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Why Your Business is Being Sabotaged by Your Short Term Thinking

A business’ long term success depends on a business’ long term strategy. Short term tactics seldom work.

Not only does a short term approach not contribute to long term success, they can actually damage it.

This concept has a name.

Technical debt.

Not debt in a strictly accounting sense – but similar. It refers to the prioritisation of short term solutions to problems over long term solutions to problem, and the tendency for these short term fixes to escalate these problems in the future.

As you undertake these negative short term ‘fixes’, you accumulate technical debt. Debt that must be paid (with interest) in the future – jeopardising long term business success.

We call it technical debt. Your grandmother would have said, ‘a stitch in time saves nine’. Same concept. The right decision made today saves you resources (time/money/attention) tomorrow.

The problem often is, the actions that minimise technical debt are often less ‘easy’, and therefore often avoided as we ‘kick the can down the road’ to our future selves. Research shows that we actually perceive our future selves as completely different people, so we don’t hesitate to delay the problem for ‘future us’ to solve. But of course, by this point the problem has grown.

Easy short term choices lead to negative long term consequences. Difficult short term choices lead to positive long term consequences.

The enemies are short term thinking and the desire to delay gratification.

As we accumulate this debt, we limit our future choices. The concept of ‘path dependance’ tells us that once we’ve committed to a certain path it becomes harder to deviate from it. If we commit to a certain piece of software (for example a customer relationship manager or other form of database) because it’s easier in the short term, we’re then invested in this path. We’ve sunk costs. Far from this investment paying dividends, it actually accumulates future debt, compounding the work for our future selves.

Now of course, this concept isn’t always a negative. In some instances, you actually need short term movement, even if it may jeopardise future success. Focusing on the long term health of your business isn’t the best strategy if you’re struggling to put food on the table tomorrow. It’s hard to thrive in the coming years, if you can’t survive the week.

As your business matures, we see an increase in the amount of your time spent on long term strategies (that minimise technical debt), and a decrease in the time spent on short term strategies (that increase technical debt). The challenge lies in shifting resources from the latter to the former as fast as possible. The rate of transition may be one of the most important determinants of how fast a business matures.

One of the ways to prevent a path dependance is by preserving optionality, keeping your options open for as long as you can. If you don’t need to make a decision yet, don’t – at least until you have more information.

Prioritise long-term thinking. When making decisions, ask not which choice will move you towards the goal you have for today, ask which will move you towards the goal you have five years from now.

Dan Williams

Dan Williams

Founder/Director

Dan Williams is the Director of Range of Motion. He has a Bachelor of Science (Exercise and Health Science) and a Postgraduate Bachelor of Exercise Rehabilitation Science from The University of Western Australia, with minors in Biomechanics and Sport Psychology. He has worked with many thousands of individuals along the full spectrum of health, and has coached at The CrossFit Games. He regularly presents to corporate and fitness industry groups and mentors Fitness Professionals.