By Mustafa Šuvalija
Thinking in the long term, as opposed to thinking in the short term, is the precondition of success in meeting one's desired goals. Long-term thinking starts with the goals, identifies all the steps that need to be taken for those goals to be achieved, and identifies actions and resources that need to be utilized in order for those steps to be taken. It produces a structured and clear plan, every part of which has a clear purpose and relation to other parts. Short-term thinking, on the other hand, produces a series of steps that are disjointed, piled up on top of each other, without structure or order. Steps in that "plan" are goals in and of themselves, independent of each other in purpose, and sometimes even in conflict with one another. They lead to some sort of short term satisfaction, but accomplish little to nothing in the long run.
The difference between short-term thinking and long term thinking becomes most obvious in the way they reflect on the management of resources required to execute planned steps. Short-term thinking focuses on immediate concerns, and allocates all resources to addressing them. Since there is little or no awareness of future steps, resources are not approached with any conception of their potential, future use. On the other hand, long term plans have goals far in the future, and their implementation is laden with unpredictability. This means that the use of resources must be carefully planned, and that they need to be protected and developed to ensure that both foreseen and unforseen challenges can be met. Greater quantity, quality and diversity of resources all increase one's flexibility and adaptability, which are necessary to successfully execute a complex plan and deal with unforseen circumstances.
In any endeavour, the most important resource of all are the people. People handle all other resources and their motivation and skills predicate the degree to which these other resources will be utilized. Unmotivated and / or unskilled people can achieve little or nothing with the best of resources at their disposal, while motivated and skilled people can achieve a lot even when operating with limited resources. How much value is extracted from available resources depends upon the quality of people handling them. It follows that the more is invested in people, the better the utilization of resources and greater the likelihood of reaching the goals.
If we apply this analysis to the level of society, we could argue that whether a society invests in its people, either as a matter of individual or institutional effort, can serve as a reliable indicator of whether that society's culture supports long term or short term thinking. While this tendency can be observed in many different segments of society, it is perhaps easiest to observe in the area of private enterprise. Because it helps them grow and increase their revenue, private companies have a clear incentive to invest in people. They also lack the financial excuse that private citizens and many public institutions may use to justify their lack of investment in the human factor because they earn profit. They have to choose what they will do with that profit, and whether they choose to use it to invest in people reveals whether they're thinking in short term or in the long term. By extension, their choices may be indicative of the wider cultural norms and tendencies in this area.
I believe these arguments are of particular relevance to the problem of mass emigration of young and educated people from Bosnia and Herzegovina. The most frequently cited reasons why young people leave Bosnia for Western countries are lack of jobs, low wages and a dysfunctional political system. However, I believe that there is a deeper underlying reason that gives these and other problems more weight then they would normally carry. What bothers young people is not simply the fact that these problems exist, it's the perception that there is lack of will and ability to resolve them, and consequently the absence of hope that they will be resolved in the forseeable future. It's not that young people cannot bear to deal with these problems at all, it's simply that they are not prepared to spend the rest of their lives in a society that seems unable and unwilling to change in any meaningful way. It's their perception of the future, not of the present, that is driving them away.
This is where the cultural norms regarding short term thinking vs long term thinking come into play. I strongly believe that dominance of short term thinking in our culture is one of the main culprits for the lack of constructive engagement with our society's problems. If true, this would mean that a cultural shift from short term thinking to long term thinking would be manifested in willingness to tackle pressing problems in a structured and thoughtful way and in creation of credible solutions to those problems. Such a development would strengthen people's hope and allow a believable vision of a better future to take root. The real, underlying cause of young people's exile from this country would be addressed.
Though it may seem intuitive to assign responsibility for this cultural change to public (particularly educational) institutions, I think that, in fact, private enterprises are in the best position to initiate it. As stated before, they are the most aware of the need to invest in people because their profits and competitiveness (especially on the global level, where this shift has occurred a long time ago) depend on it. They are also in a good position to do so, since they earn profit and have money they can invest. Apart from helping them increase their revenue, the additional benefit of embracing this shift would be their transformation into cultural incubators. Companies would become places where people would be socialized into this new way of thinking, which they would then be able to carry over into their private environments.
For this evolutionary process to begin, private enterprises need to understand the value of developing their human potential and take the meaning of social responsibility to a whole new level. Fortunately, whether this happens does not depend merely on their good will, but also on their drive for self-preservation. Everyone else interested in seeing this change take place (particularly those in a good position to do so, such as human resources professionals) should facilitate this realization by raising awareness of the value of developing human potential. Perhaps it is time to redirect calls for social change from the traditional audience that are the public institutions and the society at large, and address those with both reasons and means to lead the way on the path to cultural transformation.
Mustafa Šuvalija is a Human Potential Development Specialist at Mistral Technologies, a software development company in Sarajevo. He has a Master of Science degree in psychology, and is a PhD student at the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Sarajevo.
- Kerr, James. "Your People Are Your Most Important Asset." Inc., May 23, 2017. Accessed February 18, 2018. https://www.inc.com/james-kerr/your-people-are-your-most-important-asset...
- Murray, Alan. “Long-Term Thinking is Best, New Study Shows.” Fortune, February 8, 2017. Accessed February 18, 2018. http://fortune.com/2017/02/08/long-term-thinking-is-best-new-study-shows/.
- Mujić, Medina and Lajla Zaimović Kurtović. Masovni odlazak maldih iz BiH: potraga za poslom ili bijeg od stvarnosti. Sarajevo: Centar za izborne studije, 2017. Accessed February 18, 2018. https://ba.boell.org/sites/default/files/studija-masovni-odlazak-mladih-...
 Alan Murray, “Long-Term Thinking is Best, New Study Shows.” Fortune, February 8, 2017, accessed February 18, 2018, http://fortune.com/2017/02/08/long-term-thinking-is-best-new-study-shows/.
 James Kerr, "Your People Are Your Most Important Asset." Inc., May 23, 2017, accessed February 18, 2018, https://www.inc.com/james-kerr/your-people-are-your-most-important-asset...
 Medina Mujić and Lajla Zaimović Kurtović, Masovni odlazak maldih iz BiH: potraga za poslom ili bijeg od stvarnosti (Sarajevo: Centar za izborne studije, 2017), accessed February 18, 2018. https://ba.boell.org/sites/default/files/studija-masovni-odlazak-mladih-...