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American society is obsessed with speed, productivity and efficiency. We are told to never put off until tomorrow what can been done today. Quick decision making is considered a virtue, while procrastination is a sin. But University of San Diego law and finance professor Frank Partnoy says not so fast. In ancient Egypt and Rome, procrastination was thought to be useful and wise. Partnoy spent more than three years combing through scientific studies and interviewing experts in different fields to study the role of timing in decision making. He tells us why the longer we can wait before acting, the better.
Excerpt from “Wait: The Art and Science of Delay” by Frank Partnoy. Copyright 2012 by Callum Roberts. Reprinted here by permission of PublicAffairs. All rights reserved.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Humans are hard-wired to react quickly. The fast pace of modern life and the speed of technology tempt us to respond instantly to all kinds of information and demands. But in a new book, San Diego University law and finance Professor Frank Partnoy says slowing down is the key to better decision-making in our personal and professional lives.
MS. DIANE REHMThe title of his book is "Wait." Frank Partnoy joins me in the studio to talk about the art and science of delay. I'll be interested in your comments and questions. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. We're on Facebook and Twitter. Good morning to you, sir, it's good to have you here.
PROFESSOR FRANK PARTNOYGood morning. It's so great to be back.
REHMThank you. There is a lovely Yellow, probably a Lab on the cover, if not a Golden.
PARTNOYIt's a Golden, a very cute Golden.
REHMIt's a Golden, beautiful Golden. But it's not your dog?
PARTNOYUnfortunately, my dog didn't make the cut. He's very attractive. He's fourteen and half years old, a Yellow Lab, but he wasn't attractive enough for the cover so...
PARTNOY...we have Maggie on the cover.
REHMAnd Maggie has a dog bone on her nose and she has been taught to wait.
PARTNOYThat's right. And in this modern age of technology where we all feel the crush of emails and social media and 24-hour news, we need a role model, someone who can show us how to wait and I think Maggie is doing a pretty good job. Dogs are capable of delaying gratification and so she's showing us how to do it.
REHMDo you think dogs are more capable of delaying gratification once taught?
PARTNOYYes, not more than we are, but once taught, absolutely. Some dog experiments show they are capable of delaying gratification for a surprisingly long time. There was a study from earlier this year that showed that some dogs could hold a chicken-chew treat in their mouth for ten minutes...
PARTNOY...in their mouth, while waiting for a chance at a bigger treat.
REHMWow, now one thing that you confess in this book is that you are a procrastinator?
PARTNOYI'll admit it. I'm actually a little bit proud of it and I think that one of the things I want to try to do in "Wait" is to persuade people who feel like they are procrastinators and have been made to feel guilty about it, to persuade those people that actually they're doing exactly the right thing, that their approach to decision-making is precisely the right approach and that we should be embracing delay.
PARTNOYThat it used to be the case that procrastination was regarded as a source of wisdom and only more recently has procrastination kind of gotten this bad name.
REHMBut aren't you kind of going against the tide here with all of us moving more quickly, having greater technology access, moving everything more quickly?
PARTNOYAbsolutely and we all feel this tremendous pressure at speeding up our lives, making us feel faster and faster. Some of it started to happen in the 1970s when a kind of anti-procrastination industry first developed to tell us to speed up, to get things done now. Peter Drucker and other management consultants advocated speed in business and then particularly over the last few years email and social media, Twitter.
PARTNOYWe've all gotten faster and faster as the selection cycle approaches. We can see every day. We're getting news and snap-reacting. The Supreme Court's decision in the health care case, we saw that the news media reacted and got the case wrong in the first few seconds. All of us are feeling this pressure and I hope that people will, particularly as the election approaches, take a step back and think.
REHMYou talk about the rate of the heartbeat. You talk about the role of the medulla oblongata, a part of our brain as helping us in making these decisions that we need to make, but you say that we have to slow it down.
PARTNOYYes, that's right. This was one of the most surprising things I found in my research was that our decision-making doesn't just happen in our brain, but it happens in our brain's stem and in something called the vagal nerve, the tenth cranial nerve that kind of comes down from our brain stem and winds around the various organs in our body, most importantly our heart, and it varies our heart rates.
