How to use ‘The Uh-Oh Effect’ to your advantage

Have you ever been part of a project team where you felt like you spent the first few meetings talking a lot but not really making much progress?

(Yeah, me too).

As it turns out, that’s not only normal – it’s science.

It’s been called ‘The Uh-Oh Effect’. Around the midpoint of any endeavour, people suddenly look at each other and go, ‘uh-oh, we’re running out of time’, then buckle down and start really getting things done.

Daniel Pink, in his excellent book, ‘When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing’, cites research by Connie Gersick of UCLA, who studied a variety of teams – different organisations, different sectors, and different project lengths ranging from a week to six months

What Gersick was looking for were consistent stages of team work. She didn’t find them.

What she did find was one indisputable pattern, however.

At the midpoint of the group’s timeline, between their start date and their deadline, the group suddenly realised they were in a time crunch, and shifted into a mode of rapid progress. 

“Each group first went through a phase of prolonged inertia. The teammates got to know one another, but they didn’t accomplish much. they talked about ideas, but didn’t move forward. The clock ticked. The days passed. Then came a sudden transition. 

‘In a concentrated bursts of changes, groups dropped old patterns, reengaged with outside supervisors, adopted new perspectives on their work, and made dramatic progress,’ Gersick found. After the initial inert phase, they entered a new heads down, locked-in phase that executed the plan and hurtled toward the deadline. 

But even more interesting than the burst itself was when it arrived. No matter how much time the various teams were allotted, ‘each group experienced its transition at the same point in its calendar – precisely halfway between its first meeting and the official deadline.'”

Pink notes that we can psychologically approach midpoints with one of two approaches – as the prompt for a slump, or a spark. 

As we reach a mid-point – of a project, a team assignment, or a year – having achieved less than we hoped to, we can either think –

‘Oh-No’… and slump towards resignation that we’ve wasted too much time and we’re not going to achieve our goal


‘Uh-Oh’… and embrace the spark that now is the moment to get serious and buckle down to achieve our goal

So as we get stuck into the second half of the year, you can use the ‘uh-oh effect’ to your advantage by remembering that it’s not too late to achieve your goals; in fact, it’s the perfect time!