On Manipulation

The more short-term our thinking, the easier we are to manipulate

On Manipulation
Photo by Li Zhang / Unsplash

One of the sad ironies of the social sector is that many nonprofit social enterprises are often fighting for long-term change with a short-term business model. I felt this time-horizon mismatch often at Uncharted, and I noticed how it led to decisions governed by short-term motivations. We had multi-year ambitions, but we were trying to cobble together one-off grants and ephemeral funding priorities from foundations to keep the lights on for the next six months. In many ways, our greatest organizational vulnerability was the tyranny of the short-term, and I struggled to align long-term strategy with long-term funding.

I came across a quote recently (that I can no longer find) that said something to the effect of, “the more short-term our thinking, the easier we are to manipulate.” That seems to perfectly capture the relationship between organizations and funders in the social sector.

One of the best heuristics when doing anything strategic is to ask: will this model and this approach allow me to play long-term games with long-term people? As Naval Ravikant says: “All the benefits in life come from compound interests. Whether it’s in relationships, or making money, or in learning.”