49: "The Problem Solver" - Dan Pink

Dan Pink[279].jpg

"The Problem Solver"

Dan Pink is a rare combination. A powerful storyteller with an extraordinary eye for patterns and truth in a white-out blizzard of data and possibilities. His books have been a big part of my personal journey.   His most recent book is called, When - the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing You'll find all his books at DanPink.com. Dan and I talked about when he realized he was a writer, about why writing a book is like a marriage and about how he helped me put a room full of 200 people to sleep.


Three Takeaways

  • Curiosity and open mindedness about why and how things happen.
  • Objectivity for what to prioritize and why.
  • The desire to make a difference

"FEARLESS CREATIVE LEADERSHIP" PODCAST - TRANSCRIPT

Episode 49: "The Problem Solver" Dan Pink

I’m Charles Day and this is Fearless!!

This week, my conversation with the author Dan Pink, which is called -

The Problem Finder

“If your clients or prospects know exactly what their problem is, they don't need you very much. They need you to be one of two or three bidders to drive down the price. You're not that valuable to them. Where are you more valuable? When they don't know what their problem is or they're wrong about their problem, which is often the case. That's what I mean by problem finding. Can you surface latent problems? Can you find hidden problems?”

We’ve been wrong for so long about the most important part of what it means to lead a business that depends upon creativity. 

For years , the focus has been on managing the people. How do we create an environment in which they can succeed. How do we organize them? What tools do they need?

But finally, we’re paying more attention to the key to unlocking creativity.

Defining the right problem. 

In Dan’s book To Sell is Human, he describes research that shows that the most creative breakthroughs come from people who are problem finders. People who start by asking questions, not answering the ones put in front of them.

This isn’t an easy shift in modern businesses for a couple of reasons.

First, creative people are problem solvers by nature. We want only the problem. Without one, we are like Sherlock Holmes without a crime. 

Put one in front of us and we devour it like a bowl of perfect french fries in a french bistro. Asking whether it’s the right problem occurs only after we have wiped the salt from our fingers and contemplated the caloric consequences.

Second, almost every creative business model is built on selling time. Which means every problem comes with a check taped to it. Is this the right problem? Can I get back to you after I’ve paid the rent?

This is where leadership comes in. The clarity, the experience and  the courage to stop the machine, and redirect the energy into two simple questions.

Is this the problem we should be solving?

What else might be?

I first heard of Dan Pink in 2005. I had just sold my business, I was vaguely thinking of what came next when I came across his book - A Whole New Mind. It described creativity in ways that I hadn’t heard before, and opened me up to asking an entirely new set of questions.

At that same time, I met and did some work with Sir Ken Robinson of TED talk fame. His belief that everyone is creative, expanded this new view even further.

Earlier this year I read Dan’s latest book, When  - the scientific secrets of perfect timing, and re-read  To Sell is Human - the surprising truth about moving others.

It struck me that there was a narrative arc across these three books that I think is central to the focus of this podcast - how do leaders unlock creativity.

The first talks about creativity - what it is and why it’s so valuable in today’s world

The second talks about persuading others to give us something that is valuable to them -  sometimes money, but equally and perhaps more important, their attention, their support, their passion, their willingness to take risks. 

And the third talks about creating or recognizing the conditions that maximize our ability to perform at our best and to get the results we want.

It strikes me that these books represent a parallel narrative.

Identifying this most valuable resource - one that I think is available in limitless supply if we only know where to find it and how to tap into it.

Then learning how to maximize its impact - how to convince people of the incredible possibilities that creativity unleashes.

And third, learning how to manage the only force that can permanently stop our creativity - a force that is ultimately more powerful than any of us - time.

Dan is a rare combination. A powerful storyteller with an extraordinary eye for patterns and truth in a white-out blizzard of data and possibilities. 

You’ll find his books at DanPink.com.

We talked about when he realized he was a writer, about why writing a book is like a marriage and about how his advice helped me put a room full of 200 people to sleep.

Here’s Dan Pink.

Charles:

Dan, welcome to Fearless. Thank you so much for being here.

Dan Pink:

Charles, it's a pleasure to be with you.

Charles:

Thank you. I ask all my guests the same question, so let me ask you this question. When did creativity first show up in your life? When are you first conscious of something being creative?

Dan Pink:

Probably at some point when I was a kid, even if I don't ... I mean, it's probably a confected memory of being a child and knowing that if you put a mark on a piece of paper it would look different because of your intervention. I do remember, as a little kid, writing some stories, one paragraph/two paragraph stories in second grade. I guess that, but I don't know if I really would call that creativity. I think I would call that, I was being bored and wanted to make something up that was more interesting than what was going on in the rest of my life.

Charles:

Did you write from an early age? I mean, other than that, did you focus on that at school?

Dan Pink:

Not really, I mean, to some extent. In high school, I was on the high school newspaper, but I actually didn't really discover I was going to be a writer when I grew up, until my early 30s.

Charles:

What was the transition? What was the moment?

Dan Pink:

There wasn't a moment. I'm not a person who has a lot of moments or epiphanies. I'm much slower. I'm slow basically on everything, Charles, including realizing essential truths about life. I went to university, majored in social ... a field called, the field of linguistics. It was a very mathematical kind of social science. I went to law school. I worked in politics. Really, from the time I was in college, I was always "writing on the side." I was writing articles and magazine articles, and whatnot, on the side.

Finally, after literally 16-17 years of doing that "on the side" as I was doing these other things, I realized, "Hmm, maybe this thing that I'm doing on the side for very little money might be what I do, rather than what was in the center." That's when I decided, 20 years ago now, to try to become a writer. It wasn't like I set out to become a writer.

Charles:

It was a-

Dan Pink:

Many people do, many writers ... "I knew I was going to be a writer from the day that I was born. I was writing stories. I was producing neighborhood newspapers. I had my first short story published when I was 11." That was not me.

