I’m wary of silver bullet leadership explanations – the one trick that will solve all your problems. Effective leaders often seem to hold a range of ideas in tension and deal pragmatically with the situation at hand. They are foxes, not hedgehogs.
However, as I have reflected on my management experience while writing this blog, there is one idea that keeps cropping up: the challenge of acting for the long term over the short term. We seem compelled to guard against short term risks rather than greater long term risks. We seem forced to pursue short term benefits at the expense of larger long term benefits. These are powerful forces. And they may lie behind many other forms of dysfunction and failure.
It is amazing how seemingly intractable conflicts disappear with the right timeframe. If only you can play a long enough game, you can almost have it all. If we could build longer-term thinking into our organisations and institutions, we would see a sustained improvement in performance and welfare. But here’s the rub: we need to do it without eliminating our ability to respond to immediate and acute survival threats. John Maynard Keynes once said that “in the long run, we are dead”. It would be good to avoid that, institutionally speaking.
For example, given our well known cognitive biases, one strategy would be to develop ‘heuristics’ that prioritise the long term. We could bind ourselves with rules that prevent short term decision making. In some domains, I think this is indeed wise – see my views on various personnel policies, for example. No rule is perfect but, as long as it produces more good days than bad days, the organisation should thrive. The challenge is, you need to be able to recover from the bad days. If one bad day wipes you out, there is no long run. This is what is known as ‘tail risk’ or what Nassim Taleb describes as ‘black swan’ events. And Taleb makes a compelling case that we systematically underestimate the probability of rare disasters. Sitting here writing this in the middle of a pandemic lockdown, it is hard to disagree.
In the rest of the article, I will begin by defining what I mean by the right sort of long term thinking. I will describe the costs of thinking too short and the benefits of thinking long enough. Much of that will be uncontroversial. We know this, so why don’t we do it? I will, therefore, analyse the main causes of short term thinking and provide some strategies to escape the trap. When you are operating with a long enough horizon, you will find new competencies are needed, and new downsides emerge, so I conclude by discussing these.
Defining the good long
Effective long term thinking is not about moving slowly; it is not about passivity or inactivity, although it may tend to patience and calm. Thinking long term requires two related tasks.
- The first is weighing up the benefits and risks of a decision or strategy over a sufficiently long timescale, so that we don’t let short term considerations dominate inappropriately. We introduce the long term.
- The second is relieving the force of the short term pressures and limitations so that we can realise the long term. We reduce the short term.
In the former task alone, we may still find that the short term considerations appropriately outweigh the long term considerations. This is frequently the case in survival situations, for example. In the second task, we try to reduce the weight of those short term costs and benefits. In the first, we are trying to perceive the forces at work properly. In the latter, we are trying to change them.
It is often the case that evaluating a decision over a longer timescale would, on its own, change that decision. Long term benefits or risks can be, simply, bigger. However, short term considerations may limit your ability to act on that evaluation. Bluntly: if you won’t exist in the longer term because of an immediate threat, for example. Or more subtly: if you cannot afford to make an investment that would pay dividends later, or lack the time and energy to plan.
For example, you are evaluating an expensive investment which will save the time of a substantial number of employees, enabling them to devote that time to higher-value activities. If you consider the payoffs over the next quarter, you may easily find that the expense outweighs the return; you may decline the investment. If you consider the payoff over the next three years, the return may easily exceed the cost, and you will be inclined to proceed. However, if you lack the money to invest now, and cannot borrow it, or lack the time to implement the project correctly, then whatever the payoff in the long term, you will not be able to act. If you are close to being sacked at the end of the quarter for not hitting your target, you will decide not to act. If you had a sufficient financial reserve, better credit facility, the necessary staff capacity, or better incentives, the long term is open to you. Without them, it is only worth considering the short.
A long term orientation is refusing to book the sale a bit too early to help us get to the end of the quarter on target. It is refusing to sacrifice employee goodwill to complete the project by the end of the month. It is refusing to compromise on the truth to get out of the next meeting without a distressing argument. Many decisions bring short term benefit and long term harm.
If you are only thinking until the end of the term, the quarter, the month or the meeting, you will make different choices than if you are thinking until the end of the year or even the decade. It’s not that you don’t want a good quarter, month or meeting, it’s that your definition of good for each of those events will change.
I would hope that long term organisations can be decisive, aggressive and agile when necessary. The real test is: when I look back on this choice in five years, will I be proud of it, or will I regret it?
