The publisher of my friend Frank Partnoy's book Wait: The Art and Science of Delay, but I've been procrastinating on a review. But this week, I'm going to dive in. Reports to follow.
In the meanwhile, it's worth noting at the outset that the book is getting praise from lots of sources. For example, The Economist's Schumpeter columnist (who has been delaying reviewing my book, BTW!) wrote that:
Mr Partnoy argues that too many people fail to recognise what good public speakers and comedians all understand: that success depends on knowing when to delay, and for how long. The important thing is not to do things first but to do them right. And doing them right often involves taking a bit more time. ...
Delay even works in fields where time might seem to be of the essence. Doctors and pilots can profit from following a checklist, even when doing things they have done many times before. A list slows them down and makes them more methodical, as Atul Gawande describes in “The Checklist Manifesto”. The best sportsmen wait until the last split second before hitting the ball.
Mr Partnoy argues that people need to learn how to manage delay just as they learn how to manage everything else. Sometimes putting things off makes sense: the silliest impositions on our time occasionally have the decency to self-combust. Still, the rules of sensible time-management apply to procrastinators as much as everyone else. Don't delay tackling problems that will grow worse if ignored, such as your credit-card bill. And create a to-do list to fool yourself into doing your second-most-important job while procrastinating over the most important one.
In the WSJ, Christopher F. Chabris wrote that:
Frank Partnoy's "Wait: The Art and Science of Delay" is about the value of waiting. His examples range widely, and so does the time scale of the delay involved: the elite baseball hitter's ability to wait the extra milliseconds to "find" a pitch; the comedian's ability to wait a few seconds to deliver a punchline; the skilled matchmaker's advice that blind daters suppress their snap judgments and wait a full hour before deciding whether they might want to go on a second date; the innovative company's ability to hang on to creative ideas, for months or even years, until they pay off. "We are hard-wired to react quickly," Mr. Partnoy says. "Modern society taps into that hardwiring, tempting us to respond instantly to all kinds of information and demands. Yet we are often better off resisting both biology and technology." ...
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 ("Bob answers every email," "he always gives you a quick decision," "he never misses a deadline") but fail to take note of what is sacrificed in its name. (We rarely hear "Bob's emails never say anything interesting," "he doesn't seem to think very deeply about the matters" or "his work is on time but never more than competent.") "Wait" offers a valuable counterweight to this attitude, reminding us that quality should matter as much as speed. ...
"Wait" does not peddle secrets of success, though it does contain some inspirational quotes for the slow-at-heart. ("Don't just do something, stand there" is one of my favorites.) The book succeeds most when it directs our attention to the range of situations where delay has value and when it counters the widespread intuition that faster is always better.
Mr. Partnoy quotes the psychologist Robert Sternberg: "The essence of intelligence would seem to be in knowing when to think and act quickly, and knowing when to think and act slowly." Taking some extra time to think about when to take extra time could pay off handsomely. In the long run, of course.