Charles:

It was a realization?

Dan Pink:

Slow realization.

Charles:

I first came across you when you wrote A Whole New Mind. I had just sold my film editing company at that point, and this notion of the way that you articulated creativity was really potent and really powerful. I'm curious. I want to talk about three of your books specifically today, but before I ask you about those, how do you decide what to write about next?

Dan Pink:

I have a running set of ideas. I'm actually a pack rat of some kind, so I actually have a lot of paper files. I also use Dropbox and Evernote and just put shards of ideas and articles and things in those that I review periodically and then cull, because I'd say, "Oh, that would make a really interesting article. That would make a really interesting book." I'll cull those, because most of them actually are not very interesting at all, when I come back to them. I mean, literally, most of them are not, and so I get rid of those, but what seems to always happen is that two or three or four seem to stick around for longer, and then, so, when it's time for me to write another book, when I'm in the mood to write another book, I'll look at those ideas and say, "Hmm, which one is really the best idea?" and try to stress test those idea.

I'm a big believer in stress testing ideas, especially for books, because a book is such a huge commitment, and there are a lot of people, who are journalists, who will write an article that gets some attention, commit to writing a book about it, and don't realize it's like getting married. It's not like going steady. It's not like even moving in together. It's a serious commitment, and if you're not really into it, that's a big problem. I make sure that it's something that I'm interested in deeply enough to spend literally years and years and years and years on it.

You and I are going to talk about this book a little bit, A Whole New Mind. That book came out over 10 years ago, and I still like talking about it. Now, imagine if I didn't. Imagine if I got sick of it while I was writing it. It'd be miserable, let alone talking about it 10 years later.

Charles:

When you say that you stress test it, what does that look like? What's the process you go through to stress test an idea?

Dan Pink:

A couple of different things. It's sort of informal and formal. One of the informal things that I do, and I did it when I was trying to decide what the next book, the book that became When ... I actually sat down with bunch of people individually, and just had, totally informal, lunch, coffee, whatever, and said, "Hey, Charles, so here's what I'm thinking about. Blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah." They would say, "Oh, that's awesome," or, "Wow. Don't do that."

I like to hear ... To me, it's the substance of the reaction, rather than the valence of it, that is actually more important to me, so saying, "Oh, that's a good idea, that's a bad idea." I want to know. For me, it's like, "Well, that's interesting. Have you thought about X, Y, or Z?" That's what I'm looking for there.

There was one idea that I had that I thought was pretty interesting, and I stress tested it with people, and I think they made some really good arguments why it was not that great of an idea, and that was really helpful to me. I also will write book proposals. I write book proposals largely for myself. I mean, I want to be fair to my publisher and say, "Here's what I'm thinking about," so they have a coherent sense of it, but I also do it for myself. I've written book proposals that I've scrapped because, in writing it, I realized, "Geez, this is an idea I'd go out on a few dates with, but I don't want to go steady, let alone get married."

Charles:

Is it hard to let go at that point? Are you married enough to it that it's an emotional goodbye?

Dan Pink:

Oh, no, no, no, no. I don't have any problem letting go of it in the same way it's like ... The alternative would be getting married to someone you don't love, which I recommend to your listeners not to do.

Charles:

That's such a good analogy. I mentioned, I really want to talk about three of your books.

Dan Pink:

Okay.

Charles:

A Whole New Mind was the first time I came across you, back in 2006. I think you wrote that book in 2005, right?

Dan Pink:

Yeah.

Charles:

I want to talk about To Sell is Human, which is five years old, 2012, roughly?

Dan Pink:

Yeah, '13, yeah.

Charles:

Then When, which came out the very end of last, the early part of this year.

Dan Pink:

Early part of '18, yeah.

Charles:

Early part of this year, okay, great. To me, those books, in many ways ... This podcast is aimed at helping people unlock creativity in the business environment. To me, those three books really take ... There's a narrative arc across all three of those, and they're all fundamentally essential, I think, to that challenge.

A Whole New Mind introduced this notion of that there was an entirely new set of forces, I think, at play. There was a new kind of economy. I think you described it as The Conceptual Age. I'm interested in the 12 years since you wrote that book. You had a very clear definition of how the world was shifting and the kind of different aptitudes and skills and mindsets, emotional connections. What have you see happen in the last 12 years that has surprised you? How much of that has come into being?

Dan Pink:

Yeah, well, just to take one step back, in that book what I argued was that there were some forces, economic, mostly economic forces that were making one set of abilities, abilities that are metaphorically left brain abilities — logical, linear, sequential, spreadsheet abilities — necessary, but no longer sufficient, and putting a premium on more metaphorically right brain abilities — artistry, empathy, inventiveness, big picture thinking — and the forces that were doing that were what I call the three A's: Asia, automation, and abundance. Asia was the offshoring of white collar work to low-cost providers. Automation was the automation of white collar work, certain kinds of white collar work. Abundance was a materially abundant society that constantly needs new things, needs creativity to iterate something that the world didn't know it was missing.

I'm still actually very comfortable with that line. I'm very comfortable with that line of argument. What I think we've seen is, in the book, I talk about how offshoring of white collar work ... We've offshored a huge amount of blue collar work. Blue collar or white collar doesn't even matter anymore. What really matters is, is a task routine or is it not routine? That is, is it algorithmic? Can you write it down? Is it a series of steps? Is it a recipe? That kind of work, whether it's turning the same screw the same way or processing figures, that kind of work's a commodity, racing to the cheapest cost provider. I actually think there's still more to go, in that realm.

