Business Sutra |1.3 | Short Term Vs. Long Term

Business Sutra 1

Business Sutra |1| Corporations

In the opening part of the first episode of his TV serial, Business Sutra, Devdutt Pattanaik dwelt upon the subject of the Indian way of doing the business. The second part then dealt with purpose of the corporation.

In our present post, the third of the three parts of this first episode, we will have a detailed look at oft-discussed short-term vs. long-term view of the corporation and its purpose.

Business Sutra |1.3 | Short Term Vs. Long Term

This video gives us the basics of short-term (planning) and. long-term (goals.).

Some lightly told, but meaningful messages will also whet our appetite for the subject:

So, what is your long term goal?

When organizational leaders are asked if they think in the short term or in the long term, there is a pretty consistent answer: “Long term, of course” notes Dr. Gustavo Grodnitzky in his article Short Term vs. Long Term. … Long term thinking should create and sustain long term growth for all the stakeholders and by extension, community, society, and the environment), not just the shareholders. Rising water raises all ships. This is the model of social capitalism…Yet when we look closely at many organizations and their decision making process, it appears to be clearly short term thinking, too often driven by quarterly, “Wall Street” numbers, which focus on shareholder alone. This is a model of classic capitalism. 

The Long-Term Benefits Of Short-Term Thinking solidly puts forward the case for building up a sound business, if so required, by making good every short-term opportunity that comes up on the way up.

One of the most reported cause for such an approach is high volatility of the entire ecosystem over last couple of decades. In a (now) famous letter that BlackRock CEO Larry Fink had sent to CEOs of S&P 500 companies and large European corporations, he argues that today’s culture of quarterly earnings hysteria is totally contrary to the long-term approach we need. Over the long-term, environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues – ranging from climate change to diversity to board effectiveness – have real and quantifiable financial impacts…At companies where ESG issues are handled well, they are often a signal of operational excellence.

Gus Levy, at Goldman Sachs, urges his people to “be long term greedy, not short term greedy.”

In their article – The Biology of Corporate Survival –  on HBR, Martin Reeves, Simon Levin, Daichi Ueda have conducted a survey to check the longevity of 30,000 pubic firms of America over last 50 years. The results are quite stark: Businesses are disappearing faster. They are of the opinion that this because hey are failing to adapt to the growing complexity of their environment. Many misread the environment, select the wrong approach to strategy, or fail to support a viable approach with the right behaviors and capabilities. The authors have compared business corporation with any other biological body, who survive (or don’t) on account of their inherent and adapted biological survival skill and strategy.

In an another article – Long-Termism Is Just as Bad as Short-Termism – on HBR, Ken Favaro cites Drucker: “He recognized that all companies face an inescapable reality: they must invest in their future if they are to have one, but they must also produce earnings today in order to pay for doing so. Moreover, you have to meet your previous promises of returns from investments made in the past in order to have the license to continue investing for the long term. You cannot sacrifice the short term for the long term and expect to have a future any more than the other way around. In other words, ‘long-termism’ is just as bad as ‘short-termism.’”

In “Short-Term or Long-Term: Where Do You Live?” Marshall Goldsmith provides us a model that shows five different modes of behavior and how they can characterize our relationship to any activity — either at work or at home:

  • Stimulating is for activities that score high in short-term satisfaction but low in long-term benefit. A life spent solely on stimulating activities could provide a lot of short-term pleasure but still be headed nowhere.
  • Sacrificing is for activities that score low in short-term satisfaction but high in long-term benefit. A life spent solely on sacrificing activities would be the life of a martyr — lots of achievement, but not much joy.
  • Surviving is for activities that score low on short-term satisfaction and low on long-term benefit. A life spent solely on surviving activities would be a hard one indeed.
  • Sustaining is for activities that produce moderate amounts of short-term satisfaction and lead to moderate long-term benefits. A life spent solely on sustaining activities would be an O.K. one — not great, yet not too bad.
  • Succeeding is a term for activities that score high on short-term satisfaction and high on long-term benefit. A life spent in succeeding is a life that is filled with both joy and accomplishment.

The perception of both short-term satisfaction and long-term benefit is dependent upon the individual engaged in the activity. If we cannot change our activities, then we can at least try to change our attitude toward them

So, one may conclude that –

Let us now look at what Devdutt Pattanaik has to say in Segment 3: Short Term Vs. Long Term from the point of view of Indian mythology.

