In a new podcast with Dr. David Phelps, we talk about short-term thinking and the damaging effects this has on long-term results. It reminded me of the conversation I had with Dorie Clark on The Burleson Box podcast. She has a great book called The Long Game – How to be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World.
Dorie told me, “You know you’re getting this right when you’ve put the proper systems in place so that your business doesn’t collapse if you’re not working 24/7.”
Smart people like Warren Buffett and the late, great Charlie Munger understand this fundamental truth to achieving long-term results… because in the long run, it’s always the long run that matters. Here are five areas where I see the best, biggest, and most-impressive long-term results; something Paul Graham calls superlinear returns.
1. Innovation and Growth: Long-term success often requires strategic planning and innovation. Sit down with your team leaders and business partners. Talk about how short-term thinking may hinder the development of innovative solutions and sustainable growth in your business.
2. Relationships and Trust: Consider the impact on interpersonal relationships and trust. Short-term thinking may lead to decisions that damage trust and strain relationships, both personally and professionally. In the spirit of Charlie Munger, find out what will destroy good relationships and then never go there.
3. Financial Planning: Spend some time considering the importance of long-term financial planning and how short-term thinking can contribute to financial instability, debt, and inadequate retirement preparations.
4. Health and Well-being: Short-term thinking may prioritize immediate gratification over long-term health and well-being. How can this affect your lifestyle choices, mental health, and overall quality of life? What mentor, colleague or coach is 10-15 years ahead of you in this pursuit and what questions could you ask them in order to help you prepare for the future?
5. Education and Skill Development: Long-term success often involves continuous learning and skill development. Short-term thinking may discourage investments in education and professional development. This is almost always a mistake.
As professionals, we didn’t take the short-road in our education. We didn’t take shortcuts in choosing the right spouse or deciding where to build our practices, but if we start comparing ourselves to others, it becomes extremely easy to want short-term results at the sacrifice of what really matters to us (and what ultimately creates sustainable success, happiness, and fulfillment).
A tactical approach to avoid short-term thinking:
Set clear long-term goals and write them down. Break them down into actionable steps. If you have a 3 year plan, ask yourself what Ask “What does a HUGE success look like to me with my finances or practice or new patient marketing 1 year from now?” Think: number of patients, return on investment, savings, etc. Then walk back 3 months and ask what actions you’re taking in order to achieve that huge success. Then walk it back another 3 months. Then another 3 months. Then to the present. What is the first step you need to take? Take that step today.
Embrace continuous learning. Stay informed of industry trends and advancements. Invest in your team so that they can learn new skills, even if those skills don’t appear to be immediately related to their job duties. Several of the best attorneys I’ve spoken to say they learned a ton from improv comedy classes, but who would initially think an improv class could help in a law practice? If an assistant in your practice wants to take a public speaking course or ceramics class, find a way to support those endeavors. Lifelong learners and curious team members are some of the best you’ll ever find. Give them room to grow, learn, and lean into their curiosity.
Balance short- and long-term objectives. You can achieve both, but there is usually a compromise somewhere along the way. Anticipate these obstacles or perceived setbacks so that you can strategize the best way forward for all stakeholders. Don’t be surprised if resistance comes up. As Steven Pressfield teaches, move towards the resistance. This is a classic principle from stoic philosophy: the obstacle becomes the way.
Get a mentor / coach / strategic advisor. You can learn anything you want if you have 10,000 hours and large buckets of cash to burn. If you prefer to leapfrog to the head of the class as often as possible, it’s actually more important to ask “Who?” not how. Yes, you still have to put in the work. You don’t “win” the long game by avoiding the hard stuff, but there’s no law which states you must be inefficient in the work completed. Be smart, not unnecessarily slow.