The Uh On Moment - Amount of Effort over the Course of Project TimeDid you know that there is a hard pattern to the amount of effort put into projects and that this pattern can be seen in every from life, to sports, to meetings?  That pattern is a “U”.  When people are assigned a task they quickly meet and start thinking about the task at hand but then effort slumps until half way through the allotted time when effort substantially increases.

In 1988 Connie Gersick from UCLA (now at Yale) wrote a break through analysis of ‘midpoints’ titled “Time & Transition in Work Teams“.  She video recorded the meetings of several small project groups, then transcribed all conversations and evaluated the quality of the teams output at different times during the project.  She expected to find that teams work through projects in a linear, step by step progression, but instead she discovered that little productive was accomplished until very close to the exact midpoint of the projects allotted time.

For instance a team of bankers had a 34 day project to develop a new type of bank account, but did not ‘get serious’ until day 17.

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The Uh Oh Effect - U Shape Effort and Being Just a Bit Behind in the Race

In his new book “When: The Scientific Secrets to Perfect Timing” Daniel Pink explain how this phenomena relates to sports:

“… Halftime in sports represent another kind of midpoint – a specific moment in time when activity drops and teams formally reassess and recalibrate…   It’s not surprising that teams ahead at halftime won more games than teams that were behind.  For example, a six point halftime lead (in Basketball) gives a team about an 80% probability of winning the tame.  However… teams that were behind by just one point were more likely to win.  Indeed, being down by one at halftime was more advantageous than being up by one.  Home teams with a one point deficit at half time won more than 58% of the time.  Indeed trailing by one point at halftime, weirdly, was (statistically) equivalent to being ahead by two points.

Berger and Pope then looked at ten years worth of NCAA matchups, nearly 46,000 games in all and found the same… effect”

As explained in our article VIDEO: Microsoft Increased Productivity 40% in Japan By Taking Fridays Off Microsoft found that staff cut meeting times in half, on average, and actually produced more because the ‘got to the point’

The research shows that people who are just a little bit behind will work harder to make up the deficiency but if they are too far behind, they maintain their course and speed:

“Berger and Pope… gathered participants and pitted each one against an opponent in another room in a contest to see who would bang out the computer keystrokes more quickly…  The game had two short periods… and during the break experimenters treated their participants differently.  They told some that they were far behind, some that they were tied and some that they were a little ahead.

The results?  Three groups matched their first half performance, but one did considerably better – the people who believe they were trailing a little” SOURCE

So, how does all this ‘U’ shaped effort, just be a bit behind the competition relate to Partisan Issues.  Simple, politics is full of psychological tricks:

  • In the 2016 US Presidential election Donald Trump clearly telegraphed that he was just behind in the polls and could lose
  • In the fall 2019 Canadian Federal Election Justin Trudeau, a Prime Minister that was in trouble, told followers “…We could wake up next Tuesday with a government led by a new leader. And the only way to prevent that from happening is to vote for the Liberal Party…”  SOURCE This very unusual strategy worked and he was re-elected.
  • Several elections in the 2010 era saw an overly confident right wing party in Alberta named the ‘Wild Rose’ promote that they were just ahead in the polls but in each election their team lost.  They failed to motivate their base to come out and vote.

Today, we find Mike Bloomberg cutting into the 2020 US Presidential contest well into race.  He is cutting off the first part of the “U” by skipping the first 8 months of serious campaigning and the first four Primaries effort in which people’s efforts slump.  He is also not denying that he is behind and needs to catch up.

Click to Expand GraphicThe Uh On Moment - How Being Late To the Race Helps Mike Bloomberg

Bloomberg’s strategy is risky. It has never been tried before but if he wants to win, he needs to shake competitors, pundits and voters.  This, ‘I am behind and short on time’, story might  just prove to be the innovative process needed.


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