Article by Shawn Dwyer and Dr.L.Michael Hall ~

Short-term thinkers- these are the people who focus on the short-term benefits, gains, and results when going after a goal. This would be a good thing except that they are so focused on the short-term, they do so to the exclusion of including the long-term goals, objectives, consequences, and symptoms. This is what, in turn, creates some really significant problems.

The way short term thinkers evaluate things are premature. 

Consequently, they fail to consider what else is and will occur due to the actions and/or choices that they are making. They evaluate by this quarter’s results or return-on-investment and fail to balance that off against the longer-term results.

In business this results in an organization constantly changing procedures, plans, and strategies and this makes the organization susceptible to the sarcastic criticism of going after yet another “fad of the month.” Now a key assumption behind short-term thinking and one which promotes it is linear causation thinking. This refers to seeing the world as comprised of simple cause-effect relationships.  Oh, that the world was that simple!

And that assumption then seduces us into another assumption-that of thinking that we can predict the future. This is where so many middle-managers fall short.

In an effort to gain respect, to establish their own credibility, to be seen as the “go to person” in the organization, many middle-managers over-trust their ability to predict the future as they engage in short-term thinking and making decisions with that criteria. 

As a short-term thinker, they ask such questions as

           “What’s the return on investment if you coach this person?”

           “What increase in productivity can we see this quarter if you do this training?”

           “How will this team be better able to reach their sales targets if you coach the team?”

But there’s some major problems with these questions. The assumption behind them is that results can be quickly seen and detected. Now with machines and computers that may be true. But with people-that is definitely not true. It is not true with human capital – intelligence, creativity, emotional intelligence, relationships, etc. With human capital, things take time- time to learn, to develop, and to integrate.

This time distinction is essential for anyone who works to develop human capital.

Any manager, leader, coach, consultant, therapist, etc. who aims to develop human potential has to learn to think long-term.  And that’s because the underlying processes of thinking, learning, incorporating, implementing, growing, becoming, etc. all involve time, and usually lots of time. Will that eventuate in greater competence, productivity, and results?

Yes, it will if the development is allowed to continued. Yes, if it is nurtured, supported, given the right environment, etc.

Obviously this yes is conditional and therefore probabilistic. It is this yes that we work with as trainers and coaches- we can say yes to the question about Return-on-Investment conditioned on ongoing and continuous learning.

Imagine asking a first grade teacher the previous questions about the children they are teaching:

           “What’s the return on investment from teaching this child?”

           “What increase in productivity can we see this quarter if the child passes?”

           “How will this group of kids help reach the schools targets?”

Such questions are obviously ridiculous, are they not? And why?  They are ridiculous because we all know that the human capital and potential in the first graders is going to take time.  Lots of time.  Twelve years later, the first graders will be graduating high school, another four years, college.

And for more advanced skills, even more years of training and preparation.

Give all of that, how silly do you now find it for a manager, or anyone in a position of needing to develop human capital, to ask, “What’s the return on investment if you teach, consult, train, or coach someone?”

Obviously, the investment is for the long-term.

This is the shift that we have to make, from short-term thinking to long-term thinking; from results and product thinking to process thinking.  And it is this kind of thinking that trips up so many leaders and managers.  It may even trip you up.  If you have not cleaned that kind of thinking out of your system, you may think that way or be tempted to buy into this kind of thinking when offered it by a business leader.

Here then is a Caveat

Beware of short-term thinking when dealing with the development of human beings!  As systems (mind-body-emotion systems) human beings live within multiple systems (family, business, ethic, cultural, religious, etc.).  And that means that time plays a significant role as information enters into the system, is processed, is mobilized, is integrated, and is transformed into energy for actions.

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