The Long Game

Published: Jan 06 , 2012
Author: Alan Smith

The Christmas tree is hardly dethroned, the last mince pie still to be eaten and the coffee creams the only sweets left when the whole world seems to have shifted on it's slightly larger and wobblier access.

Pre Christmas it is all cookery programmes on TV, focusing on sweets, cakes and bakery. January the 1st arrives and FatBusters, The Biggest Loser and Get Healthy with Gino all hit the screen to fuel our disappointment with ourselves for the gluttony and monumental weakness of our seasonal selves.

It seems that humans are very poor at delaying gratification. I want it all and I want it now.

In the late 1960's psychologists at Stanford University ran a series of experiments with young children at Bing Nursery. They left small children in a room with a delicious sweet. If they left the sweet alone for 5 minutes when the researcher returned they would be given 2 sweets.

Footage of these experiments, which were conducted over several years, is poignant, as the kids struggle to delay gratification. Some cover their eyes with their hands or turn around so that they can't see the tray. Others start kicking the desk, or tug on their pigtails, or stroke the sweet as if it were a tiny stuffed animal.

Many of the kids could not wait. Some wolfed the sweet down as soon as the researcher left the room. Others struggled but then gave in. A proportion waited patiently and got their reward. Interestingly this last group when monitored over their lives seemed to have greater success in their career and higher STAT scores. It seems that patience is indeed a virtue.

For those of us who negotiate (and that is all of us) this is interesting and self evident news. Building time and control into our lives generally and business specifically to think of the long-term impact of the deals that we do, the choices that we make has to be good news.

My daughter's patience was rewarded yesterday when her offer on a house was accepted despite being rejected just before Christmas. Time on this occasion was on her side. Her instant reaction was to up her offer (which frankly she could not afford) because of her emotional attachment to the house.

Picking the bones out of the bad stuff we do on impulse is like that first long run after Christmas. Painful.

Alan Smith


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