhance our own experiences and the experiences of those around us. No, let us take that further. We can intentionally enhance our own lives and the lives of those around us.

Moments matter, and moments can be shaped.

Engaging Stories

Best of all in The Power of Moments, there are stories. Lots of stories. My rough count is about 50. There are paragraph length stories and multi-page stories that recur multiple times. There are stories about outstanding service, such as the way a hotel handles a beloved stuffed toy left behind by a toddler. There are stories about moments that build bravery, such as the training undergone by young people preparing for the Civil Rights lunch counter protests. There are stories of medical practices being turned around by well-engineered moments that reminded participants of the deeply important purpose they share. The sources of the stories are listed in the end notes, so it is clear that Chip Heath and Dan Heath did a lot of work to find them.

A Clear Structure

When it comes to shaping moments, what levers do you have? The authors organize their observations into four categories including two or three actions for each category to help people increase peak moments.

  • Elevation: Build Peaks and Break the Script
     
  • Insight: Trip Over the Truth and Stretch for Insight
     
  • Pride: Recognize Others, Multiply Milestones, and Practice Courage
     
  • Connection: Create Shared Meaning and Deepen Ties

Let me illustrate with an example of a lever from the Practice Courage chapter. Many people believe that courage is something you either have or do not have. But the authors show that courage can be augmented by practicing the actions you need to take in a difficult moments. Soldiers and firemen do this in drills, preloading the responses they need in dangerous situations so that they can respond rapidly when those moments occur. Those of us leading less dangerous lives can also preload responses to the challenges we are likely to face. The authors introduce us to Giving Voice to Values, Mary Gentile’s approach to teaching ethics. She shifts the focus from “What is the right thing to do?” (which her students mostly knew already) to “How can I get the right thing done?” Students identify ethical situations that might arise in their jobs, script responses, and then practice the responses.  

Throughout the book, there are clinics, multi-page discussions of real world opportunities to use moment-building actions to solve real problems that might have analogies in your own world. I’ll list the clinic titles here. They do seem to be mostly work settings, but it is not hard to see how to take the ideas home.

  • The Missed Moments of Retail Banking
  • How Do You Refresh a Meeting That’s Grown Rote?
  • Improving a Chinese Restaurant
  • Boss Has a Flash of Insight: I’m a Jerk
  • How Can You Combat the “Silo” Mentality?

Research Grounding

Every time the authors mention research that I’m familiar with already – work by Kahneman, Wrzesniewski, Aron, Gollwitzer, and others, I think, “Yes, that is clearly stated, and it clearly supports the point you’re making.” That makes me ready to absorb the various sources I did not already know. This book rests on strong pillars.

Summary

This is a book I’ll keep close by to help me plan for moments that matter. I’ve thought of at least 3 opportunities to use the ideas this week.

Let me close with one point they make in the chapter about courage.

“In short, courage is contagious. … Think of it: Your moment of courage might be a defining moment for someone else – a signal to them that red is red, that wrong is wrong, and that it can be righted if we stand, together, against it.” (p. 193)

 


References

Heath, C. & Heath, D. (2017). The Power of Moments. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Heath, C. & Heath, D. (2017). One page summary of Power of Moments. Available on the Member Resource page on the Heath brothers website. There are numerous resources there to augment and support their books.

Gentile, M. (2012). Giving Voice to Values: How to Speak Your Mind When You Know What’s Right. Yale University Press.

Heath, C. & Heath, D. (2007). Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. Random House.

About Kahneman:
Britton, K. H. (2012). Homage to Kahneman, Part 1. Positive Psychology News.

Includes a discussion of Gollwitzer’s implementation intentions:
Polly, S. (2014). How to Command a Room: Suggestions for Positive Presenting. Positive Psychology News.

References Aron’s 36 questions:
Stanley, J. (2016). Instead of a Resolution, Try a New Year Routine (Part 1). Positive Psychology News.

References Wrzesniewski’s job crafting:
Chin, E. (2013). Unhappy at Work? Change Your Job While Still In It. Positive Psychology News.

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2 comments

Scott Crabtree October 6, 2017 - 12:57 pm

Thanks for a well-written review Kathryn! Coming from you, this praise means a lot. Thanks for giving me a new addition to my reading list.

Reply
Jeremy McCarthy October 30, 2017 - 7:27 pm

Thanks Kathryn, I’m adding this to my reading list as well. Made to Stick was an impactful book for me and one I’ve been wanting to go back and re-read.

Reply

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