The Marshmallow Test is series of experiments on delaying gratification in children. Researchers tested whether children could delay eating a treat when told that delay would mean an extra treat.

Researchers then followed the children’s development and found that those who had been able to delay gratification for a greater reward had been more successful by various life measures including academic achievements.

Would I have passed the marshmallow test? Easily, I’ve never liked marshmallow. I’d do less well if the temptation involved chocolate, even now.

Can the “Marshmallow Test”  be applied to companies?

There is pressure within companies to meet monthly sales targets, project deadlines, quarterly results – multiple drivers of short-term performance requirements. A company’s strategy should provide a longer arc but the relentless pace of change compresses even this.

Are there companies out there that refuse short term revenue or profit to build long term gain?

Don Pepper identified 3 “small” examples in a Linkedin Post which got me thinking about specific incidents where I’d deferred instant result for a better result in the future.

I came up with three;

  • delayed a high impact project, that had some urgency, until I could get a knowledgeable project manager in place. A good decision.
  • rolled a mobile deployment of an intranet tool into a larger project, thinking that it would be easier to solve the significant security challenges once and the outcome would be a better user experience. A bad decision, two years later it still wasn’t done.
  • turned down an excellent candidate, because I didn’t think it was the right role for him – and hired him a year later for the right role. A difficult, but good decision.

In all cases I feared missing out on an opportunity when I made the decision, in two cases it was a good decision, in one perhaps not. I try not to give into the “fear of missing out” factor, and one way to do that is to imagine what I will think in six months if I say yes, vs saying no. You can also take time to imagine what it will take to deliver if you say yes now – in the first example I had to defend a delay, but had I taken on the project I had no resources for it’s unlikely the project would have been delivered any earlier or any better.

Have you deferred short term benefit for long term gain? If so, what was the eventual outcome?

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