Nobody thinks ‘medium-term’.
Most of the time, we think short-term. Occasionally, long-term.
Your time horizon may need to be short. Journalists think in news cycles. Emergency docs focus on the situation in front of them. And, when you play Ping-Pong, you hit that little white ball across the net in the here and now.
There are times we get caught up in the short-term because we’re impatient. Or because we ache for instant gratification.
When we’re not in reacting or survival mode, we can open up to thinking long-term. You buy life insurance. You forego the decadent holiday to put money down on your mortgage.
When you have short-term in one hand, and long-term in the other, there are trade-offs. But it’s not like you think ‘short-term’ Monday to Friday, and longer-term on the weekend. So, how do people do this?
We’ve all seen political candidates. They ‘talk’ policies for the next generation. And, at the same time, hand out election goodies. Free daycare, free dental care. Government decisions are often driven by the election cycle. Short-term politics. It’s a cynical statement – but it’s a baked-in polarity that the elected must navigate.
Corporately, I worked on projects that took years to negotiate. Even longer to profit. There was incredible pressure to report on performance in 3-month increments. The market punished you if you failed to play their short-game. Again, inherent tension.
In my experience, the best place to learn how to manage this push & pull is inside your family. How many tiny acts did my father take to show us (not tell us) we have a duty to others in our community? Thousands.
Maybe the answer to the riddle is as simple as integrity. Or character. Knowing your values, and walking them. Every day. And with the long-term in sight.
Sounds easy? Not.
There are disruptions. And the path isn’t clear-cut. A public company reporting quarterly won’t be rewarded for taking 2 steps back, even if it enables 3 steps forward. So, it’s more likely to plod along. One step in front of the next. Quarter by quarter by quarter. Hardly dynamic.
There are beacons out there. People with compelling ideas about how to think both short-term and long-term at the same time. Even within the whirlpools of politics and business. Canadian entrepreneurs. Michelle Obama. And there’s Trump, playing his game of Ping-Pong with China, the oldest living civilization on Earth.
I’d like to share those ideas with you. And, I’d love to hear from you. I’m seriously interested. I want to know how you play Ping-Pong and build legacy at the same time.
Table tennis is an Olympic sport. One the Chinese dominate.
In my house, we call the game Ping-Pong. It’s an explosion of paddles and arms. You have to get that little white ball over the net yet still on the table. It’s loud, fun and requires super quick, reactive skills.
Right now, Trump is gleefully blasting out trade tariffs on twitter.
His short-term game? Get as many little white balls on his opponents’ table as possible. Get people focused on narrowing U.S. trade deficits. Especially America’s $375 billion merchandise trade deficit with China.
His long-term plan? Apparently, ‘Make America Great Again.’ It’s not yet clear if this means trade that is managed, free, or even fair.
Yet, it’s the Chinese who really know how to play Ping-Pong.
And, they’re known for their long-term thinking. Beijing’s ‘Made in China 2025’ plan was launched in 2011. China picked 7 strategic emerging industries to get behind. And they are on track.
Outside China, we bemoan the disparity. It’s a heck of a lot easier to act long-term when you, the State, control most of your country’s business. China hasn’t been shy about using government power to punish foreign competitors either. And, they sure don’t respect intellectual property rights.
With all the tariffs flying, like Ping-Pong balls, it looks like Trump is playing the short-game and Xi Jinping is playing the long-game. Is this inevitable? Trump wants to get re-elected in 2020 and Xi Jinping looks like he might be set for life.
I wouldn’t dare suggest Trump give up his spunky game of Ping-Pong. There are anti-competitive elbows digging into fair trade. And, for all the arms-waving, there is quiet movement on American trade negotiations with China. This short-term game is hopefully all part of a calculated plan to get better trade deals in the long-term.
Own the podium
Anthony Lacavera is a young entrepreneur and venture capitalist who dared to disrupt Canada’s telecoms oligarchy. In his new book, How We Can Win, Anthony deconstructs the state of innovation in Canada. And, looks to the Olympics for winning short and long-term strategies.
