When it comes to planning for success, we tend to focus on the what and the how. For example, when we set our workout goals, we’ll come up with detailed plans on what exercises we’ll do; when we come up with a debt repayment plan, we decide exactly how we’re going to pay down the debt.
But what if success in any endeavor isn’t only decided by the what or the how, but also the when?
That’s what my guest today argues in his latest book. His name is Daniel Pink, he’s the author of Drive, A Whole New Mind, and To Sell is Human. In his latest book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, he takes a look at how timing can affect everything from the way we make decisions to how creative we are, and even if a group will be successful in a shared task.
Daniel and I discuss how to use your internal clock to your advantage, why you shouldn’t get surgery done at 3PM in the afternoon, if there’s really such a thing as night owls, and why you should find more opportunities to sing in a group.
This is a fascinating discussion that will provide plenty of cocktail party fodder, but more importantly, actionable points you can put into practice today to make yourself more effective.
- How Daniel got into researching timing in our lives
- Why people think about the how and why of things, but not the when
- How much the time of day matters in our performance
- The peak-trough-recovery cycle of our days
- How you should spend your mornings, afternoons, and evenings?
- Why shouldn’t schedule medical procedures for mid-afternoon
- Why your creative tasks should happen in the evening
- Chronobiology, and figuring out your chronotype
- What’s the deal with night owls? Do they have hope in a lark world?
- Why the American Academy of Pediatricians recommends that the school day starts no earlier than 8:30am
- Does the workweek follow the same energy flow as the day?
- Taking advantage of “temporal landmarks”
- Why when we start something can have a huge impact on that endeavor’s success
- What can a young man do who graduated during the recession?
- Midpoints — how being down at halftime (in sports or life) can actually be more motivating
- How endings affect our behavior
- What colonoscopies can teach us about how we remember things
- Timing in groups, and how groups can get more in sync
- The power of singing in a group
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- Drive by Daniel Pink
- To Sell is Human Daniel Pink
- Applying the Ethos of the Craftsman to Our Everyday Lives
- What Good Shall I Do This Day?
- Let Them Sleep — American Academy of Pediatricians
- Podcast: The Productivity Project
- Podcast: Peak Performance — Avoiding Burnout
- The Fresh Start Effect & Temporal Landmarks
- Podcast: Why Are Millions of Men Missing from the Workforce?
- The July Effect
- Motivation and Becoming a Self-Starter
- Time and Transition in Work Teams — Connie Gerwick
- Bet on the Losing Team
- The Motivating Power of Aging Into a New Decade
- What Colonoscopies Teach Us About Memory
Connect With Daniel
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
Recorded with ClearCast.io.
Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. Now, when it comes to planning for success, we tend to focus on the what and the how. For example, when we set out our workout goals we’ll come up with detailed plans on what exercises we’ll do or when we come up with a debt repayment plan, we decide exactly how we’re going to pay down the debt, but what if success in any endeavor isn’t only decided by the what or the how but also the when. That’s what my guest today argues in his latest book. His name is Daniel Pink. He’s the author of several books including Drive, A Whole New Mind, and To Sell is Human. In his latest book, When, he takes a look at how timing can affect everything from the way we make decisions to how creative we are and even if a group will be successful in a shared task.
Daniel and I discuss how to use your internal clock to your advantage, why you shouldn’t get surgery done at 3 PM in the afternoon, if there’s really such things as night owls and why you should find more opportunities to sing in a group. This is a fascinating discussion that will provide plenty of cocktail party fodder, but more importantly it also has actionable points you can put into practice today to make yourself more effective. After the show is over, check out the show notes at AOM.is/win where you can find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic. Now, Daniel joins me via Clearcast.io.
Daniel Pink, welcome to the show.
Daniel Pink: Thanks for having me, Brett, great to be here.
Brett McKay: You’ve got a new book out, Win, the scientific secrets of perfect timing. You’ve got an interesting career as a writer. You explore all sorts of things like you did the book, To Sell is Human. You talk about motivation in your book, Drive. What led you to research and write about the science of timing, when we do things?
