The Science of Timing: An Interview With Dan Pink

Dan Pink is the author of six fascinating books about the changing nature of work and productivity. His most recent one, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, was a New York Times best-seller for four months. This year, Dan did us the honor of coming to FoolFest for an interview with Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner about a gamut of topics — from the most dangerous time to drive to the (statistically unlikely) robot overlord future, and more in between. In this bonus episode of Rule Breaker Investing, listen to the full 40-minute interview and hear Dan’s advice on when to do things, how to take a productive break, how he comes up with book ideas, when kids should start school, and much more.

A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on June 23, 2018.

David Gardner: Welcome back to Rule Breaker Investing: Weekend Edition! That’s right, this is a Rule Breaker Investing podcast Extra, and I’m delighted that you’re spending a little bit more time with me this weekend.

It’s not every RBI Extra that includes someone like Dan Pink. Dan, the author of six provocative books, including his newest, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, which has spent four months on The New York Times best-seller list. His other books, by the way: the long-running New York Times best-seller, A Whole New Mind, and the No. 1 New York Times best-sellers Drive and To Sell Is Human. In fact, Dan’s books have, of course, won multiple awards and have been translated into 37 languages. We had the pleasure of having Dan Pink as one of our guests at FoolFest three weeks ago, and I got to do this interview with him.

We aired a portion of this interview a few weeks ago on this podcast with our Stock Stories: Volume II, where Dan told an awesome stock story. You’re going to hear that again here because we excerpted that from this. This is the full-length interview, and I think it’s perfect listening for a Saturday jog. I hope you’ll enjoy Dan Pink and me at FoolFest.

If you find yourself short on time, I can highly recommend the final few minutes of this interview, where Dan is asked to deliver an improved, spontaneous commencement speech lasting approximately 60 seconds in duration. I think he does a great job with that. Yep, we sprung that challenge on him. He had no idea where things were headed as the music started. Super fun.

I hope, in particular, you’ll enjoy this interview, because it’s not just about his most recent book, it’s really about all of his books, and thinking through the work of his life.

Let’s begin right away with your new book, Dan, When. I’ve seen you speak about it a couple of times. It’s already influenced me. I want you to know, I had an age-appropriate medical procedure that you’re supposed to after the age of 50 recently. It starts with a C. I bet some of you have had this. And I intentionally scheduled it for the morning, because that became a big deal to me thanks to your book.

Could you just start right there? Let’s talk about the idea that when we do things matters as much or more than how we do things. When you look at a typical day, Dan Pink, what should we be doing when?

Dan Pink: The last book I wrote came out a few months ago. It’s called When, it’s about the science of timing. The main point is just that, that we tend to think of the timing, the decisions we make about when to do things, we make those decisions based on intuition and guesswork. That’s the wrong way to make them. We should be making them based on what turns out to be this very rich body of science across multiple disciplines that give us clues, evidence, data to make these decisions about when to do things in a smarter, more strategic way.

One of the things that you see, especially in healthcare — I mean, as your friend, I’m glad that you got your colonoscopy in the morning. […] of significance or any kind of medical procedure in the afternoon. The data are overwhelming. Let’s go back to colonoscopies. Doctors find half as many polyps in afternoon exams as they do in morning exams for the same population. Anesthesia errors, four times more likely at 3 PM than at 9 AM. Hand-washing in hospitals, which is not that high to begin with, goes down considerably in the afternoon.

One of the things that the science of timing tells us, at a broad level, is that our cognitive abilities don’t stay the same throughout the day. Our cognitive abilities change over the course of the day. The difference between the daily high point and the daily low point can be significant, and when we should do things depends on what it is that we’re doing. The evidence is pretty remarkable, especially in healthcare, but you also see the same effect in education, you see it in corporate performance, you see it in the markets.

Gardner: When we take breaks during the day, what kinds of breaks should we be taking when?

Pink: Sure. There’s a whole science of breaks. The big idea on breaks is this — here’s the thing about this research. There’s a huge amount of research out there on this topic. The trouble is, the research, in some ways, I think it’s analogous to certain kinds of investment opportunities, in a way. I’m making this up. I’m a little bit nervous because I really don’t know the next sentence that’s going to come out of my mouth. How do we look for investment opportunities? We look for things that other people are missing. What’s happening right now in the world of research is that, in this particular realm, you have research in economics and in social psychology that’s asking, “What’s the effect of time of day on what we do and how we do it? How do beginnings affect us, how to midpoints affect us, how do endings affect us? How do groups synchronize in time?”