A 2017 report by the OECD, the Business Expenditure on Research and Development (BERD) index, shows: Canadian companies spend less than 1% of GDP on research and development (R&D). American companies spend 2 times as much, Israeli businesses 4 times as much.
Why are home-grown Canadian companies so leery of investing in R&D?
What could be more long-term than R&D?
Anthony nails it. It’s the double-whammy of politics and business. Picking winners and losers is a mug’s game for politicians. Your voters say they hate it. If you pick wrong, you are really in trouble. The easier way out of this dilemma is to spread incentives around, thick and even. Like peanut butter. We’re talking diversification, innovation, R&D dollars.
What’s a better way, suggests Anthony? Double down on companies with the greatest potential to win. Like Canada did with the Own the Podium programme in the Olympics. Rather than giving the same funding to every athlete, the ones with the best odds got the lion’s share of the cash.
The goal isn’t inclusion. No participation badges here. It’s about getting to excellence. Gold medals.
Political interference is still a worry. But there are ways to manage this risk. Governments set the measures. Decisions on who gets incentives are made by people who are unelected, smart, trusted, fair and arms-length. These people exist.
Short term, high potential entrepreneurs get the cash infusions they need. Long term, Canada gets a more competitive business team.
No more going for bronze, in business.
There is a man in my hometown I’d like you to meet. Mac Van Wielingen. He’s a corporate sage. Mac has launched a hundred ships, and most of them are still sailing. Calgary is land-locked, so you know, I’m talking here about businesses.
Why is Mac so successful? Especially in a place like Alberta where the investment waters have been choppy? I’m convinced it’s because he has the rare ability to think short-term and long-term, simaltaneously.
Rather than just piling up earnings, Mac puts himself out there. Coaching, inspiring, coaxing others in business to think about the dangers of short-term-ism. It’s a clarion call:
Getting stuck in a cycle of short-term-ism is reckless urgency. There is something almost negligent in avoiding the future. Thinking long-term isn’t a luxury.
And, Mac dangles appetizing carrots. Do this well, and you can survive market chaos. Heck, look at Mac’s companies. You can thrive.
Other big thinkers back him up. McKinsey & Company, heavy-hitters in strategy, have research suggesting that short-term-ism may have cost U.S. business $1 trillion in market value between 2001 and 2014. That could buy a lot of Ping-Pong paddles.
My Dad left behind a legacy; you have a duty to other people in your community.
Business people like Mac and Anthony want legacies. Trump and Xi Jinping want legacies. Heck, who doesn’t want to leave the world a better place? Who doesn’t want to leave their mark?
When you spend too much of your energy reacting short-term, it’s tough to get to legacy. Likewise, you can’t ignore the immediate and focus solely on the long-term. That’s not going to work either.
So, how do you play Ping-Pong and focus on legacy at the same time?
China intrigues me. They know how to both play Ping-Pong and they know how to build legacy. They are masters at both.
There’s no doubt that the new U.S. tariffs will be targeted at sectors China flagged in its Made in China 2025 plan. It’s very likely we have moved into a “New Era of U.S.-China Relations.”
In the short-term, there will be friction. Yet, I don’t have a sense China will be knocked off course in its quest to be a modern economic superpower. The steps to get there may change in response to American protectionism and World Trade Organization challenges. But not the end-game.
Michelle Obama was in Calgary recently. Her and Barack’s legacy aim is supporting young people as leaders. She tells youth: Be impatient. March, now, to demand changes in gun laws. And, at the same time, be prepared to accept you are planting seeds for change you may not live long enough to see. Regardless, you have to plant the seeds. Now.
Michelle speaks the same of #MeToo. Be impatient in the much-needed calling out of hypocrisy and inequality. Do it every day. Yet accept that closing the gender gap—getting women at all tables; allowing women the chance to fail, like men—remains a long-term goal.
Ping-Pong & Legacy building, like salty peanut butter & sweet jam, they are better together. Another place to avoid slipping into polarity.
What are your ideas? How do you hold short-term and long-term in both hands, at the same time?
Donna Kennedy-Glans, March 31st, 2018
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