Daniel Pink: Well, I realized that I was making all kinds of timing decisions myself, about literally about when to do things, so everything from when in the day should I work out, morning or evening, when should I abandon a project that’s not working, all these kinds of when decisions and I realized I was making them in a pretty haphazard way and I wanted to make them in a better way. I started looking around for a book that would allow me to be more informed about how to make those decisions. That book unfortunately did not exist, so I had to write it. I wrote this book largely because I wanted to read it, because I wanted to make better timing decisions myself.
Brett McKay: It’s curious. You talked about this, you made this point in the book that when oftentimes we’re trying to look at how to improve ourselves you always look at the how or the what, and people never think about the when, why do you think that is?
Daniel Pink: You know, that’s a great question. I’m not sure, for some reason we’ve always given it the short shrift, we’ve always taken questions of what should I do very seriously, where understandably, I am too, obsessed with learning, and improvement, so we want to know how to do things better. We’re very selective, often about who we partner with, so the who, but I don’t know, for some reason the when question has been sitting at the kids’ table, and it really belongs at the grownups’ table, and there’s a huge amount of evidence, even if you look at something like time of day, just probably one of the most powerful, but relatively mundane issues of timing, when in the day should you do things. It turns out that time of day explains about 20% of the variants and how human beings perform on tasks that involve brain power, so, you know, 20%, that doesn’t mean timing is everything, but it’s a freaking big thing.
Brett McKay: Let’s get into that, because you look at timing from different perspectives, and the first part you look at is the timing that our bodies have, we have this natural clock, how it works, what’s the average, what does it look like throughout the day?
Daniel Pink: Well, it’s a really, really great point, because so much of timing on a daily level is biological, is physical, is scientific. If you look at certain units of time, seconds, hours, weeks, those are things that human beings have completely made up, they are not real, but, a day is a real thing, because we are on this planet that makes one spin around in 24 hours, and our bodies also have not just a single biological clock, but an array of biological clocks. Some people believe biological clocks are in every cell, and that has a big effect on our mood and our performance, and the gist of it, without getting too knee-deep in the actual biology is the following, that most of us progress through the day in three stages. We have a peak, a trough, and a recovery. A peak, a trough, and a recovery. Most of us progress in that order, peak, trough, recovery. About a fifth of us do it in the reverse order, recovery, trough, peak. But, what the science tells us is that there are certain kinds of work we should do in the peak, certain kinds of work we should do in the trough, and certain kinds of work that we should do in the recovery, and if you simply reallocate what you do in these various time periods, you’re going to perform at a much higher level.
Brett McKay: What should you do during your peak?
Daniel Pink: OK, so the peak, the peak, again, which for most of us is the morning, the morning to around noon, one o’clock. What we should do there are analytic tasks, those are tasks that require vigilance, keeping out distractions, heads down, focused. So, you’re writing a legal brief if you’re a lawyer, you’re auditing columns of figures, you are trying to find bugs in software, so, heads down, analytic work where you want to keep out distractions, that is best done during our peak.
Now, the trough is for almost everybody the early to mid afternoon, that is pretty much good for nothing. If you look at, it’s actually kind of frightening, some of these numbers that I uncover were pretty alarming. You have a much greater chance of anesthesia errors in surgery for surgeries that begin at three rather than at eight in the morning. Doctors and nurses are much less likely to wash their hands in the mid-afternoon, and earlier in the day. If you look at it, and this actually blew me away, the most common time period for auto accidents is between four and 6 AM, not a big surprise. The second most common time, between two and 4 PM, that midday trough. So, the trough isn’t good for much. What you’re better off doing is your administrative work, answering your email, doing your TPS reports, whatever kind of nonsense that we have to fill our days with. Then, the recovery is interesting, because the recovery again, which for most of us occurs in the late afternoon and early evening. That is a time when our mood is higher, our mood is better than during the trough, but our vigilance isn’t quite as great as during the peak and that combination is actually really interesting, because when we’re slightly less vigilant, but in a somewhat elevated mood, we’re pretty good at creative stuff. That’s a good time for brainstorming sessions and things that require greater creativity where you actually want to let in a few distractions, and to the extent it’s possible, if we could just alter our schedules a little bit, have a little bit more control over when we do what we do, people are going to be able to perform at a higher level with very little cost.
