The Index Card Summary of “Wait: the Art and Science of Delay”

There is a famous military mantra that “slow is smooth, and smooth is fast”. Frank Partnoy, author of Wait: The Art and Science of Delay, thoughtfully unpacks the benefits of taking one’s time and the contexts in which it is most important.

The Index Card Summary

Partnoy’s key takeaways boil down to three points:

  1. We should wait as long as possible to act, to ensure we have the maximum possible information.

  2. To be able to wait as long as possible, you need to be able to execute quickly.

  3. Doing things quickly comes with a cost to quality, which you can mitigate by becoming and expert.

Partnoy provides the reasoning, methods, and frameworks for taking on the challenging task of slowing down to achieve better results.

1. Why wait?

Because it is optimal. Partnoy posits that humans are hardwired to react quickly, as part of our inbuilt fight or flight instincts. Modern society taps into this wiring, tempting us to react instantly to its many demands. Yet we are often better off resisting both our biology and our technology. Waiting as long as possible ensures that you have the maximum possible information available to inform your next decision.

2. Making time to wait means executing quickly

In the ideal world, you would spend much less time executing and re-executing. You would optimize outcomes by minimizing execution time. OODA is an effective framework for developing a strategy without reacting too hastily.

The Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA) framework requires the decision-maker to observe the changing environment and process the disorder occurring before deciding how to act. One can act fast without necessarily acting first. Act too quickly, and you may provoke a problem that would have otherwise gone away. Further, if you spend too much time acting (e.g. building a presentation), you have less time to observe (e.g. calibrate the actual project needs and goals).

3. To keep quality high during fast execution, become an expert

Novices and experts are two extremes on the experience spectrum. Whereas experts can act quickly based on the muscle memory of prior experience, novices may be better off not acting at all. For example, time pressure does not impact grandmaster chess players in the way it impacts novice chess players. Under time constraints, grandmasters make few mistakes whereas novices make many.

However, there are times when even experts should wait. Importantly, novel circumstance can still arise in one’s sphere of expertise. Medical professionals face this challenge often.

The considered take

Partnoy is one of the few voices in the modern world telling us to wait. We’re in an era of high-speed internet, one-click orders, two-day shipping, high-frequency trading….the list goes on. Partnoy counters our culture by making the case that waiting is optimal.

I appreciate that Partnoy makes the important distinction that artful delay and procrastination are not the same thing. This means that you need to define what “waiting as long as possible” means in your own context. In many businesses, on time is late and early is ontime. So, for example, waiting until the final hour to submit an application online, and then hitting a computer glitch, could leave you out of luck.

Partnoy also underscores that rushing when you are not an expert will not produce good results — making it all the more important to accurately assess where you are at in a skill set and allocate execution time accordingly. So how does one become an expert? A few ideas:

  1. Spend a lot of time thinking through how to do something in a deliberate manner, so that when the time arrives, you can execute quickly.

  2. Use checklists, which can force you to pause, be more systematic, and reduce errors. 

  3. Pursue deliberate practice so that you are trained in the skill you care about.

As Partnoy summed it up, the essence of modern intelligence may be knowing when to think and act quickly and when to think and act slowly.

The existential threat to drug store pharmacies: the battle of price and quality

CVS recently announced its Pharmacy Savings Finder, a tool that promises to identify the cheapest version of a medication that a patient can buy. Essentially, they are promising to do comparison shopping for you. It seems to be a long awaited counter to a four front battle. Not only is CVS competing with other pharmacies, but also online Rx websites, startups and, more recently, large corporations.

Long before CVS’s Pharmacy Savings Finder, there was Walgreens’ Prescription Savings Club, Walmart’s generic prescription program, and various other brick-and-mortar players offering to find savings for consumers. So why the sudden urgency to take action and join the price wars? The rising cost of healthcare is not new news, and remains a chief concern for the poorest and the sickest. One possible catalyst appears to be the proactive industry invasion by mega-companies that are starting to feel the exposure to healthcare cost risk. I’m referring to the largest titan team-up in history, announced in January, with Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase. The three promised to form an independent healthcare company that will provide, among other things, cheaper drugs. Amazon’s acquisition of PillPack, a startup that mails prescriptions to people who take multiple medications, has further signaled that competitive pricing and industry-leading speed may be on the way to a historically manual and expensive service.

Up until this year drug store pharmacies had clear competition for each vector, quality of service and price. Launched in 2016, Capsule Pharmacy’s value proposition included consistent inventory, shortened wait times, and better access to medication information. And for years vertical search offerings online, such as WellRx or Q1Medicare.com, offered a quick scan by drug, category, or discount program to find the best price. These are classical positionings in the business world; low price, high volume, and basic service means thin margins but leads to larger market share. Distinctive services can allow companies to justify a higher price and be profitable but with fewer customers. Now, with mega corporate partnerships, traditional drug stores most compete more effectively on both service and price.

 Businesses are typically well positioned to succeed if they are in the bottom left (think Walmart) or the top right (think One Medical). In pharma there appears to be a shift towards the value-for-money segment, the bottom right.
Businesses are typically well positioned to succeed if they are in the bottom left (think Walmart) or the top right (think One Medical). In pharma there appears to be a shift towards the value-for-money segment, the bottom right.

Perhaps this is the shakeup that the Pharmaceutical industry has needed. Operating health services with a profit motive as the primary impetus can only lead to worse health outcomes for patients. With nontraditional industry actors motivated by the health of their employees shaking up the status quo, we can more easily hold traditional industry players to account.

Urban Dictionary for business terms

In chatting with folks from engineers to analysts, I’ve realized not all business terms are widely known, and so I’ve made an Urban Dictionary for a few common concepts below.

Impressions

An internet ad that has made first contact, but did not penetrate the attention bubble. For example, when I buy a television on Amazon, suddenly the internet gets the impression that that it’s the start of a collection of 55″ flat screen TVs.

CAGR 

Not to be confused with a kegger. During my MBA, I was very confused when I showed up for the Delta Sigma Pi party. 

CAGR stands for compound annual growth rate, i.e. the smoothed, average rate of growth over several years (like a bikini line after waxing). 

CAC (Sponsored by Blue Apron)

Customer acquisition cost. This is how much you’re willing to bribe someone to try your product. Think all those Blue Apron coupons you get in the mail, basically paying you to try it. 

ARPU

Did the bribes work? How much is each sucker customer spending? That amount is your average revenue per user.

VC Discount

The VC Discount is the amount of venture capital money a consumer burns through by happily accepting all the CAC offers without becoming a loyal customer. This is calculated as follows:

For example, you may buy a $10 per month MoviePass to buy one $15 movie ticket per month. With no theater subsidy, that’s a 33% savings (1 – 10÷15)!

Deliverable

No, it’s not a pizza. A deliverable is a thing that your client or manager swears to you, in a contract signed in blood, is precisely what they want and is *very important*. You then work on the project for weeks or months, countering with your own blood, sweat, and tears. Maybe you even miss a couple of your kid’s baseball games. And as soon as you deliver it, they smile and nod, and when you leave, they put it in a drawer, never to be spoken of again.