Value the Future, Not Just the Present

We at Mobus Creative Negotiating point out that much modern negotiating is about the terms for an ongoing relationship rather than a one-time purchase. When making even what looks like a simple purchase like a software program, we should think about the technical support and the future upgrades that the supplier will provide.

In The Optimists’ Telescope, Bina Venkataraman explores why we repeatedly put too much emphasis on the immediate rewards, not the long-term goals (her thesis is summarized in the Washington Post review by Matthew Hutson,  Too much data, too little imagination: Why it’s hard to achieve long-term goals).  She provides tales from sports, medicine, education, and her travels that illustrate how our focus on the here-and-now has a perverse impact in the longer run.

Often, we require immediate inducements to act in our own long-term interest, like a child who receives a lollipop for visiting the doctor.  Part of the reason is that future rewards will go to someone we think of as a stranger, namely, our future selves.  And then there is the structure of incentives at all-too-many companies, which prize this quarter’s profits even if they come at the expense of future problems.  
To some extent, the focus on the immediate makes sense.  We cannot know the future; it is always possible that the benefits we expect to reap will never come to pass.  Or those benefits may end up in somebody else’s hands, which does not necessarily do us any good – as the economist Lord Keynes said, “in the long run, we are all dead.”

But there is much we can and should do to lift our vision towards the horizon.  Venkataraman gives many examples which show how small changes can make us value the future more: how to both structure incentives and nurture a corporate culture that aligns short-term gains with long-term goals.