Brett McKay: Yeah, I’ve done that with myself, like, sometimes I’ll stay up really late to write sort of the initial draft of something and then use the morning the next day to edit, because I feel like if I try to write in the morning, I tend to be nit-picky, and I just backspace a lot and delete, no, that’s not right. But, if it’s late at night, I just let it rip. I’m surprised what I can get out.
Daniel Pink: Yeah, you’re less inhibited. I happen to be a morning writer, only because for me writing is, it so rarely flows that I have to shut out every kind of, I’m so easily distracted that I have to go to my peak low distractibility period in order to get any writing done.
Brett McKay: So, you talk about in the book, these are the typical cycle is this peak, trough recovery, and it starts in the morning and it goes in the … What do you do if you’re a night owl? Is there such a thing as night owl? People say it, “I’m a night owl,” but is that really a thing?
Daniel Pink: Totally it’s a thing. It’s actually an important thing. What a night owl is, is there’s a whole field of research called chronobiology. Chrono meaning clock, biology meaning study of life, and that is devoted to studying our daily, mostly daily biological rhythms, and each of us has what is known as a chronotype, that is our proclivity. Do we wake early, have a lot of energy early and then fade as the day goes on or do we wake later in the day and need a lot more time to ramp up and hit our peak in the evening, and it’s a pretty interesting area. What it shows is that there are some big, big differences based on age, big differences based on age, that people between say 14 and 24 are generally very, very owly, it has to do largely with hormones, that there’s a period often in a teenager’s life that sometimes drives parents nuts where their teen is suddenly sleeping really late and staying up really late. That’s not a sign of they’re being lazy people, it’s a sign that their biology is changing in a marked way. So, people between 14 to 24 are quite owly, but there are a decent number of people, let’s call it one-fifth of the population or so, that regardless of their age, are actually have evening chronotypes. They wake later and go to sleep later. For those kinds of people, the general pattern is the opposite, so they want to do their recovery first thing in the morning, they want to do the trough at the same time the trough is for everybody else, but they hit their peak for analytic work, for work that requires focus, diligence, later in the day, and I think one of the challenges is that the truth is the distribution is that some of us are larks, early morning types, some of us are owls, really evening types. The vast majority of people are somewhere in between, but most of the workplace is designed for people who are larks or in between, and it really disadvantages the one out of five of us who are night owls.
Brett McKay: What do you do if you’re a night owl and you work at a job that has the lark schedule. Is it possible to adjust your schedule? Do you go to your boss and say, “Hey, I have a chronotype that will allow me to perform better and this will help the bottom line.” Is that the pitch?
Daniel Pink: I think that’s actually a good pitch, and I think that enlightened bosses will respect that. There’s some research done, there’s a very famous chronobiologist named, well, as famous as a chronobiologist can be, named Till Roenneberg who has done some work with companies in Germany to help them adjust their schedules so that it fits people’s chronotypes, and gee, it’s not surprisingly they have fewer accidents, greater job satisfaction, higher productivity. So, I think that’s one way to do it, and you have to picture it in terms of what’s in it for the boss, what’s in it for the company, to have this different kind of schedule. On the other hand, we have to be realistic that a lot of people can’t simply dictate what their schedule is going to be, and so there’s some opportunity to work the margins. Let’s take a night owl who has to go to an 8:30 AM meeting. Now, that’s miserable for some of these people. Understandably, I have a lot of empathy for that, and yet there’s a meeting at 8:30 and they still have to do their job and perform. What can they do? Well, there are a few things. Number one is that the night before, while they’re in their peak they should maybe make a list of what they want to accomplish at the meeting, what they need for that meeting, and so basically a checklist, so they don’t space out in the fog of the morning. The other thing that we can do is there are ways to increase our focus and boost our mood. A lot of those happen through various kinds of breaks. What I would advise a night owl who is going to an 8:30 meeting is to before you go into the meeting, you’ve got your checklist, take a walk outside beforehand, there’s a lot of good evidence that movement and nature can be very restorative. The other thing that actually is fairly restorative is doing a good deed for somebody, so maybe on your way into that meeting, you stop at the local coffee place and buy a cup of coffee for the person behind you. Doing good boosts our mood a little bit. There are some things we can do, night owls can do to work the margins of it, but I actually prefer that they do exactly what you suggested, which is go to their boss, explain what is going on and put it in terms of the company’s interest.