These same questions are being asked in molecular biology. These same questions are being asked in the field of chronobiology, an entire field devoted to the study of our rhythms. The same questions are being asked in epidemiology and in anesthesiology and in endocrinology and in anthropology and in cognitive science. And yet, these disparate fields don’t talk to each other. They don’t realize that they’re all asking very similar questions. If you go wide enough and deep enough into this research, you can begin to put together the evidence-based ways to do this kind of stuff more systematically.

And this goes to David’s question about breaks. Throughout these disparate fields, there’s a lot of research on breaks. My view of it is this: the science of breaks is where the science of sleep was 15 years ago. 15 years ago, it was a badge of honor, in some cases, to come in and say, “I pulled an all-nighter last night! I’m massively sleep-deprived! I’m so committed to this organization that I’m only getting by on three hours of sleep.” Back in the old days, when I was working in organizations, I actually used to admire that. I used to feel bad about myself because it was really hard for me to do that.

Now, 15 years later, once we understand the science of sleep, we say to that guy — and it’s always a guy — who got three hours of sleep or pulled two consecutive all-nighters, “You’re not a hero, you’re an idiot. Go home and get some sleep. You’re hurting your performance, you’re probably hurting everybody else’s performance.”

The science of breaks is where the science of sleep was. What we know about breaks is the following: we should be taking more breaks, and we should be taking certain kinds of breaks. At a broad level — this is something that I got wrong. I have not been a good break-taker. I always believed that amateurs took breaks and professionals didn’t. That’s 100% wrong. That’s as wrong as a statement can be. It’s the exact opposite. Professionals take breaks, amateurs don’t take breaks. When I can finally steer this 18-wheeler to actually answer David’s question directly, what we know about breaks is the following: there’s some very good research that give us design principles about what kinds of breaks to take.

Here’s what we know about the right kind of breaks to take. One, something is better than nothing. Even micro-breaks can improve your performance. Micro-breaks, as short as something like something that I do sometimes, which is called 20-20-20, which is, if you’re working at a computer, every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Even that can actually improve alertness and mental acuity. So, something is better than nothing.

We know that moving is better than stationary, big time. I think that’s become pretty well-known. We know that social is better than solo. Breaks with other people are more restorative than breaks on our own. In fact, the remedy in those studied by Katy Milkman at Penn and Brad Staats at UNC, where they showed that deterioration in hand-washing in hospitals, the remedy for that that got hand-washing back up, was to give nurses more breaks and to encourage them to take social breaks, breaks with other nurses. That ended up getting hand-washing backup. We know that outside is better than inside, and we know that fully detached is better than semi-detached. Leave your phone behind, don’t talk about work.

I think the science is clear enough that I truly believe there would be an uptick in productivity writ large if white collar workers, every afternoon, took a ten-minute break walking around outside with someone they liked, leaving their phone behind and talking about something other than work. I think that that regular habit would actually be a massive productivity enhancer for no cost.

Gardner: Four years ago, you were probably hatching this idea. I’m not sure. When did you actually start with When? How does a Dan Pink book come together?

Pink: I’m trying not to empty the room with a long, tortured answer here. I keep a regular list of ideas in files. I keep a Dropbox file of ideas, I keep an Evernote file of ideas, I keep a paper file of ideas, and I keep an email folder file of ideas. I’ll encounter something, and I say, “Hey, that could be an interesting idea for an article or a book or a television show,” or whatever, and I’ll just throw it in there.

And every six months or, I’ll come back to those ideas and cull them. Most of the ideas suck. Over time, when I go back to them, a few ideas will bubble to the surface. “Hey, there’s something about this, I keep coming back to it. Hey, there’s something about this, I keep coming back to it. Hey, there’s something about this, I keep coming back to it.”

This is what I’m trying to think about — I like to write book proposals not so much in order to sell the book, but as a test of whether the idea is solid. That is, if you can write 30 pages explaining what the book is, who’s going to buy it, why it’s interesting, why it fills a gap that no one has filled before, why you’re the ideal person to write it, then that’s a very good test of concept. In some ways, it’s like a business plan.

