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Book review: Wait – The Art and Science of Delay by Frank Partnoy

waitThis review first ran in the Dec. 31 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Wait: The Art and Science of Delay

By Frank Partnoy

Public Affairs Books

Don’t just do something. Stand there.

It’s a common adage among top doctors and one we should all resolve to adopt in 2013.

We’re going to face some hard choices and tough calls in the new year. Exhibit A is a potential new Hamilton casino with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation needing a decision by the end of February.

We’d do well to hold off making big decisions in our community and in our professional and personal lives for as long as we possibly can.

If you have a year to decide, wait until the 364th day. If you have an hour, weigh in at the 59th minute.

“In most situations, we should take more time than we do,” says Frank Partnoy, a corporate lawyer, former investment banker and author of Wait: The Art and Science of Delay. “The longer we can wait, the better. And once we have a sense of how long a decision should take, we generally should delay the moment of decision until the last possible instant.”

That delay can help us figure out if our initial gut reaction, intuition and instinctive emotion are on, or off, the mark. We buy ourselves time for analysis and logical deliberation, observing and orienting ourselves.

This is especially important if we’re sailing into uncharted waters. While experts with a wealth of experience can usually go with snap decisions, novices who haven’t been there and done that 100 times before should delay as much as possible.

“When we are not experts and we don’t have time to compare and choose rationally among options, the best choice is often to do nothing. Because novices are prone to make the wrong move, the right move is often no move at all.

“If you can’t take a timeout or ask for help, and you haven’t already thought through the precise scenario you face, you are most likely headed for a bad decision. Novices who wrongly believe they are experts are doomed. They don’t realize their predicament until it is too late.”

To make the right moves more often and avoid rookie mistakes, get comfortable with pausing for as long as necessary before acting even when faced with the most pressing of decisions. “For good decision-makers, time is more flexible than a metronome or atomic clock.”

Partnoy says good decision-makers are able to act quickly, but are also willing to go slowly. They’re comfortable using both intuition and analysis. “That doesn’t mean their decisions are slow; they can be faster than just about anyone when it matters. The best professionals understand how long they have available to make a decision and, then, given that time frame, they wait as long as they possibly can.”

Mastering the art and science of delay will also help us when we screw up and find ourselves eating crow in 2013.

Timing is everything when it comes to an apology. You don’t want to say sorry too soon or too late. Be like Goldilocks and apologize not when the reaction to your screw up is too hot or too cold, but when it’s just right.

“A snap apology can be less effective or even disingenuous, it might even suggest panic or fear,” says Partnoy. “If we take some time before apologizing — if we can enter the longer-term world of hours, or even days — we show that we have considered the feelings of the wronged person, something we could not have done had we apologized right away. Time gives victims a chance to understand.”

Partnoy ends his book with one word of wisdom for making smarter decisions: wait.

“Questions about delay are existential: the amount of time we take to reflect on decisions will define who we are. Life might be a race against time, but it is enriched when we rise above our instincts and stop the clock to process and understand what we are doing and why. A wise decision requires reflection, and reflection requires a pause.”

Here’s to wise decisions for all of us in 2013.


Review: Startup Weekend – how to take a company from concept to creation in 54 hours

Startup WeekendThis review first ran in the Dec.  17 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Startup Weekend: How to Take a Company From Concept to Creation in 54 Hours

By Marc Nager, Clint Nelsen and Franck Nouyrigat

John Wiley & Sons


There are no brilliant ideas, only brilliant execution.

So say the co-directors of Startup Weekend, a non-profit with the mission to educate entrepreneurs, strengthen communities and launch startups.

At last count, more than 34,000 people have taken part in hundreds of Startup Weekends in more than 60 cities, including Hamilton.

From Friday night to Sunday night, established and aspiring entrepreneurs get together to pitch ideas, join teams and compete to turn concepts into creations.

“The key to the startup is to, well, start,” Marc Nager, Clint Nelsen and Franck Nouyrigat advise Startup Weekend participants. The trio, who took over what was then a for-profit company in 2009, are big proponents of learning by doing. “Just pick an idea — any idea. They’re all good. And then get to work.”

One of the keys to brilliant execution is to surround yourself with the right people with complementary skill sets. Ideas are important but the team is essential, say the co-directors.

Forget the mythology of lone entrepreneurs toiling away late into the night, against all odds and for years on end in basements and garages.

“Even visionaries need a team of doers to bring their paradigm-shifting, brand new idea to life. From mentors to investors to lawyers to employees to fellow co-founders, there’s a whole stream of people involved in the most humble startup.”

And that’s whom you’ll meet at Startup Weekend. On Friday night, you make a 60-second pitch. You’re pitching your big idea and making a pitch for talent. If you don’t have an idea to pitch, you must still join a team before you call it a night.

Active networking at Startup Weekend is a high-energy, low-risk way to evaluate what potential co-founders could contribute. Deadline pressure reveals who’s a high performer in the clutch and who’s “all hat and no cattle.”

“Startup Weekend is essentially a chance to give this marriage a spin before actually tying the knot. Those 54 hours of work give you a chance to see whether things will work out. And if they don’t, nothing is lost. For many people, Startup Weekend’s value lies much more in the relationships that they form than in the business ideas themselves.”