Long term thinking and speed need not be incompatible. However, it is often easier – instinctive almost – to see short term risks and benefits. Hasty decisions may prioritise the short over the long. Building in the chance for reflection, and minimising both panic and greed, may help to create a more balanced perspective.
The cost of getting caught short
The typical dysfunctions of the short term are visible in most organisations and institutions. There are behaviours that become reasonable and rational if you focus on short term over long term benefit. Here are ten to get us started.
- False economies – making cuts that deliver savings now but which erode vital capacity later on. An example would be laying off loyal and experienced staff during a downturn.
- Visible risk bias – acting on risks that are worrying people today, because they are vivid and tangible, rather than more subtle long term threats. For example, avoiding the risk of adventurous activity while accepting the risk of long term ill health from inactivity.
- Pyrrhic victories – investing more to win a conflict, sale or complete a project than is justified by its long term benefits. For examine, overbidding on contracts for mobile bandwidth.
- Resource depletion – using up valuable resources faster than they can be renewed, whether environmental or human. For example, burning out experienced staff.
- Ongoing tension – not all conflicts are good, but some are necessary even though they cause intense short term pain. For example, neglecting difficult performance management conversations.
- Over optimisation – running down reserves and contingencies, including general ‘slack’ as well as formal capital, to meet immediate goals. For example, eliminating time for administration and development when planning utilisation models.
- Immediate gratification – at its most basic, short term thinking means valuing today’s benefits without thought to greater gains tomorrow.
- Under investment and asset stripping – a version of the false economy, where expensive investments are avoided or reduced because their returns lie in the distant future. For example, neglecting preventative maintenance or upgrading equipment.
- Exploitation – if you are not worried about ongoing relationships, repeat business in the future and the value of trust, it may be entirely rationale to rip off and exploit your stakeholders. For example, mis-selling financial products only to face massive fines later on.
- Gaming – if you face time-bound, cliff edge numerical targets, it is often possible to sacrifice unmeasured results, focus attention on the boundary or pull forward results from future years to meet the immediate target. For example, giving extra teaching to students on the boundary of passing an exam rather than those far above or below the boundary.
Almost all of these dysfunctions only become obviously irrational and harmful when considered over a long enough time scale.
The lure of the long
Many of the common tensions and conflicts we see inside organisations are resolved with a long enough horizon. There is no real conflict between workers and management in the long term: if managers don’t look after their staff, the organisation will fail eventually; if workers fight productivity improvements, there will be no jobs eventually. There is no real conflict between the needs of students and teachers in the long run: students need happy teachers; teachers need successful students. There is no real conflict between customer service and profitability in the long term; or between health and happiness, or academic and pastoral outcomes. The list is long and yet, in the very short term, there are thousands of hard trade-offs in each domain.
The second attraction of long term thinking is that it permits a grander scale and scope of ambition. You can quite simply make a bigger difference. The cliche is that most people overestimate how far they can get in the short term and underestimate how far they can get in the long run. If you could truly plan for five or ten years hence, without worrying about what you need to demonstrate in the next quarter, what is possible?
The third attraction of long term thinking is that it can improve the quality of your relationships. The incentives are towards transparency, trust and mutual gain. You have the opportunity to get to know people, and you will be rewarded for loyalty and consistency. This feels good, as well as doing good.
A long term perspective lends itself to autonomy and calm. It could insulate you from the fads and fashions of the moment, from the panics and the irrational exuberance. It enables you to rise above petty squabbles and put worries into perspective.
Above all, the long horizon encourages and rewards ethical behaviour. Most transgressions produce only short term benefit, and many are only conducted out of desperation. As your timescale for consideration expands, you are also automatically widening your circle of concern, as the web of people and organisations that you interacts with grows.
A career dedicated to long term goals will produce more satisfaction. An institution designed for long term goals will produce more meaningful results. And a society organised around the future will generate greater welfare.
Why do we go short?
If we don’t survive the short term, we don’t get to experience the long term. So if your existence is currently threatened, you have to ‘go short’. The pressure of entirely rational short term incentives is as important as any cognitive bias in our thinking. If you are constantly forced to focus on surviving today, you don’t get to make the decisions, plans and investments that would help you thrive in the longer term – and maybe get ahead of repeated survival threats by building up reserves, preventing challenges in the first place and investing in your capabilities.
There are two types of survival mode however – acute and chronic.
