The Beauty of Waiting in Decision Making

Excerpt from Wait: The Art and Science of Delay by Frank Partnoy

“…good time managers are comfortable pausing for as long as necessary before they act, even in the face of the most pressing decisions. Some seem to slow down time. For the best decision-makers, as for the best tennis players.   Hitting a tennis ball is a paradoxical act. On one hand, it is a largely unconscious physical reaction. It has to be, given the speed of the ball…the difficulty arises in the second stage of the service return.

Delay alone can turn a good decision into a bad one, or vice versa. Delay also helps in our personal decisions…we are often better off delaying our judgments about people as long as possible.

Most of us also make investment decisions too quickly. Instead, we should emulate Warren Buffett. When asked how long he will delay before buying a stock, he responds, ‘indefinitely’.  Buffett likens buying stocks to hitting a baseball–except without the strikes. ‘I call investing the greatest business in the world because you never have to swing,’ he says. ‘You stand at the plate. The pitcher throws you General Motors at 47. US Steel at 39… All day you wait for the pitch you like; then when the fielders are asleep, you step up and hit it.’ “

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Every day, we make a multitude of decisions.  Studies show that we make on average more than 600 decisions per day.  Sometimes it is cereal or eggs for breakfast, khakis or a suit for work, two or six items for a meeting agenda, public or private school for your child, which countries your company needs to enter into next, or whether we should eat the extra mini-snickers bar in the kitchen.   So whether you are a professional tennis player, a manager, father or mother,  an investor — we all have  to contemplate the importance of waiting in decision making.

Delay is never good for delay’s sake.  And we certainly don’t want to head into paralysis analysis or ruminating over a topic.

Yet patient, educated thoughtfulness is a wonderful lens to have in most areas of life.    We want to know our topic or expertise, be considerate, and then move forward with the rapidness of a tennis player, to meet the ball right on the spot.

Frank Partnoy is the author of F.I.A.S.C.O., Infectious Greed, The Match King, and – most recently – WAIT: The Art and Science of Delay. Formerly an investment banker at Morgan Stanley and a practicing corporate lawyer, he is one of the world’s leading experts on market regulation and is a frequent commentator for the Financial Times, the New York Times, NPR, and CBS’s 60 Minutes. Partnoy is a graduate of Yale Law School and is the George E. Barrett Professor of Law and Finance and the founding director of the Center for Corporate and Securities Law at the University of San Diego.  (Bio from http://www.frankpartnoy.com)

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