The Two-Second Advantage: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: September 12th, 2011 by bobmorris

The Two-Second Advantage: How We Succeed by Anticipating the Future — Just Enough
Vivek Ranadivé and Kevin Maney
Crown Business (2011)

The power of prediction-based talent: Intuition on “the other side of complexity”

At least a century ago, Oliver Wendell Holmes observed, “I don’t care a fig for simplicity on this side of complexity but I would give my life for simplicity on the other side of complexity.” I was again reminded of that observation as I began to read this brilliant book in which Vivek Ranadivé and Kevin Maney explain how and why we can achieve success (however defined) by anticipating the future “just enough.” The book’s title refers to what is often the difference between success and failure. However, with all due respect to the co-authors’ intentions, I do not think the greatest value of this book can be measured in terms of time; rather, in term of proceeding through the simplicity of raw impulse through the complexity of probable implications, multiple perspectives, and potential consequences to “the other side of intuition” at which correct decisions can be made almost spontaneously. The U.S. Airways pilot, Chesley Burnett (“Sully”) Sullenberger III, who successfully ditched US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River off Manhattan, New York City, on January 15, 2009, offers an excellent case in point. Once aware of the circumstances, he made the correct decision with little (if any) consideration of options. The same is true of countless other airline pilots as well as diagnostic surgeons (especially in hospital emergency rooms) and military leaders in combat who quite literally must make life-and-death decisions.

Long before Malcolm Gladwell published an article in The New Yorker that later was developed into a book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (2005), Michael Kami (in Trigger Points, 1988) and then Andrew Grove (in Only the Paranoid Survive, 1999) explained how and why, as Ranadivé and Maney describe it, “judgments made in two seconds are often more accurate than those made after months of analysis.” For decades, we have known – as revealed by a wealth of research in psychology and behavioral economics on the adaptive unconscious — that mental processes can work rapidly and automatically from relatively little information.

However, there is an “if” (a HUGE “if”) and it is this: Those who wish to develop a more predictive brain, one that can quickly process huge chunks of information, and then act upon information, must be willing to commit the time and the attention required. That’s what Sullenberger demonstrated when deciding to land the plane on the river. Wayne Gretzy always claimed that his advantage was knowing where the puck would go. Larry Bird describes his advantage differently but makes the same point: “When I’m playing basketball, everybody else seems to be moving in slow motion.” My guess (0nly a guess) is that it took of the three about 10,000 hours of highly disciplined, iterative practice under strict, expert supervision…plus some luck such as being in the right place at the right time, with the right support, developing under the right conditions.

That said, the fact remains that few people are prepared to make such a commitment of time and effort and even if they did, it is possible but unlikely that they could achieve success comparable with what super talents such as Gretzky, Bird, Bobby Fischer, Michael Jordan, and Yo Yo Ma have. However, Ranadivé and Maney are convinced (and I fully agree) that many of those who read this book with appropriate can, over time, work their way through the complexity to a point at which they have increased their predictive talent. How? By increasing their knowledge and understanding of previous efforts (i.e. what works, what doesn’t, and why), by strengthening their ability to recognize early-indicators of imminent probabilities (e.g. a quarterback “reading” a defense to know what to do next), and sharpening their ability to identify root causes after recognizing symptoms (e.g. an ER physician diagnosing a stranger who is near death after an automotive accident). The process of personal development that Ranadivé and Maney explain can be completed by almost anyone, anywhere, whatever the given circumstances may be.

A brief commentary such as this can hardly do full justice to the wealth of information, insights, and wisdom that Ranadivé and Maney provide. I also wish to commend them on the lively style with which they present their narrative. To those who read this commentary, I offer two assurances. First, any limits on your development – one that is guided and informed by the material in this book — will be self-imposed. The two-second advantage must be earned and there are no short cuts. Also, the opportunities for applying what Vivek Ranadivé and Kevin Maney offer throughout any organization are unlimited, whatever the size and nature of that organization may be.


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