Innovation Book Club: When

Daniel H. Pink’s best-selling books about business psychology include titles such as Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others. But the surprising truth behind his newest book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, is that it came about because Pink needed help motivating and moving himself.

“I wrote it because I was frustrated,” Pink said in a recent interview with HSMAI. “I was sitting here in this office, making all kinds of ‘when’ decisions myself: When should I do my writing? When should I do my interviews? When should I do my research? When should I exercise? I was making those decisions in a very sloppy way. I wanted to make them in a better way, so I looked around for guidance, which didn’t exist, and so I started looking at the research. That’s where I realized I was onto something really interesting, because the volume of research was extraordinary.”

The research Pink uncovered cut across disciplines, including economics, social psychology, molecular biology, endocrinology, and chronobiology, which is the science of biological rhythms. “All these fields,” he said, “were asking similar questions: What’s the effect of time of day on what we do and how we do it, how we feel? How do beginnings affect us? How do midpoints affect us? How do endings affect us?”

Understanding that, according to When, means understanding how you might improve the way you think, live, and work — and how your colleagues and collaborators might as well. And, as Pink told us, that has applications for people who work in hospitality, and could even be leveraged to facilitate innovation.

The average person’s day is broken into three stages, right?

We’ve got a peak, a trough, and a recovery. That’s largely following patterns of mood, but it also ends up following patterns of performance. Eighty percent of us — those of us who are morning people [larks] and intermediate types [third birds], not people who are night owls — go through the day in that order: peak, trough, recovery. Peak: early. Trough: middle of the day. Recovery: late afternoon and early evening.

During the peak, that’s when we’re highest in vigilance. That’s the key point of the day. When we’re vigilant, we’re able to bat away distractions, so that’s when we’re better off doing analytic work. All kinds of bad stuff happens during the trough, so you’re better off doing your administrative work and answering routine email. Then, the recovery is actually a really interesting period. It’s later in the day, your mood is back up, but your vigilance is lower, and that makes it a good time for things like brainstorming, iterative work, insight work.

The idea here is relatively simple: Our cognitive abilities don’t stay the same throughout the day. They change in predictable, sometimes extreme ways, and the best time to do something depends on what it is you’re doing.

Does this apply to group dynamics as well, or does it mostly manifest itself at the level of individual performance?

It really depends on what you want to get done in the group. If it’s group work that is analytical, then you want to have people doing it at their peak times. It becomes complicated if you have a group that’s half owls and half larks, because they’re going to have different peaks of their analytic time. On the other hand, maybe you do want a group that’s half larks and half owls, because you want more cognitive diversity. It just becomes a more complicated question when you add people into it.

But I think that asking that question is the key. Most people don’t even ask that question. When they say, “Let’s have a meeting,” they don’t say, “Hmm, what kind of work are we doing at this meeting? Is it analytical or is it administrative?” They don’t say, “Who’s going to be at this meeting? Is it owls or larks or whatever?” They just say, “Oh, this is when conference room 3C is open. Let’s have a meeting.”

You also break down interactions into three stages — beginnings, midpoints, and endings — and explore some of the implications of that for customer service, among other things. How might that apply to hospitality?

There are a lot of lessons for endings within hospitality. What we know pretty clearly is that how an experience ends has a disproportionate effect on how we encode it, how we evaluate it, and how we record it. Think about a hotel stay. I think that the industry should be much more intentional about ending a stay on some kind of uplift — making it much more meaningful and memorable and a little bit less transactional. Very high-end hotels will say, “Oh, would you like a glass of wine?” when you show up, or a lot of them will give you cookies when you show up. Something could be said for doing that at the end.

What does timing mean for people who work in sales and marketing?

You’ve got to take a step a back and think about decision making. How do human beings make decisions? I focus more on the sales than the marketing side of it. When you’re a salesperson for a hotel chain or an individual property or whatever, anytime you’re pitching your business — when [potential clients] come into those encounters, they always have in their back pocket a default decision. The default decision in this kind of encounter is no.

How do you get people to overcome the default? Is there a temporal dimension to people overcoming the default decision? And there is. People are more likely to overcome the default when it’s early in the day and immediately after breaks, early in the day and immediately after breaks. If I’m scheduling pitches, I would schedule them where I could early in the prospect’s day or after the prospect had a break. I’m not saying, “Oh, you’ll get it if you do it this way.” All I’m saying is, I’m actually thinking about it probabilistically.

There are also lessons of sequence. Let’s say that the American Association of Rutabaga Growers is having a big conference in the city, and they’re auditioning hotels where they’re going to put their members. Each hotel has 15 minutes to pitch. Do you want to go first, or do you want to go second? Do you want to go first, or do you want to go last? If there are not many competitors, you want to go first. If there are a lot of competitors, you want to go last. If the criteria are very clear, you’re better off going toward the front. If the criteria are not clear, you’re much better off going toward the end, because they’ll use those first few prospects’ pitches to figure out what it is that they want. I think there are a lot of salespeople who spend more time figuring out, “Oh, should I use a 22-point font on my slide deck or an 18-point font on my slide deck?” — when in fact they should be thinking about sequences and time of day.

Do the same parameters apply for electronic interactions like email marketing?

I don’t know, because at some level it’s harder to control and easier to measure. For instance, I can send an email at a certain time, but I don’t know when it’s going to be opened or received, whereas in this real-time conversation, I know there’s going to be a lag of a second before it gets received. The other thing is that with digital communication, it’s easier to measure that. You can do AB tests out the wazoo. You can say, “I’m going to send an email to 50 prospects. I’m going to send 25 an email at 9 a.m. and 25 an email at 4 p.m. and then see if there’s any difference in response.”

What does timing have to say about when people are open to new ideas?

In general, the research shows that for most of us, that’s later in the day, not early in the day, when we’re more locked-down and focused. I do think that there’s this potent combination — late in the day and the early evening is when people are highest in mood and have a decline in vigilance. That makes a somewhat better time for doing iterative brainstorming kind of work.

Categories: Marketing
Insight Type: Articles