As soon as I saw the cover of Wait: The Art and Science of Delay, by Frank Partnoy, I couldn’t wait to read it. Nobody’s dog is that patient (although, apparently Maggie, the dog on the cover, is – check out the video below). At the time, I’d been on a bit of a brain book marathon, and a book about how to make better decisions by slowing down, even if only for a few seconds, was intriguing. (In a shameless plug, the other great brain books from that reading marathon are at the end of this blog.)
We all make decisions daily, often too quickly and out of habit, because the pressure to act becomes overwhelming. It is less often that we stop and process and wait for more information before making a decision. Partnoy’s book explains how this type of waiting can produce better decisions.You may be familiar with the marshmallow test. That’s the one where you give a kid one marshmallow or ask them to wait for two in order to test delayed gratification. In Wait, Partnoy, who teaches business at the University of San Diego, examines different types of “delay” in our lives. He has done the academic heavy lifting for his readers and turned the latest research on human behaviour into a book that both informs and entertains. Using stories of athletes, traders, politicians, couples on first dates, and fighter pilots, he explains how waiting even for milliseconds is better than rushing to judgement. At its most basic, waiting allows the more rational part of our brain to do battle with the primal “feed-me-now” part of our brain. Of course, our primal brain has its moments like when we unexpectedly come across a hungry lion, but in our daily lives our rational brains often produce better results. And that part of our brain thrives on extra time. When rushing, we tend to make bad decisions, amply illustrated by PublicAffairs Books in one of the best book trailers I’ve seen:
There really is something in Wait for everyone. Sports fans will agonize over how acting too soon cost their team the championship–if only the referee had thought about it for another second; watchers of the financial markets will recognize the wisdom of building delays into their computerized trading systems or even their own processes; and everyone can identify with not taking the time to think through words or actions on a first date. Let’s not even get into the benefits of giving a few extra seconds to that Facebook post. Of course, if haste leads to a mistake, then we can learn from my favourite chapter, “How to Eat Crow”, where Partnoy explains some of the best-timed public apologies. The perfect apology, especially by gaffe-prone politicians, gives the offended party time to process and be ready to accept the apology. Bill Clinton and Mel Gibson inevitably make appearances in this chapter.
I’ve been quietly excited about this book for a few months now and have given it to friends to read. It explains an idea that’s been around since the Romans: festina lente – “make haste slowly,” and it has the feel of a modern classic.
And now those promised brain books:
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Quiet by Susan Cain
The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty by Dan Ariely