The Human Tenure Trap

It's easy to get caught up in the short-term game.

Quarterly earnings, annual bonuses, and the relentless pressure to show progress can lead even the most visionary companies astray.

Welcome to the Human Tenure Trap.

Here's how it works: When managers join a company, they're often thinking about their personal trajectory. They want to make an impact, get noticed, and climb the ladder. But in a world where the average tenure is just a few years, the incentives are all wrong.

Instead of building for the long haul, managers are tempted to chase quick wins. They prioritize projects with immediate payoffs over investments that might not bear fruit for years. They cut corners to hit short-term targets, even if it means sacrificing quality or sustainability.

It's a rational response to irrational incentives.

The result is a subtle but significant shift in focus. Resources get diverted to short-term initiatives. Long-term plans get pushed aside. The future takes a backseat to the present.

And it's not just a problem for individual companies. The Human Tenure Trap is a systemic issue that plagues entire industries and even governments. Politicians facing re-election prioritize voter-pleasing policies over tough long-term challenges.

How do we escape the trap?

There are no easy answers, but there are some steps we can take. We need to rethink incentives and reward long-term contributions, not just short-term metrics. Leaders need to visibly commit to the long view and create teams that are insulated from quarterly pressures. Transparency around short and long-term goals can help keep everyone aligned.

But most of all, we need to recognize that the Human Tenure Trap is not a personal failing, but a systemic challenge. It's a reflection of our human limitations and the way we've structured our organizations and institutions.

It’s only by understanding the trap that we can hope to escape it. Otherwise, we risk winning limited battles and losing every single war.

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