Dan Pink has written multiple New York Times best sellers, he’s been a speech writer for Al Gore, He’s given many Keynotes all over the world. His current book “When” has been sitting atop the best seller list for months. Looking at his career right now, you’d have no idea that at one point he was in law school but decided being a lawyer wasn’t for him, got into politics, and after the initial luster wore off found that the political space wasn’t for him either.
So how did Dan go from shifting career focus multiple times to deciding to become a writer with relative ease?
CONNECTING THE DOTS OF YOUR CAREER ISN’T OBVIOUS… UNTIL AFTERWARDS
If you’ve ever heard the famous Steve Jobs commencement speech for Stanford University, he says,
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
It turns out that this was true for Dan too. He went to law school without ever spending time with a lawyer to find out what they did or ever learning what law school was like. He then went into politics all the while writing on the side because he enjoyed it, many times staying awake until midnight trying to get a piece finished for the unpaid writing gigs he had.
At the time it wasn’t obvious that he should be doing this side work as his main thing, it was only afterwards that he connected all the dots and realized that writing was where he should be spending his time.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
I get so many emails about finding your passion. It’s a confusing and ambiguous.
Here are Dan’s thoughts on passion:
Passion is the wrong word. I think professionals care about challenge and contribution.
Passion is about you. Contribution is about other people.
What do you do that makes a contribution?
A much better question than “what is your passion” is what do you do?
What do you do already but you’re not getting paid for?
What did you do in your past roles that you gravitate towards event though it’s not really a part of your job?
What do you do that is only a small portion of your time right now that you wish you could make a much larger portion of your time?
Start by evaluating your answers to these questions, then if you want more help check out our free audio course on iTunes (or have it sent to You in your inbox).
If you want even more help click here to get on our waitlist for one to one custom coaching in our signature Coaching program!
Dan Pink 00:01
Passion and contribution are focused in very different directions. Passion is all about me and contribution is all about other people. I really don't think that professionals care about passion.
This is the Happen To Your Career podcast, with Scott Anthony Barlow. We help you stop doing work that doesn't fit you, figure out what does and make it happen. We help you define the work that's unapologetically you, and then go get it. If you're ready to make a change, keep listening. Here's Scott. Here's Scott. Here's Scott.
Scott Anthony Barlow 00:38
Welcome to the Happen To Your Career podcast. I'm Scott Anthony Barlow. This is the show where we share stories of how high achievers find career happiness and meaning. What if you could get more done simply by knowing when to do it? Or what if you could dramatically increase your odds of success in every single aspect of your life just by choosing the right time? Or what if more than anything, you just want to make the things that you're already doing so much more effective than they are right now? Well, it turns out, I'm not the only one that wondered how to make these things happen.
Dan Pink 01:14
But I never, sort of, when I was growing up, or when I was in college, "oh, I'm going to grow up and become a writer" there are plenty of people who are like that, there plenty of people who know from a very early age that they're going to be writers. And I think I discovered that a little bit later in life, not at an ancient age. But at a later age than most people, I think, you know, early 30s. I realized this is what I do. Like, here I am killing myself at midnight working on an article that I'm not going to get paid for. This might actually be something that I liked doing.
Scott Anthony Barlow 01:45
Dan dug into these exact questions for his latest book. And in our conversation, he actually breaks down exactly how you can use timing and ways that you can never imagine to be more productive at life and work. But I've admired Dan's work for years now. In fact, I remember way back when I was working in HR leadership, I bought a bunch of cases of his books, and I was running around the office, putting them into the hands of really anybody who I could get to read them. But he's written several more books since then, including his latest, which is called "When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing". But that's not the only reason that we have him here on the show and why I wanted to talk to him. He's also got a really interesting, varied career, including being a speechwriter for Al Gore, and many other policy and politics types positions. And I would actually love to go back before the books, pre-dating the books. And in fact, I'd love to go all the way back to law school, because you're not a lawyer at this point, as it turns out, so take us back there a bit. And I'm super curious, why on earth did you even decide to go to law school in the first place?
