Time is linear. What happens last sticks out most.

Los Angeles Clippers v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Five

“We lost because of that call.” In the thick of the 2014 NBA playoffs’ second round series between the LA Clippers and the OKC Thunder, everyone from Clippers fans to the head coach, Doc Rivers, himself repeated that sentence.

Even the casual sports observer can resonate with that concept. How many times has a controversial penalty or non-call within the last few minutes of a game left choruses of infuriated fans in disgust because they felt that the decision single-handedly swung the game? It doesn’t matter how the team was playing the rest of the match; all that matters is that they had a chance but the swindling referees cost them the assured victory. It was a coin flip coming down to the wire, but then the coin surely got rigged somewhere along the way.

Let’s step back and realize that coin flips are inherently 50-50. Got that? Good, then you understand that for coin flips that go one way, just as many coin flips can go the opposite direction. The impact of one controversial decision late in a game could easily be avoided by the negatively affected team not having missed a point-blank layup earlier (basketball), or if the team had just converted that one 3rd down pass in the second quarter (football). So what’s the problem?

Time is linear, and the regular outcry over refereeing decisions highlights that best.

A broken play in the 1st half can be atoned for. It’s much harder to reverse a momentum swing with 30 seconds left. On the converse, a 10 point lead in the first quarter doesn’t mean as much as a 2-point deficit in the last two minutes. It’s why win-probability models generally fluctuate often for a lot of the game but start to crystallize late in a given game. The end-game is a micro-game in itself.

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Example Win Probability Model

Notice the model for the Mercer v. Duke game. Mercer’s win-probability was under 40% for a large part of the game, which shows that their play had been pretty bad up till the end. Many mistakes were made (as someone who watched the game, yes, many mistakes). But Duke had let Mercer hang around, and they paid the price at the 7:20 mark. Mercer went on a run late, and Duke wasn’t able to reverse it. Mercer’s win-probability didn’t fluctuate much at all over the last ten minutes of real-time. What happened last decided the game, and Duke couldn’t do anything about it.

This is a pervasive concept in business as well.

It’s a fast-paced, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world. It doesn’t matter if my mortgage firm closed the previous six deals with realtor A in 24 days. If we’re guaranteeing 24-day closings, and the last 2 deals have needed a 6-day extension, that realtor is referring his or her business somewhere else next time. If my underwriter messes up a paperwork technicality on the 5th day, I have 19 days to fix it. Not so if he or she messes up the paperwork on the 23rd day. Just as well, it’s great if I get the documents approved four days early. But the speed there doesn’t matter. If I need even an extra day to close the deal for some reason, it will be for naught. This may sound obvious enough, but I’ve come across many people in the business world who don’t grasp this.

The audience pays most attention to the beginning and the end.

The audience pays most attention to the beginning and the end.

We’re always told the importance of first impressions. Last impressions matter a lot too. Specifically, the latest impression.In presentations, the end (along with the beginning) is what people pay most attention to. In meetings with companies, the co-founders’ concluding note sticks with me the most. In fact, there have been several meetings where the closing points have either made or broke the candidacy of a company for OwlSpark in my mind. In memorizing lists, the average person will most easily remember the first two or three points and last couple of points. The implication of all this being, just like in sports, you have to stay on top of your game all the time. There can’t be a slip up. Everybody is looking for ways to put you out of business. Don’t get caught up with what happened a while ago, good or bad.

Time is linear. What you just did or are about to do will take precedence over what you’ve already done. The last few minutes can make or break your win-probability model.

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