A Startup Lesson for Your Future Self

Startups and businesses can have a tendency to move from project to project in reactive way. They often prioritize their projects in two ways. URGENT! and later. This tendency can be thought of as dynamic inconsistency. Which is definitely a problem with many startups. Dynamic inconsistency, is a [behavioral] economics term which describe a situation where a decision maker—which could be a group of people, an organization, or an individual—is not in agreement with themselves in different points of times.

For example, a person who’s long term goal is to be healthy and fit may have set goals for working out three times a week, but in the moment (today’s decisions) they prioritize today’s wants has higher. Which leads to situations such as, “I’m busy today, I’ll work out tomorrow.” Dynamic inconsistency or time inconsistency play a role in procrastination, addiction, weight loss and even saving for the future. The main principle that I want to highlight is that it leads to thinking that today’s time is more valuable then the future’s.

TED Video: The Battle Between Your Present & Future Self

TED Talk by Daniel Goldstein

The Result: Today Is Always More Urgent than Later

The result is a dichotomy in prioritization. Everything ends up being either extremely urgent or not important. Therefore it becomes difficult to balance the need to implement new features with the time it might take to design and development them holistically and successfully.

The deadline driven culture leads to a focus on creating solutions before understanding problems. Details are lost in the shuffle and team members become discourage, by having to release products that are high quality.

This “battle between your present and future self” may be part of the reason why startups have a mentality of, “ship now now now and fix it up later,” without actually getting back to fixing (making them useful, usable or profitable) those rushed features. The current self (self equals startup) wants the feature now and delegates the responsibility of getting it right to it’s future self. Dynamic inconsistency is one way to explain this fix-it-later mentality. The time we have now is always more valuable then the time we have in the future so quality keeps getting pushed to the less valuable future time.

The problem is that when “later” becomes now the business has already shifted priorities to another feature that needs to be rolled out NOW. In this way the responsibility of making a high-quality product or feature get pushed further and further to a future date. When the a future date comes, it may require a pivot because by that point you just might have a product full of half thought out badly implemented features. Eek!

So take a lesson from Ulysses and plan (make a pact) for the fact that your future self may be impaired by a siren called “the next shiny feature.” So put the time in and do your best the first time around, your users and hopefully your investors will thank you.

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