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Wait: The Art and Science of Delay Hardcover – June 26, 2012
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The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Frank Partnoy turns conventional wisdom on its head with this counterintuitive approach to decision-making. Rather than telling us how to make decisions faster and faster, he mines and refines a rich lode of information from experts in a surprising variety of fields to demonstrate the power of delay, whether measured in milliseconds, days, or decades. Wait is a great read, chock full of fascinating insights.”
Kirkus Reviews, starred review
A fascinating addition to the study of decision-making . While there is a high premium today for speed, the author suggests that there are serious downsides to rapid decision-making. Partnoy's results are groundbreaking and a potential corrective to modern pressures for rapid response, whether on the playing field, in high-speed computer trading and corporate boardrooms, or on the battlefield . File alongside Malcolm Gladwell, Dan Ariely, [and] Jonah Lehrer.”
A Fast Company Best Business Book of 2012
Roger Lowenstein, author of The End of Wall Street and When Genius Failed
Having mined the best of American research in fields as wide-ranging as finance, behavioral economics, and law, Frank Partnoy has written a beguilingly readable treatise that boils down to a single, easily digestible conclusion: in our busy modern lives, most of us react too quickly. Wait will naturally and rightly be compared to Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow as a trail-blazing book exploring the hidden crannies and the treacherous pitfalls of human decision-making. I whole-heartedly recommend it."
Bethany McLean, co-author of The Smartest Guys in the Room and All the Devils Are Here
Wait is one of those rare books that will change not just the way you think, but the way you act. The book is full of ideas that are fascinating, usefuland at times mind-blowing. I was captivated.”
Wall Street Journal
Mr. Partnoy's intention in Wait is to take on those who evangelize the power of thinking quickly, getting things done' and leading an organized life. We can praise efficiency but fail to take note of what is sacrificed in its name. Wait offers a valuable counterweight to this attitude, reminding us that quality should matter as much as speed."
A popular new book . Mr Partnoy argues that too many people fail to recognize what good public speakers and comedians all understand: that success depends on knowing when to delay, and for how long.”
[Partnoy's] latest offering is a skeptical response to Malcolm Gladwell's 2005 bestseller, Blink... Partnoy spends a lot of time synthesizing recent scholarship, providing clear and accessible accounts of work in an impressive range of academic fields. While the breadth and the depth of his research gives the book's rather straightforward message its complexity and rhetorical power, the book's charm comes from Partnoy's ability to juggle such seemingly disparate topics as, on the one hand, an engaging discussion of recent science on animals and their conceptualization of future time and, on the other hand, an unabashedly doting analysis of the comic timing of Jon Stewart.”
Partnoy draws on the latest research in neuroscience and behavioral economics to provide a delightful, insightful and often surprising Wait, wait, do tell me' account of decision-making in many areas of everyday life, ranging from sports to surgery to speed-dating and stock-picking . Wait is chock-full of arresting insights about the complexities of decision-making"
"A lively, reader-friendly survey of scientific research into the pros and cons of rapid decision-making."
An intellectual romp through the science of how timing influences human decision-making.”
Gladwell-esque the book uses case studies of delay specialists' in realms as varied as stand-up comedy and warfare, extending the implications of postponing responses in order to improve outcomes in every part of our business and personal lives. Procrastinators everywhere will rejoice.” Washington Post Express"Citing fascinating studies in tennis serves and first dates, [Partnoy] deftly makes a case for exercising something we could all use more of: patience. Plus, you gotta love a guy who dedicates his book to his golden retriever.”
Well-written . Chapter Three is particularly fascinating in its implications for how we make decisions and manage the world.”
Margaret Heffernan, CBS Money Watch
Marvelous Wait is an impassioned and thought-provoking book."
About the Author
Frank Partnoy is the author of F.I.A.S.C.O., Infectious Greed, and The Match King. Formerly an investment banker at Morgan Stanley and a practicing corporate lawyer, he is one of the world’s leading experts on market regulation and is a frequent commentator for the Financial Times, the New York Times, NPR, and CBS’s 60 Minutes. Partnoy is a graduate of Yale Law School and is the George E. Barrett Professor of Law and Finance and the founding director of the Center for Corporate and Securities Law at the University of San Diego.
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Key Take-Away: Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink” suggested that we make split-second decisions and trust our “gut.” Mr. Partnoy implores us to do the opposite. Taking Einstein one step further, he advises that if we have 60 minutes to make a decision – we should wait until 59 minutes and 59 seconds to respond (or react) regardless if the answer is clear in our minds in the first few milliseconds. We should use premortem more often, which is to suggest imagining that a future decision has failed and ask … Why? Pause more … Panic less, he urges. As Socrates stated, “I neither know nor think that I know,” which is precisely why delaying decisions and actions is a level of wisdom that shows a long-term perspective on the success behind restraint and thought. As with the Socratic Method, it also provides competitive advantage. While thought creates both opportunity and danger, with the right experience and science of delay, our conscious (or subconscious) actions will have both exactness and meaning. The Syria situation may be the perfect example of what Partnoy hopes to convey … The “art of waiting” forces humanity to think. It is that deliberate internalization that could change perspectives which otherwise might be fleeting.