Acute survival is driven by an immediate finite threat. You have to drop everything, but once that threat is vanquished you go back to normal. These happen to every organisation.
Chronic survival mode is when your capabilities as an organisation barely exceed the challenges of your environment – you are constantly moving from one crisis to another. Once you’re in chronic survival mode, it is hard to get out of it – you never get the chance to make the longer term decisions and investments that would build up your capacities until they are handily in excess of your challenges.
If we assume that people are generally sensible and well-intentioned, we need a good explanation for why they will pursue the short over the long. One such explanation is the chronic survival trap described above. Once in this trap, people have no choice. In a sense, this is still rational behaviour. And deeply tragic – everyone knows what is going on, but they can never get far enough ahead to catch their breath and build a reserve. In a different domain of life, this is also why poverty creates such fragility and becomes a self-fulfilling trap of its own. If you can’t save for a rainy day, every crisis adds to your debt and burdens you still further.
As well as demanding urgent action and denying the resources and space to act for the long term, chronic survival mode also alters the perspective and decision making of those subject to it, amplifying through fear, stress and aggression those inherent cognitive biases we all possess, and to which we will return later on.
Beyond actual poverty and chronic survival mode, the second key explanation is that organisations and systems create an artificial form of survival mode for their participants by designing incentives that reward or require short term behaviour for individuals within them. This in fact seems pervasive in our society. From the operation of our stock markets to the league tables that measure school performance to the election cycle that governs broader policy making. Here you have rational individuals within irrational systems.
Within this explanation, we can also include crude target setting, short managerial tenures, measurement cycles, and informal incentives such as prestige and status.
A third explanation can be found in our cognitive biases. We notice immediate and tangible threats. We prefer rewards today rather than gratification deferred. The future is uncertain. This is the territory of bounded rationality, which has been explored in many difference ways by thinkers like Daniel Kahneman and Amos Taversky, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, Dan Ariely and Herbert Simon. Among the list of relevant biases, we can include the ambiguity effect, the availability heuristic, hyperbolic discounting, normalcy bias, present bias, projection bias. It is a long list of intriguing names.
These are three major drives, there are also a number of supplemental forces:
- Incompetence. Some leaders are just not capable of weighing up the subtleties of long term risks; or are unable to manage their drives and emotions; or simply don’t care.
- Uncertainty. If you cannot predict the future, how can you accurately calculate the long term new benefits of various actions? You may as well live for the moment. Lengthy investments may be overtaken by events and wasted.
- Anonymity and fragmentation. If you cannot be held accountable for your actions, because you do not consistently interact with the same people and people cannot discover how you have behaved in the past, then there are strong incentives for exploitation. A reputation for trust and fair play is of little value. Anonymity doesn’t by itself create short term thinking, but it does permit and enable it.
- Winner takes all / first mover advantage. In certain markets with network effects, short term actions hugely dominate the future structure. Unless you get a lead early, you will not be a player, and it is reasonable to make any sacrifice necessary to take that lead.
- Conflict avoidance. Most of us find interpersonal conflict unpleasant or outright distressing. We do not like inflicting pain on others even for a good cause. This can lead us to postpone or even avoid important but difficult decisions.
- Lack of vision. There are many distractions, both positive and negative. Unless an organisation has a sense of where it is going and why, it is hard to stay focused on the big picture, to resist diversions and to evaluate decisions using the correct scale. Given the inherent uncertainty of the world, your environment is not likely to steer you consistently. Vision is a form of certainty: it says that the calculus of value will remain unchanged, even as your tactics adapt.
Escaping the short term trap
So simple exhortations to ‘think long term!’ are really not going to cut it. There are few people who don’t want to leave behind the flaws of short term thinking and to experience the benefits of the long. It is not lack of knowledge that holds people back. There are powerful forces: chronic survival mode, cognitive biases and poorly designed incentives; a lack of management skill, vision or rigour; inherent uncertainty and first mover advantages. Any journey to the long term has to navigate this bottleneck first. How do we prize open the jaws of this trap?
Firstly, develop deep purpose. You cannot evaluate decisions for their long term impact unless you have long term goals. You need a powerful purpose that lifts you out of the short term and provides the proper calculus. An uncertain and changing environment will not provide the cues you need to steer a steady course. Short term benefits and risks are usually vivid and obvious. You need something to make the long term come alive. In your secret dreams, what do you want your organisation/system/sector/world to be like in ten years time? It needs to be ambitious; it should also be autonomous – its value must not depend on short term trends and ephemera.
