Sunday, November 11, 2012

Wait: The Art and Science of Delay by Frank Partnoy

For some reason I have been unable to get the image and the links to my Goodreads review into this entry, but here's what I wrote: My first professional job as a Librarian was in 1972 at the Worcester Public Library, with long hair and a beard and fire in my belly to save the world with equal access to information. Library Director Joseph S. Hopkins described an administrative strategy of never making any decision until forced to do so. I was not the only one who thought this showed a lack of courage, rather than good judgement. As the years have gone by I have been forced to reconsider many of my youthful value judgements. Partnoy really vindicates Joe Hopkins on page 174, "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." Wow! Partnoy also adds a twist to an attractive description of the skilled ball player. I had heard descriptions - written when computers were a bit more primitive - that "If you filled the Empire State Building with computers, it would still take them a week to do all the calculations required to catch a high fly ball." The implication was that it is only by letting go of any conscious control, through practice and then reflex, that humans are able to make the catch. Partnoy shares experiments that show that more is going on, that the good hitter actually spends much more of the ball's (admittedly extremely short) travel time taking in data, and then at the very last millisecond reacts with a swing. I described this to an old timer (even older than I) who immediately gave an example of a baseball great who would swing "just about when the ball was in the catcher's glove." This was a fun read and I'm glad I took the time to enjoy it.

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