PARTNOYAnd one of the things that scientists have found is that people who are able to vary their heart rate, just by milliseconds, who are able to vary their heart rate more are better able to control their emotions. And it really starts at birth. There is a study of nine-month-old infants where they brought in these infants with their mothers. They conducted tests using the Bayley scales of infant development, these sorts of standard tests to figure whether infants were good at reacting to a stimulus.
PARTNOYBut then, in addition to that, they measured the milliseconds-long changes in their heart rates, milliseconds long, things that no one could perceive and what they found was that when they brought the kids back three years later, their parents who had answered questionnaires were wrong about the kids. The standard tests were wrong about the kids.
PARTNOYThe kid that looked like it was emotionally in control or well-behaved at nine months was horribly behaved at three years and vice versa, but that heart rate variability was a good predictor of how the emotional development of the child would progress over the next three years. And I think it's a very interesting measure that I would predict someday in the next few years we might very well use heart rate variability to measure our ability to delay gratification in our mental health in the same way we use cholesterol or blood pressure to measure physical health.
REHMNow what about meditation? Does meditation alter pulse rate, heart rate and so on?
PARTNOYExactly. And one of the things that researchers have found is that meditation is correlated with this ability to adjust your heart rate, just milliseconds long and it's incredibly important for all kinds of mental illnesses. This is all very preliminary and scientists are struggling to figure it out, but some people believe that asthma, autism, borderline personality disorder, that a whole host of mental problems that we have emerge from these millisecond-long variations in our hearts.
REHMBut is there a difference between the idea of procrastination and waiting deliberately to make a decision later?
PARTNOYOne of the interesting things that I found is that human beings delay both at the millisecond-long unconscious level and then use the same kinds of delays, which often are labeled procrastination, at the conscious level when we have seconds or minutes or hours to ponder.
PARTNOYSo for example, the neuroscientist Benjamin Libet found that we cannot consciously process information in less than 500 milliseconds, half a second. We just can't do it and yet we see people delaying and benefiting from delay in all kinds of ways that are pre-conscious.
PARTNOYSo just take professional athletes, for example. We just finished watching Wimbledon and this great, great tournament and we were always told as children growing up playing sports that the reason these professionals are better than we are is because they're fast.
PARTNOYWell, what the studies show actually is that the reason professionals at super- fast sports like tennis, baseball, cricket, the reason they're better than we are is because they're slow, is because they can get faster at the stroke, at returning a serve so that they free up more time to process information, to watch the ball, to take in and observe and orient to the ball and that's where they get their advantage.
REHMSo you're saying they wait and watch and then move?
PARTNOYExactly right. And the super-fast studies using high-speed photography showed that the difference between a professional and an amateur is something like 50 milliseconds, just that extra little bit of time to take in more information about the ball coming in. And that kind of framework which, as you say, is unconscious, actually works very well in longer-term decisions that waiting until the last possible minute works for professional tennis players. It also works in all kinds of aspects of our personal lives.
REHMFrank Partnoy, his new book is titled "Wait: The Art and Science of Delay." I hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Most of the time, we feel under pressure to make a decision quickly from the gut. We feel as though we must respond to a request or to a decision-making and we have to do it right away. Are you suggesting that there are conscious ways to train the unconscious to hold off in making those decisions?
PARTNOYYes, absolutely. And all kinds of instant reactions that we have to people based on race or gender or sexual orientation, we have biases, but we can consciously unwind those biases. So I'll give you just one example.
PARTNOYDana Carney, a researcher at California Berkeley and a group of other researchers conducted an experiment with doctors. Many, many studies have shown that doctors snap-react to the race of their patients. The doctors actually systematically undertreat black patients. Doctors aren't racists, but they have implicit biases that lead them to undertreat black patients.
PARTNOYAnd Carney and others did this study that confirmed that, but one of the interesting things that they found was that about one in four of those doctors understood that they were being tested for racial preferences. They figured out what the test was about and for those doctors who took a moment, who paused, who were consciously aware that their own biases were being tested, race was no longer a factor.
PARTNOYOnce they understood that race was at issue, race was no longer an issue. And it's a very powerful thing that we have in our conscious capacity, which is once we think about how we're biased in our snap reactions, we can reverse them. If I, for example, if I subliminally flash a fast food logo at you, you won't realize that you've seen the fast food logo, but experiments by Sanford DeVoe and others show that you'll read 20 percent faster just because you've seen that logo.
