Will I or won’t I?
The human condition is such that we’ll always have more things to do than we can possibly get done. Hence we’ll all be inclined to some procrastination. Yet ‘procrastination’, defined as simply “putting off or delaying or deferring an action to a later time”, is a word that carries – especially in our culture – generally negative rather than positive connotations
So I was interested to tune into this radio interview with Frank Partnoy whose latest book is called Wait: The Useful Art of Procrastination. Partnoy, a leading expert on the complexities of modern finance, became interested in the ramifications of speedie as opposed to more considered decision-making after witnessing the unravelling of the global financial market.
Partnoy cites one instance he knows of, before the meltdown, when one brokerage firm sent their top managers to a workshop run by Malcolm Gladwell. This was in 2005 and Gladwell had just published his bestseller Blink: The Power of thinking Without Thinking, about the usefulness of cogitation that happens in the blink of an eye.
Except in this instance, Gladwell’s philosophy didn’t apply. Partnoy observes that the aforesaid stockbrokers promptly went on to make some of the “worst decisions in the history of the financial market.”
Partnoy’s point is that “we often make much better decisions when we delay” although he’s careful to distinguish between ‘passive procrastination’ which describes someone whose priorities are all wrong and ‘active procrastination’ which is what he’s advocating here. “The question is what you’re doing now while you’re putting off various tasks? If you’re enjoying time with your family, or you’re working on a cure for cancer, well, maybe that’s more valuable [than, say, filing last year’s tax return or cleaning the bathroom]”.
Yet society these days puts little premium on procrastination. Partnoy blames this partly on 18th century American culture which gave rise to the likes of Christian leader Jonathon Edward who famously preached against dilly-dallying, and on the ‘get it done quickly’ business credo of the 1970s. Now says Partnoy, “this idea has really run into the crush of technology”, where being plugged in 24/7 mitigates even more against prevarication.
The good news is, we’re intelligent beings and can always choose to revise how we live our lives. Indeed this is the key message at all our conferences, Happiness & Its Causes, Young Minds and Mind & Its Potential, our next event in October.