Why is it that specific memories from childhood stand out in our mind, while there are entire days we have no recollection of at all? The day your dad came home with a puppy, your first trip to Disney, or the time you won the spelling bee are probably moments that pop out. Meanwhile, the day before those events and the day after may have faded into the recesses of your brain. That’s the phenomenon that authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath explore in their book, The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact.

They say those types of childhood memories we just recalled stand out because they’re defining moments – a moment that is both memorable and meaningful. What’s more, they all say that anyone can learn to create those moments. That means that as leaders and learning professionals, we can build and harness those moments to create the most impact.

Let’s explore the leadership impact of peak moments so you can lead more effectively:

Most people don’t remember an entire experience. Instead, they focus on the peak.

Psychologists have discovered that, in recollecting our experiences, we don’t recall our minute-by-minute sensations. We tend to forget most of what happened and focus on a few particular moments, most often the peaks. To illustrate this experience in the book, they use the example of a Walt Disney World vacation. Although every single moment of the trip is probably not going to be bliss (there might be long lines, large crowds, and hot days), most people tend to think of the whole vacation as magical. Why? Because they remember the peak moments: fun roller coaster rides, encounters with the famous characters, and how adorable their kids looked in those mouse ears.

As a learning leader, this fact might help you breathe a sigh of relief. You don’t need to make every single second of your talk, seminar, or experience unparalleled to make an impact. You just need a few peak moments that will stick with participants long term.

Many leaders don’t know how to create peak moments, so those who do, inspire.

Great experiences hinge on these peak moments. Yet, most of us don’t know how to create them – and it’s not our fault. Chip Heath says, “We’re not trained to create peak moments, we’re taught to fix problems.” Although fixing problems can lead to higher satisfaction, it’s not going to create those memorable, motivating experiences in learning or leadership. This means that as employers and leaders, we don’t necessarily need to fix every issue that comes up in a satisfaction survey. Instead, we should work on creating some exceptional peak moments for the people we’re trying to reach.

Peak moments have the same elements—so you can produce them.

Creating these peak moments starts with understanding what they’re comprised of. The acronym, EPIC, can help you remember the four elements that contribute to a defining or peak moment. (Although defining moments don’t have all four of these factors every time.)

  1. Elevation: They rise above the everyday and may even involve an element of surprise.
  2. Pride: These moments capture people at their best, possibly during moments of achievement or courage.
  3. Insight: They help people to comprehend something that may have eluded them before or inspire them into action.
  4. Connection: These moments are strengthened because we share them with others.

Now, that you know why these moments can infuse more meaning into your leadership and teaching, and what makes them up, it’s time to start creating them. The Power of Moments has many real-world examples to inspire you.


Come back for our next discussion from our favorite leadership books: Explore with us how self-knowledge can help you become a better leader as we look at The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin. (Did you miss the previous installment? Click here for how to do experiential learning right with The Inner Game of Work)