You can say, “Ooh, I should start a chain of rutabagas, the root vegetable that will change the world! I’m going to have a whole chain of rutabaga kiosks all over the world!” That’s an idea. But if you start writing a business plan — how much do rutabagas actually cost? Does anybody like rutabagas? What can you do with rutabagas? How many times will Dan say rutabagas in this conversation? You realize, wait a second, there’s not a there there.

I actually wrote two proposals last time for which there wasn’t a there there, and then came to writing about When, which was on the list, and it was like butter. It was like, “This is such a good idea, I love this idea.” There are some ideas that you want to date, go out on a few dates with. There are other ideas that you want to go steady with, maybe move in with, maybe get married.

Gardner: Whenever you did first come up with this idea, let’s go back to that Dan Pink, now looking at the 2018 Dan Pink who’s already written the book and knows it — how does this Dan Pink surprise or look different to that Dan Pink? How has this book changed your own habits in your life?

Pink: Oh my God! This book, probably more than any book I’ve written, changed how I do things. Truly, I’m not joking around about this medical stuff. My younger daughter, 19 years old, is having her wisdom teeth taken out. There’s no question in our family what time of day she’s getting her wisdom teeth taken out, because she’s going to go under general anesthesia. Like, I will stand in front of the door, preventing her from leaving our house, if there was an appointment scheduled in the afternoon with general anesthesia for one of my kids, period, full stop. My mother-in-law had a heart procedure six weeks ago, and my wife, who was navigating things for her, negotiated with the hospital to do something out of the ordinary and do the procedure in the morning rather than in the afternoon. So, this is for real on that one.

I also changed the way that I conduct my own schedule, because one of the things that we know about the pattern of day is that we go through the day in three broad cycles. There’s a peak, a trough, and a recovery. We do different things better at different points on that cycle. During the peak, which for most of us is the morning — for night owls, it’s much later in the day — we’re better at doing analytical work, work that requires heads-down focus, attention and energy. So, I changed my own schedule so that I do all my writing in the morning, because that’s my best time of day.

On writing days, I will not bring my phone into the office, I will not check my email, I will not take any phone calls, not do anything until I hit that number. So, for this book, I was really, really rigid in how I wrote it when I got wind of this research. I’d come to the office every morning, shut everything down, give myself a word count and not do a thing before I hit that word count in the morning. I probably wrote 90% of the words in this book before noon. And actually, no joke, this is the first book I’ve delivered on time.

Gardner: That’s awesome.

Pink: I wish it were a joke. It’s not. [laughs]

Gardner: Do you know what your next book is going to be?

Pink: No. What, do you have an idea? Because I have a two-book contract, I’m desperate here! If you guys have anything, let me know!

Gardner: [laughs] Broadening it a little bit, Dan, obviously so much of your writing and your work has been about the changing nature of work, of motivation. Let’s go to work for a second, the changing nature of work. Automation, AI. How do you think AI will change work?

Pink: It’s a great question. I think we don’t know. I think we can use certain ways of reasoning through this issue. As it turns out, I wrote a book about 11 years ago called A Whole New Mind, and the argument behind that book was that certain kinds of abilities that were basically the thing that propelled you to the middle class, what we can think of as SAT spreadsheet abilities: logical, linear, sequential abilities, abilities that were metaphorically left-brain — my argument was that those abilities were becoming commoditized, they were easy to outsource, they were easy to automate. And that was putting a premium on these kinds of abilities: abilities more characteristic of the right hemisphere of the brain. Artistry, empathy, inventiveness, big-picture thinking.

I have a chapter on automation in that book, about how a lot of kinds of left-brain functions are being automated. I grew up in the American Midwest when the Rust Belt was rusting, and that was a change in the structure of work there, even in the kind of advice that middle-class parents gave their kids. Routine factory jobs that were basically about doing repetitive tasks over and over again were no longer the path to the middle class. So, parents told their kids to become accountants or engineers or lawyers.

The argument was, a lot of the actual tasks in those professions were actually at risk of being automated and outsourced, because they were routine. An example would be something like basic tax preparation and TurboTax. We often get this wrong. Every year, every April, CNN does a story about chartered accountants in Manila processing American tax returns for $400 a month, and some sad sack personal accountant in Sheboygan, Wisconsin who is losing business as a consequence of that. They never mention anything like TurboTax. Any of you do your taxes in TurboTax? Yeah, look at that. You’re the people with accountant blood on your hands. That’s what’s killing accounting jobs.

