Founder & Associate's Profile

Views and Trends

Short Termism a disease that must be stemmed – Part 1

While the world at large respects and adulates, long term sustainable excellence in all walks of life, most of society rarely understands the brick by brick long term dedication, discipline and focus that lies behind such success. It is only the uncommon achiever who clearly knows that such adulation will wither away quickly if the return of focus to long term discipline and dedication is not quick, post such successes.

Those on the periphery who aspire for such success quite often do not grasp the significance of the long term discipline behind such success and more often than not only try to mimic the visible component of the success benchmark and needless to say end up wallowing in mediocrity. The disease starts from a very young age. Let me try and explain this mindset in many of us.

What do most parents consider success benchmarks in school life? Grades or marks would be the most common answer. This benchmark leads to a whole host of issues – rote learning in a weak education system where the child learns to memorize and reproduce with no clue of the applications. The result – good marks but poor knowledge. Holistic learning which is what helps us along in life gets sacrificed at the altar of short term grades / marks. This phenomenon gets accentuated as the student moves into professional colleges. End result, it is not uncommon for academic rank holders having a poor conceptual understanding of their domain subject and therefore poor at application of concepts to real world problems. This gets revealed not so much in college, but later in their working lives. Organizations struggle to train them to see the larger picture and try to build on their perceived strengths, but alas, many of us fail to comprehend that the new world belongs to the continous learner. They have stopped learning a long time ago and in a few cases, the successful academic track record becomes their biggest block to continous learning from all sources.

Most of us know that to manage life style ailments better; we need to address the problems of stress, work life balance, obesity, ulcer and a host of other problems holistically. However, the pop a pill and carry on culture till you break down is a clear reflection of attachment to the symbols of short term success rather than the fundamentals of long term sustenance of excellence. Another clear recipe for mediocrity in the long run. If one really tries to understand the long term sustainable successes in life, in all cases without exception, the focus of long term excellence and pursuit of the building blocks for such excellence will clearly surface. But, most of us only admire the fruits of this dedication and aspire for such success but do not have the persistence to dedicate ourselves to the mundane building blocks which goes into every such success. It is important to understand that long term success is more than just societal perception of success through a corporate position, car, designation or power symbil or even fancy gadgetry.

Take the example of stock market investments. Warren Buffet, a role model billionaire investor mentions in all forums, that the secret of his philosophy which has made him one of the most successful investors worldwide is rigorous discipline . His pursuit of mundane and systematic investments with phenomenal regularity and relentless focus on the long term and adherence to the concept of value investing Vs short term speculation is what has been the building blocks of his success. Many investors fail to understand the discipline and the commitment to the seemingly mundane activity of long term investing to the sexy appeal of short term speculation. Thus, while aspiring to be like Warren Buffet, they get distracted in the short term and forget the timeless principles of value investing. Needless to say, their aspirations peter down to mediocrity.

Organizations which have thrived for decades clearly demonstrate that business cycles and ups and downs are a reality in the business world. The true way to manage the highs and lows is to relentlessly pursue the eagle larger view despite the challenges of focusing on the worm like view of conducting the business in the short and immediate terms. Despite this knowledge, it is not uncommon to see organizations lose the long term focus while looking at the quarter by quarter results and often this leads to their undoing. Groups like TATA stand testimony over more than a century that the combination of the eagle and the worm view is what has spelt long term success for them. Global expansion, breakthrough innovation, legendary service quality and trust of customers and society at large is what they have earned over the years of pursuing the long term.

Just as they planted and worked on business ideas, they also planted the people tree to provide them the leadership from within to help them in this ongoing pursuit of excellence. The Tata Administrative Services initiative of the group and Hindustan Unilever’s Lister programmes are great examples of the processes these organizations have institutionalized to continuously nurture leadership for all their businesses for decades. Yet, it not uncommon to see many a successful organization today refusing to invest in people and planting a set of people trees for the future. The short term perspective is what history tells us leads to the undoing of many organizations in their journey to excellence.

In the sequel to this article next week, we shall attempt to learn more about the disease of short termism from sports, music and even focus of nations. The objective of this article to spark off a thought in each of us to focus on the long term in at least a few areas that are in our circle of influence.