Automation of white collar work ... I think it's actually happened faster than I would've thought. You have everything from TurboTax automating the work of accountants to things like LegalZoom or online divorces or electronic discovery automating the work of lawyers. I think that has deepened. I think the ones where I was taken aback, taken a little bit by surprise, was the progress in automating some of these right brain functions, even things like something like facial recognition, which is very much, it's not sequential processing when you recognize ... When I look at your face and recognize you as Charles, I don't go through skin cell by skin cell to do that, in a way that I would read or tabulate figures. I look at it holistically.

At the time I wrote that, computers were not very good at ... Software was not very good at doing that. Software couldn't even begin to detect, what emotion are you conveying through your face? That has moved a lot faster than I would have thought. I think it's possible, though slower, to automate some of these more artistic, empathic functions.

Charles:

Yeah, the best example of that, that I've seen recently ... I had Elizabeth Kiehner from IBM on the show a couple of months, a few months ago. She runs ... She's very involved with Watson. She told me that they have taught Watson how to edit the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament's Highlight Packages, which is extraordinary when you know the totality of that, and that's real intelligence.

Dan Pink:

Yeah, yeah, it's very interesting. Yeah, I've seen that, and what's interesting about that is that there are things that are algorithmic about that, in that you can put in when is the audience cheering? When is a point lasting a certain length of time? When does the score go to a certain ... When is the end of a set?

I still think that you still have some human intervention on that. It's not fully automated, but the truth of the matter is that figuring out the best highlights, some of it is routine. I mean, it really is. I mean, my brother, who is a sports producer ... My brother, first job out of college was as a sports producer at CNN, and his job was to go through the highlights, go through the feeds and find the highlights. Some of that, which we think of as, "Oh, you have to have so much basic knowledge about sports and drama," and actually some of that is automatable. It's possible to reduce to an algorithm. Maybe there are more things that are, three levels beneath the surface, more algorithmic than we think.

Charles:

Given that shift that you forecast, and given the fact that it's accelerating, in some cases, faster than you thought, what do you see as the value and the importance of creativity in the business world today?

Dan Pink:

Oh, it's still massively important, because what you have to do is you have to ... You have to know, for instance, what questions to ask. You have to be able to imagine something that doesn't exist. You have to be able to do work that complements machine intelligence.

I don't buy this argument that software is going to and robots are going to create a jobless future. I just fundamentally don't buy that. That's never been true in any kind of economy, and I don't imagine it's true then. I wrote about this in the book. It's a relatively similar pattern. We moved from the Agricultural Age to the Industrial Age. Well, how did that happen? We were able to import food from ... Remember, not that long ago in this country or in parts of Europe, economies were about growing things.

That's what an economy was. You grew things and raised animals, and you sold that. Eventually, why did we have fewer people doing that? Because we got really good at it. We were able to do it very efficiently. We got richer, so we wanted things beyond simply food. We wanted items, and so all those forces ... We were able to import food cheaper from other places. Those forces moved us into the Industrial Age, where economies are about making things. I grew up in the state of Ohio, when economies were about making things.

What happened then? We got really good at making things, making mass produced goods. Technology improved. We were able to import mass produce goods more cheaply from other countries, and people wanted stuff beyond mass produced goods.

That moves us to the Information Age, the age of the knowledge worker, where economies are about manipulating numbers and processing information. Well, what happened? We got really good at that, too, so software can do a lot of those tasks faster and better. We were able to offshore some of it to other countries, which is essentially a way of importing knowledge work. We got richer, and we wanted other kinds of things. We wanted Pilates classes or whatever, and so those forces, I think, push us to this era that we're at the dawn of right now, which is the Conceptual Age, which is the age of creators and empathizers. Economies are about creating stuff and empathizing with other people. Those, right now, at least, are very hard — not impossible — hard to automate and challenging to offshore.

Charles:

I think that's a perfect segue into talking about To Sell is Human, because obviously, as you're entering the Conceptual Age, and you're now dealing with people, who are coming up with original ideas and new ways of looking at things and greater need to empathize with how other people feel and see the world, you now have a challenge, from a leadership standpoint, of how do you sell people on that?

Dan Pink:

Sure.

Charles:

How do actually, as you describe it, how do you move others towards that?

Dan Pink:

Right.

Charles:

There's a great old Einstein quote, "Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds." I think really radical thinking tends to promote that in people, right? The opposition to change is a pretty ... There's an emotional driver behind that. You talk a lot about caveat venditor, that in this age of information being widely accessible, that it is now incumbent upon the seller to beware, because the buyer knows every bit as much. Can you just talk, for the listeners, a little bit about that shift, because I think it's important?

Dan Pink:

Yeah, so there are two ideas, two conceptions, two ideas driving that line of research. One is that if you look at the ground truth of what people do on the job, a big portion of it is something that's kind of/sort of like selling. They might not be selling products and services directly to somebody, but they're persuading, influencing, convincing, cajoling. To some extent, you and I are doing that right now, right? We're trying to convince people, "Hey, this information you should pay attention to. The world is different from the way you imagine it to be."

People are spending an enormous amount of their time doing this kind of work, even though it's not fundamentally in most people's job descriptions. If you have somebody in a design firm, say, her job probably doesn't say "selling," if she's not a sales rep and not a CEO, but she's selling all the time. She's selling her design to a client. She's selling her design to a colleague. She's selling her design to her boss.

We're selling all the time, but we're doing it on a remade landscape. What's interesting about the world of ... Most of what we know about selling and persuasion, basically from the beginning of human civilization, occurred in a world of information asymmetry, where the seller always had more information than the buyer. When the seller has that huge edge in information, the seller can take the low road. This is why we all think that selling is sleazy and duplicitous, but it's not. That feeling of selling as duplicitous is really just an artifact of persuading in a world of information asymmetry, where the seller always has the edge. Now there's greater information parity, and so, when you're persuading your boss, your team, someone to buy or sell your product, you're in a world where the buyers and the sellers are much more evenly matched, in terms of information, so you can't take the low road. You can. You can take it once, and then you're done.

