The essential art of deferral

By Couchcynic

“Why do today, what you can do tomorrow”.

There was an old king who ruled a kingdom in the mountains. The approach to his fortress was through a narrow mountain pass and so the natural protection dissuaded invaders. Beyond the mountains, a very powerful prince had risen to power. He wanted to enjoy the resources of the mountains and took his army in order to invade the mountain kingdom. The old king’s advisors and councilmen asked him to fortify his defenses. The army was readied and there was a hush all around. In the midst of all the confusion, the old king remained unmoved. He told his courtiers to do nothing. The mountain passes were tough and the invaders would go back by themselves. The prince battled the elements and kept trying to breach the defenses. But bad weather, a lack of supplies and an opponent that did not engage weakened his morale. In the end he left with his army. The old king told his courtiers that one must act only when necessary; most often things would sort themselves out.

Why Defer?

If you’ve ever been faced with an important decision or a variety of similar choices, you will realize that sometimes action is necessary. Making the decision is even more important when one is limited by time. Another instance is decision making when one cannot reliably conclude whether any particular choice is better than the other. In such cases the best alternative is to ‘defer’. Call it postponing, buying time or giving up control. Deferral allows complex systems to return their own decisions. In simple terms, deferral is a process of elimination which is preferable to making an on the spot choice.



You have been offered 2 jobs. Both companies look quite good, the interviews have gone well. You are hard pressed to make a choice. In the meantime, your current company has made you a counteroffer -asking you to stay on and keep providing them your services. In this moment you really have no idea what the best outcome is. Sure, you could trust your gut and pick the best option. Or you could defer. You could tell all parties involved to wait till you make a decision. You may spend the time carefully examining the different companies or discussing your queries with H.R. The outcome would be that one of the companies would opt out or be compelled to offer even better terms.

When to Defer?

The Russians did not engage with the Germans. They waited it out till the long winter came in. In his landmark book, ‘AntiFragile’, Taleb discusses the essential concept of interventionism. Interventionism is our modern rational world’s method of providing solutions for everything. In a scientific world where solutions abound how often have you heard?
“Wait it out for a bit.”

I will narrate an anecdote to emphasize the importance of deferral. Back when I was fourteen I twisted my wrist while playing tennis. The doctor at a fancy corporate hospital had a look and recommended, I get a variety of tests done. He also added some nonsense about my ligaments and tendons. I never got any of those tests done and waited for the wrist the heal. It did, two weeks later.

One has to understand vested interests. The doctor does not get paid to say, “Wait it out boss. Let it take some time. “ The least he will do is recommend a medicine or two. I

While renting a house..

real estate agent

(Broker: “Book it now otherwise there are 100 other people desperate people in line”)

Most of us have rented a house. The first part is meeting a real estate broker to show us a house. Brokers are amateur psychologists, and they can smell desperation. Any time they show you a house they will add that many other parties are interested in it as well. An artificial demand has been created. The entire profession of real estate broking is based on lying and manipulation.
I once visited a broker’s office fifteen times straight without taking any his options and always deferring for something else. Eventually he got frustrated and rewarded my efforts with a decent house in a good locality, which had record low rents. Had I rushed to make a decision and taken his bait, he would have never shown me better options. A true practitioner of the dark art of deferral is never rushed to make any choice. There maybe many takers or people in line, but all that is inconsequential from the perspective of the deferrer.

But what about the heroic man of action…

Our heroes are the brave men of action who did something. Achilles took the Trojan beach, Mangal Pandey stirred revolutionary zeal and great entrepreneurs build large companies. Yes, we must accord due respect to these men but let’s not forget the sideline speculators. The Trojans deferred engaging for close to a decade, the British government deferred from actively governing India till 1857 and those private equity guys watched over the entrepreneurs whilst waiting for their eggs to hatch. For every man of action you need a couple of master deferrers who will gain something. They go together.

In Advertising

We are living in the world of consumerism. Buy 3 and get 2 free. But first, you need to commit to a purchase of buying 3 products. And if a company is offering you products for free then they may not be that expensive to make. Think of consumption as a necessary evil and when you do buy something, milk the last drop of utility out of it. Wear those jeans for a decade, let the soles of those shoes be worn and take the jacket out for it’s last winter.

In Time

Always ask, ‘How long will this last?’
If they say great phone, amazing features, ask them if it will work for 5 years. If they claim to be a great romantic partner do your research if they’ll last a decade (or a lifetime). The best things and people always last long and then a little more.

The master deferrer

procras 2.png

Now, go around deferring things. Defer vacations, dates, purchases, interviews, client meetings and health checkups. Use the filter called time and eliminate the chaff.

(P.S.: I have been deferring writing a blog post for nearly 2 months now.Start small.)

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