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Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

School Admissions as a Moment that Matters

The history of philosophy is filled with reflections on the importance of “the moment” and, in particular, why some moments are filled with seemingly eternal significance.

Picking up on the same theme, Chip and Dan Heath’s book, The Power of Moments, is a modern commentary on the same theme and explores precisely why some experiences in our lives have extraordinary impact, while others dissolve into an endless stream of human forgetting.

In the opening chapter, an example is given from the Magic Castle Hotel and the way in which it has carefully engineered a “Popsicle Hotline” that allows guests to pick up the phone and have a popsicle of choice delivered to them, free of charge, on a silver tray by a waiter in white gloves.

What the Magic Castle has figured out is that, to please customers, you need not obsess over every detail. Customers will forgive small swimming pools and underwhelming room décor, as long as some moments are magical.

A photograph of a popsicle

The remainder of this book unpacks what these moments are made of and how we create more of them. The connection to those of us who work in the field of enrolment management is apparent throughout. Every page, in fact, reads as a call to reimagine the work of school admissions, no longer defining it as a way of providing families with the right information but rather offering prospective families carefully engineered experiences that provide both insight and delight.

This work of reimagining admissions has already begun for many of us, I know. Yet I believe that, despite recent advances, most of us will still admit that we have some way to go; that even the most progressive amongst us are only just beginning to work out what it means to design moments that truly matter.

The Power of Moments is packed with examples that illustrate the point. In the end, though, three ideas are perhaps worth noting for further discussion.

First, start by getting the basics right. Back to the Magic Castle Hotel, the authors rightly argue that the impact of the “Popsicle Hotline” would be significantly reduced if the hotel was unable to provide hot water, comfortable beds and an efficient means of checking in. “Delighting your guests”, they explain, “is an unattainable goal until you provide the basics.” All of which makes me stop and wonder for a second whether we are even clear on what these basics are for the families visiting our school.

Second, design your experiences around people who already like you, rather than those who are yet to be convinced. It is said that companies typically spend 80% of their resources trying to improve the experience of seriously unhappy customers. Heath and Heath believe that this, far from being a strategic investment, is madness. Instead, they argue that we should spend our time elevating the experience of those who are already feeling positive about us and what we offer. All of which makes me stop and wonder for a second whether most of us are giving far too much attention to families who do not and will never share the pedagogical beliefs and values of our school.

Third, have the courage to break the script. In business terms, the script refers to our expectations of a stereotypical experience. When we go to the restaurant, we know the deal. We know the way it works and what to expect. So one of the best ways of designing a memorable experience for someone is to surprise them simply by doing something that they don’t expect. After all, they explain, “familiarity and memorability are often at odds.” All of which makes me stop and wonder for a second whether the experience of admissions in my school is in any way different from every other school that a prospective family has ever visited. What will make us any different?

There is a rule in psychology called the peak-end rule. It describes how people look back and remember past experiences based on the “peaks” (emotionally intense experiences that occur naturally or by design) and how things end.

The owners of the Magic Castle Hotel appear to have understood this rule and the importance of well-designed peaks that build on the basics, focus on the positively inclined, and are intended to surprise by re-writing the script . It’s perhaps time for those of us in school admissions to come up with the equivalent of a “Popsicle Hotline” for the families visiting our schools.



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