February 13, 2017

A bit like the World Series, the Super Bowl was full of surprises. The New England Patriots overcame a 25-point deficit to defeat the Atlanta Falcons – a comeback unheard of in Super Bowl history, and won during overtime, also a first for the Super Bowl. Despite these peculiarities, research shows there are very specific times during a game where scoring is most likely. And we can correlate this research, not just to timing our bathroom breaks during the big game, but also to how we lead and motivate in the office.

Jim Chairusmi and the researchers at The Wall Street Journal, just prior to this Super Bowl, evaluated   when scoring happened, minute-by-minute, during the last 10 Super Bowl games. They found the most points are scored during the last minute of the first half, making this the worst possible time for a fan to leave their seat, but demonstrating something important about the pressure before the “deadline” of halftime.

When football players were interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, they weren’t surprised:

“Teams want to make a big play before the half and go into the second half with momentum,” said Patriots defensive lineman Geneo Grissom.

“You’re probably playing more aggressive,” Patriots offensive tackle Nate Solder said. “Both teams are likely still in the game.”

This shows us how important it is to have solid, intermittent deadlines to push toward. In a way, each quarter or half of a game can be seen as an example of quarterly and mid-year benchmarks. It’s very motivating to know you’re only halfway through, that there’s still a lot of work to be done, but also enough time to make more great plays.

On the other hand, The Wall Street Journal’s research shows scoring rarely happens in the final two minutes of the game. Reasons cited include that the winner is almost always known at this point in the game, and whoever has the lead is simply biding their time and running out the clock.

Interestingly, this shows us the opposite perspective on motivation when the final deadline is imminent. If the goal is already met, is the team still working as hard as they could to push farther ahead? Or, if the goal isn’t within reach, have we given up because time is running out?

Having mid-course deadlines at work raises additional opportunities for success and helps us deliver greater results. And as the Patriots demonstrated, playing full-out and like “it’s not over ‘til it’s over” is a great metaphor for thinking about our year-end sprint.