You can't take the low road. You have to take the high road. The high road consists of a different set of abilities that I think are somewhat more right brain abilities, attunement. How do you understand other people's perspectives? How do you deal with rejection in a world where you're getting rejected all the time? How do you go from the algorithmic task of problem solving to the more heuristic task of problem finding? How do you act as a curator, sort of an artistic function of information, instead of having access to ... Not that long ago, the whole notion, the whole, the centerpiece of expertise, what it meant to be an expert, was that the expert had access to information that no one else had. Now that information has been liberated, so the nature of expertise has changed.

Expertise isn't about having access to information. Expertise is about being able to look at this welter of information and make sense of it. There's a curatorial function there, too. That's the argument there. I think it goes to some of these more artistic, empathic kinds of abilities.

Charles:

Your idea around attunement, I found fascinating, in one area, especially, which is we all have this sense, I think, instinctively, every one of us ... If you're working in a creative company of any kind, then the people who can sell those ideas to the economic buyer of those ideas have a very big role to play.

Dan Pink:

Sure.

Charles:

Growing up around them, I think most people's sense is that extroverts tend to be more effective at that, right?

Dan Pink:

Oh, yeah.

Charles:

You talk about ambiverts. Can you describe a little bit about ambiverts? I thought it was a fascinating concept.

Dan Pink:

Yeah, I mean, this is some really interesting research out of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Charles:

Adam Grant, right?

Dan Pink:

Right, exactly, Adam Grant did this research on looking at introverts and extroverts and who's a better seller. Basically, the way it worked is that you can measure the introversion/extroversion levels of people in a sales force. Then they went out and sold software. You can figure out who sold more software, the introverts or the extroverts. It turned out that the extroverts sold a little bit more than the introverts, but they weren't anywhere close to the people who, as you say, Charles, were the ambiverts, the people in the middle.

Thanks to ... I mean, I'll blame Myers-Briggs, but thanks to many forces, we tend to think of introversion and extroversion as binary, as 1-0, black or white, and it's not. It's a spectrum. If you look at the distribution of introversion and extroversion in the population, some of us, not that many, are super strong introverts; some of us, not that many, are super strong extroverts; but most of us are in between. The best salespeople, it turns out, are ambiverts.

There's a clue to that when we think about other words that start with ambi-, like ambidextrous. It's basically attunement perspective taking ambidexterity, ambidextrousness, whatever the noun is. They can go left, and they can go right. The reason that ambiverts are better at sales than strong extroverts or strong introverts is that strong introverts don't assert enough. They don't talk enough. Strong extroverts assert too much and talk too much. Ambiverts are Goldilocks. It's just right. They know when to speak up. They know when to shut up. They know when to push. They know when to hold back. This idea that extroverts, strong extroverts, make the best salespeople, are the most persuasive, is an absolute mythology. There's no evidence of that.

Charles:

Attunement is part of your ABC of selling-

Dan Pink:

Right.

Charles:

Which, I loved your Glengarry Glen Ross reference point, the always be closing. You came up with a new version of that, essentially.

Dan Pink:

Right, I mean, in a version ... In a world of information asymmetry, ABC is what a lot of us learned, always be closing. If the seller comes onto the car lot, that means they want to buy. If they answer the phone, that means they want to buy. Always be closing, very aggressive, somewhat predatory. It's not ... I mean, we can scoff at its lack of nobility, but it's actually not a bad idea in a world of information asymmetry.

The problem is that we don't live in that world. We live in a world of information parity, so it's a terrible idea now. Instead, the new ABCs, which come from the social science of persuasion are: A., attunement, get out of your own head, into someone else's head; B., buoyancy, stay afloat in the ocean of rejection; and, C., clarity. There's such a premium on clarity, which means moving, as I said earlier, from problem solving to problem finding; from solving existing, simple problems to identifying hidden, more complex problems; and then moving from accessing information to curating it, and those are the abilities that now mark the fault line between who is effective in selling and persuasion and who's not.

Charles:

I think the notion of buoyancy struck me, as well, because you walk into environments where they're trying to convince people of new ways of thinking, and it gets rejected, as it often does in the business environment. The best people actually find ways to come back from that, and put themselves back on the line again.

Dan Pink:

Right, absolutely right.

Charles:

The other part of clarity, that really, really I found powerful, was your notion that the most successful people, the most successful idea creators are those who are better at problem finding. Can you talk about that? I was really struck by that, when I read that, and it was really a piece of insight that I thought about.

Dan Pink:

Well, thank you. Well, here's the thing. That was actually built on some interesting research on creativity by Getzels and Csikszentmihalyi, who were at ... Getzels is no longer alive. Csikszentmihalyi is now at Claremont, but they were at the University of Chicago, and they did experiments on ... It was a very interesting study of artists, where they put artists in a room and gave them a set of objects on one table and then an empty table and said, "Draw a still life."

Some of the artists would pick a few items, put it on the table, and draw it. Others of them had a very different process. They'd take a few items, put them on the table, take one off, put it back on the other table, take two more items, put it on the target table, start drawing a sketch, rip it up, take one ... What Getzels and Csikszentmihalyi were saying was that they were solving different problems. They were solving different problems. They were approaching problems in different ways. One was trying to solve a problem, "How can I make a good drawing?" The other one was trying to find a problem, "What good drawing can I make?"

There's a subtle distinction there, but it's actually really important, because the people who were in the problem finding category went on to be much more successful artists than the people who were in the problem solving category. We can analogize to this with ... Again, it's connected to a whole new mindset, in that today, if you know exactly what your problem is — just go to the creative industry — if you know exactly what your problem is, or let's put it from the perspective of the head of any kind of creative firm. If your clients or prospects know exactly what their problem is, they don't need you very much. They need you to be one of two or three bidders to drive down the price. You're not that valuable to them. Where are you more valuable? When they don't know what their problem is or they're wrong about their problem, which is often the case.

