28 April, 2023Now that I spend a lot of my working hours assisting small businesses to succeed, I am always looking for clear ways to explain important points and new ways to improve situations. When I wrote my recent blog post on The Founder’s Dilemma, I started thinking about what makes a business owner different from their employees, and different from their customers, and it took me three books and four weeks of musing to work out the following aspects of what I have been thinking about.
The Founder’s Dilemma: Building your business without blunting your people
Small business owners/founders tend to be good at delayed gratification, and they often struggle with the fact that their employees don’t need to be as good at delayed gratification as they have become. Customers, on the other hand, want to solve a problem, or achieve a pleasurable outcome, as soon as possible, and are interested in as close to instant gratification as is possible. Consequently, founders need to cultivate delayed gratification, without expecting their employees to have as much discipline and commitment as they have developed, and founders need to remember that customers want quality, but, because we live in a world of instant gratification, they also want frequent novelty and rewards.
Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld make a persuasive argument for the importance of delayed gratification in their book, The Triple Package: What Really Determines Success. According to their argument, some people learn delayed gratification (normally within communities that value and exemplify it) and it significantly contributes to their likelihood of success. When delayed gratifiers get to work with other delayed gratifiers, then, predictably, their likelihood of success increases. Most founders learn delayed gratification before they start their own business, and their ability to take a long view of when they might get to enjoy their success sets them apart.
Even though Chua and Rubenfeld provide a good explanation for why delayed gratification is such a valuable skill to learn, their book doesn’t satisfactorily explain why delayed gratification is rare. I listened to Anna Lembke’s book, Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence, to understand why instant gratification has become the norm. According to Lembke’s argument, we live in a world of easy pleasure (fast food, instant entertainment, gaming, and pornography, just to mention a few) in which the addictive potential and pursuit of pleasure is ubiquitous. Consequently, instant gratification characterises our age, and has some dark consequences: the more pleasure we experience, the more pleasure we want; the more pleasure we have experienced, the more pleasure it takes to get the same buzz; and the more pleasure we have experienced, the more any moment of suffering begins to feel like extreme pain, which can only be countered by even more pleasure.
Under these conditions, it is becoming progressively more difficult for people to concentrate on boring/neutral activities for any length of time, and people are becoming even less willing to do uncomfortable things. Unsurprisingly, people who have learned delayed gratification, who can manage their pursuit of instant pleasure, have a real advantage in most aspects of life.
The only significant downside of delayed gratification is that people can learn to work so hard, for so long, that they can forget how to experience pleasure. We all know at least one workaholic who no longer remembers how to have a relaxing day with their family and friends, or how to do something just for the sake of immediate pleasure. Our pleasure-pain balance can be messed up by both too much pleasure and too much suffering through hard work.
Delayed gratification is especially useful and only sometimes problematic, while instant gratification has become detrimental to our wellbeing. Consequently, we need to reflect on how much pleasure we seek, how much pain minor suffering causes us, and how hard we should work toward our long-term goals. If you want to learn how to change any of your behaviours, I suggest that you read John B. Arden’s book, Rewire Your Brain 2.0 (2nd Edition): Five Healthy Factors to a Better Life.
In terms of being the founder of a business, I suggest you consider the following things: how long is it since I had a break and did something fun with the people who matter? Am I expecting too much from my employees, and how can I help them to achieve more? And what can I do to ensure that my customers can have a simple path to satisfaction and a pleasurable reason to re-engage with my business? Delayed and instant gratification impact every aspect of human behaviour, and considering how they influence people’s behaviour will help you and your business be successful.
Please contact me if you would like some assistance to develop your thinking and your business.
Arden, John B. (2023). Rewire Your Brain 2.0 (2nd Edition): Five Healthy Factors to a Better Life. Tantor, Audiobook Edition.
Chua, Amy and Jed Rubenfeld (2014). The Triple Package: What Really Determines Success. Audible, Audiobook Edition.
Lembke, Anna (2021). Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence. Penguin Audio, Audiobook Edition.