Dan Pink 02:54
Okay, fair question. I don't want to torture your listeners too much. But in order to answer that question, I think you have to go back into my upbringing. I grew up in the American Midwest, middle class kid, son of parents who were very deeply concerned about economic security. And throughout my childhood, this message was understandably beat into me about you got to do something you can fall back on, you got to make sure that you take care of your economic security. And what that meant in the time that I was growing up was things like, becoming a doctor, becoming an engineer, becoming an accountant, becoming a lawyer, like, having that kind of skilled profession. And because the nature of, I don't know, my parents said, basically, I just assumed my whole... I mean, that's weird, my whole childhood that that's what I would do. It's really weird. I recognize that in retrospect. And so I did. And in, kind of, a mindless way. And I got there and I really didn't like it. And I left for a little while, I ended up going back partly through risk aversion more than anything else. And it's not only am I not a lawyer now, I've never been a lawyer. I graduated from law school and never practiced law, never clerked for a judge, never done anything like that. Instead, started working in politics, because at the time, that's what I was interested in.
Scott Anthony Barlow 04:13
So what prompted you to go through the rest of law school and then not become a lawyer? There was probably a bit that happened in between there, I suppose.
Dan Pink 04:23
Well, yes and no. I mean, there are two parts of that question. I mean, part of it was, I mean, so what prompted you to go through and what prompted you not to be a lawyer? To me at some level, those are two different questions. One of them is, what prompted me to go through is probably just a sense of just bad reasoning, saying, "Oh my god! I've already sunk this much time into it. I might as well finish." Or probably at another level, "Wow! I really looked like an idiot if I started and didn't finish." That's it. And then in terms of not practicing, that was actually an easier decision. Because here's the problem, Scott, that I made and if there's a lesson that other people can learn on this, it's that... I think a lot of times we make assumptions about how the world works or how careers go or what professionals are like. And a lot of times your assumptions are wrong. I mean, truly, I mean, I feel like an idiot in retrospect. I had no idea what lawyers actually did. And like, I never spent any time in a law office, I never actually spent a day with a lawyer, I never talked to a lawyer about what she did for a living. I actually never even went to a law school class to check it out before going to law school. And that's a huge mistake. I just assumed what it was going to be like. And once I realized that what lawyers actually did, my view of it was, "Okay, great. This is, you know, skilled profession, but I don't want it this bore. I don't want to do this for the rest of my life." And so that was actually an easy decision not to practice law, because in the same way that I wouldn't want to spend the next 30 years of my life, you know, cleaning gutters. That's not interesting. But that's how I felt about the practice of law.
Scott Anthony Barlow 05:55
So what happened post law school then? It was an easy decision, but then something happened post law school.
Dan Pink 06:02
I graduated unemployed, and I was one of the very, very, very few people who graduated from law school unemployed. And again, the way that, sort of, the anthropology of law schools is it's a haven for people who are deeply risk averse. And as a consequence, a lot of people have jobs, their post graduation plans lined up, like literally over a year in advance, everybody had a job, either clicking for a judge or working for a law firm or working in government or working for public interest group or whatever. And I did not. I graduated unemployed. And at the time, I was deeply interested in politics. So I started looking for political jobs. And I ended up working on some campaigns, some political campaigns where I was getting paid, like a ridiculously small amount, I had massive student loans, massive student loans. I was fortunate that my law school actually had a loan forgiveness policy for people who made very little money. So I was well beneath the threshold of that. And so that took a little bit of the sting out of it. And so that's what I did. I started working in politics, working on campaigns.
Scott Anthony Barlow 07:07
Why politics? Why was that interesting to you at the time, or what?
Dan Pink 07:10
I'm not sure why, but it was. I was really deeply interested in it. I was interested in it as on two different levels. One was that it was a way to make an impact to do something that affected the world. But equally, I have to say, it was also really exciting and interesting. And it was like a sport. It was like a game. It was like fighting, it's contest. It's... you're strategizing, you are trying to win. And so the sporting aspect of, I liked a lot too.
Scott Anthony Barlow 07:41
As you got into it, how is it different than what you anticipated?
Dan Pink 07:47
That's a great question. And I think that's one of the things that had me leave eventually. As I got into it, what I realized is that the... I looked at those things, but there's two parts. The sporting aspect, the game aspect to it. And then there is the impact aspect to it. And what I found is that it was mostly about the sporting aspect. And that actually, for me, at least lost its thrill after a while. And you wonder, like, what's the point of this exercise that the tactics... and it was all tactical, there's very little strategy. It's basically all, let's just do things for some short term tactical advantage. After a while that loses its appeal if you're not doing something in the service of something bigger and found that the service is something bigger ended up getting crowded out, not because of the people I worked with, the politicians I work for necessarily, but because of the system is just... its isn't designed to prize short term tactical, rather than long term strategic and designed to prize the quick, small, fleeting victory rather than the harder more enduring victory.
