Wednesday, February 06, 2013

In praise of procrastination

Nassim N. Taleb writes:
[T]he Romans revered someone who, at the least, resisted and delayed intervention. One general, Fabius Maximus was nicknamed Cunctator, “the Procrastinator.” He drove Hannibal, who had an obvious military superiority, crazy by avoiding and delaying engagement.

There is a Latin expression festina lente, “make haste slowly.” The Romans were not the only ancients to respect the act of voluntary omission. The Chinese thinker Lao Tzu coined the doctrine of wu-wei,“passive achievement.”

Few understand that procrastination is our natural defense, letting things take care of themselves and exercise their antifragility; it results from some ecological or naturalistic wisdom, and is not always bad. - Antifragility, 2012.

I've been thinking about discussing or — better! — solving the procrastination dilemma with the students during the Summer '13 Principles of Invention course at Stanford. On the one hand, procrastination is bad because it makes us miss important deadlines or waste time on unimportant rather than important tasks. On the other hand, as Taleb notices, procrastination helps us save the effort of reacting to events that might blow by harmlessly without any intervention.

My earlier posts on procrastination: 1, 2, 3

tags: dilemma, problem, solution, course

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