Author: Frank Partnoy
Can the ability of dogs to procrastinate teach us anything about decision-making? The author of ‘Wait’ thinks so, strongly enough to put a dog on the cover of his book. Dogs can restrain themselves for 10-20 seconds if this delay will earn them a bigger or better treat (page x). This analogy underlies the key message of the book: timing is crucial to the success of the decisions we make. The author however asserts that most people ‘…tend to react took quickly’ (page xi). The book made the point that the ability to delay gratification is a key pre-requisite for success. To support this assertion, the author cites research such as the famous Stanford marshmallow experiment and research on short-term discounting (pages 14 and 163).
Why do people make timing errors? The book discussed this question in detail, exploring the different subliminal influences on the speed of decision-making. These include the subconscious concept of thin slicing (page 100) which shows how strong judgments may arise from very little information. Another concept is of time warping, the altered perception of time that stems form strong emotions such as panic (pages 104 and 111).
The author makes use of several illustrative anecdotes to show the benefits of delaying decision-making. One such story is of Captain William Rogers of the USS Vincennes, whose snap decision led to the fatal downing of an Iranian passenger plane (page 74). Another example is his use of Bill Clinton’s story to illustrate the benefits of delaying apologies, the author stressing that ‘… the greater the delay, the more a victim felt heard and understood…’ (page 137).
A key feature of the book is the author’s frequent references to famous personalities to emphasise his message. To show the advantages of delay in communication for example, the book referred to comedians such as Jon Stewart (page 107), interviewers such as Larry King, and orators such as Martin Luther King (page 114). To show how ‘preconscious time management‘ improves the accuracy of quick reactions, he referred to famous sportspeople such as Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert (page 24).
Of particular relevance to doctors is the book’s numerous references to healthcare. He refers for instance to doctor Gurpreet Dhaliwal on the impact of ‘diagnostic time-out‘ on preventing diagnostic error (page 184). He mentions surgeon Atul Gawande’s on how checklists minimise medical mistakes because they ‘force us to pause‘ (pages 182). He stresses that professionals in different spheres of life are essentially ‘masters of delay’, adept at time management, ‘able to act quickly, but are willing to go slow’ (page 174).
It is reassuring that the book did not recommend all-out procrastination for decision-making. The author makes the key distinction between active and passive procrastination (page 150). He suggests that we should learn ‘how to procrastinate well’ (page 167) and to know ‘how to weigh immediate versus distant consequences‘ (page 173). He advocated philosopher John Perry’s concept of ‘structured procrastination’, the art of using procrastination to good effect (page 169-170). The author offers several helpful tips to achieve this; an example is his suggestion, before we make decisions, to ‘…wait as long as we possibly can‘ (page xii) .
This book has provided a unique and even counter-intuitive insight into the concept of procrastination. He successfully challenged the negative connotation the word procrastination typically projects. The book demonstrated that the right amount of delay frequently results in better decisions. The author established the consequences of rash judgments, and proved the point that we can improve our decision-making if we incorporate some form of delay in the process.
The book is well written and I found every chapter relevant to the topic. It offers valuable insights to doctors who make important decisions all the time. It is particularly relevant because it is full of medical anecdotes. The practical and simple tips the book offers will undoubtedly influence medical practice for the better, and I highly recommend it.
- Publisher, place, date: Profile Books, London, 2012
- Chapters: 14
- Number of pages: 290
- ISBN: 978-1846685958
- Price: £8.99
- Rating: 5