That's what I mean by problem finding. Can you surface latent problems? Can you find hidden problems? Problem finding is, in some ways, akin to category creation rather than category enhancement. I mean, there's a ... For instance, think about Uber and Lyft, all right? I use those services a lot, but it's not like I said 10 years ago, eight years ago, whatever, seven years ago, "Oh wow. I have this really big problem. I can't find a stranger to pick me up at my house and take me somewhere." It's not like I had that problem. It's like they surfaced a problem I didn't know that I had. That's where all the action is in [crosstalk].

Charles:

Same with the iPod, right? I mean, the iPod [inaudible] nobody knew we had. We didn't know we needed to carry our music around with us, until Steve made it possible.

Dan Pink:

Right. We didn't know we needed to watch streaming TV episodes on our phone while we're sitting and waiting for a bus.

Charles:

Which is one of the reasons why, I think, women over 50 are the greatest consumers of video games online, apparently, because they [live, inaudible :06] on the bus. This notion of being a problem finder and having the confidence and the courage to push back against the brief that's presented to you, I think, is fundamental to the best leaders of creativity, because, right?

Dan Pink:

Oh, yeah.

Charles:

They're wasting time and resources and, to your point, opportunity to stand out from the crowd if they don't do that.

Dan Pink:

Right.

Charles:

It takes a lot of self-awareness.

Dan Pink:

Yeah.

Charles:

I think it takes a lot of courage and confidence, which leads me to When, because I think When provides a really extraordinary set of observations about the fact that we are fundamentally biological.

Dan Pink:

Yeah.

Charles:

We pay almost no attention to that in most of our day-to-day lives. We do when something goes wrong, and we run to the doctor and start going through the medical process, but in every other way we ignore that, right?

Dan Pink:

Yeah.

Charles:

Can you describe, at an [overaction, inaudible :51] level, your insights about the rhythm of the day that we tend to encounter?

Dan Pink:

Yeah, they're not so much my insights, as they are insights of hundreds of scientists all over the world, across many, many disciplines, from the social sciences, like social psychology or economics, to anthropology to harder science disciplines, molecular biology, endocrinology, anesthesiology. There's a huge amount of research looking at the temporal aspects of our life. How does time of day affect what we do and how we do it. How do beginnings affect us? How do midpoints affect us? How do endings affect us? What the science is telling us is that timing isn't an art. It's a science. We make most of our decisions about when to do things in this very intuitive, guesswork fashion. That is the wrong way to do it. We think that timing is an art. It's actually a science, and this rich body of science gives us clues, evidence, of how to ... that we can use to make systematically better, smarter, shrewder decisions about when to do things.

Charles:

With that in mind, there are rhythms to the day that most people tend to experience a peak during the morning, and then there is a trough in the afternoon, and then there's another rise thereafter.

Dan Pink:

Right.

Charles:

There's all kinds of evidence that you cite about not only how that affects us on an interpersonal basis and how we feel during the day, but, in fact, how decisions are made and the consequences of that.

Dan Pink:

Oh, yeah.

Charles:

As you were putting the book together, what were the areas that most surprised you, that made you go, "This is really something we need to pay more attention to"?

Dan Pink:

I was surprised at the size of the effect. It didn't shock me that we perform differently at different times of the day, because I think we had an intuitive sense of that. I was surprised by the magnitude of it. What the science is telling us very clearly, just of the unit of a day, is that our brain power does not remain the same through the course of a day. Our brain power does not remain static during the day. It changes, and it can change in significant ways.

The data on this are overwhelming, so everything from ... It's had a big effect on me personally. For instance, I would not let anybody in my family go to an important doctor's appointment or go to the hospital in the afternoon, because the data on what happens in medical care in the afternoon is chilling: more medical errors, more doctors prescribing unnecessary antibiotics, reduced vigilance in washing hands and in doing exams. I mean, it's just terrifying. Our abilities don't remain the same over the course of a day.

What we need to do is we need to figure out how to do the right work at the right time. What's frustrating is that, whether it's in a creative firm or in financial services or in hospitality or in basically any industry, the leaders, individuals, are not intentional about when they do things. They haven't gotten, they don't understand, what the ... That's why I wrote this book. They don't understand what the science is telling us. They think, "Oh, it really doesn't matter what time of day you do a particular task." It does! It matters in significant ways.

There's research showing that just time of day alone explains about 20% of the variance in how people perform on workplace tasks. That's a big deal. Our problem is that we're not very intentional about when we do things. We think all times of day are created equal. They are not. That's the bad news. The good news is that we know a lot more about these daily patterns, and we can get a lot better at trying to do the right work at the right time of day.

Charles:

One of the anecdotal pieces of evidence that you cited was actually judges hearing parolees, which was stunning. I mean, if I'm remembering this correctly, if you are up for parole, you do not want to get in front of the judge right before a break-

Dan Pink:

Absolutely not.

Charles:

Because there's zero chance, essentially.

Dan Pink:

Not quite zero, but it's close to zero. There's literally an order of magnitude between the two times of day. You go to a judge before ... This is the research of Jonathan Levav at Stanford and others looking at judges in Israel making parole decisions. Parole ... People in prison come before these judges, and you say, "Oh, I've served five years. I should be able to go free. I've been wearing this ankle bracelet, ankle monitor, for this amount of time. I should be able to have it removed."

These judges are making pretty fundamental decisions about human liberty, and so, but there's a marked difference in time of day on how they decide. Early in the day, they're much more likely to give parole. Then, as the day proceeds, it plummets. Then, when they have a break, their likelihood of giving parole goes back up, and then it plummets again. Then they have another break, and the likelihood goes back up.