You have the automation of these kinds of white collar tasks and the outsourcing of these white collar tasks. The point of this is that the rise of AI was far steeper than I would have expected. For instance, I wrote about how empathy, our ability to read facial expressions, is something that is very, very difficult to automate. It turns out, it’s actually less difficult than we thought. That kind of capacity, which I thought would be impervious to that, well, actually, you might be able to automate that.

I think that the world of AI — to make a long story short, which I’ve never done in my adult life, is this: I think it’s going to have an effect, I think it’s going to be neither utopian nor dystopian. In 1999, I ordered on eBay a bunch of books by futurists from the middle of the 20th century who were projecting out to 2000. I was going to do a piece on this — what did people think was going to happen in the year 2000? Basically, the distribution of these texts, these pundits, these thinkers, was this: you had about 45% of people, maybe 40%, predicting massive dystopia, charred landscape, widespread unemployment because of these things called computers. Then, you had about 55% of people saying utopia, we’re only going to have to work five hours a week, the rest of it’s going to be leisure, everyone’s going to be having sex without consequence, it’s going to be this incredible utopian vision.

And then you had about 5% of people saying, “I think it’ll be a little better.” [laughs] And it turned out that the 5% were the ones who were right. So, using that as a heuristic for analyzing this thing, I was like, you know what, it’s probably going to make things a little bit better. There’s absolutely going to be disruption, there already is. In this country, we’re doing a terrible job of being willing to leave people behind. But, I think that AI is going to replace some dreary tasks, and I think what we’re going to do for a living are things that augment machine intelligence rather than compete with machine intelligence. But, I don’t see a utopia, nor do I see a dystopia. I see things basically a little bit better, with some social consequences that it’s a political decision whether we address.

Gardner: On the robot continuum: ten, we are all submitting to the robot overlords; and one, “what, me worry?” you are, five-ish? Six? Four?

Pink: Yeah, I’m actually probably a 4.5. If I’m wrong, I’m screwed. But based on previous predictions, what we can do is, we can go back and look — it’s true in investing, right? “This time, it’s different.” How many times have you heard that in investing? This time it’s different, this time it’s different. It’s usually not. In this case, it’s like, this time it’s different? Probably not.

So, that’s just my bet. It’s not based on any kind of emotion, it’s just based on, the history of things is generally that there’s some progress, that things get a little bit better over time. There’s very rarely a sharp bottom falling out. There’s also rarely a steep path to nirvana. It’s different. I’m a 4.5.

Gardner: Good. We haven’t told you this, Dan, so I’m springing this on you a little bit, but we’ve taken your six books and we fed all of that data into a program at The Motley Fool. We’ve inserted that into what we’ve been calling — just internally, this is prototypical — Pinkbot. Pinkbot is shortly going to go autonomous. I’m curious whether you’d be willing to meet with Pinkbot, and what you would imagine discussing with Pinkbot.

Pink: I would think that Pinkbot would have a lot in common with the source of its inspiration in that it would have no idea what it’s talking about.

Gardner: [laughs] He might have your next book idea!

Pink: Yeah, maybe. But, even something like that — I think it’s a great question, David, and I think it’s really interesting, and I think it’s a good lens through which to look at this. I think that you can use some of these tools to make writing better. I think it’s unlikely that Pinkbot is going to come up with a great idea. I think it’s unlikely that Pinkbot is going to be able to envision something that people don’t realize that they need. I think Pinkbot is going to be less likely to see a gap in the marketplace.

Now, what Pinkbot can do is — I’m pretty anal retentive and data-oriented in the way I do things, especially for a writer. What I do think is that you can use some of those analytic tools to make writing better, which is heresy among some writers. What I do is that, I have a sense of the data behind what writing that sounds like me is like. I know that my best writing — it’s very rudimentary — has a certain percentage of passive sentences. It doesn’t have zero, but it’s usually between 2-3%. I know that the grade level — you can do measures of grade level in writing — I know that certain grade level and complexity, I know that the stuff that sounds like me, the stuff where I feel like I’m doing my best work, has those kinds of calibrations. And I will actually look at drafts based on that. I think that helps make me a better writer. Why does this chapter stink? Oh, it’s way too complex, or, you’re backing into the argument. And I can tell I’m backing into an argument rather than asserting an argument if 9% of the sentences are passive.

