Thinking is in Short Supply #4 by L.Michael Hall PhD

Short Term Thinking – Another Thinking Disability

I’ve been writing about why real thinking is in short supply and the various factors that actually stop thinking. Here’s another. Regarding a central time factor that’s involved in thinking, there are two forms of thinking.
There is short term thinking and there is long-term thinking. The first comes easy and quickly for us. In that sense it is much more “natural” to think short term, yet it is also frequently a disastrous form of thinking, one that can get us into lots of trouble. Children think that way, and a good bit of parenting and teaching involves helping a child or young person to lift up his thinking horizon to look out further into the future and consider consequences of today’s thinking.
In his classic work The Fifth Discipline (1990) Peter Senge focused primarily on systemic thinking. In that work, he described six “learning disabilities” which we can also view as thinking disabilities.

Six Learning or Thinking Disabilities

1) Identification: “I am my position.”
2) Blaming: “The enemy is out there.”
3) Reactivity: Automatic reacting to words and first impressions without stopping to think.
4) Single Cause-Effect: Seeing things as static snapshots rather than a series of events.
5) Short-term thinking: Focused on the immediately and not able to fsee consequences or cycles.\
6) Pretending: Believing what you want to see, therefore optimistically saying, “All is well!” Focus on image and appearance rather than substance.

Short-Term Thinking

In short-term thinking you focus on what’s immediately in your awareness without extending your perception or vision into future time and/or space.
This makes the breadth of your vision limited so that you do not think in terms of consequences, symptoms, repercussions, etc. Today, this also happens to be the way most managers and executives operate. They focus on the short-term profits, opportunities, changes, etc. They measure things by what’s happening in this quarter. It is short-sighted and it does not really give a new process a chance to take root and grow.
One problem with short-term thinking is that it privileges tactical thinking over strategic thinking. Do that and while you may win a battle you may also do so at the expense of losing the war. Short-term thinking feeds impatience, low frustration tolerance, and a sense of demandingness (“I want what I want now!”). Short-term thinking disregards that things take time as they go through stages of development. It assumes that you can make informed decisions about processes without waiting for the process.
Organizations often declare that a program or an approach doesn’t work after one quarter, hardly giving it time to get started. Consequently, business has been plagued by “flavor of the month” programs for years, going from one fad to the next “big thing” under the illusion that the solution will be a quick fix and doesn’t have to deal with systemic factors.

Long Term Thinking

By contrast, long-term thinking requires patience, asking about what an action will lead to and what will result from that result, and so on.
Long-term thinking requires much more mental effort in seeking to understand things that are hidden from view. Some of this is consequential thinking, another higher level executive function, and one that typically doesn’t even emerge until late adolescence. Yet many adults do not use this as part of their thinking capacities. Some of this is about maturity, the willingness and the ability to wait as you take development into account.
If you have ever said, or heard someone say, “I just didn’t think that X would happen!” you have witnessed one of the consequences of short-term thinking and how it stopped you or someone else from thinking, from really thinking something through. Hence Senge described it as a thinking and a learning disability.
So long-term thinking looks for the system within which an event, experience, behavior, or program is within. “What are the systemic factors that play a role here?” With a long-term perceived, you begin to consider the language system, the cultural system, the economic system, the political system, the religious system, the family systems, and on and on. Finally, you look for the communication loops- the feedback and feed-forward loops so that you can consider how long it takes for information and activity to get around the system loops.
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