The science behind big picture procrastination
Why you postpone working on your vision and strategy
Big picture stuff, such as a vision and strategy, is helpful for a company
It helps with decision making
It creates coherence within the team
It helps to convey your end-game
Here are three reasons why we postpone the big picture
We postpone abstract tasks
An experiment had one group tasked with an abstract thinking exercise and a group with a concrete thinking exercise. Exciting, right?
The concrete group was tasked with listing how they would carry out certain activities. The abstract group was tasked with listing the implications of engaging in those activities. These implications are more abstract than the concrete activities themselves.
Deadline to hand in the task: 3 weeks from now. They measured how many of both groups missed the deadline. The group with the abstract thinking exercise was more likely to miss the deadline.
Big picture stuff, such as vision and strategy, is inherently abstract. Building on the study above, this could be the reason we postpone it.
We postpone difficult tasks
This one is quite obvious, but important to note: We postpone the effort. We delay the difficult task. That one awkward phone call you should make to reject a candidate? Yeah, I know.
Furthermore, we don't act on tasks that are outside our capabilities. So when the task is not only difficult but seemingly impossible for us, we don't do anything about it.
Our capabilities influence our likelihood of doing something. Still, you don't get better at it by doing nothing. You should go ahead and do it, right away.
"if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long"
We postpone distant tasks
Temporal motivation theory, what a name, teaches us that things in the future motivate us less than things of today.
As visionary, strategic big picture stuff inherently lies in the future, we are naturally wired to postpone working on it.
Especially if you don't understand the value of having a vision and strategy, working on something so distant can feel like a waste of time.
Furthermore, there is instant gratification in day-to-day tasks. How tempting it may be, it can be dumb to just do that. (There is a correlation between intelligence and how instantly we want our desires gratified, a 2008 meta-study concluded, so I call it dumb with a reason*)
Nevertheless, a study has found that a focus on today can hinder your creativity. In an experiment, they tasked people to think of a solution for one year in the future versus a solution for tomorrow. The one year from now group had more creative solutions.
Big picture stuff is important. However, big picture stuff such as vision creation and strategy setting often get postponed. This is because we postpone tasks that are difficult, abstract and future-oriented. Day-to-day tasks gratify us sooner and are more pressing.
You should resist these pitfalls. Developing a healthy balance for big picture vs. day-to-day in your startup is key.
* People love to jump on discussions on what intelligence actually is. In this piece, I'm building on the notion of the authors of the cited study. They measured intelligence by IQ.
IQ favours abstract thinking patterns. I'm not saying there is no value in concrete thinking. Heck, most execution is quite concrete and there's where the actual value is generated. The society I'm part of overvalues abstract thinking. We need both, a point I made earlier.
Still, my definition of dumb is when you act against your own interest. I do that quite often, but I aim to minimize it.
Intelligent people, according to the study above, are ON AVERAGE better at delaying their gratifications. By this logic, I feel they are acting more often in their own interest.
To finish, I wonder whether this correlation is why the first protestors against covid restrictions all seemed like idiots. They couldn't delay their gratifications. So they rioted, to gratify something.
Savage comment, I know. Sue me.
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Nice article. This could also be an explanation why those who wish to suspend the right to self-determination for vaccination seem like idiots. Now that they've been liberated, they can't delay their gratification.