REHMFrank Partnoy, professor of law and finance, founding director of the Center for Corporate and Securities Law at the University of San Diego and the new book, "Wait."
REHMApparently you have struck a nerve, Frank Partnoy. There are a great many people on the phone. We have many postings on Facebook and emails. The first from Casey in Cincinnati, Ohio who says, "Doesn't over procrastination often result in an even more rushed decision at the end?
PARTNOYIt's a great point and I think one of the keys to understanding how we procrastinate and when it's good and when it's bad, when it's what psychologists call active procrastination versus passive procrastination, is the management of time, right. It's thinking explicitly about how long you have. So for example the classic example is a student in college who's waiting until the last minute and then crams for an exam or writes the paper at the last minute. Well, you have to understand how quickly you can study for an exam, how quickly you can write the paper.
PARTNOYIf you're playing Wimbledon and you wait 600 milliseconds, the ball has gone by, right. So if it's going to take you four days to study for an exam, then you can comfortably sit and process information just like Jimmy Connors would have or Novak today. Take in information during the semester and then wait until the last minute. But if you wait until two days before, you've waited too long. So it's a hugely important question. You have to know your own capacity for delay.
REHMYou also talk about traders and high frequency traders on the computer.
PARTNOYYes, well, we normally think of high frequency trading as being a kind of trading where fast is always better. This is -- it's amazing that 70 percent of the stock trades now in the New York Stock Exchange are these computer algorithms that are just kinda battling with each other. And one of the things that I found in my research was that high frequency traders often do better when they slow down.
PARTNOYThere's a firm called UNX that was doing very, very poorly. And they brought in a sort of renaissance guy, Scott Harrison, who was not only a computer algorithm technician, but also was an architect at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. He was a carpenter and a chef and he knew how to think outside the box. And when he set up their computers in Burbank, Calif. they had a great algorithm. They moved to the top.
PARTNOYAnd his engineers all pressured him to move to the New York Stock Exchange saying, you know what, we'll be closer and at the speed of light it's taking 30 milliseconds for our signals to go from California to New York. So let's save that 30 milliseconds. And so they packed up their computers and moved them to New York.
PARTNOYAnd one of the incredible things they found when they turned the computers back on is that the computers weren't doing very well anymore. And so Scott Harrison realized, I need to slow those computers down. For that kind of business and that period of time the right amount of delay was 65 milliseconds. It was better to be a little bit slow. And the intuition behind that is that although sometimes the first mouse gets the cheese. If there's a dangerous cat around the second mouse is going to get the cheese, right. Sometimes there's a first mover disadvantage or a second mover advantage.
REHMYou talk about what happened at Lehman Brothers.
PARTNOYYes well, this was one of the stories that really drove me to do the research for wait. I found out in the aftermath of the financial crisis that Lehman Brothers had arranged this course for their top four dozen executives. They had taken them to a hotel on Madison Avenue in New York and hold them up to have a decision-making course. They had brought in some of the top psychologists from Harvard and elsewhere to talk to them about their own biases.
PARTNOYThey had Malcolm Gladwell who had just published "Blink" -- this is the fall of 2005 -- to come in and give the capstone lecture. And Joe Gregory, the president of Lehman Brothers was passing out copies of "Blink" on the trading floor and everyone was advocating, go with your gut. Just take two seconds to make a decision. And these executives quickly marched back across Manhattan to the trading floor at Time Square at Lehman Brothers and they made the worst snap decisions in the history of financial markets.
PARTNOYAnd I just thought there's something wrong with the thinking on Wall Street. There's something wrong with the course that Wall Street has designed for itself that says we should go with our snap judgment. I think one of the lessons that we learned from the financial crisis is that people have to think about the longer term. They have to think about much longer than two seconds.
REHMBut they're still doing it. Look at what happened at Barclays. Look at what happened at J. P. Morgan Chase. And all these guys are still doing this very, very quickly...
PARTNOYI agree completely and...
REHM...without thinking about what the prognosis could be.
PARTNOYThey have done an abysmal job of thinking about the future. And this is what we're uniquely capable of as human beings is thinking about the future. And Wall Street has really failed us because people have focused on their own bottom lines and they focused on the immediate future and not thought about long term consequences.