The difference, as I said, is literally an order of magnitude. If you go to a judge before her break, in this study, you had about a 7% chance of getting parole. If you went after, you had about a 70% chance. I mean, that's just chilling, when you think about that, because when your actual hearing is, is completely random. It's based on the vagaries of people's schedules and also depends on how long did the case in front of you take? Again, it's one of those things where time of day has a big, big role, and we need to be intentional about that.

Charles:

To your earlier point, and I've had the same realization since I read the book, about when I would go and have medical tests or procedures or anything of the kind, and people that I love and care about, as well, so obviously there's a lot of impact on people's impact on us, but there's also enormous impact in terms of how we show up, right? Our happiness is affected. Our attitude towards others is affected, based on time of day. It follows the same kind of rhythms?

Dan Pink:

Yeah, so what we know is that for about 80% of us, the day follows this following pattern: peak, trough, recovery. That's actually a pattern of mood. Mood rises in the morning, plummets in the early to mid afternoon, recovers again late afternoon and early evening. Now, for the 20% of us who are night owls, who have what are called evening chronotypes, go to sleep late and wake up late, they're a much more complicated lot. The world is not configured for them, unfortunately, and they tend to go through the day more or less in the reverse order: recovery, trough, peak. That's our pattern of mood.

Again, as I said before, it's not only our brain power, but it's also our emotions do not remain static over the course of a day. We feel differently. We literally feel differently at different times of the day. That's not a bad thing. It's not a sign of weakness. It's just the way it is. What's frustrating, I think, is just ignoring that or pretending it doesn't exist is foolish.

Charles:

This post-lunch trough that we all experience, which most people have ascribed to low blood sugar-

Dan Pink:

Yeah.

Charles:

How much of it is low blood sugar? How much of it is just the natural biorhythms?

Dan Pink:

It's hard to disentangle those two. It's hard to disentangle those two, but what we know is that there is that afternoon dip. What some of the research on mood shows is that lunchtime, having lunch, is actually ... People are in a pretty good mood at lunch.

Charles:

You describe lunch as actually the most important meal.

Dan Pink:

Well, there's other research showing. I think that one reason that I think lunch is more ... I think, basically, lunch is more valuable than we think it is, and breakfast is less valuable. The research on breakfast as the most important meal of the day is mixed. I don't think it shows that, and there are a lot of scholars who don't think it shows that, as well. I think the evidence on lunch is showing that lunch is actually very valuable, largely as a break. It's a way to restore energy, restore good feeling that lasts for the rest of the afternoon, not in one smooth upward climb, but basically as a restoration that can help you later in the afternoon.

Charles:

That's a genuine break, where you talk about real disengagement, not working through lunch, but actually separating.

Dan Pink:

Exactly.

Charles:

Let's talk about breaks, because when you and I were emailing about doing this, one of the things I told you was that you had helped me put 200 people to sleep in a conference a couple of weeks ago-

Dan Pink:

That's what I'm here for, Charles.

Charles:

Deliberately, by design, and to their benefit and to their gratitude, I would add, so-

Dan Pink:

Well, why don't you tell your listeners more about that, because I think it's a cool story.

Charles:

One of the things that you'll read in When, when you buy the book, when you read the book, is that Dan talks a lot about the power of breaks and how important they are, and that a lot of the statistics and the research that show the decline in performance in the afternoon can actually be offset if you actually mindfully take appropriate and well designed breaks, one of which is ... You talk about quite a lot, one of which is taking real naps.

Dan Pink:

That's right.

Charles:

Not hour-long naps.

Dan Pink:

No, not at all,

Charles:

Which we've all struggled with and suffer from the aftermath of that, but taking somewhere between 15- and 20-minute naps.

Dan Pink:

Right.

Charles:

Also, fascinatingly, you describe the fact that if you really want to have a real restorative effect, you should drink a cup of coffee right before you take your nap, because caffeine takes 25 minutes to hit the bloodstream, and so you get the double whammy.

Dan Pink:

Exactly.

Charles:

I read this and was really struck by how powerful an idea this was. I've experienced taking a 10- or 15-minute nap and realizing, "I feel a lot better than I think I should, based on I haven't slept very long."

Dan Pink:

Right.

Charles:

I think somebody, just well maybe you, described it as a Zamboni for the brain [crosstalk :30], right?

Dan Pink:

Yeah, that's, yeah, for all of your hockey fans out there, naps are Zambonis for your brain.

Charles:

I was running a conference a couple of weeks ago. There were a couple of hundred people in the room, and we built in ... At two o'clock, when they came back from lunch, we built in a 15-minute nap. I actually said to them before the break, "I'm going to give you a gift when we come back. You're all going to get a gift when you come back."

They came back, anticipating a gift. I said ... I want to pull this up, because I think it's actually relevant. Let me find this, and we will, oh, okay, so the gift ... I said, "We're going to make you take a nap. We're going to turn the lights down. We'll put some gentle music on. We're going to shut our computers and our notebooks." Using the information you provided in When, I said, "We're going to give you something that will give you a 34% improvement in reaction time, a twofold increase in your alertness. It's going to reduce by half the chances of you having a traffic accident on your way home; significantly expand your brain's capacity to learn and retain information; make it 37% less likely you will die from heart disease, which is in effect of the same order of magnitude as taking an aspirin or exercising; strengthen your immune system; boost your short-term memory; and, based on one British study, may actually reduce your blood pressure, just by thinking about it, and, in addition to that, increases flow, that environment that actually produces creativity."

Charles:

I said, "So the gift is a nap," right? It was fascinating actually, because it didn't take very much encouragement for them all to shut their laptops.

Dan Pink:

Wow.

Charles:

I think four or five didn't, and looked ridiculous actually. Everybody else either sat there with their eyes closed and meditated or put their heads down on the desk. It created this atmosphere in the room that was actually very powerful. I had a number of people come up to me at one of the breaks and say, "It should've been longer. Thank you very much."