It’s like, this is a diagnostic tool to help me make my writing better. But, I just don’t see Pinkbot coming up with a totally cool, groovy idea that gets people excited.

Gardner: Darn it. Maybe we’ll shelve Pinkbot. This is unfair, I think my brother Tom did this a few years ago, so I have to do it again –from the department of the unfair. Let me preface by saying that you gave a wonderful talk at Conscious Capitalism last year at our CEO summit. One of the things that I remember you saying is that behind every great speech — one of Dan’s many bits of acclaim in his past is he’s been a presidential speechwriter — behind every great speech, you said, are three things: brevity, levity, and repetition — to which I might add, brevity. But, let’s unfairly ask you, then, to summarize each of your six books in order. I’ll just spot you off, one sentence, the CliffsNotes, the PinkNotes take, on the book.

Pink: Totally fair.

Gardner: OK, good.

Pink: Totally fair question. I’ll see you and raise you — if I can’t do that, I should be in another business.

Gardner: That’s pretty awesome. [laughs] Dan has taken this conversation up to a standard that I can’t actually maintain myself.

Pink: [laughs] It sort of reminds me of that old joke about, this Woody Allen joke — it’s probably not good, citing Woody Allen, now that I realize that — Woody Allen has this old joke where he says, I took a speed-reading course. You know this one?

Gardner: I do, totally. I love this one.

Pink: “I took a speed-reading course.” “Oh, really? Was it good?” “Yeah, it was really good. I read War and Peace in 15 minutes.” “Oh, really? Wow! What was it about?” “It was about Russia.”

Gardner: So, in that spirit, Dan, your first book, Free Agent Nation, in a sentence.

Pink: It’s about the rise of people leading large organizations, working for themselves, and discusses how it happened, what it means, and where it’s going.

Gardner: The Adventures of Johnny Bunko.

Pink: This was a graphic novel that told the story of a guy named Johnny Bunko, who, through a set of magic chopsticks, learns the six essential lessons in any satisfying, productive career.

Gardner: Well done. And that was a graphical novel. A Whole New Mind.

Pink: We talked about that before, it’s about the shift in the economy away from logical, linear, sequential, left-brain skills to more artistic, empathetic, right-brain, big-picture skills. Again, why it’s happening, and what to do about it.

Gardner: Drive.

Pink: This looks at 50 years of behavioral science and finds that certain kinds of motivators that we rely on in organizations actually don’t work very well for complex, creative, long-term work, and that we should replace them with a different suite of motivators — in particular, autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Gardner: He’s pretty good, isn’t he? Let’s go to To Sell Is Human.

Pink: This book makes the argument that a huge portion of what we do every day on our job is sell, but that we’re doing it on a remade landscape, a landscape that has moved from one of information asymmetry to information parity, and what this means, and what we should do about it. That wasn’t that good.

Gardner: I’m going to skip When, because I think you’ve nailed that one.

Pink: Thank you.

Gardner: Back to Pink pong. Actually, Dan, on my podcast, Rule Breaker Investing, this coming week, we’re going to tell stock stories. A lot of people talk about story stocks. We’re going to reverse it and tell stock stories. You have an awesome stock story. I’m just going to spot you up with it. This is going to appear on my podcast, so start with “Once upon a time,” once I spot you up. This is the one about a guy you got to know through social media who had an idea for a company and a stock that you may or may not have —

Pink: Oh, and the cereal.

Gardner: Wait, sorry?

Pink: The cereal boxes. Yeah, OK. Got it.

Gardner: So, once upon a time.

Pink: Once upon a time, in the middle of the first decade of this century, I wrote a book called A Whole New Mind. It had an orange cover. One of the ideas in the book, which I’m not sure is totally right anymore, was that, I had this argument that the MFA, the Master of Fine Art, is the new MBA. The MFA is the new MBA, because a lot of MBA skills can be outsourced and automated. The skills of an MFA, the Master of Fine Art, are harder to outsource and harder to automate, therefore they would be more valuable. The MFA is the new MBA.

That idea got me invited to a lot of art and design schools, [laughs] because everybody loves confirming their own biases. In the course of this, I went to the Rhode Island School of Design, one of the premiere art and design colleges in America. It’s an incredible institution. There, I met a young man. I’m not going to tell you his name. I’m just going to tell you, I met a young man who came up to me after the speech and talked to me a little bit, and then sent me an email afterwards and asked me some questions. And I responded to the email. He seemed like a good dude. I liked this guy, I thought he was super creative.