Scott Anthony Barlow 08:56
So I'm super curious about that. For those folks that haven't worked in politics or been around politics before, what's an example that you experienced of that?
Dan Pink 09:04
You know, I worked back in the days when people read newspapers. So...
Scott Anthony Barlow 09:08
Oh, that's way back.
Dan Pink 09:10
So, you know, somebody would write an article about something that somebody I was working for said or did. And then the seventh paragraph was a sentence that was ambiguous about whether it was positive or negative. And we'd have to have an hour long conversation about whether it was positive or negative, and then another hour long conversation about how to respond to it. When in fact, it's like, "Okay, this is really meaningless. It's really short term. No one's going to care about this in three hours, let alone three days or three years. Why are we wasting our time on this?" Or even things like, it used to drive me nuts. Unfortunately, in some of my jobs, I didn't have to do this. But for, you know, I became a speechwriter. The principled politician is going to go up before a group of people in some, kind of, speech. So who has to be acknowledged? All right. Well, should we acknowledge so and so. Meaning that, you know, "Hello, it's great to be here at the National Association of Rutabagas. I'd like to thank National Rutabaga Association president, you know, Jean Fernandez" like, who do you have to thank and acknowledge from the podium? I mean, that just struck me as like the most absurd, like the amount of time spent on that, kind of, nonsense was just... it was just absolutely absurd. Those are two small examples from that part of my life.
Scott Anthony Barlow 10:21
And I'm guessing elements of that caused you to leave but I'm super curious then, you know, as you became a speechwriter, what were some of the elements that you really, truly enjoyed out of that experience?
Dan Pink 10:32
Oh, what I liked about it was that something actually happened a femoral though it was. So you would write something, and then you would see something that you came up with, and it was quoted on newspaper or seen on TV, and people responded to it. That's super cool. A lot of times, like in the policy making process, the policy was delayed and delayed and delayed and sort of not being finalized. And what ended up finalizing it was the fact that somebody had to give a speech announcing it. And so there was a tiny insight into policymaking and a tiny impact on policymaking. And also, it's just very, very fast paced environment. It can be exciting at times, turn on the TV, and they're talking about stuff that you're involved in, which is cool.
Scott Anthony Barlow 11:20
I'm super curious, because in some ways, at least on the exterior, it seems like the fast pace of that is drastically different in some ways than life as a writer and author, maybe not for book tours, or anything else like that. But...
Dan Pink 11:37
Oh god, yeah. Totally. For speech writing at a certain level, once you get to the cabinet level, and the presidential, vice presidential level, it's like being a doctor. But it's like working in an inner city emergency room.
Scott Anthony Barlow 11:53
You're always on call?
Dan Pink 11:55
You're always on call. And what you find to do is just the body so they don't die on your watch. That's what it's like, it's that kind of atmosphere, it can be exhilarating. It can be exhausting. But it can also be exhilarating.
Scott Anthony Barlow 12:05
What caused you to leave that then? Because you're having some of that exhilaration, certainly there was elements that you didn't like, but what actually took place that caused you to move down the road or to take those actions to leave?
Dan Pink 12:17
There were several things. So number one was that, I mean not even, I don't even want to rank them because it's not like they're linear. It's like they all work together. So one thing was, at the time, I was in my early 30s, for the end, I was in my early 30s. And I looked down the road, 10 years, 15 years, 20 years. And the people who were doing what I was doing, like, what were their lives like in 10 years, 20 years, and I didn't like that at all. I didn't like what I saw potential of my becoming, which is basically a person who's, you know, career political professional, deeply, deeply cynical, and entirely tactical, I didn't like that at all. That's one thing. The second thing is that it's a very demanding job. And again, this is such a long time ago, it was really pre widespread use of mobile phones. So I used to have a pager, that pager was like being tethered to the job. And I think that the people who you're working for need that kind of commitment, they need the kind of commitment that you're always going to be ready to help. You're always going to be on call, I actually think that's the kind of people you should hire. And because my wife and I had had a baby, I was thinking "god, you know, I don't know if I want to be on call all the time." So that was a factor. Another factor was that, again, this has nothing to do with politics. But another factor was what we're talking about before the balance was so much on short term political tactical advantage, and nothing on anything more enduring. You know, and then even more important, I sort of, you know, as you learn about yourself, I was very fortunate and that I had some good bosses, but I realized that I didn't really like having a boss period. There was not very much autonomy in that kind of work. And then another factor was that, and this is where it sort of makes a little bit more sense in retrospect, like so many things, from a very early age, for example, I was in college, I was always quote unquote, "writing on the side", I was writing magazine articles, newspaper, pop eds, that kind of thing. I did it in college. You know, in college, I was a pretty hardcore social science person, pretty dedicated hardcore student. But on the side, I wrote, believe it or not, I won a short story prize in college, completely antithetical to the hardcore mathematical social science that I was doing.
