The Myopic Debt | Work Series

Are we there yet? Most parents must have heard this from their children on any road-trip. They are probably comfortably seated, or busy on their mobile devices or snacking, but want to hit the destination instantly as soon as they hop in.

Read time: less than 2 min.

Adults are no different. We have come to accept things instantly in most areas of our lives, that has wired us to be unreasonably impatient toward things that do not, and cannot happen immediately, forcing us to make sub-optimal decisions and compromising the longer-term benefits.

You’ve probably also heard the ‘Bamboo story.’ If not, here’s a quick abstract. Bamboo trees take five years of watering and nurturing with no sign of growth. And in the fifth year, in just six weeks, the Bamboo tree grows up to 80 feet. It takes the seed five years to germinate, grow it’s root deep and wide before sprouting, so it is easy to miss the five years of growth based on the progress visible on the surface.

There’s much to be inspired by this story, but that’s for another day. The learning I derived from this story is about keeping an eye on the prize. Not knowing the natural life-cycle of the tree, the farmer could abandon it prematurely. The prize at times may seem elusive if we are looking for instant gratification.

There is an important distinction to be made here. Let’s use the road-trip analogy to drive the point home. For reaching the destination quickly, we may end up endangering ours and the lives of others by over-speeding or taking unsafe short-cuts. Driving aimlessly in some direction, hoping we are on track, won’t get us to our destination either.

Bill Gates once said: “People often overestimate what will happen in the next two years and underestimate what will happen in the next ten.”

In software development, there is a term called Technology debt. The short term tactical face-lift or patches that get applied to software to make it work for now with minimal or no consideration to the longer-term impact adds up to the debt and usually drains the software of its agility and usability. Often decisions made under unreasonable pressure for quick wins result generally in a longer-term failure. We see this all around us – in politics, governments, business, school, etc.


Publicly listed companies often make some short-term fatal decisions in their effort to appease the shareholders, and some financial analysts forecast each quarter. This strategy does not serve anyone in the long run. The business and the shareholders usually end up paying the price for the myopic view – I call it the Myopic debt. Like the Bamboo tree, certain goals and strategies take time to produce results, so instead of reacting prematurely to the time-bound pressure, it would be prudent to carefully measure the success to milestones pointing toward the final goal. Certain milestones cannot be covered in a quarter, so businesses should courageously stay the course and not create or add to the Myopic debt.

It does take courage and foresight to whether the cyclical storm and navigate safely. We won’t make it to the shore if we were to jump the ship at every big wave. Keeping an eye on the prize and continually monitoring and adjusting the approach will have a higher probability of sustainable success. And succumbing to short-term pressure and making fatal decisions will not yield good results in the long term.

Lubna, my wife, is a school teacher, so naturally, I am familiar with some of the poems that 4-years old do. This short-term thinking reminds me of the poem “I Know an Old Lady,” by Rose Bonne and Alan Mills.

There was an old lady who swallowed a fly;
I don’t know why she swallowed a fly—perhaps she’ll die!
There was an old lady who swallowed a spider;
That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her!
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly;
I don’t know why she swallowed a fly—perhaps she’ll die!

There was an old lady who swallowed a cow;
I don’t know how she swallowed a cow!
She swallowed the cow to catch the goat,
She swallowed the goat to catch the dog,
She swallowed the dog to catch the cat,
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider,
That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her!
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly;
I don’t know why she swallowed a fly—perhaps she’ll die!
There was an old lady who swallowed a horse;

She died, of course!

Canada will vote next week. Let’s keep in mind when voting as to what we would like our nation to be, not just next year or the year after, but in the next 5-10 years.

There’s wisdom everywhere if we know where to look. Do share if you come across any nuggets of wisdom that could be in our Common Interest.

So long, until next week.


Related reading – Your strategy is incomplete without this! | The Office Series

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