Great companies are started by people who gave up their day jobs and made a tremendous sacrifice. The most admired organizations and societies are built over time through the endurance and fortitude of a committed membership. To make bold ideas happen, long-term rewards must take priority over short-term rewards. The ability to do this is called vision.
However, when it comes to overpowering our short-term tendencies – the innate desire for a quick payoff – vision doesn’t always cut it. Society conditions us to think in the short-term; forces such as risk and reputation encourage us to favor near-term assurances over long-term unknowns.
This is why great leaders and true visionaries find ways to manipulate reward systems for themselves and those they work with. Their strategy? Impose a sophisticated short-term reward structure overhaul – one that incentivizes us to make decisions that take long-term goals into account but that appeases us in the short-term as well.
Creative leaders fail when they assume that they can work toward an uncertain outcome in the distant future without any rewards structure in place to get them there. In reality, we must trick ourselves. Long-term rewards are most effective when they are broken up and positioned as short-term rewards.
Sometimes this means setting celebratory milestones – even if they are not financial achievements – over the course of a long-term project. For others, it means finding mentors or colleagues that can hold you accountable to goals as you set them. Many leaders that have achieved significant long-term goals reveal that they had partners that would pace them along the way.
The key realization is that a deeply ingrained, short-term reward system keeps us comfortable in the near-term even as it impedes long-term objectives. Once you acknowledge it, you can start to play with it.
This article is based on research by Scott Belsky and the Behance team, which runs the Behance Creative Network, the Action Method project management application, the Creative Jobs List.