Scott Anthony Barlow 14:39
Dan Pink 14:41
Law schools. I was writing articles for newspapers and magazines on the side, probably spending more time on that than on my actual law school work. When I got into the workforce, I was also... I was writing book reviews for magazines and even when I got into other kinds of jobs where I wasn't allowed to get paid because understandably because of Ethics concerns, I was still writing for magazines and newspapers on the side. And that's when... ever so slowly thanks to my wife in part, I began to realize that what I was doing, quote unquote, "on the side" is what I should be doing for real. I became a speechwriter in a pretty random half assed way and that I just, somebody asked me to do it once and it did an okay job. And then they asked me again, and it did an okay job. And and suddenly, that was what I was doing.
Scott Anthony Barlow 15:29
As happens. Yes.
Dan Pink 15:30
Yeah, exactly. I think that's common in a lot of enterprise. It's not as if I set out to do that. And but I never, sort of, when I was growing up, or when I was in college, "oh, I'm going to grow up and become a writer" there are plenty of people who are like that. there are plenty of people who know from a very early age that they're going to be writers. And I think I discovered that a little bit later in life, not at an ancient age, but at a later age than most people, I think, you know, early 30s. I realized, this is what I do. Like, here I am killing myself at midnight working on an article that I'm not going to get paid for. This might actually be something that I like doing.
Scott Anthony Barlow 16:06
So here's my question about that then, Dan, because I think it's always obvious in retrospect, but I love digging into people's stories, because there's always seems to be some element that is there. It's never like, I had this epiphany and I was going to be a beekeeper. And, you know, that was it. I'm a beekeeper now and boom, everything was great. There's always some element there. So at what point, I heard you say that your life was critical to that. But was there a particular point in time where you had that realization? Or the switch flipped? Or was it that really...?
Dan Pink 16:42
I'm with you, Scott, I don't have epiphanies. I mean, I just don't think life generally doesn't work that way. I think it's a slow hunch. It's a gradual realization, it is taking three steps back and looking at your pattern of behavior and say, "Holy smokes, this is what I do?" I think that's what happened with me, but goes to something I've mentioned before in, you know, other... I think I mentioned this in some other interviews, or in some speeches or whatever, which is that this question about that people tend to ask younger people like, "What's your passion?" And I really dislike that question. Because I think when you face that question, there's sort of this obligation to give a really profound answer. And I think it's a hard question to answer. And I think it's the wrong question, though. I think the real question is, "What do you do?" You know, look over your own behavior, what do you do? So go back to your beekeeper example. I don't think people wake up one morning and say, "Oh, I'm going to be a beekeeper." I think what they do is they say, "Why do I spend so much time, like, following these bees around them? And like when a bee is in my backyard, I take a picture of it, I look at it. Why am I reading this article about bees? Why do I linger in the grocery store and look to see where the honeycombs? If it's a switch, it's more like a dimmer switch. It's not like an off-on, it's not fine there at one zero. It's more gradual. And I think that at a certain point, when that... if you take a step back and watch what you do, I think that reveals clues. So even now, after spending a long time as a writer, if you were to say to me, you know, "Is writing your passion?" I would say, "I don't think so. Because writing is really frickin hard."
Dan Pink 16:44
Yes, it is.
Dan Pink 18:21
There's some days that I hate it. But it's what I do.
Scott Anthony Barlow 18:26
So let me ask you about that for just a second, then. Two questions here. And maybe they'll take us to different... completely different places. But I'm curious when you say that, and I completely understand that. But I'm not sure that is always obvious what is beneath the layers of that, like, my impression of everything that you've said so far, is that overall, you enjoy writing and being an author and the byproducts of that, and what goes into that, and it's something that you've done for a very long time, even when you weren't getting paid. Break down some of those layers for me a little bit in terms of what do you mean, when you say, "Hey, no, it's absolutely not my passion, it's really freakin hard." Help us understand a little bit more of that. Because I do think that there is this misconception out there that when you find the thing, or you are the beekeeper, whatever it might be, then you're just going to enjoy absolutely every element of it. And I know you actually talked about this in one of your books too 'Drive'. But break that down for me a little bit in terms of what you mean by that.
