Wait: The Art and Science of Delay

Book review: Frank Partnoy's latest is not bad, but suffers from trying too hard to be Gladwellian.


(Photo: Natalie Castellino)

Wait: The Art and Science of Delay
(Public Affairs)
Frank Partnoy

You could make a decent argument that Malcolm Gladwell might be the worst thing to have happened to non-fiction publishing in the last 20 years. The New Yorker writer and pop-sociologist has had such success weaving together academic research and journalism in pursuit of the Big Idea that he has inevitably spawned a horde of clones.

Frank Partnoy’s Wait is not a bad book, but it does suffer from trying too hard to be Gladwellian. The book is premised on the idea that in countless situations, from sports to business to personal life, we’re better off delaying decisions as long as we can. Even for actions that can seem instantaneous (returning a tennis serve) Partnoy argues that waiting is crucial to success, while in others (the development of the Post-it note) he believes it can take years for an idea’s true value to become come clear.

Wait is stuffed with legitimately interesting anecdotes, arguments and research. But the thread between them can often seem tenuous. Like Gladwell, Partnoy works hard to fit all kinds of different theories under the umbrella of his over-arching theme. But unlike Gladwell, Partnoy is not a particularly gifted storyteller; when his ideas lag, which happens fairly often, so does his book.