Brett McKay: You’ve also seen a movement with schools recognizing that teenagers tend to be nigh owls and they are adjusting the school day starting later and ending later.
Daniel Pink: Absolutely, and that’s a huge issue and if you look at the effects of starting school at 7:15 AM for teenagers is such an unbelievably bad idea. It goes against everything we know about science and indeed everything we know about chronobiology at least. In fact, you have the American Academy of Pediatricians has issued a policy statement saying, “Please, school districts of America, do not start school for teenagers before 8:30 in the morning,” and yet, the average school start time in America is 8:03, which again goes to your earlier point about hey, we’re just not taking these when issues seriously enough.
Brett McKay: And, the schools that have adjusted, they’ve seen an increase in test scores and things like that, just making that adjustment, that can do a lot because all of these schools are strapped for cash, they think we’ve got to hire more teachers. Just start your day later and that can do a lot.
Daniel Pink: It does a huge amount. First of all, what it shows is that starting the school later, for teenagers. We’re not talking about for little kids, but for teenagers. Starting the school later for teenagers, the school districts that have done it have seen incredible results, higher test scores, low drop out rates, some really interesting evidence about a reduction in teenage auto accidents, which is really important, reduced depression, reduced obesity, it’s really quite extraordinary. To your point though, there’s a study out of Wake Forest, not out of Wake Forest, but out of the Wake County North Carolina School District that showed that this is actually a very cost effective remedy, that other things that school districts do to try to reduce the drop out rate or improve test scores end up being more costly and simply start school at nine. Don’t start school for teenagers at 7:24 AM.
Brett McKay: So, our bodies have this daily clock, this peak, trough, recovery, throughout the day. Does it have a similar rhythm throughout the week?
Daniel Pink: Yes and no. What you see is that when people, on weekends, typically, people who work during the week and have the weekends off, people who work and hae the weekends off, they end up essentially rising, falling asleep and awakening true to their chronotype, because they don’t have to get up to an alarm clock. So, figuring out what time you wake up and what time you go to sleep on weekends, which are typically for people what are called free days is a good way to figure out your chronotype. There’s some other evidence to show though, in terms of behavior change that we’re more likely to engage in behavior change, say, “I’m going to finally go to the gym, I’m going to start a new diet, I’m going to buckle down at work.” We’re more likely to pursue that and succeed at it if we do that say on a Monday rather than on a Thursday. It’s something called the fresh start effect. So, it goes beyond the week. It goes to we’re more likely to succeed if we do it on the first of the month rather than the 14th of the month, if we do it on the day after a holiday rather than the day before a holiday. Again, a week is a made up thing. A week is not a natural phenomenon, it’s just something that human beings came up with to try to corral time.
Brett McKay: How about seasons? That’s not a made up thing. We go through different seasons.
Daniel Pink: Oh, no, not at all. That’s for real, because we’re on this little ball moving around the sun.
Brett McKay: Do the seasons affect our performance, do we behave in a different way during the winter than say during the summer?
Daniel Pink: Yeah, it’s a really interesting question, and some of the evidence on that is mixed. I was a little bit skittish about pulling the trigger, because I wasn’t sure about some of those things. One of the things that’s really interesting though is that whether you’re a night owl or a lark correlates to the season of which you’re born, if you can believe that. So, the season of which you’re born seems to have an effect on what your eventual adult chronotype is going to be, which is kind of peculiar.
Brett McKay: It is weird. So, we’ve got this rhythm throughout the day, and there’s things we can do to leverage that or work in the margins of that. You mentioned this fresh start stuff, and you talked about this in the book, a section, you called them temporal landmarks. Monday is a temporal landmark, holidays can be temporal landmarks. Tell us a little bit more about this idea of temporal landmarks and how we can use those to boost our performance.
