When did we become so temporary in our approach to life?

July Blog For Now or For Later Cover

When I lived in Africa I didn’t notice this so much, as it could be easily explained. There was a higher probability that something might happen to shorten life and there was, amongst the majority, a mindset of subsistence with the emphasis firmly on surviving in the present, rather than investing in the future.

When I came back to the UK it became more and more apparent that this temporary approach was not a cultural thing but maybe an attitudinal shift. It occurred to me, whilst loading my parents’ dishwasher, that it had not always been this way in past generations. My parents’ dishwasher is amazing. It cleans far better than mine and must be about 900 years old, or 30 at least. I bet it was quite pricey at the point of purchase and I am pretty sure it was bought as an investment for life; they did not expect to be replacing it every 3-5 years.

In fact, my experience of their generation and the generations before is that they would save to buy quality once. I can’t believe how much of their kitchenware is still wedding gifts (after 49 years of marriage). People bought once, or maybe twice, across a lifetime – the big things anyway.

This makes sense to me.

You do things once, you invest in them and they deliver lasting results.

I struggle to see this idea of investment, commitment and longevity in today’s attitudes towards, buying, working, and even relationships.

Nothing seems to be “for life” anymore.

When my dishwasher packed up last year, I remember having a similar conversation with the plumber (lucky plumber!). It went like this:

ME: “Things are just not made the way they used to be”.

(Sounding rather a lot like something my grandmother would have said).

He went on to contradict my view (brave plumber!) and made an interesting point. He suggested that you get what you pay for. He also pointed out that whatever we choose, across a lifetime, we will all probably spend the same amount on dishwashers. Some people will pay £2000 for their dishwasher and it will last them for 50 years and other people will spend £400 and they will end up replacing it every 10 years.

Not exact mathematics, but you get the idea.

In my head the second option sounds far more irritating, time consuming, labour intensive and expensive (when you consider installation and removal fees). Yet it is the modern day pattern of consumption. I don’t even want to consider the landfill of discarded white goods created as a result of this cheap and regular replacement behaviour; well not in this blog anyway.

This type of pattern has taken hold in many areas of life and might be one that you want to consider in your own world, sooner rather than later, as I believe it is easy for it to become habitual and unconscious and I do not believe it is in anyone’s highest good in the long term.

Life may be temporary, but it could be as temporary as 70, 80 or even 90 years which is rather a long time!

Thinking beyond dishwashers,  I see this pattern in entrepreneurial attitudes towards business, inside businesses in the attitude towards problem solving, in small businesses and their approach to marketing, in attitudes towards customer service and this is just to touch on a few. In life I see this pattern obviously in consumer behaviour but also in a changing approach to relationships, which, in my opinion, is really saddening.

One of the hallmarks of an entrepreneur is the incessant nature of their ideas, always evolving and innovating, which leads to a “this is what I do at the moment” attitude towards business. This creates a hastiness, almost wanting to get as quickly as possible to the thing called success so that what has been created can either pay for their retirement or allow them the freedom to pursue a passion project.

The thought of having to run a “business for life” seems restrictive and dare I say it a little bit boring, especially when there are so many things they could be doing and experiencing! I recently did a marketing programme with Scott Oldford and I think he has got it right. At one point during the training he said something akin to “I run a boring business so that I can live an exciting life”; and this really stuck with me.

It seems to me that it is easy to forget that our businesses are the things that fuel our life. They need a strong, resilient foundation and they need our time, energy and financial investment to grow. This takes time. How much time we ultimately have to spend in them once they have reached a certain maturity will depend entirely on how well we have set them up and have managed their evolution.

If, instead, a temporary “this is what I do for now” approach to business is taken, then it inevitably affects development, as it impacts thinking, planning, decision making and problem solving. The result is “making things work for now”. It is constant switching and changing. It is quick fix and short term. There is no consideration of primary, secondary and tertiary consequences. It is all about instant gratification and quick wins or the fast alleviation of discomfort.

This behaviour is not effective or productive.

It also results in massive confusion further down the ranks.

One of the things I have learned from years of business consulting is that 9 out of 10 times the fish always rots from the head down (although my research since suggests that that is not the way a fish actually rots, the sentiment remains the same).

I can’t count the number of times I have seen the dysfunction caused by temporary behaviour in my consulting audits; in business structures, systems and in the attitude of staff towards problem solving. The phrase that always runs through my head is “a plaster on a bullet wound”.

The quickest, cheapest, easiest way of solving a problem at surface level has been adopted without looking further to find the root cause. It then seems to come as a complete surprise when the plaster falls off or even worse septicemia sets in and the whole system is affected. Even at this point I have seen business owners reach for a bigger plaster, instead of stripping the whole system back and entering into a deeper discovery process to create an effective and sustainable solution.

