When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing

Daniel Pink is one of my favorite behavioral scientists.  I just finished When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.  In it, he shares:

  • We all have different times when we are most effective.  This is our chronotype. 
  • Most have a chronotype that peaks in the morning, have an afternoon trough, and an evening bounce. 
  • Beyond the above chronotype, there are two others:  night owl and lark.  Night owls hit their stride in the evening and are typically more creative and impulsive.  Larks believe in Ben Franklin’s early to bed, early to rise with their best hours in the early AM.  Larks tend to be stable and introverted.
  • So, how should one schedule the day?  Base it on your chronotype and plan accordingly.  For example, if you’re not a lark or an owl (which is 60-80% of the population), the morning peak is the best time to tackle focused tasks.  Do idea generation in the early evening.
  • If you’re an owl, flip the above.  Spend night time thinking critically and save the morning for creative tasks.
  • For meetings or negotiations, mornings are typically better than other parts of the day.
  • Are you having a medical procedure?  Do it in the morning.  Mistakes are most common after 3:00 PM.  At 9:00 AM, there’s a 1% chance of an error.  By 4:00, that quadruples.
  • Breaks are good.  Every hour, taking a five-minute break reduces fatigue and improves motivation.
  • Here’s the recipe for a nap which seems counter-intuitive.  Have a cup of coffee, then set a timer for 20 minutes.  If you’re like most, you’ll fall asleep in about seven minutes, get a dozen or so minutes of sleep, and have the ideal nap.
  • With projects, use a premortem.  Try to identify all the ways things could go wrong and identify ways to avoid them.  Understand the power of the midpoint.  Use the middle of a project, like a sports team down by one point after the first half, as an inspiration to bring the effort needed to get the project to completion.
  • While less a business idea than an interesting observation, in When the author shares the concept of “9-enders.” Whether it’s running a marathon or committing suicide, there’s a disproportionate number of 29, 39, 49, etc., who are inclined to do dramatic actions when finishing a decade.
  • While some life planners say happiness comes from being present, absolute satisfaction is when your current self lines up with your future and past you.

The Dichotomy of Leadership

In Extreme Ownership, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin relate lessons from war to business.  In their follow-up book, The Dichotomy of Leadership, they outline additional lessons learned. 

Below is a quick book recap and my $0.02:

  • Care for team members but know at times individuals may be sacrificed to complete the mission.  I believe in caring.  When people are going through a personal hard spot, I go out of my way to care and help.  Funerals are mandatory; weddings are optional.  On the flip side, in times like 9/11 or the pandemic, hard decisions to preserve the organization need to be made, like letting people go.
  • Spend leadership capital on what counts.  Stay out of the way and let others do their jobs.  When decisions need to be made by others, I say it is “It’s your call because I don’t want your job back.” Yet, sometimes, on a significant issue headed in the wrong way, I chime in and state what needs to happen.
  • Share “the why” not “the how.” As a leader, I share the overarching goal and the purpose but not the specific steps to achieve the goal.
  • To be a good leader, be a good follower.  The best idea wins, regardless of who’s behind the decision.  In discussions, I let others go first, withhold judgment, and seek to understand the positions and views of others.
  • Training is mandatory and should be realistic, focus on fundamentals, and repetitive.  Every Friday, I hold a training session with the Intertech Education Division’s Account Executives.  The agenda includes sharing a best practice from the last week, each covering a book summary, and performing mock sales calls.  The mock call is the core of our training.  After the call, we evaluate it.  The goal is to create true sales professionals who perform with muscle memory.
  • Plan, but don’t overdo it.  In goals, focus on the outcome and be flexible on the path to the destination.  When identifying potential goal risks and mitigations, don’t try to account for every possible thing that could go wrong.  Focus on the most likely and determine the best response.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things

In The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, Ben Horowitz, outlines what it takes to be a solid leader:

  • Know what the organization needs and get the team to execute
  • Be honest and communicate the plan when there are problems
  • Train and care for your people
  • Realize in leadership; there are pressures and responsibilities
  • If firings are needed, be fast and fair
  • If there’s an executive who needs to go, the CEO should take responsibility for the hiring mistake and ensure continuity
  • Hire for strengths, mitigate weaknesses
  • Create an environment of engagement
  • Remove politics

The Infinite Game

I finished The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek.  Sinek shares that the business world is not a finite game, so business leaders need to have an infinite mindset.  Like in sports, in a finite game, there’s a start and finish, agreed-upon rules, and in the end, a winner.   This isn’t true for businesses.

Businesses should not be judged only on sales, profit, and share price.  Instead of focusing on just those factors, leaders should be building something that will endure for generations.  An example shared in the book is Microsoft’s original mission to “empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.” This infinite game mindset changed under Steve Ballmer.  With Balmer at the helm, Microsoft was focused on beating Apple and its market share.  Remember Microsoft’s Zune?  No?  Exactly.

An excellent example of playing the infinite game is Victorinox.  Governments banned knives in carry-on luggage after 9/11.  Before 9/11, knives were 95% of the company’s sales.  Victorinox’s response was to go into new markets like travel gear and watches.  Today, knives are 35% of Victorinox’s revenue.

As the author explains, there are five parts of the infinite mindset:

  1. Advance a Just Cause:  Focus on the long-term, not the quarter.  Treat employees with respect. 
  2. Build Trusting Teams:  Think people first, profit second. 
  3. Study your Worthy Rivals:  As in sports, Worthy Rivals force us to improve. 
  4. Prepare for Existential Flexibility:  Be flexible on the approach to achieve the goal.
  5. Demonstrate the Courage to Lead:  Show commitment to the cause.  High-performing firms have a Visionary and an Implementer.

Do Nothing

I recently finished Do Nothing by Celeste Headlee. In it, she shares:

  • A strive for efficiency can make us unhappy if we believe we need to keep up with others who portray success
  • While current-day productivity hacks are popular, medieval peasants worked less and had more vacation than today’s average worker
  • The cult of efficiency makes us feel guilty about enjoying leisure time. As shared in my post, Think Like a Rocket Scientist, downtime opens our minds to new ideas
  • Email and text are simple and efficient. Yet, they lack the connection that happens in a live conversation. In Do Nothing, the author shares a research study where a storyteller talks live with a listener. The listener’s brain waves end up emulating those of the reader
  • Comparison to others or using social media to determine the bar for happiness is a bad idea

In summary, take time for downtime and create your own definition of success and happiness.