Daniel Pink: Temporal landmarks isn’t my term, it’s a term from some of the mostly social psychologists who have studied some of these issues. What it is, is this, it’s really important, I think it’s a really important concept. That is there’s certain dates, and here we’re talking about days of the year. There are certain days of the year that operate as landmarks, and the same way that certain settings, certain buildings, or certain parks or whatever operate as physical landmarks. That is, let’s say you’re trying to drive to my house and I say, “Look for, there’s a certain …” I live in Washington, D.C. and there’s a restaurant near my house that everybody seems to know about called Cactus Cantina. That’s like the landmark to say, “Hey, you’re close to my house,” and so what will happen is people will drive to my house, if I were to ask them, “What did you pass by,” they probably have no idea what they passed by, but as soon as they see Cactus Cantina, they’re like, “oh, I know …” So, it’s a landmark that gets us to do two things. Number one, slow down and pay attention. Number two it has this really peculiar effect on the way we account for time in our heads. That is we have a form of temporal accounting, too. So, on certain dates we feel like we’re opening a fresh ledger in the same way a business would open a fresh ledger at the beginning of a fiscal year or at the beginning of a new quarter. We say, “Oh, you know what, I was a lazy slob during the month of March, but on the first day of April, I’m opening a fresh ledger and making a fresh start.” Those end up being like the dates I talk about. So, Mondays are fresh start dates, the day after your birthday is a good fresh start date, the day after a federal holiday, the first day of a semester, the first day back from vacation. There are a bunch of dates that operate like physical landmarks. Again, they get us to slow down, pay attention, and open up a fresh ledger.
Brett McKay: Yesterday was New Years Day for us and that’s a great landmark day that people take advantage of.
Daniel Pink: That is the king of fresh start days. It’s one reason why we have, it’s the thinking behind New Years Resolutions, “OK, I was a complete slob during 2017, but in 2018, I’m going to have a vegan diet and go to the gym three times a day.”
Brett McKay: Besides these temporal landmarks and this rhythm throughout the day that we have, you’ve also discussed the research behind how when we start things can have a huge impact on the outcome of whether it’s success or failure. Gvie us some examples of when starting things can determine the outcome of something.
Daniel Pink: Yeah, and this I one of those areas of timing that is often beyond our control and it’s pretty alarming. We talked a little bit about school start times and how much that has an effect on literally whether a kid is going to graduate from high school or not and obviously the difference in life outcomes between a high school graduate and someone who is not a high school graduate is vast. But, one of the most alarming pieces of research that I uncovered was from Yale University and what it showed is this, imagine you take two people, use you and me, Brett and Dan. Say you and I graduated from college, let’s say we graduated from the same college, but the only difference is that you graduated in a boom time and I graduated in a recession. Maybe we’re five years apart, but the circumstances into which we launched our career were different. Again, through no fault of our own. You graduated in a boom time, I graduated in a recession. This research from Yale showed that not surprisingly, you’re probably going to earn more your first year because the economy is stronger. I don’t think that’s a shocker to anybody. I think what’s a shocker is that that difference shows up in people’s wages 20 years later. So, you graduate from college and are 22, when you’re in your early 40s you might still be out earning me only because you began your career at a better and more auspicious moment. That’s just one of the dramatic ways that beginnings can affect us, that beginnings can often matter to the end. It’s one of those situations where it’s not like, “Hey, the other situation you mentioned, ‘Oh, I’ll go to my boss and explain that I’m a night owl,’ its like what do you do in that circumstance?” That’s the case where we need to reckon with the unfairness of people starting at different points.
Brett McKay: Are there any ideas of interventions that you can do for that? Let’s say that you graduated in 2008/2009. I graduated from law school in 09, and that’s when there was just this bloodbath in the legal field. There were firms just laying things off. The Dean, when she gave the commencement speech, it was like so depressing. She was like, “We know it’s a tough time to graduate.” Even my parents, they were like “That was the most depressing commencement speech I ever heard in my entire life.” But, what do you do? Are there any ideas of how we can counter that?
Daniel Pink: I think what you have to do is you have to make that kind of situation not your problem, but essentially everybody’s problem. There was actually some interesting research from MBA programs about that, so someone who gets an MBA in a down year versus an up year, first of all, someone who gets an MBA in an up year is going to likely outearn over the course of his or her lifetime someone who graduates in a down year. What’s also interesting is that the people who graduate in a down year those people are, they do become CEOs once they graduate, once they get their … Eventually, after they get their MBA degree, but they become CEOs of smaller firms. So, it’s pure happenstance. What do you do in that situation to get to your question? I think that it requires a more of a kind of group solution. Let’s take this. At some level, let’s take 2008 as an example. At some level that is akin to a natural disaster to me. So, when there’s an earthquake or something like that, we don’t say, “Oh, sorry, bad luck, earthquake, nothing you can do about that.” We say, “Hey, wait a second, that’s unfair, they had an earthquake, no one else had an earthquake. We’re going to provide some loans, we’re going to provide some kind of assistance.”
