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Designing Moments That Matter

I love this time of year. As a former high school basketball coach, I, along with millions of

others, am captivated by the NCAA basketball tournament. As a fan, it's exciting to watch the games, especially those that go down to the wire. However, as an educator, an

innovation consultant, and a parent, the thing I love most about March Madness is how it highlights principles that contribute to success in business and in life.

Shared purpose, intentional practice, and a willingness to adapt - evidence of these attributes are on full display during the tournament, both in victory and defeat. For the athletes and coaches who invest so much of their time, sweat, and tears into their craft, these are the moments that forge memories and bonds that last a lifetime.

But let's take a closer look at the concept of "moments."

"If you want to be part of a group that bonds like cement, take on a really demanding task that's deeply meaningful. All of you will remember it for the rest of your lives."

The quote above is from Chip and Dan Heath’s latest book, The Power of Moments, in which they make a compelling argument that “connection” is one of the four primary factors that contribute to memorable experiences in our lives. The Brothers Heath explain how sharing in a purposeful struggle can give meaning to our work, especially when it’s our choice to join the effort. This certainly applies to the teams competing in the basketball tournament, but it's just as relevant to our work environments.

Employee Experience is generating a lot of buzz these days, and for good reason. Attracting and retaining top talent has never been more important, so organizations that intentionally create the conditions that contribute to meaningful work experiences have a distinct competitive advantage.

Although there are many, many facets of the Employee Experience, providing opportunities for people to work on “wicked problems worth solving” is one that should be top of mind for organizational leaders. This is a vital part of the work I and my teammates at Faster Glass do in helping companies equip their people with the tools of Design Thinking to attack their biggest challenges. For everyone involved, it requires shared purpose, intentional practice, and a willingness to adapt. (Sound familiar?) And it is deeply rewarding.


Recently I found myself rewatching “Survive and Advance,” the stirring documentary about the journey of the 1983 N.C. State Wolfpack men’s basketball team. Coached by Jim Valvano, an irrepressible Italian transplant from New York, the underdog Pack shocked the basketball world by knocking off team after team, including the exceptionally-talented Houston Cougars in the finals on a last-second, desperation bucket. As a sports story, it’s exciting stuff, but the more compelling story is about the enduring connections between the players and their coach. Connections so strong you could see and hear them as they gathered 30 years later to relive their memorable run. Connections so strong that even Valvano's death in 1993 couldn’t diminish them.

Valvano, who had an abiding faith in the power of ordinary people, also understood the power of intentionally designing experiences. For example, at the beginning of every season, he had his squad practice cutting down the nets, simulating the emotional, celebratory tradition carried out by the team that wins the tournament each year. This act was just one of the ways Valvano instilled in his players a shared sense of purpose - they were focused on winning a national championship, even if no one else thought that was an attainable goal. And shared purpose, even more than passion, is rocket fuel for high achieving teams.


A basketball coach's willingness to “think in moments” and his ability to inspire his players to embrace the shared struggles they faced contributed mightily to his and his team’s success. If you’re a leader within your organization, you have the same option to intentionally design the experience of your team and give them opportunities to do meaningful work. And every day is game day.

If you'd like to learn more about Designing Moments That Matter, make plans to join us in Charlotte on April 11th for the next edition of the Forward Faster by Design Breakfast Series when our guest panelists will explore this topic.

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