There are many guides to goal setting, so I won’t dwell on this here. But here’s a great quote from Sam Altman:
“You want to be able to project yourself 20 years into the future, and then think backwards from there. Trust yourself—20 years is a long time; it’s ok if your ideas about it seem pretty radical.”Sam Altman
Deep purpose is a necessary but insufficient condition of a long term orientation. So, secondly, you must avoid the pressure of chronic survival mode, you must build a reserve and a gap between activity and capacity. You need to live well within your means as an organisation. This does mean saving for a rainy day, and eliminating excessive debt, so you can tackle acute survival threats without sacrificing longer term projects. It does mean running at less than full tilt so you can absorb fluctuations: flexibility is a form of reserve. It is hard to keep resources idle, but if you can switch them around easily (without constant churn however) then you maintain a kind of hidden reserve.
As you operate over longer timescales, you are increasingly exposed to outsized tail risks, and will need protection against them. You will need limit your exposure to disaster and hold something back. This discipline is hard in a world which demands constant growth and optimisation.
The third step is to increase transparency. This may sound a non sequitur. However, transparency is actually a way of bringing the long term into immediate decision making. In the long term, most consequences become visible: reality provides its own audit. Fudges, compromises, fakes and exploitations all come home to roost. You can ‘bring the future’ forward by making all these visible today. Transparency, as well as being valuable in all sorts of other ways, creates a massive pressure towards long term thinking. If all your key performances measures are visible, you can’t easily trade one against the other. If your views on colleagues are explicit, you can’t dodge difficult conversations. If your product specs are open and honest, you can’t exploit customers.
Transparency is an unexpectedly effective discipline towards long term sustainable thinking. To explore transparency further, you could look at Principles by Ray Dalio, Lying by Sam Harris or Radical Candor by Kim Scott.
Fourthly, if you reward people for short term performance you will get short term performance. It doesn’t matter about your goals or orientation. People can’t work for the long term if they cannot survive today. Incentives come in all shapes and sizes and are pervasive in our organisations. It is not just about target setting or performance related pay. Promotion prospects, resource allocation, risk avoidance, praise and even attention all operate as forms of incentive. You should question what is the rational behaviour in response to every system and policy in your organisation. Assume that people are intelligent and well meaning but bound by the constraints you place around them; what does it make sense for them to do?
Obviously look at what you are asking for, but also think about how you ask for it. For example, cliff edge performance measures are a huge driver towards short termism. If getting over the line is a matter of all or nothing, you easily encourage people to sacrifice the future to survive today: to book some sales today which properly belong in the next quarter, for example. Rolling averages or cumulative measures may be safer. Similarly, narrow numerical targets for one or two measures may encourage people to sacrifice that which is not measured to meet that which is. Think of the narrowing of curriculum in schools: if you only measure English and Maths, important as these are, people won’t spend as much time on music. The severity of the sanction for failure is also important. People find it harder to maintain their judgement and ethics if it is a matter of life and death.
Incentives interact with information. Even if you are rewarding the right things, people may make the wrong decisions if they don’t have the full picture. This is another reason why transparency helps.
You have control over the incentives, cycles and measurement styles that you impose on others. You have less control over the incentives that others impose on you – whether it is your boss, the wider system or our society as a whole. You can, of course, play your role in the wider debate about how we design our systems, and lobby for the right principles. If you care deeply about these things, you can also work in organisations and systems which prioritise the right things. Privately owned organisations may find some of these choices easier, for example. Choose your environment, your stakeholders and your partners to the extent that you are able to.
Fifth, even where incentives do point us towards valuing long term consequence, our common human cognitive and emotional shortcomings may tend to focus us more towards the immediate. Many of these shortcomings are well documented in the behavioural economics literature described earlier, but I also include in this category our emotional resistance to and avoidance of conflicts, causing pain and unpleasant decisions.
Where you discover repeated patterns of avoidance or bias in decision making, and where the consequences of a single wrong decision do not threaten catastrophic harm, I would advise you to consider implementing binding rules that are designed for long term benefit and which remove elements of discretion from the process. As I discussed in the review of Ben Horowitz’s book The Hard Thing about Hard Things, personnel decisions often fall into the category, but so may decisions about booking and recognising income, depreciating assets or prioritising new projects. You may have personal idiosyncrasies to guard against. Interestingly, extreme transparency, as discussed earlier, operates as a form of binding rule. The scrutiny of other people makes expediency less attractive.