Maybe a year later, two years later, he emailed me. I thought he was a super creative guy. He said, “I have this crazy idea for a business,” and he told me about the business, and I thought it was absurd, it was just an absurd idea.

But, as a way to raise money for it, because he was a pretty skilled designer and a very creative guy, he decided — this is now 2008 — to do a set of limited edition cereal boxes. This is going to sound weird. Limited edition cereal boxes, where he and some of his design colleagues created these two boxes of cereal — literally, it had cereal in it. One brand was called Obama O’s. Hope in every box. And the other one was called Cap’n McCain’s. And they said, “To raise a little bit of money, we’re going to do these limited-edition cereal boxes.” They’re actually works of art in a limited edition, and each cereal box had stamped on it, No. 4 of 500, No. 6 of 500, or whatever.

And I thought, “That’s pretty good!” I actually really enjoy fine art, particularly conceptual art. Like, I like going to the Hirshhorn, and I like the more outré, forgive my French, kinds of art, and these kinds of wacky things. And they were selling it, and I like this guy, and I said, “This guy could be a famous artist one day. It’d be really cool if this guy were, like, the next Andy Warhol or Jeff Koons or something like that, and I had one of his early pieces.”

So, for a tiny little amount — literally, I think they were $75 a piece — I bought these things. And I said to this young man, “This is totally cool. I mean, it’s cool that you’re raising money for this business, but I’m buying these things because I think you could probably be a well-known artist, and this is my investment, but I would never put a cent into your company.”

So, I have in my office — I think David might have seen these — these cereal boxes. They look really nice. They’re super cool-looking. Obama O’s and Cap’n McCain. And on the top of it, it says, “A product of AirBed and Breakfast.”

Thank you.

So. You know that old line, the country song, it’s like, “You got the coal mine and I got the shaft?” I didn’t want to say his name to tip it, but it’s a fellow named Joe Gebbia, who is now, I don’t know, what, the 41st richest person in the world. So, Joe got the billion-dollar company that’s going to go public next year, but I have my cereal, man.

Gardner: Alright, let’s open it up to some of our audience questions. I’m just going to fire these. We truly will go Pink pong, because there are some great ones that I want to get through and we only have like ten minutes, so let’s go, Dan.

Pink: Go!

Gardner: OK, good. Is there evidence that a siesta improves outcomes in the afternoon? Is there evidence?

Pink: Yes, there is. There’s actually a lot of evidence on napping. Now, the full-fledged three-hour siesta, no. But, in terms of taking breaks and naps as a component of taking breaks, the science behind napping is overwhelming. Naps are powerful. Naps are Zambonis for our brain.

[one audience member claps]

There’s a Canadian here, apparently!

Gardner: I was going to say, let’s go Caps!

Pink: For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, the Zamboni is this machine that comes out in between periods in hockey games to smooth over the ice. What we know about naps is, the best naps are incredibly short. The ideal nap is between ten to 20 minutes long. If you take a ten or 20-minute nap, you get a huge amount of cognitive benefit without the downdraft of sleep inertia.

Gardner: Another fellow Fool says, “I drive the Beltway every day, and I have long noticed there are more accidents in the evening than in the morning. Is it just my imagination, or is this documented somewhere, proving the science of timing?”

Pink: Great, great question. That is documented, but the causal mechanism is a little bit different. The reason — give me his timing again?

Gardner: Sure. Beltway, evening rather than morning, accidents.

Pink: The reason there are more accidents on the Beltway in the evening rush hour is that there are more cars on the road. Your instincts are good here, I just want to be clear about that, because there’s research on this. I want to be clear on this. If you adjust for that, if you adjust for cars on the road — because again, it’s really relatively simple math. It moves exponentially. The more cars are on the road, the more possibility of collision. And it’s not linear, it’s exponential. But, once you adjust for that, it turns out that the most dangerous time to be on the road is between 4 AM and 6 AM. I don’t think that’s a big surprise. It’s dark, and who the hell is on the road at 4 AM, right?

But, to your point, to the instincts of this questioner, he or she is onto something. The second most dangerous time to be on the road, once you adjust for cars on the road, is between 2 PM and 4 PM, that downdraft. That’s a very dangerous time to be on the road, there just aren’t that many cars on the road.

