As I have said before, we don’t need more books. Instead, we need better books. Specifically, we need books that “wow.” But what is wow and how can we develop it?
The first step is learning to recognize it. Most of us have experienced wow moments. We just haven’t taken time to think deeply about them.
For example, a couple of summers ago, I took my wife and youngest daughter to Scotland. It was our first visit. We rented a car and spent a week touring the Western Highlands.
We started in Edinburgh and drove north to Inverness. We then drove down the west side of Loch Ness to Fort Augusta and then headed west across the Highlands to the Isle of Skye. We took our time and savored every moment.
As we neared the town of Portree, the capital of Skye, we saw the Sound of Raasay for the first time. We let out a collective, “Wow!” It was gorgeous. My eyes welled up with tears. It was a transcendent moment—something none of us expected.
We experienced numerous “wow moments” on this trip—Edinburgh Castle, the Caledonian Canal, Eilean Donan Castle, the ancient Dun Telve Broch, Glenelg Bay, Kilt Rock, the church of St. Mary and St. Finnan near Glenfinnan, and the endless fields of Scottish lupines.
A few weeks ago, I met with my executive team for an all day planning meeting. As we began the afternoon session, I asked them to think of two “wow moments” they had experienced in their lives. I asked them to “get present” to those experiences and then jot down what they observed. I gave them about ten minutes to work on this exercise on their own.
Then I asked each person to share the experience that was the most powerful. One person shared about the birth of a child. Another shared about the first time he kissed his wife. Still another shared about seeing Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe for the first time. It was amazing. You could see each person’s face light up as they shared. The rest of us vicariously entered into their joy.
Next, I asked the group to try an identify the common attributes in each of these experiences. Here’s the list we created. Every wow experience has some combination of the following ten elements:
- Surprise—a wow experience always exceeds our expectations. It creates delight, amazement, wonder or awe. For Christmas, one of my colleagues at Thomas Nelson bought me a copy of the illustrated edition of 1776 by David McCullough. Honestly, it blew my socks off. I have never seen a more beautiful book. As the Amazon page says, “packed with striking replicas of letters, maps, and portraits, this updated version of David McCullough’s 2005 bestseller provides readers with unedited first-hand accounts of America’s initial steps toward sovereignty.”
- Anticipation—anticipating a wow experience is almost as good as the experience itself. As you think about it, you begin to get present to it. Gail and I are going to the beach in a few weeks. We are beginning to think about it daily. I’m am making a mental list of the things I want to do. I can almost feel the breeze blowing in from the ocean. With each new day, the anticipation builds.
- Resonance—a wow experience touches the heart. It resonates at a deep level. It sometimes causes goosebumps or even tears. I remember watching my two granddaughters play on the beach for the first time. They were joy personified, as they chased the waves and the waves chased them. I thought to myself, Oh, to be that young!
- Transcendence—a wow experience connects you to something transcendent. Suddenly, you experience purpose, meaning, or even God. Years ago, when I was an artist manager, one of my clients sat down at a piano to play some new songs for my business partner and me. As she began to sing, I was caught up in the music. I knew her talent was coming directly from God. I was overwhelmed at the beauty.
- Clarity—a wow experience creates a moment when you see things with more clarity than ever before. You suddenly “get it” in a new way. Not long ago, I was reading Chasing Daylight by Eugene O’Kelly. Interestingly, the book was not that well written. But the story was so powerful, I could not put it down. I read it in one long airplane ride to the west coast. In those few hours, I had more clarity about life than I had had in a long time.
- Presence—a wow experience creates timelessness. You aren’t thinking about the past. You’re not even thinking about the future. Instead, you are fully present to what is happening now. I wrote about such a Perfect Moment back in February, when I enjoyed an evening on the porch with my daughter Mary and her husband Chris. We spent several hours talking and enjoying a bottle of wine together. It seemed like time stood still.
- Universality—a true wow experience is nearly universal. Almost everyone will experience it in a similar way. This is why Celtic Woman, Cirque du Soleil, the French Laundry, and the Grand Canyon are so popular. They are so compelling that they appeal to people of all ages and ethnicities.
- Evangelism—a wow experience has to be shared. You can’t contain it. You immediately begin thinking of all the people you wish were with you. After the experience, you recommend it unconditionally. You become an unpaid evangelist. I have done this with all the books I recommend on my blog.
- Longevity—the shine never wears off a wow experience. You can experience it again and again without growing tired of it. It endures. It 1973, I attended a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young concert at Texas Stadium in Dallas, Texas. I was on the field, about 10 yards from the stage. It was incredible. Then, in 2000, for my birthday Gail bought tickets to the CSN&Y concert in Nashville. Twenty-seven years later, they still blew me away.
- Privilege—a wow experience makes you proud in a good way. You feel good about being associated with it. You feel privileged, as if you are in an elite group, but at the same time humbled that you have had the experience. I feel this way with Apple products. (I know, I know, I am a hopeless fan-boy.) I have an Apple decal on my car and, amazingly, Apple didn’t pay me to display it. I simply do it because I am proud to be one of their customers and to be associated with their brand.
As publishers, the first step in creating WOW products is recognizing WOW when it shows up. More importantly, it means being able to recognize it when it is absent—and insisting that the author deliver it before you accept the manuscript. I think too often we settle for something less, and in doing so, we rip off everyone, including the author who is usually capable of so much more.