REHMI want to talk for a moment about love, going back to the rate of the heart beat. And you talk about the fact that individual's hearts literally may skip a beat when they fall in love.
PARTNOYIt's amazing. This kind of millisecond long change in our heart rates can dictate how we feel. And one study did show looking at couples, sort of sitting them on a sofa, kinda like the couples in "When Harry Met Sally" and have them talk about each other. And one of the things that they found was that couple's hearts, even in the range of milliseconds, reacted very positively to each other, that we have a kind of ability to monitor and express ourselves unconsciously within our bodies that is sort of associated with love.
PARTNOYAnd the other thing that I found that's really interesting about relationships is that we're now living online so much more, the data services are showing us photos. And when we snap reactive photos we make judgments that aren't in our own long term interest. They don't tell us much about chemistry or compatibility, the kinds of things that matter for a healthy relationship. And so I was very intrigued to talk to the president of "It's Just Lunch" the international dating service. They will not let their clients see photos.
PARTNOYAnd they tell their clients, you go on this date, we'll arrange it for you. It can only be lunch because an hour is the right amount of time. And what you should do during that date is consciously force yourself not to make judgments about the other person until a full hour has passed.
REHMThat's pretty tough.
PARTNOYTough to last a whole hour because we're hardwired to react right away. When we see people, we're hardwired to fight or flight, right, make snap judgments. But what they found in their research is that we'll make better judgments about each other on a date if we take a full hour. And then at the end of the hour, don't ask yourself some epic question about the future. Just ask yourself one simple question, would you go out on a second date with this person?
REHMYou know what would be fascinating is to be able to wire oneself up going into a "It's Just Lunch" time and see how one's own heart reacts.
PARTNOYIt's such a great idea. Maybe we could appeal to them to do this study, have some people wired up with these cardio tachometers to see how their heart rates react.
REHMI think that would be fascinating.
PARTNOYWell, as soon as we're done, I'll call the president and ask if they'd do this study. It's a great idea.
REHMOkay. Tell me about how kids in their adolescence may be different from adults in terms of the judgments they might make to drink, take drugs, drive while they're drunk. Tell me.
PARTNOYThis is a great question. And people might be familiar with the marshmallow experiments which were done by Walter Mischel. He brought in a group of four-year-olds and held a marshmallow in front of them and said, you can have this marshmallow now, one marshmallow, or if you can wait 15 minutes, then you can have two marshmallows. And there's these hilarious videos on YouTube of the kids trying to delay themselves, trying to distract themselves as they wait for two marshmallows.
PARTNOYBut one of the things that he found revisiting these kids a decade or more later was that the ability to delay gratification at age four was associated with all of the issues you just described. So kids who could delay gratification at age four had higher SAT scores. They had better relationships. They were less likely to be addicted to drugs or alcohol. They were less likely to have gambling problems. They were less likely to be obese, that all of these problems later in life are predicted by our ability to delay gratification, our ability to wait.
REHMBut are some kids simply wired that way?
PARTNOYYes, and there's clearly a combination of nature and nurture in all of this. So the parents who are trying to train their kids only to, you know, wait 15 minutes for marshmallows, sort of setting them up for that kind of a class probably aren't going to be that successful. But some of the schools that have embraced delayed gratification as part of the curriculum actually have been quite successful.
REHMHow did they do that?
PARTNOYWell, they read these studies and they said, we want to start very simply -- a lot of them are in inner cities -- we're going to start very simply by just getting kids to pay attention by having them fix on tasks for long periods of time. I mean, a lot of -- kids now are raised in the kind of Twitter culture where they're used to reacting instantaneously. They constantly have electronics in front of them. And so one of the philosophies is to take that away and just have them read for a while and get them used to focusing for long periods of time and that that is highly correlated with success.
REHMBut how do you contrast that with studies that say that these, for example, texting is helping kids think faster and think perhaps more accurately?
PARTNOYWell, I think we have to embrace technology. We have to recognize that there's a lot of good in technology. I have an eight-year-old son who's really, really good at video games. And he can quickly play "Kingdom Rush," this game and allocate soldiers in just unbelievably fast speeds. And a lot of that -- a lot of what he's learning is incredibly useful and good. But I think what we have to do is approach it with a balance that there is some good that comes from texting, but there's also a kind of obsession that can come from constantly being exposed to texts.