Dan Pink 19:28
It really depends on what we mean by enjoyment and what we mean by passion. I think passion is just the wrong word. I really do. I think that is... passion is a sort of emotion and sort of state that is very, very hot and not enduring, not something that's sustainable. I think that what gives people satisfaction in their work is a sense of challenge. And remember, challenge can be frustrating, because sometimes you're not up to the challenge. So I think it's a sense of challenge. And I also think that it's a sense of contribution as well. So if I get an email from a reader or see a reader at an event or something like that, and they say, I had an experience last week, I was in Nashville, at a bookstore. And these two people came up to me, man and a woman, you know, maybe in their late 50s, early 60s, and they said, "We read a book of yours called 'A Whole New Mind' and it really changed the way the conversation we had in our house with our son, we realized that the fact that he wasn't this hardcore, left brain quantitative person was okay. And that he had these other skills. And then because of this book, he decided to go to the Rhode Island School of Design. And he went to the Rhode Island School of Design, and now he's in his late 20s, and has this flourishing career as a designer, and everything. And it's all you know, and I don't know if that would have happened without your book." Okay, so that basically kept me in the writing business for two additional weeks. And so I think that's a better way to look at it. What is challenging? What do you do because it's part of who you are? And what do you do that makes a contribution?
Scott Anthony Barlow 21:07
So now that you've been doing this for a while, we know that you don't enjoy every single element. So...
Dan Pink 21:13
Scott Anthony Barlow 21:14
Yeah, no way. And I don't think that's true for any...
Dan Pink 21:17
I think it's too far. You know, what, like, I like baseball. Okay. Yeah, I bet it's super cool to be a professional baseball player. But you know what, there's a lot of being a professional, a major league baseball player, that's a total pain, right? You have 162 games every season, you finish a game at 12 o'clock at night, and go take a shower and then got to take a plane to the west coast and play another game, your body takes a beating, you have to concentrate every single night, you have to stand up there every single night as if you're a hitter, and face somebody throwing a projectile at you 95 miles an hour. And some days, like you're just not in the mood to do that. But what do you do? You get up and do your job. And so if you look at, like, a major league, a baseball player or major... or an NBA basketball player, now, is baseball your passion? Well, I don't know. But it's my job. It's what I do. It's my challenge. It's what I do. It's what I care about. So again, I don't want to split hairs here. But I think it's a very, I think professionals care about challenge. And they care about contribution. And they care less about passion. At some level, passion and contribution are focused in very different directions. Passion is all about me. And contribution is all about other people. And so I just don't think that... I really don't think that professionals care about passion.
Scott Anthony Barlow 22:26
Love that perspective, I don't think I've heard it put quite that way before.
Dan Pink 22:30
There are going to be plenty of people. And believe me, there are gonna be plenty of people who are going to be emailing you saying, "This guy doesn't know what he's talking about. I'm a professional, I'm passionate about bird watching or whatever." And, you know, "I'm a professional surf boarder, and I'm passionate about surfing." But my guess is that professional surfers there many many days when surfing, even though they like surfing, it's who they are, it's a total pain.
Scott Anthony Barlow 22:54
I don't think that that is dissimilar from a lot of what we teach on this podcast at all. However, I still find that as people listen to the show, I do continuously get those emails. So I appreciate very, very much you breaking it down in that particular way. And I love, especially, the piece about contribution versus passion. That is super interesting to me. And I think that's probably true for many things in life, when you're focused on other people, as opposed to just yourself, those are the kinds of the things that carry you forward. And those are the kinds of things that make you feel connected to it. Those are the kinds of things that give you meaning. Those are the kinds of things that ultimately get you where many people want to go in a lot of different ways, too. So that absolutely resonates with me. Here's another question for you that I'm curious about. Let me put it this way. I get emailed all the time about 'Johnny Bunko'.
Dan Pink 23:53
Scott Anthony Barlow 23:55
I do actually. And it makes sense, considering the context of our, you know, what we do, our company and our podcast and everything else along with it. But I've heard you say in a couple of different places and read a couple of different interviews where you've said things like, Hey, this is... I think I came out before it's time in some way, or I really didn't consider this book to be a very large success. But I find that the emails that I'm getting about it, the people that are like, "Hey, have you read this?" They list it as, you know, their top 10 books, many times. So one, I'm curious how you think about this book now? And I wanted to ask you about that.