Here are the key points from his present discourse:

One of the conflicts continuously in the creation and sustenance of systems of corporations really is the ability to balance shorter with long-term radius. Jack Welch has this to state:

When you look at mythology you know there is a God sustains the world – Vishnu. He is associated with two animals one is called Serpent (Sarpa) and other is Eagle (Grauda). Their way at looking at things is known as Serpent Vision (Sarpa Drishti) – the immediate goal – and Eagle Vision (Garuda Drishti) – the long sight – respectively.

Question is what should one focus first?

Right when you look at how the story of creation, the moment to they talk about creation they also talked about its destruction. They talk immediately about destruction, which means you don’t just talk about the building of the organization at the day it is begun. You also discuss how it’s going to die. It’s not assumed to be immortal because mortality is the universal truth and you are aware of it. You are discussing about mortality. When you say that okay if I’m going to be born and am going to die too, then how do I live a healthy and happy life? How long can I sustain?

As much as that applies to health, it applies to the organizations as well.

Unfortunately the way we are structured, we break it down into bits, into say, years. When you look at your lifespan over two years or three years and you have to win every year. You know I am not allowed to lose. So effectively, than the pressure is on the Serpent’s vision – at your shadow’s level. You have to keep winning every year, keep growing to be more and more profitable year in year out. We are told that that’s the measurement and that’s the reward. So, if I have to last for three years, I just make sure that I win each of the three years. I am not thinking of 30 years and 300 years.

The system, per force, unwittingly perhaps, is saying Serpent vision.

How do you correct that because you’re always going to have someone in charge for a limited period of time? They’re going to try and excel within that limited period of time, and therefore, for them, short-termism will always be the first goal to achieve as opposed to long-termism. We do understand that the ideal should be long-termism but not all of us can actually put that bill, in that sense.

In the case of health, you see you can’t escape the consequences. It is personal.

In an organization you can escape the consequences because perhaps you may not be around. Or that I may not be held responsible for doing what I did in good faith, for the good of the organization. Particularly in the case of a limited company, individual’s role is also limited. A shareholder tends to behave more like a moneylender and may create any type of pressures to get their returns. However, all employees would  not feel the direct, and equal,  consequences of his /her actions.

In a way, Short-termism breeds freedom from long-term consequences.

Interestingly this seems to make a case for family-owned businesses. For almost 10 years now in this country the phrase family-owned business is looked at with some amount of contempt. It is again a Western concept, that we have inherited over the past 20 30 40 years, that ideally an organization must have separation between ownership and management. It should be professionally run and it should be run for the benefit of all stakeholders as opposed to the benefit of the entrepreneur that may have started that organization. But, the problem is that if you’re going to have leaders that come in for limited periods of time, they’re going to be concerned with their immediate term. So, again back to the short-termism. But if you have organizations owned by families that will patronize these organizations, help them sustain, help them grow over generations over the long term. It is obvious that you’re making the case then for family-owned business a phrase that we looked down upon in some ways for the last 10 to 15 years.

As professionals, we’re using it again without context. Used anywhere anytime, if it’s professional it is good. What does the mean to be professional? It means – cut out emotions, be logical. So of the three goddesses (L,S,D) which 40,000 years have been celebrated, one, D (Durga, Shakti, Power), is out. That is the one thing that we crave for as human beings, we want to feel powerful and if I look at physiologically you’re seeing focus on the left brain, right brain is bad. Right brain is not good, focus on the left brain and that is good for the organization.

The problem with the family-owned business is that talks too much of the, emotional, right brain – my son is better or my son will not be better.

India is called Bharat. But we forget a story of the character whose name is Bharat. There are Bharats in mythology. But there is one very obscure story, which is amazing and is very interesting. It is about is the son of Shakuntala. He had many wives and many sons but he rejected all the sons and we don’t know why. He said he doesn’t look like me. That is the literal translation. But perhaps that is why, he then adopts, or is given by the god, a son, allegedly an illegitimate child, rejected by a spell, an orphan. He elevates him to be the heir.

If the story is decoded, basically being a king he rejected his own biological children in favor of a son who was good enough to rule. Remember, we are named after that man BhArat.

It is equal to meritocracy.

So that’s that-

In our next session next month, we will take up episode 2 of Devdutt Pattanaik’s TV serial Business Sutra viz. Leadership.

Note: The images used in this post are the irrevocable property of their respective creator. They have been taken up courtesy the internet, so as to illustrate the point under discussion.

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