The Instant Gratification Curse

We live in a world of instant gratification.

On Monday morning, I made sure to be behind my computer at exactly 9:59 – at 10:00 tickets to the Andrew Bird concert went on sale. Despite the fact there is little chance of these tickets selling out, I still wanted them ASAP. In fact, I want virtually everything ASAP.

I think this is normal. Our world is filled with tools designed to satisfy our desires immediately – text messages, smart phones, emails, overnight shipping, 24/7 news coverage, high speed wireless, etc.

On the small scale this has done wonders for efficiency.

But on the large scale it has created a challenging reality for modern leaders. Because we live in a world that caters to instant gratification, most people expect that they will receive instant (or at least very quick) results from their leaders. In spite of this, the truly ambitious projects that leaders work on often take years or even decades to fully realize.

Modernity has left us in a challenging situation: today’s leaders must somehow maintain long-term support from people who are used to operating in the short-term. This is the instant gratification curse.

The attitude of many people toward fixing our economy is a great example of the curse in action. For decades the government allowed banks to behave irresponsibly which eventually created a crippling recession. Now we expect the President to fix the economy in a matter of just a few years. This simply isn’t possible. No President from any party – Obama, Bush, Clinton, Reagan, whoever – could provide a quick and enduring solution to such a big problem.

The instant gratification curse has left many people who would otherwise be excellent leaders feeling intimidated; they sense the impossible pressure to produce spectacular results overnight, and consequently never act.

The way to overcome this problem and emerge as a talented leader is by developing an enhanced relationship to time. As a leader you must manage expectations (including your own) by helping all stakeholders understand how the progress you are making today contributes to your overall goals.

Learn to celebrate and focus on the smaller triumphs that come quickly and use those to inspire you and your team to keep pushing towards the bigger successes that come slowly. Learn to use your long-term goals and vision to motivate everyone involved by explaining how the small successes you are achieving today, add up to create the larger success everyone is working towards.

Whether you are a president tasked with fixing the economy, a student aiming to make the world a better place, or an administrator guiding your organization to the next level, making connections to both the big picture and the little picture is the cure to the instant gratification curse. It provides both the drive and the road map to realize your vision. Doing so will keep you and your stakeholders inspired and committed, even if they are accustomed to operating exclusively in the short-term.


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