Saturday, December 01, 2012

The perils of short-term vision

Jeff Bezos is building a 10,000 year clock in a mountain, article/video.
“The clock is a symbol for long-term thinking,” he said in the interview. “If we think long-term, we can accomplish things that we couldn’t otherwise accomplish.” As an example, he noted that asking someone to solve world hunger in five years might sound preposterous, but doing so in 100 years might not. “All we’ve done there is change the time horizon, we didn’t change the challenge. Time horizons matter. They matter a lot.”

I couldn't agree more. For example limited terms for presidents. I guess it's to limit the risk of dictators. But it also hamstrings them. You simply can't make any important and major change to a country in just 8 years, much less 4.

A modern religious organization I know of is very missionary. And they believe that mankind is lost unless they save it. They seriously want to Save The Planet. But the thing is that they are crippled by their short-term vision. To my knowledge they have no 50-year plans, not even 20- or 10-year plans. In fact it's so bad that 97% of the attention and energy in the branches is spent making sure that this week went better than last week (particularly financially). It is something they are very, very serious about, if statistics go down for one week, it's really bad, and the responsible staff are penalized.

That is clearly insane. If everything you do has to show results this week, then you are always cannibalizing future results. Just for one example, you won't be willing or able to spare staff members for long-time training, because they are needed to make money right now. And you alienate your staff and customers, because they are always pressured into emergency-operation mode, where sacrifices and extra work always has to be done Right Now, otherwise the sky will fall. For example, cutting down the lunch time breaks by half. There is hardly ever any feeling of Normal Operation, of calm, organized progress towards goals in the future.

A good example is that some years ago they had a big drive to translate all their materials into all the major languages. And it all had to be done before a specific date, like inside half a year. This was like usual taken enormously seriously, but was completely unrealistic, and the results was that not only were the staff and volunteers burned out by the end of it, all the goals had not been reached anyway, and the books and materials which had been produced were so full of mistakes that many of them had to be scrapped. Great big waste of time and money.

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