Dan Pink:

Sure, I like the group napping. I like it. It could be the latest phenomenon, group naps.

Charles:

Yeah, but I think to the point you make in the book, as well, it's hard to get leaders to pay attention to these kinds of very physiological dynamics, but they are actually crucial if we're really going to untap, unlock, creativity or anything else actually in the business environment.

Dan Pink:

They're physiological. They're psychological. They're part of what it is to be human. I think what we have, especially in Western, basically Anglo-American culture, is this ethic, this very stern ethic of powering through, where breaks are a sign of weakness. Breaks are a sign of sloth. One of the ... It's the eighth deadly sin is taking a break. What the science is telling us is that breaks are not a deviation from performance. Breaks are part of performance. This idea that we should be powering through breaks is as ridiculous as the idea that we should be pulling all-nighters to get more done. That's not how we're meant to be. We are meant to take more breaks, and we're meant to take certain kinds of breaks.

Charles:

You cite evidence, in fact, that academic performance, which declines in the afternoon when it is not supported by a break, right?

Dan Pink:

Yeah.

Charles:

It's lower, and when kids, when students, take a break before the exam in the afternoon, they actually perform much better.

Dan Pink:

There's a very good study, led by Francesca Gino at Harvard, of Danish standardized tests, showing that kids who take the test in the afternoon versus the morning scores if they miss two weeks of school, alarming, but the remedy for that is that if you give those afternoon kids a 20- to 30-minute break to run around, get a snack and run around a little bit on the playground, their scores go back up. They actually go a little bit higher. Again, breaks are part of performance. They're not a deviation from performance. There's some intriguing evidence coming out of some low income school districts in the state of Texas that actually adding more recesses is a way to improve academic performance, which sounds counterintuitive to stern, Anglo-American people, rooted in the puritanical tradition.

Charles:

Yes, well said, indeed. You talk, in When, about the importance of recognizing, identifying, and treating appropriately beginnings, middles, and ends. I think creativity has a lot to do with telling a story. Can you talk a little bit about beginnings, middles, and ends?

Dan Pink:

Oh, yeah, I mean, each ... We can take one step back and say, our lives are a series of episodes. Our lives are not a linear progression. Our lives are a series of episodes. A career, a job, a relationship, being a parent, being a child is a series of episodes, and episodes have beginnings, middles, and ends. Then, what the social science is telling us is that each of those three areas — beginnings, middles, and ends — have distinct effects on our behavior.

Beginnings make us behave one way. Beginnings, economically, matter more than we realize. We also know that we can use certain days of the year as markers to make what some of these researchers call fresh starts. Midpoints are fascinating, in that sometimes midpoints bring us down. Other times, they fire us up. Knowing that difference is important. Endings was one of my favorite areas to explore. Endings have multiple effects on our behavior. Endings can help us energize. It can actually spark our motivation. Endings seem to be a trigger for a search for meaning. Endings have a huge effect on how we encode experiences and even lives. It is how we evaluate them and record them. One of the problems is that we go through our lives, in some ways, as asleep as those people were in your audience for 15 minutes, that we're napping through this idea that beginnings ... Essentially every kind of encounter has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and each of those exerts a different pull on how we do and what we do.

Charles:

Being cognizant of that when you're leading a process-

Dan Pink:

Absolutely!

Charles:

Absolutely critical, right? I mean, you've got all kinds of techniques in the book about how to activate people's mindset and attention in different ways. I was struck ... I want to talk about endings in a second, but I was struck actually by the midpoint. One of the midpoint references you talked about was how there is evidence that if you take a group and say, "We're at the midpoint," teams that are trailing by a little bit tend to massively outperform in the second half, because they just double down.

Dan Pink:

Right.

Charles:

They feel like, "It's close enough, we could do it. Let's really focus on this."

Dan Pink:

Exactly, exactly. Teams that are, and individuals, too, there's research from the NBA, National Basketball Association, showing this, to a lesser effect in the NCAA, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, men's basketball games. There's also experimental evidence showing that you tell somebody or a team at the midpoint, "You're way ahead," they get complacence. You tell them, "You're way behind," they give up. You tell them, "You're a little bit behind," and, as you say, Charles, they really bring it in the second half. Sometimes midpoints can be a spark. Other times, they can let us slump.

There's research from Connie Gersick at UCLA showing that, in the ground truth of how teams actually operate, it is very different from the theoretical models we have to describe that. Teams don't progress through projects in a steady state. She went and she audio taped and video taped all these teams to see how they actually did their work. What she found is that, at the beginning of a project, teams did very little. It was only at a certain moment where they threw off the old patterns and really got going. It, invariably, was at the midpoint. Someone said, "Whoa, we've wasted half of our time. We've got to get going." I think that, for teams and projects, that midpoint is an incredibly important time. I think a lot of times we're just not aware of it.

We know that ... Here's the thing. Any project, any enterprise, any undertaking that has a beginning and has an end, by its very nature, has a midpoint. Being aware of that midpoint and using it as a spark can make a world of difference.

Charles:

In terms of endings, because obviously every project has an ending, talk to be about the value and the risk of deadlines, from a creativity standpoint.

Dan Pink:

Yeah, there's some interesting research on deadlines. It's a mixed bag, when it comes to creative work. Teresa Amabile at Harvard has done ... A lot of the research that's been done in the last few years is built on some research she did over a decade ago.

Here's what we know about deadlines. For relatively simple, straightforward tasks, deadlines are very effective, to get us to move. They improve our performance. When things that are very creative, that is, creative in the sense of iterative, deadlines actually work against us. It's hard sometimes to draw the line between those two. There's not research on this. My own intuition about it, my own sense, my own experience — not really intuition — my own experience with this ... I think that there is a certain point where projects move from essentially. In the fancy terminology would be from heuristic to algorithmic kinds of work, or basically from right brain to left brain kind of work.

