T Nation

Short-Term ... Rules

Long-term is overrated.

As a way to correct my very short attention span, I challenged myself to a higher standard - being more patient, challenging my impulses with principles, giving the benefit of the doubt to the other guy, trying to put myself in the other person’s shoes, seeing things in a detached scientific fashion - which eventually led me to become Steven Seagel-esque stoic in most of my life.

My most recent, and disenchanting, conclusion? It’s all short-term. At least in people matters.

Don’t get me wrong. Principles are essential. But don’t expect The Crowd to adhere to them. Individuals maybe, and in a very loose-definitions way, but forget it for The Crowd. Or corporations for that matter.

And I can’t blame them either. Short-term thinking is also the source of our greatest strengths: ingenuity, adaptability, ‘survival’. And one can also get rich quickly by pulling all the right strings, or I should say by playing by the rules.

Since most people are not financially independent, it could be safe to assume that most of them are in the D-Needs section of Maslow’s pyramid: 1. Physiological (Biological needs), 2. Safety, 3. Love/Belonging, and 4. Status (Esteem). (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow’s_hierarchy_of_needs)
Corresponding behaviour is to be expected. Principles won’t put steak on your plate or pay the bills. They may translate into Work Ethic and thus help to guarantee the paycheque, which is for the most part also short-term (sales) dependent for most businesses.

Where am I getting at? Our basic needs are short-term oriented. The means to satisfy them is also short-term oriented. Your paycheque depends on your boss, who depends his boss, who depends again on bosses (repeat x times), which depends on the corporation’s finances, dependent on the decisions of the Board, who are most of the time depending of The Stock Market’s valuation, which reflects the votes of confidence of buyers and sellers. And stock market valuations are generally very dependent on quarterly results, which can sometimes be very dependent on how you and I “vote” with our $$.


Am I saying Corportate Missions are useless? Far from it. Goals are essential. But won’t materialize if Corps don’t get rewarded by Mr. Market, who can be very good to reward short-term fads. Remember the Rubik Cube mania? But I digress.

In essence, Short-Term … Rules.
The Market tanks, your boss who is your friend but nevertheless your boss, receives orders from above to cut staff, and you lose your job, because he won’t sacrifice his for yours. He’s following Maslow’s pyramid. Survival for himself and those he loves. Strictly business, Man. No Hard Feelings. Doesn’t matter what you sacrificed to keep your job. (It may have built an impressive resume, though.) When The Market speaks, most people become Messengers. It’s OK. Efficient markets and competent people at work responding to short-term survival needs.


To complicate matters, most people … feel first, think second. I am becoming seriously convinced that people truly work on the short-term, have short-term memory, don’t appreciate forewarning advice, and don’t ever won’t to be told a) see, I told you so, b) but, remember, you chose X (or you said X when I told you so). Which I find to be very compatible with feeling rather than thinking.

But then again, if one starts from the premise that it’s Short-Term Rules, and one can earn a living by adapting accordingly, i.e. tactics rather than strategy, ass-kissing rather than standing your grond, then such behavior is in synch with the market and … rational, because it gets rewarded.

Fraudsters and Con Men aside, can I blame salesmen for “pressure” tactics" ? No. They’re intelligent people who realize how people truly operate, that people don’t change, that long-term principles are more of an intellectual objection which can be countered with an appropriate short-term incentive. Purchasing decisions are 90% emotion, after all.


Principles are essential. But unless one is financially independent, short-term rules. It’s not going to change soon, because the of human nature and the way markets operate. But that’s fine. Next time you hear a Tom Peters or some management guru talk about long-term vision, take it with a grain of salt. Markets and short-term thinking rule far more than one thinks. After all, they are a mirror of ourselves, even if we don’t like what we see.

(That’s my short-term view of life. Thanks for have the long-attention span to read it.) ;0)