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Wait a sec – your decision will be better for it

From the tennis court to the board room, patience helps. That's the conclusion drawn by Frank Portnoy, a procrastinator who decided to explore whether that trait was hurting him; and by actor/writer John Cleese, of Monty Python fame, who now counsels executives.

On the court

In the Financial Times, Mr. Portnoy reports that the advantage tennis star Novak Djokovic has on the court, according to scientists who study super-fast athletes, is his ability to wait just a few milliseconds longer than his opponents before hitting the ball.

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"That tiny delay is why most players won't have a chance against him. Djokovic wins because he can procrastinate – at the speed of light," declares Mr. Portnoy.

Beyond tennis

He says the best performers, in tennis and life, know instinctively when to pause, even if only for a split second. "Some of us are better at understanding when to take a few extra seconds to deliver the punch line of a joke, or when we should wait a full hour before making a judgment about another person. Part of this skill is gut instinct, and part of it is analytical," Mr. Portnoy writes.

Apologize later

Mr. Portnoy observes that although we are taught to apologize right away, studies show that delayed apologies are generally better. "If you accidentally spill a drink on someone at a party, you should say sorry immediately. But for more serious, intentional wrongs – infidelity or lying about a colleague – a quick apology is a mistake. Instead, you need to give the aggrieved person a chance to understand what happened and respond. The best apologies are fully informed and come at the last possible moment," he says.

(A timely example is movie star Kristen Stewart, who was quick to apologize recently for her romantic indiscretion with the married director of her latest film. Maybe she should have waited.)

The waiting game

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In his article, Mr Portnoy notes that a dating network known as It's Just Lunch will not let clients see a photo before a date, because it does not help to determine the two most important elements of a relationship – chemistry and compatibility. Better to wait until you meet the person. He also points to Warren Buffet, who says that before buying a stock, he can wait "indefinitely" for the best time.

Creative deference

At this year's Cannes International Festival of Creativity, Mr. Cleese offered four lessons in creativity, as Rae Ann Fera reports at In his June presentation, Mr. Cleese talked about Sussex University Professor Brian Bates, who compared the work practices of the most creative and least creative architects, and found the former more willing to defer decisions as long as they could.

"If you have a decision to make, what is the single most important question to ask yourself?" Mr. Cleese told the audience. "I believe it's 'When does this decision have to be made?' When most of us have a problem that's a little bit unresolved, we're a little bit uncomfortable. We want to resolve it. The creative architects had this tolerance for this discomfort we all feel when we leave things unresolved."

Experimentation and delay

The push for businesses to adopt the design thinking approach is based on the argument that organizations can improve through trial and error. Rather than delaying, business leaders are expected to take action, experimenting and learning from their tests. Bryant University Professor Michael Roberto, in his blog, says that idea does not contradict the calls for delay: "Deferring decisions doesn't preclude trial and error. It simply means not setting things in concrete too soon."

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About the Author
Management columnist

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. More


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