PARTNOYSo I think that it --we've just got to approach it in a balanced way and recognize that delay can be beneficial.
REHMSo do you limit the time that your eight-year-old has access?
PARTNOYWe don't explicitly limit the time. I know that there's a lot of research that shows that you should. What we try to do is to encourage our kids to figure out how to limit the time on their own. To have them understand and watch us and see us limit our time. Sometimes we have to just come and tear the iPad away and say, you can't do this anymore. But I think one of the goals for this next generation of children has to be to try to help them understand how to delay gratification on their own. We can't really force it on them. They've got to figure it out themselves.
REHMWhat happens at your dinner table when the whole family is there?
PARTNOYWell, what we try to have happen is no electronics and we sit around and talk and discuss our day. And, as I mentioned before, we have our dog Fletch who is in some ways the best role model for our own delayed gratification. One of the things that he'll do is -- we trained him as a puppy not to immediately go for treats, to delay. And so one of the things that happens often when we have dinner is we'll leave food on the table.
PARTNOYAnd he -- instead of going for the food right away, he'll follow us into the living room and we'll all be sitting and reading and he'll curl up at my feet. And we won't even notice that he's left until we hear the sound of crashing dishes in the kitchen as he's leapt up on the table to get the food.
PARTNOYHe's a very smart dog.
REHMHow old is he?
PARTNOYHe's 14-and-a-half. A wise old man.
REHMLovely. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have lots of callers. We'll go to the phones now. First to Charlotte, N.C. Good morning, Joe. You're on the air.
JOEHi, enjoying your show.
JOEAnd I wanted to make a comment with regards to procrastination. There are certain instances based on when you're having something done to your home, specifically when you're having a roof done, you have to understand that what the going prices for petroleum products are. So procrastination -- doing your research in terms of what type of roof you're going to install also needs to be based on the going price of petroleum products.
JOEOne particular instance, in 2003 we did our roof in South Florida when we lived in Florida. And our neighbors did theirs a year later and it cost them $2800 more. So there's certain instances where procrastination does not pay off.
PARTNOYIt's very hard to time the markets. And when you're talking about prices, sometimes delay is good, sometimes delay is bad. And, you know, I think the way to think -- and as a homeowner, it'd be very hard to hedge the risk associated with petroleum prices in trying to time the replacement of your roof.
REHMAbsolutely. Let's go to Eastern Pennsylvania. Clint, tell us what station you're listening to. Clint?
CLINTOkay. Can you guys hear me?
REHMYeah, what station are you listening to?
CLINTI'm listening to WAMU. I'm actually outside of D.C. right now.
REHMOkay. Go right ahead.
CLINTSo as someone who over time has identified that they make maybe not the best decisions when they make them too quickly, but also, you know, has taken a lot of steps to sort of limit the influences of outside technology and become more present and more thoughtful, how is your -- how did your research play out or how do you think it will play out with the inner personal communications, in work settings or at home, when the expectation outside of all of the Twitter and the Facebook and all that other stuff that's pinging from every direction, when the expectations of other people is that you're going to make these decisions?
CLINTAnd I heard you speak to a little bit about with Lehman Brothers, but did you come across how people communicated the need to take extra time in an environment maybe where procrastination is considered, like you said, unacceptable?
PARTNOYIt's such a great question.
PARTNOYIt's such a great question. And what I found was that people are really trying to fight back against the expectation of instant response, particularly to email and to communications, as Clint says. So you have to fight it. You have to say that the expectations in the workplace, for example, are not that I'll always respond when you ask me. One trick to use is to tell people, I'll respond instantaneously but don't expect a substantive answer for a week. This is the kind of question that I really need to think about for a week. I'll respond right away so that you know I'm alive and you know I'm there. But let's take a week to think about it.
PARTNOYAnother thing to do is just to take the substance of an email, for example, and put it in your calendar just to remind yourself to respond later.
REHMYou know, Clint, my husband is one who rarely will give me a quick answer. I'll ask him about something coming up in a week or so and he'll say, I'll let you know. Drives me crazy sometimes but that's the way he is. And I think if people expect that that's what's going to come from you then they can also expect that they'll get a considered answer from you.
