The Power of Moments – Chip and Dan Heath

The Power of Moments(Oct 2017) I read Chip and Dan Heath’s first book, Made to Stick, months after it was published in 2007. I am still recommending that book to people today for it’s exceptional concepts and the way in which those ideas are presented.

The Heath brothers have created another extraordinary book with The Power of Moments and I am again evangelizing about the value of what they have to say. I love the way they write. There is an easy and natural humor in these pages that has been in all the books they’ve written. The subject matter can be substantive without being tedious, pedantic or dry in its presentation. Actually, that is one of the central themes of this book – creating memorable moments – peaks.

Creating a peak has four essential elements, although not every peak may have all four. They are Elevation, Pride, Insight and Connection. Peaks will have one or more of these elements. One of the hallmarks of a Chip and Dan Heath book is the well researched case studies explained in an engaging and memorable way. Presenting these elements through real life stories well told is one of the true delights of reading this book.

From the first paragraph on page one, they demonstrate how one powerful moment of recognition can lead to the creation of powerful moments that are intentionally created to be life changing. Two guys are sitting in a pub watching National Signing Day on ESPN in 2000. Not any two guys, two educators running a start-up charter school called YES Prep in Houston. Their “aha moment” came when they asked themselves why there wasn’t similar excitement around academic achievement, not just sports. And then they answered their own question by creating Senior Signing Day at their school where the faculty, all the students and senior’s family members gathered in the auditorium (later moved to the arena at Rice University) to watch seniors march across the stage to “reveal” what college they would be attending after graduation.

There are so many wonderful examples of how the ordinary can become the extraordinary with some creative thought and a change of perspective. The Hillsdale High School “Trial of Human Nature” is such an inspired idea. One of the standout concepts in that chapter is the recognition that the process of education can seem like an endless practice without a culmination (See: All Practice, No Game?). Unlike sports, where you practice toward the goal of playing a competitive game with a definitive outcome, academic study is a process that goes on and on with few peaks to provide a payback for the effort. The annual “Trial of Human Nature” has become a peak – for the students, teachers and other members of the community.

One of the things I noted about this book and their previous ones is their inclusion of new ideas around education. Their book Switch also had an interesting case study around how a principal turned around a failing high school by reworking how grades would be given and used to mark progress. In this book, I was captivated by the story of Stanton Elementary School in Washington, DC. After making significant changes to the staffing, brightening the hallways and classrooms, and pursuing other practical avenues for change, there was little improvement to the chaos of the school in the first year of Carlie Fisherow’s tenure as the new principal. When the Flamboyan Foundation offered assistance to the school, they brought their belief in family engagement to the table as a core value for improving educational outcomes. Their initiative for having classroom teachers make visits to students homes prior to the start of the school year had a remarkable impact. It created a different relationship between parents and teachers that impacted the student’s relationship with their teachers. It helped to create a supportive community of learning.

I was also pleased to see Donors Choose turn up in Chapter 7 as an example of the power of recognition. I love Donors Choose and have been a donor for years. The engagement between a classroom teacher and her students connecting with strangers who care enough about their project to help fund it, is unique. Beyond the obvious benefits of this arrangement, this chapter talks about the specific benefit to students in the act of expressing their gratitude through thank you notes, and to the donors in being recognized in such a personal and specific way for their donation.

If you knew you could make a positive difference in someone’s life – that you could create a memory for them that would last for years – and it would take only a trivial amount of time on your part, would you do it?

The value of this book to me is how it helps to shift my perspective to see a situation differently. I firmly believe that “Life is about perspective. What you see depends on where you are standing.” We can look at something so long that we cease to see it. I love the idea of creating peaks. This books gives so many examples of how we can do that.

This book was a pleasure to read. It’s like a “how to” for recognizing the ways in which we can create memorable moments that break up the routine and the status quo of our daily living. I find that to be a very inspiring concept.

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