The 54-hour deadline reinforces the need for entrepreneurs to move fast. “Startup Weekend imposes strict time constraints because there are time constraints in the real world, too. People have day jobs, families or both. They can’t take an infinite amount of time with an idea. You don’t want your great idea to be outdated — or accomplished by someone else — by the time you decide to do something about it.”

The co-directors say we’re at the beginning of an entrepreneurial revolution, with StartUp Weekend doing its part by pushing knowledge and networks, tools and technology to people who are committed to solving problems and changing the world. “Many inhibitors and limitations on startups and innovation are being removed. All at once, starting now.”

So if you spent 2012 daydreaming about launching a business, here’s your New Year’s resolution. Read the book and then do the event. Innovation Factory is hosting Hamilton’s no talk, all action 54-hour total immersion in entrepreneurship April 26-28. Meet other entrepreneurs, pitch your big idea, build a great team and execute brilliantly.

Review: Salman Khan’s One World Schoolhouse

one world schoolhouse

This review first ran in the Dec. 3 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The One World Schoolhouse

By Salman Khan

Hachette Book Group


There’s a gap in Hamilton that we need to close in a hurry.

At George R. Allan in West Hamilton, 79 per cent of Grade 3 students are at or above the provincial standard for mathematics. That’s 19 percentage points higher than the average for all schools in the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board and 11 percentage points above the provincial average.

But just a short drive away in Central Hamilton, only 20 per cent of Grade 3 students at Cathy Wever are at or above the provincial standard for math. The score’s slightly higher among Grade 6 students at 35 per cent.

While there’s significant spread in scores between the two schools, the kids have exactly the same unlimited potential. Brilliance isn’t restricted by postal code.

How well those Grade 3 students fulfill their potential will go a long way to deciding the future of Hamilton. We need every one of those students to make an outsized contribution when they join the workforce at the back end of the next decade.  High skilled workers for high skilled and paying jobs will be at a premium.

And Hamilton won’t fire on all cylinders if one in three adults and four in 10 kids in Central Hamilton continuing to live in poverty.

When it comes to helping more kids make sense of math and stay engaged at school, we all have skin in the game. And the Khan Academy could be a big part of the solution.

The Khan Academy is a nonprofit with a mission to deliver a free education to anyone, anywhere.  The academy’s founder is 36-year-old Salman Khan, an MIT and Harvard grad who was working as a hedge fund manager by day and posting 10-minute math tutorials on YouTube at night to tutor his niece.

Today, six million students of all ages watch the Khan Academy’s 3,400 no frills digital blackboard videos every month. They take interactive quizzes, get computerized feedback and earn badges. The Academy’s online material, which is available at no charge, is now part of the curriculum in 20,000 classrooms around the world

Khan is out to challenge long-held assumptions and rethink how we teach and learn. “The old classroom model simply doesn’t fit our changing needs,” says Khan. “It’s a fundamentally passive way of learning, while the world requires more and more active processing of information.

“The old model is based on pushing students together in age-group batches with one-pace-fits-all curricula and hoping they pick something up along the way. It isn’t clear that this was the best model 100 years ago; it certainly isn’t anymore.”

Khan advocates a model of active, self-paced learning where there’s no shame or stigma in progressing slowly and no dreaded moment when the class must move on regardless of whether students actually comprehend what they’ve just been taught.

The move to self-paced learning recognizes a fundamental truth: we all learn at different speeds. “Some people seem to catch on to things in quick bursts of intuition; others grunt and grind their way to comprehension. Quicker isn’t necessarily smarter and slower definitely isn’t dumber.”

What’s more, Khan says technology allows students to learn when they concentrate best. “Why do we still insist that the heaviest lifting in teaching and learning should take place in the confines of a classroom and to the impersonal rhythm of bells and buzzers?”.

Khan isn’t looking for technology to replace teachers. Rather than spend scarce class time delivering hour-long lectures to a passive audience, teachers would devote more time to doing what they best – helping students who are struggling to master the material. “The promise of technology is to liberate teachers from those largely mechanical chores so that they have more time for human interactions. It would raise both the status and the morale of teachers by freeing them from drudgery and allowing them more time to teach, to help.”

In nearly every chapter of his book, Khan takes aim at customs that date back to the 18th century. Bringing our education system into the 21st century is imperative, says Khan.

By one estimate, 65 per cent of those Grade 3 students at George R. Allan and Cathy Wever schools will end up doing jobs that haven’t been invented yet. So how do we educate and prepare our kids for a future that none of us can predict?

“Since we can’t predict exactly what today’s young people will need to know in 10 or 20 years, what we teach them is less important than how they learn to teach themselves. The crucial task of education is to teach kids how to learn. To lead them to want to learn. To nurture curiosity, to encourage wonder, and to instill confidence so that later on they’ll have to tools for finding answers to the many questions we don’t yet know how to ask.

“This is not an abstract conversation,” Khan says about reimagining education. “It’s about the future of real kids, families, communities and nations.”

Every parent and educator in Hamilton should read Khan’s book, spend some time at and then think of how we could bring the Khan Academy into every school and neighbourhood where kids are hungry to learn.