PARTNOYI think that's exactly right. It's about managing expectations. But it's hard because we feel the pressure and we're becoming accustomed to getting responses right away. And the trouble is once you get used to that or if somebody gets used to you responding right away you've trapped yourself. You've become trapped by technology because they're expecting you to respond instantly. And if we all respond instantly when are we going to have time to sit back and think carefully about strategy or happiness or the long term?
REHMFrank Partnoy. He is professor of law and finance, founding director of the Center for Corporate and Securities Law at the University of San Diego. His new book is titled "Wait: The Art and Science of Delay." Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd before we take any more calls about Frank Partnoy's book "Wait," I'd like to ask you about Malcolm Gladwell's book "Blink," which does suggest that you act from the gut, that you rely on your gut because your gut instinct is more or less going to lead you in the right direction.
PARTNOYAnd that's exactly how the public interrupted "Blink." I found it very interesting. I loved "Blink" and thought it was an incredible read and the stories were so riveting, but the last third of "Blink" talks about some of the dangers of snap decision making. It talks about the police shooting of Amadou Diallo. It talks about music auditions that are biased based on gender. But what was so interesting about how "Blink" was received is that the public read it as being largely about two seconds, as being pro-snap decision making.
PARTNOYAnd partly because the era we were living in at the time, we were ready for that. We wanted to know that we could just go with our gut. Maybe people just didn't get to the last third of the book.
PARTNOYI don't know. But "Blink" certainly culturally was received as this message. And I think now there's been a backlash of research against that.
PARTNOYSocial scientists have shown that going with your gut is often very dangerous.
REHMHave you ever talked with Malcolm Gladwell?
PARTNOYI have not. I have not. So if you're listening, Malcolm Gladwell...
REHMAt some point, yeah.
PARTNOY...you could call in and we'd be able to talk.
REHMRight. Talk about apologies. Sometimes we commit errors of whatever kind and feel the necessity to apologize on the spot.
PARTNOYIt's a great question and it goes to this go-with-your-gut idea, where we're taught as kids and we think that we should apologize instantaneously, right.
REHMOh, I'm so sorry.
PARTNOYI'm so sorry. And sometimes that's right. If I accidentally spilled the water, I have here on you...
PARTNOY...I should instantly apologize. There was nothing intentional or complex about my action, but studies shown that for any kind of transgression that's intentional or complicated in the workplace or in a partnership, apologizing instantly is the worst thing you can possibly do.
PARTNOYWhat you wanna do is delay your apology as long as possible for two reasons. One is so the aggrieved party can get information. Sort of like the professional tennis player delaying the hit, so they can understand exactly what happened, who was involved, why. They need to know all of the details so that when you finally apologize at the last minute your apology is fully informed. And the second thing they need is an opportunity to vent.
PARTNOYThey need to be able to yell at you, to express why they're upset with you. If you apologize right away, your apology doesn't take into account their emotional reaction. We're hardwired to want to apologize right away, to snap apologize, but often it's the worst thing we can possibly do. We should wait.
REHMTo Gary, Ind. Sorry, Fort Wayne, Ind. and to Gary. Good morning.
GARYGood morning. My question or comment, I've been able to live in Japan and Germany, which for me are both very organized places, very punctual places. I'm wondering how they might think about waiting because probably they would look poorly upon waiting. I wonder if your commentator -- what he would say about this.
PARTNOYThe cultural question is so interesting because in some ways I think you're right and in some ways I think Japan and continental Europe are much more comfortable with waiting. I worked briefly for Morgan Stanley's Japan office in Tokyo. And one of the things they did there that's just inconceivable here is that they would take a lunch break during the trading day. In fact, all the markets would shut down for 90 minutes and no trading would be permitted.
PARTNOYAnd one of the things that people did during that time was to sit around and reflect and talk about why the markets were up or down.
PARTNOYOr what we might do for the rest of the day or later in the week. We actually ate lunch, which is shocking.
PARTNOYAnd we talked. And I think that Gary is right, that culturally there often is this kind of impetus to be on time and be punctual. But it's interesting to me, in addition to that, that there is also a kind of counterweight to that, which is let's create some space, some time for contemplation. And the other thing that's interesting I think in both cultures, both Japan and Germany, is that there's a kind of hierarchy where people at the top of the organization are not expected to respond instantly at all, that they have a kind of time that's created, a space for wisdom to just sit back and say, okay you think it's a crisis, but I don't.
