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Wait
The Art and Science of Delay
Frank Partnoy
read on January 1, 2013

This book describes many different scenarios and effects of waiting that are typically pretty interesting. The book is a decent narrative, and I think there is an effort to make an overarching point about a person's ability to wait - but I wasn't totally sold on it. Obviously waiting is often good - but it goes without saying that you can wait too long sometimes - and the book makes a clumsy attempt at teasing that out that I didn't really buy into. That said, there was plenty of interesting stuff. Some highlights:

  • Interesting discussion of ideal apology times. For serious issues, max effect has a bell-curve like pattern over time. The more serious the issue, the more elongated the curve. That is, a small infraction means apologize immediately - whereas for a more egregious one you should wait some time, showing that you've really thought about it. This seems more or less intuitive but the data and argument in the book is well done.
  • Great explanation of people's own personal discount rates. $50 today vs $60 in a week - against $50 in 52 weeks and $60 in 53 weeks. The question in both cases is essentially, is it worth waiting one week for ten dollars? Most people would take $50 today in the first choice, but $60 in 53 weeks in the second choice. This illustrates an irrational (in homo-economicus terms) personal discount rate that declines over time. People construct pretty detailed surveys that can very accurately map a person's discount slope over time. Unsurprisingly, having low short term discount rates is highly correlated to successful people. More surprising is that such correlations are stronger than any other typical 'success' variables - e.g., wealth, IQ, education level. There were two sub-points here that blew me away.
    • Similar experiments have been conducted with several different animals as well, and similar effects can be seen. Particularly, while they have different discount rates than average humans [theirs are quite a bit higher because they have small working memory and limited ability to think about the future], the slopes of their discount rates are the same as ours.
    • There is strong and growing research showing that this 'ability to wait' general characteristic is genetic. It's not some willpower or character/upbringing stuff. There is a famous '2 marshmallow' research problem the tests for the characteristic in very young toddlers - and those that perform well early on have far more success in life. There is evidence that the characteristic comes from your heart's ability to speed up and slow down quickly.

Author Bio:

Frank Partnoy is an American legal scholar and the George E. Barrett Professor of Law and Finance at the University of San Diego School of Law.