Playing The Long Game

One of my favorite movies is The Sting. It’s the story of how two men run a long con. That, as defined by The Urban Dictionary, is:

A con-job that requires a certain amount of effort and as a namesake, is usually in it for the long haul. Gaining someone’s trust for a number of months and then when the stake is in your court and you have their complete trust–taking advantage of it. Usually denotes relationship status or high-level business partnerships.

In less evil terms, the protagonists are playing the long game. They are less focused on short term success as they keep their eyes on the rich reward gained over the long term. I’m a big believer in playing the long game, both in business and in life. Let’s address the business part here.

English: Marshmallows

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The folks at MIT‘/Sloane did a study about the digital maturity of various businesses. One thing that they found to be true of digitally mature organizations was:

Their strategic planning horizons are consistently longer than those of less digitally mature organizations, with nearly 30% looking out five years or more versus only 13% for the least digitally mature organizations. Their digital strategies focus on both technology and core business capabilities.

I’m always surprised at how many organizations have a short-term focus and which then wonder why they’re not gaining on their long-term goals. I’m not advocating spending time creating a 10-year plan or even a 5-year plan. I think seeing that far over the horizon is pretty much impossible in these times of rapid change. But I do think every business needs to have some long-term goals and a focus on meeting them while ignoring some of the short-term things that might cloud your vision.

Maybe you’ve heard of The Marshmallow Experiment. A researcher put young children in a room with a marshmallow for 15 minutes, telling the kids that they would get a second marshmallow if the first was still there when the researcher returned. What’s interesting about this is that the researcher did follow up studies with the kids over the next 40 years. He found that the kids who chose to delay gratification (and get a second marshmallow!) did better in life. They had higher SAT scores, lower obesity, better social skills, and lower levels of substance abuse. They were playing the long game, even at 5. Are you?

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