REHMDo you always or to put it another way, do you believe that wisdom is always the result of waiting?
PARTNOYWell, it's not always the result of waiting, but I think it's either the result of waiting at the time you confront a problem or it's the result of having spent a lot of time before that in order to become an expert, that people who are wise have typically a lot of experience in an area. They've sometimes constructed what Gary Klein calls a premortem, not a postmortem, a premortem.
PARTNOYThey've thought through what could go wrong so that when someone comes to them -- and this is true of a lot of the CEOs and senior government leaders I interviewed. When someone comes to them with a crisis they say I understand you think it's a crisis, but we can take our time with this. They sort of have a more pensive approach. So I think it's a combination of both of those things. It's the ability to create some time in the moment, but then it's also about having the right kind of experience.
REHMAnd Frank, we've had lots of emails asking how can one learn to delay gratification as an adult?
PARTNOYIt's just like any other kind of skill in life, practice, practice, practice. There are scientists who advocate that you put yourself in a kind of situation where you're tempted to snap react and force yourself not to. So put that cookie on the plate in front of you and stare at it and stare at it and don't eat it. Look at a photograph or expose yourself to a subliminal influence that might influence you, like a fast food logo, for example.
PARTNOYAs I mentioned before, Sanford Devoe has done these studies where just being exposed to a fast food logo, just the McDonalds logo will make you read 20 percent faster, it will make you experience music in an impatient way. So expose yourself to that, but then force yourself to take a pause, to relax. But it requires practice. It's not easy.
REHMTo Baldwin, Fla. Good morning, Terri.
TERRIGood morning, Diane. Thanks so much for taking my call.
TERRIAnd without even reading the text yet, I wanna thank the author for writing this book because it makes people like me feel validated. And I can't wait now to read the text.
TERRIAnd read what it has to say.
TERRIOne of my questions is in the research did you happen to find what professions are more suited for those of us who are, well, a little more thoughtful? And the reason why I ask is I was a registered nurse in a hospital for quite a few years and I would always shy away from areas like E.R. and critical care, places where you had to be really fast on your feet.
PARTNOYYes. And in fact, I talked to a number of E.R. workers and surgeons. And I think for people who don't wanna have to think fast on their feet, those are not ideal professions. Although, I will say, just parenthetically, that even the surgeons and nurses who work in the E.R. talked to me about delaying, about taking as much time as they could in order -- even just to get an extra few seconds to assess a patient.
PARTNOYBut I think -- look, I'm a teacher. I work at a law school. I work in a slow environment. I think teaching, just generally across the board, is a great way to be able to work in a slow-paced environment. I think within a lot of professions that there are different kinds of jobs. I originally was trained as a lawyer. Lawyers often can find ways to have a relatively slow pace in their life. But yeah, the E.R. is probably not the right place.
REHMNot the right place for you, Terri. Thanks for calling. Here's an email from Ken who says, "Chronic procrastination is a very real problem, one that often strikes successful people. It has nothing to do with taking time to make sound decisions. It's more about creating false obstacles so our psyche has an excuse for potential failure. The pitfall is that it guarantees failure. Delay and consideration, on the other hand, are pathways to success. Please do not equate these two concepts. One is a real problem, the other a real benefit."
PARTNOYYes. And that's absolutely right. And psychologists distinguish between active procrastination and passive procrastination.
PARTNOYThere is an increased incidence of chronic procrastination. And for people who find themselves trapped in their own mind about making decisions and are procrastinating chronically it's a serious problem.
REHMDid you ever have that problem?
PARTNOYI haven't. I often find myself being chronic about putting off certain things, but if I step back and think about it I don't think it's so problematic. It's really a question of prioritizing. You know if people out there are chronic procrastinators about cleaning up their closet, but they're prioritizing and searching for a cure for cancer or they're working with their families or they're working at a job that they truly enjoy I think we should lighten up a little bit in our attacks on them for being chronic procrastinators.
PARTNOYThere's one tool that I'd mention to Ken, which John Perry, a psychologist at Stanford advocates, which is that if you're in this kind of chronic procrastination problem they should make a list of some things that you are going to procrastinate that won't be of such great consequence. They could be you wanna write the great next American novel. It could be cleaning up your closet. But make a list and put some things on your list that you'll know you'll procrastinate so that you'll satisfy the kind of urge, irrational or rational, to put these things off, but that you'll still be doing something. So that you'll get something constructive done.