What I think as an idea in that case is if the unemployment rate goes above a certain level, national unemployment rate or local unemployment rate goes above a certain level and college graduation or business school graduation, or law school graduation, or whatever, I think it should trigger perhaps some emergency funds or some loan payback programs so that people who through no fault of their own, they’ve done everything right, they’ve gone to school, they’ve gotten good grades, and just through circumstance of start of their career in a downturn, they shouldn’t be necessarily disadvantaged on that, it hurts all of us when those people suffer. You see a little bit, I’ll give you an example of this, you see this a little bit in medicine, where you had for a long time in medicine, you had what was called the July effect. The July effect is when new residents started in teaching hospitals. They leave medical school in June and they start their residency in July, and they’re taking care of patients. These are people who are a month out of medical school and lo and behold, there were a lot of problems with that, like people dying and getting sick because they’re treated by people who are just at the beginning of their career as a physician. So, what the teaching hospitals did is say, “Oh, wait a second, we can’t just say, ‘Oh, that’s just bad luck for those patients who are dying,’ what they did is they said, ‘Let’s start together, let’s make this more of a collective solution.”
So, instead of having the doctors treat the patients individually, they became part of teams, they had greater monitoring, and so I think that when people have through no fault of their own a bad beginning, we as a society, as a matter of fairness have to take collective action. But, the other thing is, it’s good for all of us. It’s good for me if you’re earning a decent living, but what we don’t do is we don’t recognize how much these starts matter significantly to outcomes even two decades later.
Brett McKay: So, if it’s a bad start because of no fault of your own, because there’s just bad timing, group solution, but if it’s a bad start based on you know, you didn’t do well, that’s when you leverage things like temporal landmarks, and say, “I’m going to get a fresh start.”
Daniel Pink: Exactly, precisely, perfect.
Brett McKay: Let’s talk about the midpoint, right. I think, you know, it’s the new year, everyone sets goals in the new year, they’re always really excited you have that dopamine hitting your brain, it feels good, this is the year everything changes, and then about, even like in the middle of January the motivation fizzles. What’s going on there whenever we reach a midpoint with a goal or some task where that drive just seems like it just goes away?
Daniel Pink: That’s another great question, and it’s very characteristic of midpoints. What happens when we hit the … Midpoints are weird in that two very different things can happen when we reach a midpoint. Sometimes they bring us down, other times they fire us up. So, if you look at middle age, there’s this whole notion of a mid-life crisis, which turns out not to be true at all, but there is this kind of mid-life sag, where people are generally happy in their 20s and 30s, they start to dip a little bit in their 40s, by their early 50s they’re at the bottom, and in their late 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, they start rising back up again and they’re actually surprisingly happy. You see it sometimes in terms of people’s compliance with certain kinds of tasks, that they’re very compliant at the beginning and at the end, but they fade in the middle.
On the other hand, there’s also some really good evidence in teams, where if you look at group projects, we have this notion that when people engage in a group project, they start and they follow this linear progress from the beginning to the end and what Connie Gersick who was at UCLA and now is at Yale has found is that, that’s not how it is at all. Basically, what happens is that during the first part of a project, people don’t do anything, they posture, they waste time, and it’s really only at the exact midpoint that they look up and say, “Oh my God, we’ve squandered half of our time, we have to get going.” So, the midpoint has these two different effects. So, what can you do about it?
