Hilary Swank and Blythe Danner starred in a powerful and inspirational movie from 2018 entitled What They Had about caregiving, loss, and love. Blythe plays the mother, Ruth, who has Alzheimer’s and is lovingly cared for by her husband of sixty years, Bert, played by Robert Forster. Despite Ruth’s slow descent into total memory loss, Bert resists efforts by his children to put his wife in an assisted living facility. As is the case too often in real life aging couples, the caregiver (in this case Bert) passes away first. After the funeral, Ruth says to her daughter in a poignant scene about the pain of losing her husband “This was the perfect time. Any later and I would have forgotten him. Any earlier and I would have missed him too much.“
In this moving moment of clarity Ruth is expressing the power of timing. Decisions, events, and even personal relations can be greatly influenced by it. Sometimes, we are just lucky with the timing of things. Or not so fortunate. Other times, leaders intentionally plan when best to introduce or execute an initiative to increase the probability of success. Author Daniel Pink in his popular book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, says our lives are filled with “when to“ decisions. When to change jobs, hire someone, buy a stock, get married, try a new idea, etc. Our list of timing issues can be exhausting.
SERIOUS EVENTS CREATE TIMING ISSUES
Though none of us would have chosen COVID -19 as a good pick for anything, the timing and presence of it has had profound impact on all of us. It has both enabled and caused us to use technology in ways to stay connected and still learn from each other. TIME magazine says the virus has caused “the world’s largest work from home experiment.” It has influenced the timing and demand around the release of products (i.e. masks, new streaming movies, etc.) and services (curb delivery, no touch cleaning, etc.). Unplanned events, especially ones as catastrophic as a pandemic, cause us to reconsider the introduction and timing of many things- from how and when we wash our hands to talking in person with our next door neighbor. And the timing of a vaccine? Perfect when we have it.
MORNING WORKS BEST FOR MOST OF US
Pink describes in his research the work of three professors who analyzed 26,000 earnings calls from 2100 public companies over 6 years. These are those CEO calls with investors, reporters, analysts, etc. who are trying to discern the strength of the company. Did the call leave them optimistic or pessimistic about future prospects? Linguistic patterns from the calls suggest that those made in the morning were generally more upbeat and positive and as the day wore on the tone in calls grew more negative and less resolute. Share buying fell in line with the calls. Leaders need to think about their timing of communicating and decision making. It’s why students largely do better when they take tests in the morning. It’s why I’d probably never intentionally schedule an operation on a Friday afternoon. When are you at your best?
USE MID POINTS FOR WAKE-UP CALLS
Here’s a quiz especially appropriate if you have been watching ESPN ‘s current 10-hour documentary on NBA star Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Pink again recites in his book an interesting study where two people analyzed 18,000 NBA games and 28,000 NCAA basketball games. Teams leading at halftime usually win the game. But there is one case where motivation seems to beat math. What is it? Turns out the team behind one point at half is more likely to win the game. And in the 1982 NCAA Finals, a freshman guard for UNC sank an 18-footer to win the game. The guard, of course was Michael Jordan and yes, his team was behind one point at halftime. Or as Coach Dean Smith of UNC was reported to have said to his players at half, “We are in great shape…exactly where we want to be .” Use mid points to recalibrate.
Next time as a leader, as you think about the consequences of a decision, consider the timing of it. Does it make sense now? Perhaps right now? And consider what you have been doing. Maybe this is the time for a correction to the course. It all contributes to the probability of success or failure. Timing matters.