It is hard to think and plan for the long term if you are in thick of it, constantly reacting to events. Our cognitive biases are more prominent under pressure. There are times when, to balance the costs and benefits accurately, we need to ‘think slow’, to borrow Kahneman’s terminology. The sixth step out of the trap, then, is to build in space to think:
- Don’t tackle operational and strategic topics in the same meetings – the urgent will always crowd out the important, so carve out entirely separate space for the strategic and reflective. Patrick Lencioni is good on this in The Advantage.
- At a personal level, structure your time so you can step back from constant pressure in order to maintain perspective. Ensure your colleagues can do the same. The article Small but Very Close goes into this in depth. When times are tough, building in habits of reflection and pauses can help.
- Eliminate distraction in the form of interruptions. Constant interruption creates a culture of immediate gratification and anxiety, servicing the interruption rather than the long term goal. Cal Newport has written extensively and helpfully on this subject in books like Deep Work and Digital Minimalism.
Seven, I can’t help feeling that the typical annual cycle is the worst possible frequency for planning. It is too long for agility and too short for true ambition. A quarterly (or termly) cycle within a rolling three to five year plan strikes me as a better balance. Obviously we are constrained by accounting, reporting and other regulations, but it is possible to work around them.
Some organisations may be able to adopt an agile planning cycle within the context of longer term goals – see Basecamp for example. The advantage of an agile approach is that it promotes focus and also the building of a gap between activity and capacity, if done well.
This emphasises how thinking long term should not mean inflexibility. For a tree to endure, there are times when it must bend in the wind.
Eight, to maintain your capacity to react to the unexpected and your durability into the longer term, you cannot consume resources faster than they are renewed. Sustainability matters. This is well known in terms of environmental impact, but it applies to many more subtle assets: goodwill and political capital, both internal and external, for example, and the energy, enthusiasm and ingenuity of your employees.
Nine, your approach to supplier, customer and stakeholder relationships won’t lift you out of the short term by itself, but it will create a helpful pressure towards long term thinking and quickly become an urgent requirement if you succeed. If you intend to stick around, you will experience more repeat relationships, and you will benefit more from trust and goodwill. Alter your negotiating and relationship strategy from capturing the maximum gain to creating the maximum joint gain. You deserve your fair share, but you should aim to ensure that it is attractive to work with you. Do right by your partners and honour your commitments.
Ten, escaping the short term requires a different approach to risk management. To put it bluntly, it requires you to take it seriously. In too many organisations, risk management is a bureaucratic exercise of traffic lights and nine box grids, conducted to appease governance. If you want to avoid a succession of acute survival threats turning into chronic survival mode, you need to be prepared to tackle each of them.
Good risk management is a series of live and thoughtful discussions at various level of the organisation, focused on a few quite simple questions. What is genuinely keeping you awake at night? How will you react if it happens (compensation)? How can you make it less likely to happen (mitigation)?
Too often, I see risks expressed in term of failure to hit targets: “risk 7a, we do not acquire enough customers for the product”. This is actually a consequence, not a cause. It is better to consider risks in terms of the events and actions that might disrupt your plans: “a competitor lowers prices in response to our market entry”. Tracking consequences doesn’t really prompt you into actions other than “work harder”. If you were worried about price competition, however, you might design your production costs with a greater margin so you could respond if necessary.
Finally, with these building blocks in place, you will need to select, induct, develop and coach your managers to think long term. You will already be rewarding them for the right behaviour, as a result of earlier steps, but it will amplify the effect of incentives if you choose people naturally inclined to think this way and teach them how to do it well. Examples and discussions will be particularly helpful around stakeholders relationships, risk management, conflict avoidance and personnel decisions. These things do not often come naturally to us.
You also need to share and embed your deep purpose. It must be their calculus for decisions as well as your own. You cannot – absolutely cannot – do this too often. You must be a bore on the topic.
You should encourage debate and challenge; people need to be able to put their hand up and say – “I think this puts the short over the long, why are we doing it?” They especially need to be able to challenge you.
That’s eleven steps to loosen the jaws of the short term trap, to win you some room to think, plan and act for the future, to better weather the short term fluctuations and threats. If practiced for long enough, they could shift your organisation into entirely new territory. Once there, a new set of competencies come to the fore. Being good in the long term is different to being good at surviving from day to day.
