Don’t blink…………………….wait.



Did you read Blink by Malcolm Gladwell , and have you been operating on your gut instinct ever since?


How has that worked out for you?  If it has gone very well, and you are indeed now CEO or something equally excellent, then stop reading this now.  If on the other hand your experience has been closer to that of the Dice Man , ie a bit on the chaotic side, then there’s a new book out that might give you some useful perspective.


Wait by Frank Portnoy praises the “Useful Art of Procrastination”.  It explains why we like to make snap decisions, and how to snap out of it.  It is all about  your capacity to look at situations with some long term perspective.  Behavioural economists have found a way of calculating this.  The “discount rate” is the amount we are prepared to pay to wait.  You will have heard of the experiment with the toddlers where they are offered one marshmallow now, or two in a few minutes.  Experiments show that for long term prosperity those toddlers that can bear to wait have better chances.  This “discount rate” changes however over time.  For example if you are offered the choice of £50 today by your boss, or £100 in a month – which would you choose?  Many people, for all kinds of rational and emotional reasons, would take the £50 today. (While the offer is definitely good!)  But if your boss offered you £50 in a year, or £100 in 13 months which would you take ?  I bet you said you’d wait for the £100.  The wait is the same – it’s still one month’s delay.  But loads more people will opt to wait for another month with a year’s perspective. Interesting, but so what?


Well there is now a standard questionnaire to elicit people’s discount rates over time .  The higher your discount rate, the more miserable you’re likely to be.  So the kind of gut and instinctive decision making that many think is what Gladwell recommends in Blink is largely, and statistically, a mistake.  You know who else thinks so ?  The Snowball himself.  .  Warren Buffet says “We don’t get paid for activity, just for being right.  As to how long we’ll wait, we’ll wait indefinitely”.  Buffet is focussed on the long haul.  This is not a bad discipline to practise.  So next time don’t just act, wait.  Then act (don’t just have a meeting about it).



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