Suddenly, what could have been fixed at point of symptom with a thorough, step by step approach has evolved into a time consuming and expensive exercise.

If I was super cynical (sometimes), I would suggest that this attitude is rife amongst employees within businesses as well, especially where the nature of the culture or relationships is transactional as opposed to transformational. I am not sure that jobs are seen as “for life” anymore, whereas they certainly used to be. My grandfather went into “the bank” and didn’t come out again until he retired!

Recently I have been helping a client with recruitment and have been astonished by the movement on the CVs I have read through. This is not a judgement or labelling as good or bad as experience has shown me that there are many reasons why people move around professionally. It is merely an observation which has triggered the thought that if jobs are not as stable as they used to be the attitude towards work will naturally become more temporary.

Without fail this will lead to more short term thinking and behaviours in the workplace. If the belief is that a job is for a couple of years then where is the motivation to fix for the future? The priority would be to make the here and now as profitable as possible.

The problem I see with this approach is that business success is not an overnight occurrence, despite what the marketing gurus say.

It takes time. It takes consistency. It takes trial and error. It takes a team. It takes testing and repetition. It requires that past knowledge is built upon and that there is one common, united focus.

Successful, businesses grow steadily and strategically.

Can you see the problem if employees are coming and going?

Can you see the problem if business owners flit from one thing to the next?

Temporary, transactional and transient approaches are not ideal.

In smaller businesses, especially the “one man band”, I see this temporary approach in what I like to call “magpie marketing”. The adoption of short term tactics over long term strategy.

It is starting to look a bit like the diet industry; there are so many confusing choices in digital marketing now. Try this, no, do that, no, you need this, no, that’s bad for you, no, it’s actually a good fat ….. whaaaaaaat? I swear the whole online marketing thing is geared towards creating confusion just so you are constantly buying new stuff.

Every five seconds something changes or there is a “new” problem, and one second later there is a solution with a product attached, a quick fix that takes very little effort on your part, just a few simple and easy changes and ….. pooof …… magic ….. the results that have eluded you for decades will finally be yours.

A new problem we are told we have, until we have it.

A revolutionary solution with a product or service attached.

Does this sound familiar?

Is anyone else starting to wonder whether life would be as stressful if we weren’t constantly being told that it is stressful? Would we find our businesses overwhelming if we knew ourselves better, had a more extensive feeling vocabulary and understood our feelings so that we don’t need to adopt the labels other people give them? Anyone else gone as far as to wonder whether some problems are just created in order to sell solutions?

Or is that just me and my cynic?

I am going off on a little tangent here, but it seems important.

If you think long and hard about this we can never be sold our own results. There are absolutely no guarantees. In fact we are always being sold someone else’s results as our potential. Take that a step further, if the seller has no idea what our potential is, because invariably they do not know us personally, how on earth can they tell us the results we will get from using their product or service?

Just because they did it in their way with success, in no way means that our results are guaranteed using their methodologies. We are sold our potential all the time and we buy into it as if we have never met ourselves. We genuinely believe that with this one new thing tomorrow we will wake up an entirely different person, capable of things that we have never managed to motivate ourselves to achieve before!

That is wishful and whimsical thinking.

The result of a temporary approach to goal achievement.

I see this “5-Day Challenge” approach to marketing all the time. Then when there isn’t an instant sell out it is on to the next thing – more head turning than a Wimbledon final. Money, that I have been told there isn’t enough of, chucked in £47 chunks at the next solution which in some cases is never implemented and in most cases never given the chance to work before it is condemned to the “failure” pile and a switch is made to the next best thing.

No strategy.

Just tactics.

Tactics that are time sensitive and right for someone else. Temporary, fast, quick fix solutions to longstanding, embedded, complex problems.

Marketing takes time to work and no download can change that. You will never get results by constantly flitting from one possible solution to another.

Have a strategy and give it 3-6 months to work.

Another area in business that I see this temporary approach is in the obsession with customer acquisition and the service that follows. Everywhere you turn it is all about lead generation. When I ask people how I can help them the answer is usually as simple as more clients or more money. More money is almost always associated with new clients as default thinking; the lifetime value of a client is rarely considered.

I am always more interested in retention numbers and lifetime value as I firmly believe that it is easier to get a current client to buy again than to get a new client to buy for the first time. Obviously, a business needs both but, to me, retention figures are a better indicator of how well a business is performing and meeting the needs of customers and the wider community.