I think there are a couple of things. Number one is that you have to recognize that there are midpoints, something that was completely a mystery to me until I started doing this research. I never even thought about midpoints. The second thing is that you do have a choice about when you hit a midpoint you can say “Oh no,” or you can say, “Uh-oh,” and you’re better off saying “Uh-oh,” and one of the good ways to say “Uh-oh,” is to imagine that at the midpoint you’re a little bit behind. There’s some really interesting evidence from the NBA, big data analysis of like 20,000 or so NBA games that showed that at halftime, a team that is ahead at halftime is more likely to win the game, which makes sense, because they have more points, it’s not complicated math. The exception is, is that teams that are down by one point at halftime are actually more likely to win than teams that are up by one point. There’s something about being a little bit behind that is galvanizing. So, recognize midpoints, use them to wake up rather than roll over and then imagine you’re a little bit behind and that’s a way to use a midpoint as a spark rather than let it bring you down.
Brett McKay: I think that’s what happened last night with the Rose Bowl, with my Sooners and Georgia. Georgia was like behind or they tied it at halftime and then they just came out and just decimated.
Daniel Pink: You know, what’s interesting, it’s funny you said that because I watched that game and I was thinking about that, and they had an interview with the freshman quarterback of Georgia after the game who was talking about what was going on at halftime and how they were behind, and he kept saying, “We’re a fourth quarter team, we’re a fourth quarter team,” and it is pretty interesting, and again, with sports, what we have is we have these very clearly delineated midpoints, halftime, or at least in basketball, football, and things like that, but in other kinds of projects, we often don’t, but if we have a beginning and we have a deadline, there is obviously a midpoint, and what Connie Gersick found, weirdly in looking at a lot of these team projects is that you give a team 34 days to do something, they don’t really get started until day 17. You give a team 11 days to do something, they don’t get started until day six. So, the more we think about, are conscious of midpoints, the more we can use them, do a little bit better than the Sooners did in the Rose Bowl.
Brett McKay: Right, so if students can take advantage of this, you might have a deadline for a paper that’s months away, but like create your own artificial deadline, that will create an artificial midpoint for you to have your uh-oh moment to get started, so you don’t have to worry about turning in your paper at the last minute.
Daniel Pink: Great idea.
Brett McKay: I like that. All right, so we talked about midpoints. What about endings. We talked about the beginning, we talked about midpoints, how do endpoints influence the outcome of an event?
Daniel Pink: Endings have a huge effect on our behavior, and I think in a pretty interesting way. There are multiple things that endings do. One of the things that they do is they can galvanize us to kick a little harder, so there’s some fascinating research from Adam Alter at NYU, Hal Hershfield at UCLA, about the age at which people are likely to run their first marathon. It turns out that the most common age at which people are likely to run a first marathon is age 29, which is kind of a weird age, 29 where did that come from. Then you start unpacking it and you realize, wait a second, people who are 29 are twice as likely to run a first marathon as people who are 28 and people who are 30. That’s kind of weird, there’s not much of a physiological difference between 29 year olds and 28 year olds, and between 29 year olds and 30 year olds, what’s going on. Then, you realize “Hey, people are likely to run marathons at age 39, age 49, age 59,” and so this artificial marker of a decade, when we get to the end of it, getting to the end of something can focus our attention, it can increase our motivation and it can also spark a pretty interesting search for meaning. So, one thing that endings do is they get us to kick a little harder to get us to pursue meaning more robustly.
You also talk about we typically remember things by how they ended, and the famous colonoscopy example. Talk about that one. The famous colonoscopy, because I love talking about colonoscopies. In fact-
Brett McKay: Who doesn’t.
Daniel Pink: Actually, there’s some interesting research, if you really want to go deep into colonoscopies, no pun intended, there’s some interesting research for those of your listeners who are 50 and older, do not get a colonoscopy in the afternoon. Afternoon colonoscopies find half as many polyps as morning colonoscopies. It’s terrifying, but anyway. There is as you said, a famous piece of research in social psychology from Daniel Kahneman, Barbara Fredrickson’s on colonoscopies that found a colonoscopy that lasted a long time was seen as less uncomfortable than a colonoscopy that lasted a short amount of time, but that had a painful end. That phenomenon in behavioral economics is known as duration neglect. That is we don’t focus so much on the duration of an event but often focus on how it ends. There some other interesting evidence of that, I mean, really cool interesting stuff about how we look at people, the lives somebody led. So, somebody who was a jerk for most of their life, but suddenly became a good guy his final year and then died is often remembered as well as someone who was a good guy most of his life but became a jerk in his last year. That is that ending has a disproportionate effect on how we remember things. You see it anecdotally in something like Yelp reviews. You want to kill 15 minutes, go on Yelp, look at restaurant reviews, and you’ll see a disproportionate number of them evaluate the restaurant by what happened at the end of the meal, “They gave me a check and it was wrong, and they were jerks about it.” “They gave me a free dessert, woo hoo.” “I left my keys and they ran after me in the parking lot to retrieve my keys, I love this place.” So, I think it’s really important in our personal encounters and in our professional encounters that we’re conscious of endings, and try to get endings to end on a positive, not only on a positive note but in a way that elevates. Human beings prefer endings that elevate, we prefer rising sequences to declining sequences, and being conscious and intentional about that can improve our interactions.
