The perils of short term thinking

There’s often a conflict between a short term and long term perspective. In a simple example, short term perspective rewards eating cake right now because it tastes good. But long term perspective rewards eating healthy because you’ll feel better tomorrow, and into the future.

In a more complex example, short term thinkers value things like getting an A on a test whereas long term thinkers know that grades aren’t indicative of success in the rapidly changing future.

When it comes to companies, short term thinking pushes organizations to maximize profit during this quarter, whereas long term thinking pushes companies to invest in the future and stay relevant for decades to come.

There’s a conflict here in that short term thinking often feels good, but isn’t what’s needed for sustainable success. Unfortunately, our systems perpetuate this emphasis on short term thinking. Quarterly earnings calls, report cards every semester, standardized testing and much more. All these things are a distraction from what we’re really after: sustainable thriving.

Short term thinking says don’t invest in creativity because it won’t pay off for years to come. It says don’t explore a class you might be passionate about because you might ruin your GPA. Short term thinking says a lot of stuff that doesn’t make human sense. But, it pushes us to conform. To fit in the system. To not cause trouble. That’s all it’s good for.

But that’s not what we need right now. We need people to make a stir, change the status quo and try things that might not work.

Think about the big picture. Shoot for the long term vision. Don’t be disillusioned by the desire for short term success. Play the long game.