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The value of delayed decisions

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.