August 1, 2014

The value of delayed decisions

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decisions by mihaibrrr

decisions by mihaibrrr

Most conversations about improvement revolve around finding ways to speed things up.  Whether by focusing on the elimination of unnecessary activities, doing less more often, reducing clutter, training the mind to avoid multitasking, or any other approach to speeding up decision making the prevailing message is clear:  do things faster.

The desire to do things faster necessitates making decisions faster, of course.  Process improvement schools of thought are, essentially, designed to speed up decision making to one degree or another.  Last year, I came across Frank Partnoy’s Wait, however, which advocated something different – slowing things down.

Partnoy investigates the cognitive science of decision making across multiple situations, from athletes making decisions in milliseconds to investors like Warren Buffet who delay decisions for weeks, months or years.  In his investigations, he discovers a seemingly simply truth:  That the longer you can delay a decision, the better decision you will make.

Partnoy’s take seems to be out of synch with improvement methods that look to speed up our ability to make decisions. Nonetheless, I think there’s more in common than might meet the eye.  What I see in Partnoy’s book  is that decision making needs to be slowed down in order for genuine improvement to occur.  Adopting continuous improvement methods allows  for as much information gathering as possible prior to making the final decision.

The iterations surrounding any approach that looks to fail fast and learn constantly are all doing 1 thing – allowing for as much learning as possible prior to making a decision that can’t be undone.  Partnoy’s work reinforces the wisdom of this approach and makes it clear:  slowing down your thought processes, rather than speeding them up, results in the best possible outcomes.


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  • Matt Wrye

    I think the reason continuous improvement looks to speed up decision making isn’t just to do it faster but because the reaction time to make a decision is becoming less in today’s business environment.

    Like an athlete that continues to move up the ranks. Yes. The decision may only take milliseconds but it is best to wait to get all the information to before making the decision. A basketball player in high school has a few more milliseconds to make a decision because players aren’t as quick or aren’t making decisions as quick. If the player moves on to play in college or the pros, the first thing you here athletes talk about is adjusting to the speed of the game. The athlete is continuously improving in order to make the decisions faster so they aren’t left behind and can’t survive at that level.

    I see the same being true in business. The reason to get better and make decisions faster is so we aren’t left behind.

    • David M. Kasprzak

      Yes, and…..

      That is the genius of Partnoy’s work. Those athletes, business leaders, investors and what not aren’t necessarily learning to make decisions faster – they are learning to delay making the decision longer. Talent, experience and practice combine to allow the person to observe and monitor the situation until a decision is absolutely necessary.

      To me, this is an interesting take, as it places less emphasis on accumulating enough knowledge to always make the right decision as quickly as possible and stresses contemplation and learning, even if measured in milliseconds.