Brett McKay: Got you. So, we’ve been talking a lot about timing on the individual level, a little bit of group level. But, let’s talk a little more about the timing of a group, because that seems, I don’t know, like you said, we talked about it earlier, people think about the how of group dynamics, the what of group dynamics, but we never think about the when. Everyone has their own timing, or their perception of the timing of an activity or task that they’re trying to accomplish as a group. How do we sync each other up whenever we’re working on a task together?
Daniel Pink: There are certain kinds of endeavors where we want to be synchronized with other people, and I looked at that by looking at some lunch deliverers in Mumbai, India, by looking at choirs, by looking at rowing teams, and there are some rules to how groups synchronize. One of them is, is that groups synchronize better when they have a very clear boss, so if you look at something like choirs, choirs have a chorus master who stands in the front, who is clearly the person who everybody looks to and is in charge, and that seems to have, foster greater synchronization. If you look at rowing, rowing teams have a coxswain. That person is not even holding an oar, but he or she is an essential part of that team because that person is in charge of synchronization. So, having a boss, people end up synchronizing better when they have a sense of belonging, when they feel, which is one reason why very effectively synced teams, groups, have sometimes sort of a secret language, gestures, there’s some interesting research on touch that one piece of research shows that if you simply watch NBA games at the beginning of the season, looked at how many, how often players were touching each other, high fives, low fives, chest bumps, whatever, that that ended up being a fairly strong predictor of whether the team was going to succeed, because those groups seemed to be synced up. Also, having a sense of purpose and mission helps synchronization, too. So, some really interesting things about, and I think for me the interesting part about the synchronization research is how much synchronized with others makes us feel good and do good. There is something about being in sync with others that is different, that brings us to a higher level of satisfaction that is somehow innately human.
Brett McKay: I love it. I love the example you talk about, and I’ll let people buy the book so they can read, but the Navy SEALS and why they carry logs and the power of log carrying. Did you have that in there or was that in another-
Daniel Pink: That’s a different, but it’s the same principle, it’s the exact same principle. I did something a little bit more tender when talking about choirs. If you look at … Everybody knows physical exercise is incredibly good for you, for your body, for your soul, for your heart, whatever, like you’re crazy if you don’t exercise. Choral singing, if you look at the research on choral singing, not just singing but singing in groups. Singing in groups is pretty much as good for you as physical exercise.
Brett McKay: That’s awesome. So, we should sing more. Next time you’re at the baseball game and they’re singing “Take me out to the ball game,” instead of rolling your eyes, you should sing.
Daniel Pink: I always sing “Take me out to the ball game.” It’s sacrilegious not to.
Brett McKay: Exactly. Well, Daniel, this has been a great conversation. There’s a lot more we could talk about. Where can people go to learn more about the bok and your work?
Daniel Pink: You can find the book, it’s called “When, the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing,” at any bookstore online or offline. I also have a website, which is danpink.com.
Brett McKay: Dan Pink. Thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Daniel Pink: Thanks for having me, I enjoyed it.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Daniel Pink. He is the author of When, the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. It is available on amazon.com and bookstores everywhere. Also, check out his site, danpink.com, where you can find more information about the rest of his work. Also, check out our show notes at AOM.is/when, where you can find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com. If you enjoy the podcast or have gotten something out of it, I’d appreciate you to take one minute to give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher, it helps out a lot, and if you’ve done that already, thank you, please share the show with your friends and family. Word of mouth is how this show grows and the more the merrier around here. As always, thank you for your continued support, and until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.