REHMTo Carlyle, Ill. Good morning, Steve.
PARTNOYHello. My point is it aggravates me every time I see a commercial run with a clock in the corner trying to make people impulse buy. I think people should just boycott commercials like that.
REHMWhat do you think of that?
PARTNOYOh, I agree so much. And I think we're gonna see so many commercials in this presidential campaign that are designed to make us snap react. There might not be a clock running in the corner, but they'll be designed to make us emotionally react. There'll be something like the Willie Horton ads, I'm sure. It's gonna be...
REHMBut they're already there.
PARTNOYThey're already there.
PARTNOYAnd we're gonna face a landslide of them with all the money coming in to advertising. And we've got -- the thing to do is to react exactly the way Steve does and take a step back and say, you know what? I'm not gonna let you influence me. I'm gonna take a breath. I'm gonna take a pause, let it wash over me and not react.
REHMAnd yet, research has continued to show that negative advertising, which often is the sort you're referring to, is effective.
PARTNOYThat's absolutely right. And so I think all of us should take a vow this election that we'll try to take a moment to pause to not react to the negative ads, whatever our political party is, that that's not the effective way for us to making a decision during an election cycle.
REHMFrank Partnoy, his new book titled "Wait." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Richmond, Va. Hi there, Elizabeth.
ELIZABETHHey there. This is a great subject.
REHMI'm so glad.
ELIZABETHAs a child, when I saw people with their hair on fire around me, it made me calmer and I never did understand why that was. And now I don't feel so bad about it. But when I see people in life who are, by nature of their job or the way they've been trained into this new culture of everything has to be so fast and immediate, people who are in that mode really can hardly be drawn out of it to stop and have relationships with a lot of the people they care the most about.
ELIZABETHOne example, a father, a young father probably 25 or 30, standing in a department store playing with a video game and so absorbed in it that he wasn't paying attention to his two-year-old yanking on his pants, needing to get his attention. And I just think that's what our children are being affected by. It's kind of a scary thing because it changes the way our brains work.
PARTNOYIt is scary. And it hopefully is the kind of thing that we can control going forward. I mean one of the things that I found in my research is that it's not just that people are made happier when they take some time, that the father you just described would be better off engaging with his child, but also people are more successful when they take more time, that there are practical reasons not to be the person running around with your hair on fire. If you go...
REHMI love that phrase.
PARTNOYIt's such a great phrase, right?
PARTNOYBut among the CEOs of top corporations, the leaders in government, they are not running around with their hair on fire. That is not the way our leaders operate. In the military our top officers are not running around with their hair on fire. The recipe for success is not to set your hair on fire. It's to take your time and be wise and understand that not every action has to be reacted to instantaneously.
REHMI think Elizabeth makes such a great point. Especially between perhaps a father and a child, but also time for friendship, time for relationships of all types. We are so busy that for the most part we don't just sit and talk, sit and share.
PARTNOYAnd these are the things that really matter, right? These are the things that ultimately make us happy, they give meaning to our lives and because we're so crushed by technology we're not spending the time with our families, with our children. I really make an effort and the research, over three years writing this book, has really brought it home to me. That you have to do it consciously, but that there are rewards to it. If you consciously battle the forces of technology and say I'm not gonna become a slave to email and social media and 24-hour news that you can live a fuller and happier life being around people, talking to actual human beings face-to-face.
REHMAnd here's a final posting on Facebook from Donna who says, "Personally, I'm no longer a multitasker. I'm tired of rushing and being rushed. I value my quality of life more at this point than, quote, 'getting stuff done for the sake of being productive.' I think I'm finding a good balance between productivity and procrastination. Thank you to Frank Partnoy for addressing the social mania for getting things done."
PARTNOYWell, that's beautifully expressed. And I think it's a hard lesson for all of us to learn, but I learned a bunch about it researching "Wait." And I hope that it will help other people to achieve the balance that she just mentioned.
REHMFrank Partnoy, the book is titled "Wait: The Art and Science of Delay." What a pleasure to have you here.
PARTNOYThanks so much.
REHMThank you. Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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