wait-largeDid you know that speakers who frequently pause for short periods are more persuasive than those who don’t?  Or that not lingering on a date that’s going well can make a new relationship stronger?  What about the fact that taking some time before apologizing causes the wronged person to view the apology as more sincere

Frank Partnoy, a corporate lawyer and former investment banker who also happens to write Wall Street exposes such as F.I.A.S.C.O. and Infectious Greed, says that most people, influenced by the rapid pace of modern life, tend to react too quickly—shooting off an email without thinking enough about the content, say—and that instead, “we generally should delay the moment of decision until the last possible instant.  If we have an hour, we should wait fifty-nine minutes before responding.  If we have a year, we should wait 364 days.  Even if we have just a half a second, we should wait as long as we possibly can.  Even milliseconds matter.”

Although this position flies in the face of popular wisdom, Partnoy marshals convincing evidence from psychologists, economists, business analysts, military strategists, and even sports scientists to demonstrate the benefits of delay.  Baseball players who spend the longest waiting for the ball to arrive before swinging stand the best chance of hitting a home run.  Programmers often write short pauses into their code to prevent data packet traffic jams.  Famously, the use of checklists in operating rooms almost halves OR deaths.  As Partnoy writes, the value of a checklist in any stressful, fast-paced scenario is that, like waiting for the baseball to approach the plate, it forces people consider their actions before they act.  Taking just “a few extra seconds before the incision helps to slow down the tempo of a surgical procedure, and that slower tempo leads to better outcomes.”

Partnoy peppers the book with other intriguing findings: we feel we work longer hours not because we do (“if you actually work longer hours than your parents did, you are an outlier,” he notes), but because technology enables us to do many things at once, and “the intense focus required by multitasking makes us slower and less efficient at our jobs, even as it stretches our perception of work time.”  Think getting paid more might negate that feeling?  Think again; the more someone is paid, the more time pressure they feel.  And fascinatingly, he reports on one study that found subliminally flashing fast food logos at people interfered their ability to take pleasure from attractive photos and pleasant music.  Having it your way has some hefty hidden drawbacks.

A mixture of engagingly-presented information, object lessons, and advice about how to incorporate optimal delay into your own life, Wait is not to be missed.

Wait: The Art and Science of Delay
Frank Partnoy
New York: PublicAffairs, 2012

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