Recommendation: The concepts presented are insightful, thought provoking and interesting, but Mr. Partnoy is reaching to connect events and outcomes that are difficult to prove with real data. There is wisdom in waiting, but to suggest it is always the right answer is too sweeping. He reminds the reader that the most central part of the human condition is our ability to think about delay and then choose whether we will act based on our view of the “unknown, unknowns,” (Donald Rumsfeld) “black swans,” (Nassim Taleb) or “inevitability of surprise” (Clausewitz). His conclusions provide the reader with a final thought of “okay, I’ve waited, now what?” The book’s themes are regurgitated in different formats throughout but do not expand the discussion. Recommend reading the title to capture the central theme, but I believe the rest of the book … can wait.
TRY this thought experiment. A friend says: "Let's get together in the next couple of weeks, when you have some time on your hands."
Unless you are retired, the idea of having time on your hands would probably strike you - as it does me - as quaint, something from a different generation. No one has time, you have to make time.
Everything about us is happening fast and then faster. To buy this book fast used to mean getting it speed couriered to you overnight, now it can be delivered in seconds to your Kindle.
We want our food fast, our meeting fast, our decisions fast, our internet fast, and even our cricket condensed from days to hours.
Is this good or bad? Clearly, it depends on the consequences. Playing a concerto faster is awful, and faster internet speed is great.
The value of law and finance Professor Frank Partnoy's book lies in its concern with a more profound consequence of our fast culture, the effect on our decision-making.
I have long held the view that the reason so many bad decisions are made in business is more a consequence of deciding too quickly rather than deciding incorrectly.
Let's start with dating. No longer do you have to wait to be introduced to your friend's friend, you can post a picture of yourself on a dating site and search it for others looking for a date.
The key to choosing who to date is usually the picture, and the key to choosing the picture is the "five F's: Face, Full body, Fun, Friends, and Family in that order."
Based on the picture, we will make a decision as to who we wish to know and who we don't. And then you meet the person and are amazed how much can be done on Photoshop.
To get to know a person requires sensing them live, feeling for compatibility and chemistry. This why Irene LaCota, president of It's Just Lunch, a dating service, does not allow photos on her site; the decisions they facilitate are just too fast and, often, just too wrong.
Drawing on leading edge neuroscience and behavioural economics, Professor Partnoy shows why the best decisions are made after a pause, even if the pause is nothing more than a nanosecond.
Wimbledon champions Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert are champions because they are able to pause before returning a serve.
What they have mastered is the ability to adjust their bodies, so that they will be able to return the ball correctly in the four to five hundred nanoseconds between the ball connecting with the racket of the server and the time they will need to hit the return.
It takes about 200 milliseconds for the eye to note where on the racket the server's ball connects and then 100 milliseconds later the ball must be returned. In this time, the truly great can "pause" and assess where the ball will be headed and adjust their bodies accordingly.
As brief as it is it is, nevertheless, a moment to assess.
Throughout this engaging book are studies and descriptions of "delay specialists", people whose success is predicated on not acting, or acting slowly, rather than responding rapidly.
At one extreme is the billionaire investor Warren Buffett who is compared to a baseball player waiting for the right ball to hit, with no compulsion to avoid hitting the many that are thrown at him.
This enables him to delay the decision to swing until the right time. In a baseball game the hitter doesn't have the luxury of not hitting, but the best delay the decision so they can think (very fast) until the minimum required time to hit arrives.
Contrast this with the obsession with speed in the field of equity trading, and at least consider whether a little slower wouldn't be a little better. (Partnoy brings evidence to show it is.)
In his book Blink Malcolm Gladwell addresses the not dissimilar issue of how people make lightning fast decisions that are right, but comes to a significantly different conclusion.
This focuses on "expert knowledge", the ability to skip steps in the thinking process and still arrive at the right answer. Partnoy reaches the conclusion that it is the waiting, the pause, that allows for assessment that facilitates the better decision.
What Partnoy has on his side is a solid body of neuroscientific support.
The inability to wait until the minimum required time to act is a common cause of investment, business and social errors. Taking the extra millisecond (in the case of tennis players,) the extra hours to come to a decision about a person, as a date or an employee, or delaying a business decision for days is clearly an advantage.
The challenge is to know when and for how long one can wait without adverse consequences.
If nothing else, this interesting book will have you reconsidering whether waiting might not be a good idea the next time you need to make a significant decision.
Readability: Light ---+- Serious
Insights: High -+--- Low
Practicality: High ---+- Low
*Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy.