Tag Archives: short term

Timespan as a Measure of Capability

There is a famous psychology experiment using marshmallows and children to illustrate delayed gratification. Walter Mischel’s study collected data about participants and their choice to eat one marshmallow now OR wait fifteen minutes for the promise of a second marshmallow. Participants were then assessed years later where stark differences were observed related to academic achievement, health, obesity and SAT scores.

While the study seems to indicate a subject’s willpower or self-control, it can also be seen to illustrate an individuals timespan framework. What sacrifice can be made now for an improved future outcome?

Why organize for a better future outcome? Why not eat the marshmallow, or all the marshmallows now? If the problem is hunger, it certainly seems like a proper solution. Except, at some point, we might get full. And, we might even have some marshmallows left over for later. Boom. Delayed gratification becomes a concept in the scenario “Be kind to your future self.”

It also opens up the possibility of being kind to other people with our leftover marshmallows. In children, we see this as sharing. In adults, we see this as trade. Sharing is not a one-sided transaction, it is sharing now with the promise (at least hope) that at some time in the future, when we are out of marshmallows, that a friend would reciprocate.

This example illustrates short timespan options, but what if the organizational sacrifice is larger? Can we organize more complex sacrifices to solve more complex problems? Can we commit our time in research and study with no near-term payoff to create a technology in the future that will solve more complex problems?

What sacrifice can be made now for an improved future outcome? A bag of marshmallows might satiate immediate hunger, but what about our hunger for tomorrow? And what about next week? It has been said that man cannot live by marshmallows alone, so what of the health impact of a diet of sugar treats? Enlarging the problem of feeding an individual to feeding a family, to feeding a community, to feeding a nation-state, it is not just detail complexity, but complexity defined by the uncertainty of the future.

Would you agree there are some problems in the world that most people can solve?  But, as the complexity of the problem increases, some of those people will struggle. We can measure that complexity in timespan.

Timespan becomes a proxy for problem complexity with a concomitant proxy as a measure of human capability.

The Long Game

I feel like we are in the dog days of summer. I was waiting for an inflection point. I thought when the NBA took the court, we would see a surge in excitement and enthusiasm. But ratings are down. I thought MLB would take the field and inspire some positive energy, but it appears the World Series (if we even get there) might be won by the team who has the least COVID contagion among their players. Back-to-school even looks like a mixed bag with local decisions prevailing between classroom, online and hybrid.

The stimulus delayed the inevitable contraction, but, I sense a walk-in-place, waiting for some break. Even a vaccine, emerging from clinical trials may not spell a demarcation toward certainty.

We all wait for something to happen. Panic reaction is over. Measured response is slowly working. We identified things we could control and focused our attention there. But, what to do next?

What will be your strategy? What will you base your strategy on? How wide is your range of what-ifs? If your what-ifs turn out to be wrong, how agile is your ability to pivot? When circumstances shift, how quickly do you recognize the move?

I know things in front of your face have your attention. But, what of the long game?

The Conceptual Game

“So, if you understand timespan as the metric for thinking about the bigger picture, if it is only a matter of context, how well do you understand the bigger picture for your company? You said you may not be able to articulate it, you just know that it’s there.”

“I think the bigger picture requires some translation,” Andrew replied. “I think, when you push beyond 3-4 years in the future, things become fuzzy. My CEO says she doesn’t believe in five year planning, waste of time.”

“Can I substitute a word for you. Can I substitute the word fuzzy with the word conceptual?” I asked.

Andrew repeated. “When you push beyond 3-4 years in the future, things become more conceptual.”

“And your CEO’s observation related to five year planning? Five year tactical planning is a waste of time, but what about five year conceptual planning.”

Andrew looked to the left, then up, as if something were written on the ceiling. “I remember buying a Zune MP3 player, you know, the one that Microsoft built. I thought it was cool. I thought it was the wave of the future. But, Microsoft was playing a tactical game. They thought they were building an MP3 player, and Zune was a market failure. But, Apple was playing the conceptual game. They weren’t building an MP3 player, they changed the music industry.”

The Curse of a Manager

“You look off-balance,” I said.

Renee shook her head. “Ever since I was promoted to sales manager, things are different. When I was on the sales team, things were exciting, always a new customer, a deal in limbo, a sale that closes, a sale that gets stalled. But there was always action. As sales manager, I only get to hear about that stuff from other people. I get to coach, but I never get to play.”

“What else is different?” I asked.

“When I was a salesperson, I was always focused on the day, or the week, at most a month or a quarter. Sure, I had my annual sales goals, but mostly, I only looked at what was right in front of me.” Renee took a breath. “Now, I live in the world of annual sales goals. My decisions are centered around how many salespeople on the team, which one is going off the rails, gauging whether our sales backlog is within the capacity of operations. Not very exciting stuff. And budgets. I am not just thinking about this year, I have to think about next year. The ops manager wants to invest in some automation and wants to know if I can generate enough sales to pay for it over the next three years.”

“So, the biggest difference is time span. You use to measure your success, or failure by the day or the week. You got constant juice from your deal flow,” I replied. “Now, there is no juice. You are working on goals that won’t be completed for one to two years. Oh, sure, you will soon know whether you are making progress, soon enough, but you won’t hold the result in your hands for quite some time. It’s the curse of a manager.

“But, here’s the thing,” I continued. “If all you ever think about is the next deal, the next customer, if everything you think about is short-term, then thinking about what needs thinking about, never becomes a priority. Planning never happens. Your ability to plan, your ability to think long-term atrophies. Making short moves in the needle is easy. Making large moves in the needle takes time. Most managers are too impatient to do that kind of thinking. They would rather get the juice.”