Dan Pink 24:31
I'm very proud of that book. Because I think it's incredibly original. I think it's an original book. And I think it's a book that's been helpful to people. If you look at the raw numbers, it hasn't sold as many as my other books. I don't consider it a failure. I consider it a really inspired experiment that I was proud of and that I enjoyed doing. But they didn't put the same numbers on the board as another book, which suggests that maybe it's the format of that book is somehow has less of a wide appeal than other kinds of formats.
Scott Anthony Barlow 25:00
It does seem the way that people put it to me in email format or talk about it to me in conversation. I would almost equate it to, like, cult following, a little bit. Almost like a movie that had...
Dan Pink 25:13
I like to hear that. Yeah. So it's like office space or Arrested Development. And those are... I'm happy to be in that Troika there, Office Space, Arrested Development and The Adventures of Johnny Bunko.
Scott Anthony Barlow 25:25
Perfect. Let's put it into that category. That is very much seems where it probably should be. I like it quite a bit. I would like to spend a few minutes talking about 'When' though, because I've read the whole book about...
Dan Pink 25:37
Scott Anthony Barlow 25:38
One... Yeah, absolutely. I thought it was amazing. It was interesting to me. It had a different feel than some of your other books in a few different ways. And I'm curious, you know, as you were writing, how did you approach this book differently than some of your past?
Dan Pink 25:53
Well, this book is about the science of timing. And the idea behind it is that we tend to think the timing is an art. We make our timing or when decisions based on intuition and guesswork, but what we should be doing is making them based on evidence and science. And so the way I approached this was by doing a very deep dive into the science. And it turns out that across dozens and dozens of fields from the social sciences, like social psychology and anthropology and economics to the biological sciences, molecular biology, medical sciences, anesthesiology, chronobiology, endocrinology, that you have all these scholars in different fields are asking very, very similar questions unbeknownst to each other. So they're asking, you know, what's the effect of time of day on what we do and how we do it? How do beginnings affect us? How do midpoints affect us? How do endings affect us? And what I found is that if you go wide enough and deep enough into this research, you can begin to piece together the evidence based ways to make better smarter shooter decisions about when to do things. So the way I approached this book was very much through the lens of science and or even more broadly, Scott, I guess, on this book, I really began this book with a question, I didn't really have a theory of the case. So in other books, I've had an argument in mind that before I went out and went whole hog on the book, I basically... I validated the argument and said, "Well, wait a second, I'm going to write a book that's going to make this argument." Whereas in this case, I came in with a question, because I was just frustrated with myself. It's like, basically, I wrote this book, because I wanted to read it. Because I wanted to make better 'when' decisions in my own life. So I went in with a question. And the science led me to the answer.
Scott Anthony Barlow 27:33
That's very interesting, because as I read through it, it felt very much like back to back to back to back answers stacked up of questions that I had...
Dan Pink 27:44
Scott Anthony Barlow 27:44
About this, or questions that I didn't even know that I had, but was immediately curious about. So I really appreciated that, in reading through it. And it felt very... I think stacked is the right word. It felt like every single chapter that I got to I had 10 other things, maybe not literally 10, but a number of other things that I could use immediately. And that was fantastic.
Dan Pink 28:06
Well, thanks, I appreciate that. And also, you know what, the other thing I'm trying to do here is I'm trying to just broadly, I'm trying to say, the other books as well, or some of the other books is... give people some insight into the science, but also try to use those insights to give them some tools to do something different in their own lives. And for me, one of the frustrating things about some books is that you read a book about big ideas or science or whatever. And it's interesting, and it's worth reading. But then you say, "Okay, well, so what can I do with this?" And the author doesn't stoop to tell you what to do. Because he or she will say, "Oh, no, I'm not going to sell you myself by giving you advice." And on the other hand, you have a lot of these really, really, really empty calorie books that are all about advice and exhortation. And they're thin and you say, "Okay, well, how do you actually know this? Like, what's this based on?" And so, for me, the ideal is, can you give people some insights into the science, into the human condition? But can those insights yield things to actually live your life a little differently? And so that's what I tried to do in a lot of my previous and a lot of my recent books.