Gardner: What should we be changing in our schools to increase productivity? These days, some schools are going to block scheduling with fewer classes but longer class times. Your thoughts?

Pink: There are a lot of issues there, a lot of really big issues there. Let me cite one study and then one thing to do about it. What we know pretty much for younger kids is that they’re better off doing analytic kinds of work in the morning. There’s a great study out of Denmark. In Denmark, students take standardized tests, as they do here in the States, but in Denmark, they take the tests on computers rather than pencil and paper. But, the typical Danish school has more students than computers, so everybody can’t take the test at the same time. So, the kids are randomly distributed, randomly assigned. Some take it in the morning, some take it in the afternoon.

Francesca Gino at Harvard, along with some other researchers, looked at two million Danish test scores. They found that taking the test in the afternoon versus taking the test in the morning for elementary school kids, if you took the test in the afternoon, it was like missing two weeks of school. There was a big difference between the performance in the afternoon and in the morning. And there’s some great research out of the LA Unified School District showing that kids learn more math if they take math in the morning. So, especially for little kids, having those kinds of things in the morning is one really important remedy.

Now, it’s complicated by the fact that our biology changes as we age. Around the middle teens, people have a massive shift toward lateness. They go from being larks to being very significant owls. There’s a shift toward lateness. One of the worst things going on in middle school and especially high school is starting school early. School starts too early for teenagers. The American Academy of Pediatrics has implored schools, “Do not start school for teenagers before 8:30 in the morning.” But the typical start time for teenagers in America is 8:03.

The CDC, the Centers for Disease Control, has studied this issue, as well. Early start times for teenagers leads to higher rates of depression, higher rates of obesity, more car crashes, more dropouts, lower test scores. So, for teenagers, moving the school start time to 9:15 or 9:30 is one of the most cost-effective education reform things that we can do. So, there’s two ideas on that.

Gardner: I love this next one. “I’m a retired RN who worked in operating rooms, ER and ICU. What do you suggest for hospitals? Do they close down ORs at noon? Have enough employees or anesthesiologists to completely switch out the group?”

Pink: That’s a great question. I think, to be fair to hospitals, a lot of them are really reckoning with this. For instance, in the book, I write about going to the University of Michigan Medical Center and standing in on surgery. One of the things is, they changed their approach to how they do surgeries. We were standing around the table. This fellow had this totally smashed-up jaw. And before the medical professionals began the surgery, they literally took a time-out and they literally, literally took a couple of steps back from the table, and they reviewed a checklist. That’s a way for mitigating some of the harm. As I said before, in the study of nurses, giving nurses more breaks and social breaks can boost things back up.

I think the first step is awareness. We don’t take these issues of when as seriously as we take these questions of what people are doing. But the data are pretty clear here. For anesthesia, there might be an argument for not administering anesthesia past a certain time of day. There might be an argument for that.

One of the things that medical schools, teaching hospitals have done well, there’s a good example of their ability to correct some of this problem. You might be familiar with what’s called the July effect, another temporal phenomenon in medicine. In teaching hospitals, they have a whole round of new physicians who come in July. These are people who are ten minutes out of medical school. As a consequence, there was a huge amount of data showing that July was the most dangerous month to be in a hospital if it was a teaching hospital. There were incredible jumps in morbidity and mortality. This was a pretty serious problem. In the U.K., where the cycle starts in August, they referred to this period literally as the August Killing Season. So, this is bad. It’s a temporal phenomenon that’s causing a problem.

But many teaching hospitals actually corrected this problem by doing the following — instead of having these individual physicians ten minutes out of medical school doing things on their own, they start up by embedding them in teams. They embed them in teams so one person who is just a recent medical school grad isn’t responsible for the totality of a patient’s care, isn’t responsible for making every single critical decision, but is embedded in a team. Once she’s embedded in a team, she has a check on her decision-making, and it’s another way for her to learn. As she goes a few more months into this teaching hospital, she can be a better physician. This ended up actually reducing significantly that July effect.

So, there are things that we can do. Just to be fair to the questioner, hospitals are very complex places. Medical practices are very complex places, and the system is so messed up that I honor people who are willing to become an RN this kind of system or people who are willing to become a physician in this kind of system.

Gardner: How do you invest?