Some businesses have no clue about lifetime value; some don’t seem to care at all. It always grates my carrot that mobile phone and internet deals are available to “new clients only”; there seems to be little or no reward for loyalty in those brands!

From a customer service perspective I see customers being treated as if they have a life expectancy not a lifetime value. It never ceases to amaze me how “Jekyll and Hyde” the experience can be with a brand. Amazing value in their marketing, outstanding communication, smooth transitions through the onboarding process, positive and helpful attitude, all the way right up to the point of purchase and then ……. crickets.

Once you are “in” then the service you get is completely different in look and feel to what was promised and just trying to get hold of someone to discuss your disappointment is near impossible. I find this extremely sad, especially in smaller businesses where customer service can be such a key point of differentiation.

In life, I believe I have observed a switch in attitude from permanent to temporary in relationships. In July my parents celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary; during lockdown, in my world of friends and acquaintances, I heard of at least a dozen relationships coming to an end.

Although the rate of divorce has been declining in the UK for the past few year, it is still far higher than it ever was in my parents’ generation. It would not surprise me if recent events result in a soaring rate in 2020/21.

I believe attitudes towards the primacy and permanency of marriage particularly have changed over the last few decades. I don’t profess to be an expert in the area of relationships, I haven’t yet managed to keep one alive! I am still focusing on plants and may, one day, progress to pets – so this is very much an observation rather than an authoritative statement.

I wonder whether you see something similar, not just in marriage but in relationships generally.

Is the attitude towards them that they are more expendable?

Has the opening up of the online world added so many more potential relationships that we have gone wider instead of deeper and more intimate into a select few?

So what is the answer?

Don’t ask me.

I have only just really started unpacking the problem and I don’t believe in putting plasters on bullet wounds! Besides, I am not sure my answer can be your answer. I think we must identify for ourselves where we might be behaving in a detrimentally temporary manner and then decide what to do about it.

I have a feeling the answer is simpler than we might think, it usually is.

In the past solutions seemed to be so simple. To lose weight you would eat fewer calories than you would burn. In a career or business you would work hard and focus, investing time and energy in building something of reputational and relational substance that would support you in your later life through a good pension or dividends.

I have really had a look at where this patterning is showing up for me.

I have focused over the last few months on creating a vision of what I want my life to look like, however long that might be. I have expanded my timeline thinking beyond a year or two and set bigger milestones that will take time to create, so I am less likely to “give up” in the short term if results are not immediate. I have found inspirational role models who talk openly about how long it took them to achieve their success, and I remind myself that I am looking at their Year 15 – my Year 3 can’t possibly look the same!

I have stopped setting temporary goals and have switched to success planning. I have a clear roadmap for my business and it is no longer a temporary thing designed to finance my holiday travel. I am not chasing something down, I am creating a permanent way of being that is aligned to my purpose, values, and the contribution I want to make.

I have changed my attitude towards costs and am only now making investments that are congruent with the way I want live and the person I want to become. I have altered my saving and spending habits accordingly.

I am thinking bigger. I am investing today in tomorrow.

I am being more intentional with where I put my resources, ensuring that the investment made is taking me closer to where I want to go. I have fully recognised that tomorrow’s success is created in today’s behaviours and that it will take hard work, focus and the commitment to stand back up every time I get knocked down.

I have decided to bring success into the things I do every single day, not see it as a future state. I have done a lot of surrendering and releasing of the need to control and have embraced the idea of having patience (this is new to me and the start has been a little bumpy); I have slowed down.

The way I see it whatever I do is “for life”, my life; and it’s time to go all in and pursue the things that really matter with full focus, spending every day becoming a better person, regardless of how my success compares to others.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I still believe very much in living in the present moment and I am not advocating at all for living focused only on the future; I am suggesting that it is actions in the present that create success tomorrow. So by taking a more permanent approach to the things I do today I can influence the shape of tomorrow and craft the life that I believe will allow me to make a full and meaningful contribution.

Additionally, I am considering my consumer habits and making changes where necessary. I can assure you that my future purchases will be geared towards quality over quantity!

Only one more dishwasher in this lifetime for me!

I hope that by highlighting the follies of a temporary approach, and the long term detriments of “one click” instant gratification, I have given food for thought.

With a few simple shifts I think it is very possible to bring about fewer plasters and more permanent healing, in life and business. I also think there would ultimately be much to gained with a more permanent approach to things: more dreams would become reality, relationships would be longer and stronger, life would be less rushed, there would be lower turnover and less waste, even a greater consciousness in consumerism; everything would be a little less disposable and as a result the quality of life would go up in more ways than one.

Definitely something worth considering, I think.

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