|When asked whether we are likely to wash the dishes after a dinner in a month’s time from now that very evening or the next morning, most of us will declare that we will do it the same evening. However, when that day comes around, we are much more likely to postpone it to the morning that do it the evening of the dinner … this has a consequence of discounting the future.
To meet our shared vision of a sustainable future, we face an additional challenge beyond long-term thinking, we need to change the way we do things. As Einstein (1879-1955) declared, “Doing something over and over again and expecting different results amounts to insanity.” This means that we face the challenge of any innovator: almost 500 years ago, Machiavelli (1469-1527) acknowledged this conundrum in The Prince,: “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand or dangerous to conduct than the introduction of a new order of things; for the innovator has as enemies all those who have done well under the existing, and only lukewarm supporters in those who may do well under the new.”
Hyperbolic discounting only seems relevant when it comes to things we’d rather not do. When it comes to things we like, we’d rather do them today than tomorrow: resaerch indicates that most of us, when offered one biscuit now or two biscuits tomorrow, we tend to choose the one we can have today (you never know, tomorrow might not happen!).
Is it the same for everyone?
While procrastination and a tendency to postpone chores are considered a norm of human behaviour, research into national culture indicates that different nations have different attitudes towards the short and long term. From the world of business, we are probably all familiar with contrasting the short term perspective of the UK and USA with the longer term view of Germany and Japan. Indeed, there is the German saying: do not postpone until tomorrow what you can do today.
This takes us again to Hofstede’s six cultural dimensions (a brief introduction to each can be found here). A nation’s attitude towards the long / short term is one of the dimensions that defines them. As Hofstede explains, “In a long-time-oriented culture, the basic notion about the world is that it is in flux, and preparing for the future is always needed. In a short-time-oriented culture, the world is essentially as it was created, so that the past provides a moral compass, and adhering to it is morally good.” Check out his video below in which he explains this dimension.