Scott Anthony Barlow 29:14
I think that, especially, and when you very much succeeded in that. I've always appreciated how you translated the science into something that's usable. Yeah, absolutely. One of the things I want to have you share a bit with our listeners, because I found it so incredibly useful. And I've always been fascinated by this. And some of the studies I've read in the past too, but I think it's in the very first chapter, if I remember correctly, where you're talking about when you're essentially most effective, for lack of a better phrase, but how to find your daily win. And one, can you get a little bit of context around that? And then two, you go into what you call "The Time Hacker's Handbook" at the end of each chapter, and can you share a little bit about what you prescribe to find your daily win?
Dan Pink 29:56
Oh, sure. So what we know about the day is... and it's very obviously a very important unit of time. It's something that is natural, that it's physical, we were on a planet that is turning. So unlike a second, which is something that human beings have made up or a week which is something that human beings have made up, a day is actually a real thing. And each day has a rich body of science tells us the day has a hidden pattern. In general, we move through the day in three stages: a peak, a trough, a recovery. Most of us move through it in that order, peak in the morning, trough in the mid to late, early to mid afternoon, recovery late afternoon and early evening. Now people who are strong night owls, that's about 20% of the population, it's more complicated, they tend to move in the reverse order: recovery, trough, peak. But what we know from a whole range of study is that that's pretty much the pattern, peak-trough-recovery, and then you go one layer into the science. And what you find is that our cognitive abilities don't stay the same throughout the day, they change throughout the day, that's a big deal. And the best time to do something depends on what we're actually doing. So let me unpack that, because that goes to the "Time Hacker's Handbook", which is the section of the book that has all the tools, tips and takeaways. So during our peak, which for most of us is the morning, that's when we should be doing our analytic work. And what I mean by that, that is work that requires heads down, focus, and attention. Writing a report, analyzing data, the work that requires that locked down focus, during the peak we're most vigilant. And that means that we can knock away distractions. So for me as a writer, and as someone who's not an owl, I should be doing my writing in the morning, getting rid of the distractions, doing my writing in the morning. During the trough, which for most of us is the early to mid afternoon. That's not good for very much. And actually, there's a lot of data showing it's a very dangerous, like the early to mid afternoon, a lot of bad stuff happens, you have an increase in traffic accidents, you have a massive increase in errors and problems in medicine, you have kids scoring far lower on standardized tests at that time of day than in the morning. But it's really a massive drop off in performance in the early to mid afternoon. So instead of trying to do our analytic work then, we should be doing our administrative work, you know, answering our routine emails, or you know, that kind of thing. And then finally, the recovery is actually a pretty interesting period. During recovery, again, which for most of us is the late afternoon and early evening, our mood is higher than in the trough. However, we're less vigilant than during the peak. And that actually is an interesting and powerful mix. When we're have an elevated mood and less vigilance, that makes us better at what social psychologists call insight tasks. Those are tasks that require more conceptual thinking, less mathematical thinking, a little bit more kind of wider scope, kind of thinking, think about something like brainstorming. And so what we find is that if you move your analytic work to the peak, your administrative work to the trough, your insight work to the recovery, you're going to do a little bit better. And in fact, there's research showing the time of day, just time of day alone explains about 20% of the variance in how people perform on workplace tasks. So that's a pretty big deal. The science is pretty clear on this, that science gives us very clear guidelines but it doesn't say, "Hey, Scott. You should start working at 8:30 in the morning and work for 43 consecutive minute" you know, it doesn't say that, right? But it gives us these broader design principles. And we don't do anything with that. And so in our own work, so you have people like me, who do their best analytic work in the morning, and then spend the morning answering routine emails and watching ESPN highlights and then get to the trough and try to do their harder work. And it's really hard for them, or you have organizations that schedule meetings, and without any thought about, "What kind of meeting is this? Is this an insight meeting? Is this an analytic meeting?" "Who's going to be there? Morning people, afternoon people." And so the big, big problem here is that the science is very clear that when matters, it matters significantly. And yet, in our decision making as individuals and inside of organizations were completely unintentional and neglectful about issues of 'when'.
Scott Anthony Barlow 34:11
That is amazing. And it's been helpful to me in particular too. As I've been experimenting with schedule, and different tasks, different times, I've so appreciated that. And I wanted to thank you for taking the time, speaking of time, and since we've been talking about contribution, your contribution in the books that you have put out to the world. So even though you were trying to answer a question for yourself, I still found it very, very beneficial.