Pink: How do I invest? OK. The last time I was here, about four years ago, Tom asked me that question, and I came with my asset allocation and was gently criticized by everybody in the audience … I don’t want to say criticized, I was gently coached. There was some tenderness to it. People were standing up and telling me what I was doing wrong, and I appreciate that. The main thing was that I was too conservative. So, I actually came back, I had to look at this. Here’s where I am.

Gardner: Wow!

Pink: I actually did my due diligence here. Here’s where I am. I’ll give you my theory of the case. My theory of the case is that I believe in the power of compounding interest and low fees, alright? Compounding interest and low fees are things that there’s empirical evidence that they actually have an effect. I’m not as smart as David, so I don’t trust my stock-picking acumen. I wish I had followed basically all of The Fool’s recommendations over the last 15 years, I would be in a far better place, but I didn’t. I have 70% equities, 20% fixed income, and 10% … what is this?

Gardner: Cereal boxes.

Pink: [laughs] Commodities. That C is not cereal, it’s commodities. I guess that’s kind of a commodity, it’s like oats or something in there. Commodities, real estate, that kind of stuff. So, I’m a little less conservative than I was before here, but I’m actually very conservative. I’m one of those people who, I understand loss aversion and the dangers of loss aversion, but I still don’t do anything about it. For my age, I probably should be less in fixed-income. I’ve also paid off my house years ago because I don’t like having debt, which is not a smart move, either.

Gardner: I think it’s a good instinct. Give yourself a pat on the back.

Pink: For paying off my house?

Gardner: Sure, yeah.

Pink: You think?

Gardner: Freedom!

[audience applauds]

Pink: Wow. God, I feel so much better. My heart is swelling with love so much that I might sing.

Gardner: [laughs] Actually, I’m glad that you mentioned that, Dan, because to close — and we should close, although it’s so much fun, I hate to do this, but I think we need to conclude, it’s about 11:30. This is a Mac Greer special. Mac Greer, who has brought you in and booked —

Pink: I’ve known Mac for a long time.

Gardner: Yeah, he’s written some great questions that we’ve asked on our radio shows over the years. Here’s a Mac Greer special to close. This is not in any way trying to rival Randi Zuckerberg, who was spectacular.

Pink: No, I can’t do that.

Gardner: Dan is the first to say that he’s not going to stand up and sing. He was offering to mime, but I think we can ask him to do better. So, here’s where we’re going to head, Dan. From your latest book, we learned that people prefer endings that elevate. With that in mind, and because it’s graduation season, we’d like for you to give a short commencement address.

[Pomp and Circumstance plays softly]

You have 45 seconds or so for the graduates.

Pink: Graduates of Motley Fool University gathered here today, it is an honor to be with you, wearing this odd-looking hat. You know, commencement means beginning, not end, as every commencement speaker since recorded time has said. This is really the beginning of your investment career. As you embark and go forward into the world, I encourage you to follow these two lessons — two lessons that have been important to me; two lessons that have shaped my life; two lessons, one of which I haven’t figured out just yet.

No. 1: keep your fees low. One of my proudest decisions was to go into an ETF that charges only four basis points, and that decision has changed my life. My second lesson, and I will leave you with this, graduates of Motley Fool University … is something that has been so meaningful to me, that it’s become hard for me to describe.

And that is a lesson that I’ve learned from the Gardner brothers, that more important than anything you invest in, more important than any other aspect of your life — the most important aspect of your life, personal and professional, is who you surround yourself with. Surround yourself with great people. Surround yourself with people like the Gardner brothers, who care. Surround yourself with smart people who are committed to doing great things, who are innovative, and who are willing to embarrass their friends in front of 500 people.

Thank you, goodnight! And Godspeed, all of you!

Gardner: Dan Pink!

And yep, the end of that is always going to make me chuckle. Alright, coming up next week, it’s the end of the month, so that means it’s Rule Breaker Investing Mailbag. Drop us a line — is the email address — if you have a question, thought, suggestion, or story to tell. We love it.

Then, coming up the following week, yep, I’m going to be back to picking stocks — five stocks celebrating the 2018 World Cup. I’m going to be doing those and reviewing stocks I picked two years ago from the Brexit-inspired stock list. Really looking forward to that one in two weeks. In the meantime, have a great rest of your weekend. Fool on!

As always, people on this program may have interests in the stocks they talk about, and The Motley Fool may have formal recommendations for or against, so don’t buy or sell stocks based solely on what you hear. Learn more about Rule Breaker Investing at

David Gardner has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends EBAY and NYT. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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