Q&A with Daniel Pink

Daniel Pink | January 09, 2018

At Catalyst Atlanta this past October we had the pleasure of hearing from Daniel Pink, author of several bestselling books about business, work, and behavior. And recently, we were able to take the time to ask him a few questions about his new released book, WHEN-the scientific secrets of perfect timing. Here’s what he had to say about it:


1. The subtitle of your new book WHEN (01/09/18) is “the scientific secrets of perfect timing.” Many would say that perfect timing is an art based on feeling and intuition…are they wrong? 


Yep, they’re wrong! After two years of research, I’m convinced that good timing is much more science than art. Across more than a dozen fields — economics, social psychology, endocrinology, chronobiology, cognitive science, and more — researchers are uncovering a huge batch of exciting evidence that allows us to make systematically better “when” decisions. 


2. You spent two years researching timing across many different fields. What are a couple of the most surprising findings of your research?


Let me offer three:


1. Time of day explains about 20 percent of difference in how people perform on brain-based tasks. One example: Students who take standardized tests in the afternoon routinely score lower than those who take tests in the morning. Timing isn’t everything, but it’s a big thing. 


2. People are twice as likely to run their first marathon at age 29 as they are at age 28 or age 30. Forty-nine-year-olds are three times more likely to run a first marathon than 50-year-olds. Endings — simply being aware of an end — dramatically shape our behavior.


3. Choral singing is the new exercise. Research shows that the benefits of singing in a choir (not singing alone, but singing together) are massive: higher pain thresholds and reduced need for pain medication, increased production of infection-fighting immunoglobulin, reduced symptoms of depression, increased sensitivity toward others, improved mood, and much more. 


3. One area of your research that any leader is very interested in is when to start, when to end, and what to do in-between. This year, we’ve been talking about courage at our Catalyst events. Even if it’s hard to put into action, most people understand the courage it takes to jump into something new, but what has your research shown us about the “murky middle”? How do we determine when to stay steadfast, reset, or cut bait? 


Fortunately, there’s a science of midpoints. And what we know is that sometimes midpoints bring us down, other times they fire us up. So we should approach midpoints with three strategies. First, be aware they exist. That’s often the big problem. For many of us, midpoints are invisible. Second, use midpoints to wake up rather than roll over — to say “uh oh” and get started rather than “oh no” and give up. Third, when you hit a midpoint, imagine you’re a little behind. Research has shown that when we’re ahead at the middle we risk becoming complacent — and when we’re way behind, we often give up. But when we think we’re just a little bit behind, we work harder and sharpen our performance. 


4. A word that often comes up within the Catalyst community is hustle. You have to be hungry and have hustle in order to reach your goals and accomplish your purpose. Of course, there is truth in that statement but when does hustle become counterproductive? 


Hustle is counterproductive when it becomes the entire point of the exercise. Lots of people confuse action — Look! I’m working really hard! I running around like a maniac! — with accomplishment. Remember: Hustle is the means to an end, not the end itself. 


5. At Catalyst, we love putting ideas into action. In the book, you provide many practical tools you learned from your research. What’s one productivity hack you learned from your research that you could share here?


Make a break list. The science of breaks is where the science of sleep was 15 years ago — about to break through the surface of our understanding. We have to think of breaks not as a deviation from performance, but as *part of* performance. And the smartest thing you can do is to *schedule* two or three 15-minute breaks every day. Put them in your calendar. Treat them with the same seriousness with which you treat meetings. Then, when you take that break, be sure to detach fully. No email. No phone calls. Instead, go outside, take a short walk with someone, and talk about something other than work. 

Learn more about WHEN here: http://www.danpink.com/books/when/

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