Living in the long – new competencies and new risks
Say that, through a combination of good luck and hard work, you escape the trap of the short term and get to spend some time living in the long. What is it like? What does it take to thrive and what are the downsides?
Much of it will require you to sustain the behaviours that got you out of the trap in the first place; they don’t become irrelevant. But some new features arise.
Let’s start with the downsides. I think there are four possible new vices to be alert to: lethargy, complacency, inhumanity, and procrastination.
Although I said that thinking long term is not the same as moving slowly, the useful habits of patience, reflection and the scepticism towards fads could also tend an organisation towards hesitation. Reflection carried too far become hesitant and lethargic.
Most things turn out to not be important in the long run. But a few things turn out to be very important. How do you spot the difference? Discipline carried too far become obstinacy and complacency.
Looking at things from a high level, long term perspective can risk not taking seriously human emotions, dramas and needs. They can appear petty from a sufficient distance. Perspective carried too far becomes cold and inhuman.
Most organisations err in not taking the long term seriously enough. The reverse is rare but not impossible: you can undervalue the short term, always waiting for jam tomorrow. The art of long term thinking is to properly weigh risks and benefits over the long term, not to privilege either perspective at the expense of the other. Sometimes the short term matters greatly. A future orientation carried too far risks passivity and procrastination.
Almost all virtues contain the seeds of a corresponding vice. Sometimes you have to accept it. Long term oriented organisations may at times seem a little methodical, sceptical, clinical and patient. That’s fine, but guard against them going too far into critical weaknesses. In particular, when you’ve weighed up the short and long term possibilities, get into the habit of moving decisively, quickly and with full commitment. Beware the habit of waiting for perfect information. It rarely exists, and its quest often becomes merely an excuse. You will still rely on judgement and instinct when balancing long term costs and benefits.
Along with new vices, of course, come some new virtues as well. Given a long enough horizon, there are five laws:
- All costs must be borne
- Everything is revealed
- Reputation is everything
- Disasters are inevitable
- Your destiny is bound to the collective good
You’ve got to act in the light of these laws. It is rare enough that organisations operate on this plane that the appropriate behaviours are unclear.
Generosity – if reputation matters, a reputation for generosity is certainly helpful, but there’s a broader definition at work. Victory over a rival or competitor may be less advantageous than growing the field or sector in which you both operate – a larger pie better than a bigger slice of the old pie. Your growth will be associated more with big macro trends than transient gains. Long term organisation will tend towards being good corporate citizens.
Autonomy (and discipline) – you cannot stick to the long term if you are buffeted by the winds of fashion or if you are dependent on the whims or goodwill of others. Your goals and your resources need to belong to you. They say that Warren Buffet can invest for the long term because he’s not worried about being fired. I think this is a universal concept.
Honour (and craft) – if all costs will be borne in the end, it is best to act with total responsibility from the start. You can’t make other people pay your bills. I think this at the heart of craftsmanship too: the quality of the outcome matters more than short term gain, short cuts are unacceptable.
Honesty – if everything eventually becomes visible and reputation is priceless, it is better act with total honesty and transparency from the very start. There is no trick, deception, bluff or compromise that won’t trip you up in the long run
Audacity – what the point of living for the long term if you are not going to do something incredible? No ordinary goal will sustain your focus, fuel your autonomy and disciple your thinking. You will be able to do much more than you ordinarily dream of, without courage you will fade out.
These are rather old fashioned virtues. Why is that?
Good luck on your own journey to a more distant horizon. Like all these articles, this one is written as much out of frustration that I am so easily swayed by the moment as it is in criticism of society at large. It is so hard to avoid survival mode, the easy compromise or indeed the excitement of the new.
It is so hard for many people to get far enough ahead off today’s challenges to even think of the big picture. Too many people live one piece of bad luck short of disaster. Too many are held thrall to incentives that drive them to expediency – even many of those we think of as powerful. We could do a better job of designing our system to give everyone the reserves and resilience to think big. How many truly audacious thinkers are silenced by their circumstances? We get the leadership we reward, so why not reward different behaviours?
I don’t think it is all or nothing. Realistically, people and organisations are going to alternate between the short and long. Indeed, that may be no bad thing. If we could just create a few more moments of long term perspective when needed, step out of the short term a little more often, that would be enough to significantly improve welfare and performance.