Best of The Month – Wait
Editor | On 06, Feb 2019
Almost everywhere you go, in Operational Excellence world at least, the word ‘procrastination’ is a bad one. If someone accuses you of being a procrastinator, you can be sure they’re not complimenting you. We’ve argued in the ezine before about the merits of procrastination. If you’re in a complex environment (‘two or more humans’ being the simplest way to tell if you are or not), procrastination – or ‘delaying your decisions until as late as you can’ – is very often exactly the right strategy. I suspect no-one believes us when we say it. So, thankfully, a little bit late in the day for us to make the connection admittedly (the book was published in 2012 – there’s probably a joke in that delay somewhere?) – this month’s Book of the Month choice helps offer up some real scientific evidence to back up the procrastination-is-good thinking.
Part of the rationale for our Wait-related procrastination was the, as it turns out, mistaken belief that Frank Partnoy’s contribution to the thinking fast-and-slow debate was merely another re-write of Kahneman’s seminal work. Or another version of The Two-Second Advantage (which we reviewed here in 2013). Or Blink. Or even The Hour Between Dog And Wolf (which we reviewed in 2014). And if you just read the first couple of chapters, you’d probably be making the right assumption. Yet another retelling of the Marshmallow Test story? Check. Review of sports-person reaction times in superfast sports like tennis, baseball or cricket? Check. Same old same old.
But then in Chapter 3 comes a stock-trading story that I think is not so well known about. Or rather I’d heard part of the story, but not the important part. The part of the story I had heard was that the big traders were moving their computers physically closer and closer to Wall Street because the speed of trades was so fast, big money could be won or lost in the extra couple of micro-seconds the signal had to travel to a computer placed next door compared to one placed a couple of miles away. So far so scary. But then Partnoy tells the story of UNX, who moved from California to New York to supposedly take advantage of the 30millisecond speed-of-light time reduction that would give them, only to find out that the costs of their trades went up significantly.
Ex-Morgan-Stanley trader Partnoy (who ‘switched sides’ and is now an academic at the University of San Diego) tells the story well, and uses it as a terrific platform for this pro-procrastination thesis. Then later, when we reach the integration with our much discussed John Boyd OODA model, things hit a whole new level: The person with the fastest OODA loop time wins… the person who can build the most delay into their loop time wins more.
Warren Buffett compares stock trading to great athletes: they excel not because of fast neurological responses, but because of their ability to delay as long as possible before reacting. Successful CEOs, fire fighters, and military officers all know how to manage delay to gather as much information as possible to get the results they need.
In Wait, Frank Partnoy argues that decisions of all kinds, whether ‘snap’ or long-term, benefit from being made at the last possible moment. The art of knowing how long you can afford to delay before committing is at the heart of many a great decision, whether in a corporate takeover or a marriage proposal. Apologies are better received if they are not rushed and people who can defer gratification are happier and more successful than those who must have everything now. Partnoy demonstrates that the ability to wait is crucial to getting the right answer and that gut instincts are often wrong.
The whole book flows beautifully – I read the 246 pages in a pair of two-hour flights – and, in case you’re still in any doubt, you can currently purchase copies for a penny on Amazon… where, as it happens, I also noticed the books average review score is a lowly 3.3 stars. Which I often take to be a good thing. Especially when you look at the no-middle-ground range of scores. Readers either love or hate the book. And I think that’s a key sign of something important happening. My advice is that if you invest your penny and get to Chapter 3, you’ll fall on the ‘love’ side of the fence.
Don’t wait. Then wait.