Does the Long Term Matter? / by Cristian Mitreanu

In his post "The Long Term," David Maister notes that "our biggest barrier, as individuals and as organizations, is the difficulty in doing what is in our long-term best interest, not just what provides immediate gratification." Then he asks, "how DO you help people actually get on the program for what is their best interests?" Because I believe that his question touches a very important subject, I took the opportunity to comment. Here is a copy of my post:

"As it transpires from the post and from the previous comments, this is a big discussion. And, I think, that we need to narrow it down to what is relevant here: Assuming that a business leader's long-term personal success is directly dependent on her or his company's long-term success, why does she or he make business decisions that seem to go against the company's long-term success (and implicitly her or his own)?

In this case, the problem is a matter of perspective.  I am not referring to people's mental capabilities, but rather to the business' body of knowledge. The most popular and heavily employed business concepts are decades old. And, as is the case with any discipline in its infancy, they are based on assumptions that today do not hold true anymore. As a result, many of them have become obsolete and unfit to generate a realistic big picture of the business environment.

Every individual strives for a successful existence, whatever the meaning. Typically, as she or he grows older, this successful existence covers more space (impact on other humans) and time (impact over time). So, my view is that all people care about the long term. It is just that, if not provided with a compelling big picture, an individual will develop one on her or his own.

Now, there are many problems with the big pictures provided by the popular, mainstream business concepts.  Among the most important is the lack of a dynamic perspective. That is why most pictures of the future presented to business leaders are single-frame, still pictures. So, if the consultant's picture doesn't fit in the big picture (movie?) that the business leader already sees, it will be simply put aside. But, if the consultant's picture is dynamic, presenting an evolution that can be tested (read felt) as it unfolds, it will be much more readily accepted, even though it was not part of the leader's initial big picture.

In conclusion, people are not the problem; the discipline (body of knowledge) is. The world of business desperately needs new theoretical insight that would more accurately reflect reality, pushing the discipline forward in its transition from art to science."

UPDATE 6/7/2007: Also read "Feels Like 1871."