Dan Pink 34:38
I appreciate your saying that. And let me just add one more thing about that. I'm, like, book writing here, too. Because I really appreciate your saying that. And the reason I jumped in is that and I think it's a lesson for entrepreneurs. I think it's a lesson for managers, I think it's a lesson for writers and I think it's something else you said at the very end of it, Scott, was also really important and ties into this. You mentioned this idea that you've been experimenting with schedules, you're on schedule, alright. And that's really... that's like, in some ways, the meta takeaway of this book, which is that what we should be doing is we should be much better observers of our own behavior. William James, who was the center, the father of modern psychology. He has this line, it's always haunted me in one of his books where he says, "most of us go through life." And here's this phrase, "only half awake." Only half awake. And that's always haunted me. And I think that the solution to being more awake is to be, just as he's doing, like, observe our behavior better and try stuff, like, experiment with stuff. That in some ways, we need to take a more scientific approach to our own lives. And so what we can do in terms of the day to day rhythms is, like, pay more attention. How am I feeling at this time of day? How good am I getting this kind of work at this time of day? And then as you're suggesting, Scott, do some experiments with that, well, what if I move this over here? And this over there? How do I feel now? And that is actually a way to be more fully awake. Because you're observing your behavior more, and you're trying experiments. And I think what's tied to that and forgive this rant here for a moment is that, the way that I think about the books that I write is very much the way you're suggesting, which is that, if I'm wondering about this question of 'when', then other people must be too, because I'm not that special. And I think we have this tendency to think of ourselves as like, so wildly different from everybody else. And there's a lot of research on this. So a lot of research that when we ask ourselves, it's like, oh, you have somebody, are you extrinsically motivated or intrinsically motivated? And give me some examples of that. And so I'm very intrinsically motivated. And here's examples of how I've navigated my life on that. Well, what about other people? Oh, no, no, no, they're totally extrinsically. You know, did you peep to that research? Other kinds of things, you know, if you found a wallet on the ground, would you, you know, try to return it to its rightful owner? Oh, of course. What other people? No way. Everybody else is so dishonest. And my view is that, you know, I pick topics that I'm curious about, partly because I know what's going to be a better book. But also I just figure, if I'm curious about it, that means other people are going to be curious about it. And so... and I think that that's true for managers. So if you think about a manager saying, "Well, I don't like being treated this particular way. Maybe I shouldn't treat my people that way." All right, or an entrepreneur saying, "Wow, I'm really frustrated by this particular industry, or this particular service, I will share, like, something better, probably other people are thinking that same thing." And so I do think that it's important sometimes to extrapolate from our own experience. And while we'd like to tell ourselves and our children, oh, everyone is so unique, and everyone is so special. And they are at some level, I don't want to diss that entirely. But I also think that it's important to recognize that all of us have a lot in common. So if you're experiencing a frustration, if you have a question, the odds are very, very, very, very good that lots of other people are having that frustration, or harboring that question.
Scott Anthony Barlow 38:20
Thank you for the rant, first of all. And second of all, thank you so much for, jeez, I was thinking about this a little bit as we were talking here, but you have... through your books and through your work, I've taken away so much over the last couple of years. So I so appreciate you taking the time and coming on and sharing that with our listeners too. That way they get a bit and a taste of what I've been able to benefit from over the years. And that is super cool, super fun for me to be able to share your knowledge with everybody else. And 'When' by the way, I haven't seen any place that sells books of any kind that you can't get it from, and was in a few bookstores when I was in Austin, Texas. And it was very prominently displayed so you can't miss it almost. But I would say since you can't miss it, pick up a copy. I absolutely enjoyed it immensely. But the full title is "When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing" Thank you so much, Dan. I really appreciate it.
Dan Pink 39:22
Scott, it's been a pleasure talking with you.
Scott Anthony Barlow 39:24
Even though I absolutely love learning more about timing, and this... it has been so fun for me, it turns out, no amount of studying timing can help you figure out exactly what you want to do for your career. And Dan mentioned that earlier, that sometimes it's hard to see in the moment where you should be spending your time and what your career can look like. And guess what? We've got plenty more coming up next week right here on Happen To Your Career. So take a listen to what we've got in store for you next week on the Happen To Your Career podcast.
Allison Curbow 39:56
What I struggled with for a long time was I had so many different skills and interests. And I jumped around so much that one job, sometimes it didn't look anything like the next job. That's why looking back at my resume, it's like a dot two dot picture where you just go back and forth between all the little dots and it's kind of a mess at first.
Scott Anthony Barlow 40:18
That's right, all that and plenty more next week. It's here on Happen To Your Career. I will see you next week when the episode releases on Monday. Alright. I am out. Adios.
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