Long-Term Thinking in a Short-Term World

Long-Term Thinking in a Short-Term World

This report provides a three-step process to balance short and long-term actions, cases, common obstacles to long-term action, and ways to overcome them.
NBS February 24, 2015

A Guide for Executives

Executive Report
Click to download
Is your firm stuck in a rut of hasty decision-making, short-term goal setting, and poor future planning?

Driving firm value requires the right mix of short- and long-term actions. Though both are necessary for firms to thrive, most unfortunately place greater emphasis on short-term goals without much consideration for the future.

This guide will help your organization find the right combination of actions and create value now and in the long term, for your company and society.

This report provides:

How Long are Short and Long Term?

Businesses usually define 'long term' as five years and beyond. But industries differ: a mining company or utility builds infrastructure that lasts for decades; for them, five years is short. Other industries have much faster product life cycles.

Why They Matter

Every firm needs short- and long-term actions. Short-term tactics help a firm deal quickly with crisis or rapid change. Because these actions are quick and often low cost, their effect tends to be incremental.

Through long-term actions, firms seek to achieve more significant, even transformational changes that will enable durable success. These investments take longer to pay off, and can be difficult to quantify in advance — but can act as game changers for a firm.

The Long and Short of It

Most firms emphasize the short term — why?
man running on gears icon Desire for sure returns: We manage what we can measure. Managers discount the value of projected costs and benefits on long-term projects because the future is uncertain.
people with growth arrow Investor pressure: Investors overwhelmingly focus on short-term returns.
financial incentives icon Organizational incentives: In part because of investor pressures, bonuses and job evaluations often push people toward short-term action. Stock options haven’t worked: they encourage future thinking only before their exercise dates.
people with chart icon Human nature: People, including managers, naturally focus on the shorter term. We value the satisfaction of quickly addressing a problem.
“Pressure for short-term results comes from annual performance measures, shareholder expectations, markets, and a company’s public commitments.”  — Tim Faveri, Tim Hortons, Inc.

Who Should Read the Report?

This report is designed for: This guide identifies the value of each type of action and draws on leading research from across disciplines to help you:

About the Research

This report is an extension of a larger systematic review authored by Dr. David Souder, Dr. Greg Reilly and Rebecca Ranucci, at the University of Connecticut (United States). They scanned 6,000 sources to draw on the best articles, reports and books by academics, industry, government and NGOs. This report addresses one of the top priorities identified by the NBS Canada Leadership Council in 2014. 

Long-Term Thinking (Executive Report)
Click to download
Long-Term Thinking (Graphics)
Click to download
Systematic Review
Click to download

Additional Resources


Use this primer to introduce your colleagues and industry peers to the topic of long-term thinking or simply familiarize yourself with long-termism basics.

Reports and Articles

Corporate leaders, politicians, and the general public have all been accused of short-termism.

Maya Fischhoff