Most of us tend to be short-term thinkers, often only seeing and acting on what is just ahead of, or just behind us.
This is why we tend to fall victim to instant gratification, at the peril of longer-term outcomes.
It’s also why so many people proclaim that the world has never been any worse than it is today, despite the fact that just one hundred years ago, kids worked in coal-mines, and running water, electricity, healthcare, and education were luxuries that only the few could access.
Hedge fund manager, Ray Dalio, made the case for thinking in subsequent orders of consequence in his hugely successful book, Principles: Life and Work.
In it, he posits that “the first-order consequences of exercise (pain and time spent) are commonly considered undesirable, while the second-order consequences (better health and more attractive appearance) are desirable. Similarly, food that tastes good is often bad for you and vice versa”.
Reflecting on this and my entrepreneurial journey, subsequent order consequences, and more specifically, benefits, are everywhere. Often-times, the subsequent-order benefits are much greater than the original desired benefit.
For example, I started my podcast, Future Squared, back in 2016 with the intention of building my brand and marketing what my company does.
However, it has offered numerous other benefits, pertaining to relationship development, expanding my world-view, becoming a better listener and asking better questions. These tracks all offer up their own subsequent order of benefit.
Let’s look at the relationship development track.
Act: Launch podcast
First-order benefit: Access to thought leaders such as Adam Grant, James Clear, Kevin Kelly, Gretchen Rubin, and Robert Greene
Second-order benefit: Relationship development with said thought leaders
Third-order benefit: Secure book endorsement for Employee to Entrepreneur via said relationships with thought leaders
Forth-order benefit: Sell more copies of said book, and leverage said endorsements in personal branding initiatives
Fifth-order benefit: Access new commercial and creative opportunities (such as writing for Harvard Business Review)
Let’s take the learning track.
Action: Launch podcast
First-order benefit: Learn from thought leaders across myriad disciplines
Second-order benefit: Become a multi-disciplinary thinker, better able to see and tackle problems from different angles and become a better problem solver
Third-order benefit: Demonstrate an ability to think differently in my writing, sales calls, keynotes and workshops
Forth order benefit: Access new commercial opportunities
Oftentimes, entrepreneurs, and anybody embarking upon a pursuit of some kind, might find themselves focusing too much on the first-order of desired benefit.
Sometimes, this benefit (such as personal branding, in the case of the podcast) can take quite a long time to come to fruition, oftentimes resulting in said podcaster giving up before they’ve really got going.
But by instead creating space for the subsequent order benefits to show up, especially those that you will see faster (such as relationship development with podcast guests, or learnings from conversations), we maintain our motivation and are more likely to stay the course long enough to get to the desired benefit.
Business aside, if you’re learning to surf, you’ll no doubt find yourself wiping out a bunch. Instead, focus on the subsequent order benefits such as building resilience, salt-water therapy, making new friends in the line-up and quelling any anxiety by virtue of moving in nature.
There are always subsequent order benefits that you can take heart from. Train yourself to see and appreciate them, rather than just focusing on the metric right in front of you.
Steve Glaveski is on a mission to unlock your potential to do your best work and live your best life. He is the founder of innovation accelerator, Collective Campus, author of several books, including Employee to Entrepreneur and Time Rich, and productivity contributor for Harvard Business Review. He’s a chronic autodidact and is into everything from 80s metal and high-intensity workouts to attempting to surf and hold a warrior three pose.