Wait by Frank Partnoy
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.