bludgeoned by short term and long term hammers in business

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“In the long term we are all dead.”

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John Maynard Keynes

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“Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.”

Kenneth E. Boulding 

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Well.

This is about business but let me begin with economics and the fact as an undergraduate economics major I was bludgeoned with economic theory.

Invisible hands slapped me around with stimulus, growth, recessions and an odd mix of causal theory <which was, frankly, anything but cause & effect>. What they never told me was that once I got into the business world I would be simultaneously bludgeoned with a short term hammer and a long term hammer.

Yes. I mean bludgeoned.

Fairly early in one’s career you get hammered over and over and over again with regard to attention to details and meeting project objectives and making sure deadlines are met <short term hammer> only to find you get hammered with “you shouldn’t just do what is told we want you to think about the overall objective” <long term hammer>. This is your first taste of the short term/long term bludgeoning.

It only gets worse once you have to start reporting results and effectiveness. Suffice it to say business has an unhealthy relationship with, well, “term.” I don’t care if it is short term or long term, “term” is often the looming scythe in the daily, monthly & annual business pit & pendulum.

Despite all the silly “long term planning & plans” rhetoric reality shows that we constantly think only about the short term … well … until the next term. This chafes with my economist learnings as I was always taught economic theory always has to consider the long term.  This conflict is not new or one of the things that has recently surfaced in the business world. It has been there <although it may be exacerbated by current financial reporting milestone methodology> since the dawn of business.

Worse? The conflict even slides into silly trite rhetoric. There is a constant bludgeoning of “if we do what is right today everything will be fine tomorrow” <focus on NOW>.

Well.That tripe ignores that “tomorrow” isn’t 24 hours away <which would prove this thoughtless thoughtful thought correct>  but rather tomorrow in a business sense is 24 months away.

Looking thru that lens short term affect is more often than not, well, not the same as the desired long term affect. It may kind of look like it but over time the little differences become big differences.

Anyway.

This isn’t about economic theory this is more about business and managing short term versus long term. To begin that discussion let’s start with the premise that you kind of have your shit together and know what you want long term <where you want the business to be and what you want the business to stand for>. Because if you are in that position than I would suggest that relax empty space business lifebecomes what I would call “our struggle to relax.”

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“Relax.

You will become an adult. You will figure out your career. You have a whole lifetime; time takes time.”

Johanna de Silentio

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The whole concept of being able to relax in business is grounded in a belief that there is … uhm … time. A lifetime in fact. But. In a competitive business world it is difficult to believe, let alone accept, you actually have a whole lifetime. In fact. The numbers suggest you do not. More businesses fail than succeed.

However. I would ask all business people: is this a failure of imagination & belief or is this a failure to shed short term pressures? That just may be the eternal unanswerable business question. And while you sit there trying to answer that question <with the good intentions to actually do the right thing> the business world will be bludgeoning you with “short term, short term, short term” like Chinese water torture until you succumb to … well … the short term.

It is hard to relax through all of this.

The business world does everything in its power to make you do anything but relax. Day in and day out it demand you do, do, do & go, go, go. And that in itself makes it damn easy to not think long term.

In fact.

crushed by objectives short term bludgeonIf you fell into this trap you could quite easily believe you are doing all the right things, i.e.,  meeting the demands of the day & the week, all the while assuming that long term this insures success.

Trust me. This is incredibly easy to do.

Here is a business truth.

While short term seems like a necessary survival tool … time takes time. What I mean is that “relax” doesn’t mean completely stopping what you are doing nor does it mean ignoring the truly urgent … what it does mean is not making everything urgent and not stopping completely for every perceived ‘crisis’ that occurs. What it does mean is actually incorporating some thinking into all doing. I would also note that nor does relax mean investing lots of time to making plans. While plans are quite helpful in providing construct … relax is actually about consciously addressing decisions without unnecessary haste.

Anyway. I think business has this incredibly uncomfortable relationship with “term” because it is uncomfortable with the “un-permanence” of everything good that pervades the business world.

Here is what I mean.

While we tend to embrace the need to be flexible and adaptive <but … in truth … may not actually do so in practice> we also tend to ignore that the need to be flexible is actually driven by the state of things – this is a state of un-permanence. Sounds uncomfortable, doesn’t it?

A business truth and a foundational business principle, which most of us purposefully ignore, is most things truly good in business, and many of the things that actually make a business successful, have an extremely high degree of ‘temporary.’ Wow. That sure does explain why no one can frickin’ relax, huh?

 

We seek perfection in all tasks as well as some permanence to that perfection and yet … perfection, at best, is temporary.

We seek to make effective plans to follow and yet … plans, at best, are temporary.

We seek to reach long term objectives thru short term steps and yet … the future is dependent upon decisions and not a plan <which is most likely temporary in true effectiveness anyway>.

 

Yeah. I struggle to find “relax” anywhere in what I just typed.

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“The world moves into the future as a result of decisions, not as a result of plans. Plans are significant only insofar as they affect decisions.”

Kenneth E. Boulding

—————–contemplate impermanence bludgeon objective life

In the end I would suggest that business will always struggle with the “tension of the terms.” And most likely we will sit in offices bitching & moaning about which ‘term’ <short or long> is more important or how to balance the two or how to develop some silver-lined plan to manage the ‘terms balance.’ But most importantly … we will continue to ignore the real issue … the ‘un-permanence’ of all things that are business.

Why does this matter?

Well. If you actually believe that navigating the short term & long term aspects guarantees permanent growth,well, don’t forget all things business are un-permanent.

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Written by Bruce