Third-Order Consequences Don’t Care About Your Instant Gratification

Instant Gratification. These two words are the downfall of many careers, entrepreneurs, and businesses.  Today’s humans want everything fast, efficient, now. In our world of tech and information overload, our ability to make decisions suffers from an incredibly short attention span and the expectation of instant gratification. We expect instant news, instant email responses, and – as follows the pattern – instant solutions to problems, regardless of the cost.  Many have lost the ability to persevere.

When it comes to problem solving, we tend to think of the solution that would do the following:

  1. Solve the problem entirely
  2. Solve the problem instantly
  3. Solve the problem efficiently

We consider the problem, think of a viable solution, and—if there’s a checkmark beside each of the above listed items, the thought-process stops there—done. The “Go” button is pushed. First-order consequences are set in motion and the dopamine kicks in; you solved the problem. But at what cost?

The brutal professor of third-order consequences answers that question with terrible honesty.  Third-order consequences consider the ramifications of a decision beyond the now.  Economists call these “externalities,” and every chess player knows you must plan ahead, so how do you incorporate this into your daily workflow?

Look at the questions below and note the answers, first with only the present in mind, and then answer for a 5 year horizon, and then a 10 year horizon.

Questions to Ask Yourself:

  • Will anyone else be impacted? If so, how?
  • What parts of the business will be affected?
  • What problems could this “solution” create?

Could this negatively impact the company culture?  Could it limit our options for future growth? Will it require an unsustainable work schedule? Would it take you to potentially questionable legal territory? (*Most things entering the doors of a law firm come from actions taken without consideration third-order consequences*)

After mentally working through those questions, consider whether the potential negative impact is worth the instant gratification of today.

It’s good to grow. It’s good to solve problems. It’s good to have goals. But do not become so fixated on one short-term solution, one goal, or one decision that the consequences catch you off guard next year, or thirty years from now. Beware of instant gratification and always consider the third-order consequences.

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