Time to decide

photo by Camila y el Arte via flickr

I’ve had little time to post recently but the confluence of a couple of external influences has me dashing off this quick one.

I begin most days with a rapid review of headlines from about 100 diverse sources. I capture what seem like interesting articles and store them on Evernote, waiting for a moment to read them in detail. I now have about 1,000 articles sitting in my Evernote notebooks and found a few moments today to try to cull the list, and also to read a few.

In the randomness of that approach, and because of my keynote updates as I quickly scan them, the articles end up getting the current date attached to them even if they are months old and, as a result, articles from different times get clustered together.  None of that has relevance except as a set up to this mini-cluster.

Just before the Wimbledon matches began this year, there was this very interesting article – Waiting Game – in the Financial Times. It notes that some of the best tennis players in the world have a faculty for delaying a response to a 100 mile an hour serve and, as a result of a millisecond delay, are much better players than any of the rest of us. That idea is the theme of the piece – that retarding a response in many circumstances allows us to make a much better return, a higher quality decision.

In the cluster of randomly assembled articles was this one from Fast Company – “4 Lessons in Creativity from John Cleese.” The article reported on John Cleese’s observations about the best conditions for creativity. He referenced the work of Brian Bates, a psychology researcher interested in the differences between architects recognized for their creativity, and all the rest. Delaying decisions was one of the two differentiating characteristics of the creative class of architects.

“The first thing he discovered is that the creative architects knew how to
play. They could get immersed in a problem. It was almost childlike, like
when a child gets utterly absorbed in a problem. The second thing was that
they deferred making decisions as long as they could.”

Also in this cluster, a bit more remote in relevance here, was this great interview with William Kentridge and Peter Galison  – Death, Time, Soup: A Conversation with William Kentridge and Peter Galison – about their artistic collaboration and their interest in the subject of time, and specifically in a piece titled The Refusal of Time. I offer the link here mostly for the delight of the article but also for this extension: In developing the piece, they had several components that just didn’t work out and these got tossed onto what they called the “Room of Failures.” A signal, of sorts, of not delaying a production decision until the idea was fully worked out?

I’ll stop here after making this overextended connection. Each of these stories about slowing time, about delaying decisions, is also about collecting more information before making a move. How we design to maximize exposure to information may be key to improving the quality of performance of the organizations for whom we design workspaces.

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