Let's say that, when you're trying to come up with a particular design, so let's go back to design. You're trying to come up with a particular design for ... I don't know. Let's say, a retail space, [inaudible] okay? You're trying to make it something that's never been done before. Having a deadline on that will work against you. All right, once you say, "Okay, we're going to do this kind of design," and you need to fill out some of the spaces, then I think it becomes a little bit more algorithmic, and the deadline's going to work for you.

Our tendency ... Deadlines are a mixed bag. For me, let's put it this way. If I have a deadline ... I should not have a deadline. You mentioned book ideas. I probably should not have a deadline for coming up with a book idea, okay? I probably shouldn't even have a deadline for what's the basic outline going to be, but I probably should have a deadline. If I know what chapter one is about, I should have a deadline for chapter one, if that makes sense, because there's a moment when it shifts from heuristic to algorithmic. I think that good creative leaders, and what's your experience ... I think they have an intuitive sense of that.

Charles:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dan Pink:

There's certain times when you want to, hey, let people go. There are other times when you want to press a little harder.

Charles:

I think that's right, and they understand when to bring urgency and when to back off, right?

Dan Pink:

Right.

Charles:

They think that the intention of where we're trying to get to always has to be to the full, but you're right. They read the room. They read the moment. They read the people and the individual. I think that that's one of the things that separates them.

Dan Pink:

Right, and we know it's one of the ... Deadlines are pretty good in certain kinds of things, because I don't want to ... but they're not perfect. We see this in a lot of research on things like goals. Goals are pretty good, but goals are not perfect. There's a downside of goals in some cases. There's a downside of deadlines in cases. You have to know when to deploy the goal and the deadline and when, actually, to be a little bit ... when to be a little bit looser.

Charles:

Final point I would ... I want to come back to a point you make in To Sell, because I think it wraps a lot of this up well. Reading your books, certainly from my own perspective, and other people that I know have read them have felt the same way, which is you get inspired to want to start to certainly think and, in many cases, act differently.

Dan Pink:

Oh, that's good to know.

Charles:

It's absolutely true. I think that you talk about, in the middle of To Sell, the difference between this emotion of building yourself up into this, "I'm going to do this differently," versus a Bob the Builder mentality, as you describe it.

Dan Pink:

Right.

Charles:

Right? Which is a very important mindset shift, as you describe, in terms of saying, "Can I do this?" What are the circumstances by which that would happen? Can you just talk about the difference between those two, because I think that people approach this-

Dan Pink:

Yeah, thanks. I actually use this technique myself. Once again, in the world of social psychology, there is a whole line of research on what's called self-talk, which is what do we say to ourselves, the silent words we say to ourselves? We all do that. It's part of human consciousness is self-talk.

Typically, when we're trying to get ourselves motivated to do something, our instinct often is to say, "You can do this. You've got this." It turns out, there's another version of that. There's another version of self-talk, which researchers call, not surprisingly, interrogative self-talk. Instead of saying to yourself, "I can do this; I've got this," you say, "Can you do this, and, if so, how?" Can you do this, and, if so, how?

The reason that's effective is that questions, by their very nature, elicit an active response. If I ask you ... You've been asking me questions. I have to respond, right? Even if I ask myself a question, at some level, my gears in my mind turn a little bit, so if I say, "Can you do this, and, if so, how?" I kind of/sort of have to answer. What I do, in answering that question, is I begin preparing. I begin rehearsing, and, equally important, I begin to draw on my own autonomous, intrinsically motivated reasons for doing something.

Again, we tend to think the way to motivate yourself is this exhortation, "You can do this. You've got this." Sometimes the quieter technique of interrogative self-talk, "Can you do this, and, if so, how?" is more effective, because it services autonomous, intrinsic motivation, and it's interactive, so you have to answer it and, in answering it, you begin planning and preparing.

Charles:

Which of course are a lot of the insights you talk about in Drive.

Dan Pink:

Sure, yeah, on the autonomous and intrinsically motivated reasons for doing things, yeah. Actually, here's the thing that's fundamental about human beings. When human beings have their own reason for doing something, rather than your reason, someone else's reason, they believe the reasons more deeply and adhere to the behavior more strongly. It's that simple. This is just that [sell, sell, sell,inaudible]. Interrogative self-talk is a way to elicit that kind of reaction.

Charles:

Yeah, that's great. I wrap every episode with what I describe as three themes, observations of the person I've been talking to, so here they are.

Dan Pink:

I'm extremely handsome.

Charles:

Very handsome.

Dan Pink:

I'm quite witty. I have an excellent jump shot.

Charles:

Perfect.

Dan Pink:

Is that it?

Charles:

Now, we're done.

Dan Pink:

We're done?

Charles:

We're done.

Dan Pink:

Yeah.

Charles:

Those three, plus these three. First is I'm struck by, obviously, your curiosity for the way that stuff happens and why it happens the way it does and your open-mindedness of that. The second theme, I think, that I find really interesting actually is that you are ... your willingness to be objective about what is the right next thing for me to focus on? I think a lot of people get fixated on, "I've done all this work on this book. I'm going to write this book." I think that you're willing to be, ambivalent is not quite the right word, but analytical and observational about is this actually worth the effort and the time? A lot of people, as I say, I think jump into the decision about what I'm going to do next too quickly. I think that's a rare gift.

Then, third, and I mean this genuinely, I think you really want to make a difference. I mean, I thank you for being here today. You didn't have to come and do this. The books that you write and the work that you do, I know they impact people, and I think there's a real generosity in the work that you do.

Dan Pink:

Well, you're very kind to say all three of those things, Charles, and I think you might've kept me in the writing business for another week or 10 days. No, it's nice of you to say those things. I appreciate it.

Charles:

Dan, thank you so much for being here. I've really enjoyed this.

Dan Pink:

It has been a pleasure.