What a fortune cookie can teach us, part 2

Early on in my marriage, my wife and I both broke open our fortune cookies, following a very enjoyable Chinese delivery meal. Yes, we had to silence our inner wannabe food connoisseurs, but it was good–and it ended with fortune cookies, which has to count for something

We had the same fortune… I spoke in part 1 of this topic about shifting context to create a more useful belief. By way of full disclosure, I am no expert in fortune cookie manufacturing. I don’t know how many distinct fortunes are created per batch of cookies, and what are the actual odds of two people getting the same one. A cynic might say that all the cookies in the batch had the same fortune, but let’s face it, fortune cookies are fun! Though I don’t know anyone who changes his plans for the day based on the faux sage advice printed on the little strip of paper, they are a fun way to end the meal, and I would argue a legitimate part of the appeal of Chinese food. Maybe it’s the just traditional joke of adding the phrase “…in bed” to the end of each fortune as we read it aloud for one another. But what fun would it be if in fact all fortunes were the same? (There might be a great anti-socialist joke in there somewhere, but I’m not sure…)

So instead we shift context and had fun with the fact that we got the same fortune. Couldn’t it be that out of the billions of potential fortunes, she and I just happened to get the same one? While romantic and cute, couldn’t that also be construed as meaning that our fortunes were parallel, identical, and somehow meant to be together? Now is there any way to prove such a thing? Of course not. But that’s the chorus you keep hearing – a belief is meant to drive you toward what you want, away from what you don’t want, and to give you all you desire. If the belief is likely to at least contribute to these things, we would say it’s useful. If on the other hand it deters you from these things, we would say it is not useful.

Therefore by playing with context a bit, and looking at things a little differently, we managed to find something pleasant in the meaning we created for ourselves out of that event. Remember, two identical fortunes doesn’t inherently have any meaning at all. What matters, the meaning, comes from what we assign to those facts.

I worked recently with a customer who seemed to believe that chaos was a functional business model. Okay, I’m exaggerating — I’m sure that from his perspective, his process made perfect sense.

However I’ve always believed that while there’s nothing at all wrong with short-term goals, when they interfere with our long-term ambitions, we have a problem. I’ve known plenty of companies who seem to embrace a truly quarterly mentality. That is, even if your company isn’t publicly traded, you likely grasp the importance of a successful quarter. Right? But what if, to achieve a successful quarter, you burn the bridges you’ll need to cross next quarter? And the next? And so on? I’ve seen companies who actually encourage their people to think this way! And note the first part of this discussion — the quarter does matter. A lot. But so does the next one.

Business in  this way is similar to other aspects of our lives. Treating your intimate relationship with a next-quarter mentality as described above will make your partner really happy with you right now. But lays the foundation for discontent as you try to build a future together. So even if you’re not actively participating in the corporate world, keep reading — this almost certainly still pertains to you.

Let’s therefore treat this discussion in a very generic way, as though we’re not really talking about corporate performance at all. Because we’re not. Consider this possibility – you are planning everything you are going to have, enjoy, participate in, contribute to, for the next year. Here’s the kicker – you have to plan it out, quarter by quarter.  Would you slash-and-burn your way through the first quarter, having a FANTASTIC, by whatever standard makes sense, quarter? (High fives all around! Bonuses, perks, “SPIFs”, and other positive reinforcements all around!)

But wait, there’s more…did we lay any foundation, sow the seeds, for the quarter that follows? Did we even have a plan for the full year? I’ve been surprised at how many professionals don’t.

The point is that if part of our desperate, mad dash to have a great quarter kills our future potential, interferes with, or prevents our having, a long-term plan, we have shot ourselves in the foot. Sure, we’ve gotten some great pain killers to help us through it, but that won’t help when the race starts back up next quarter and we’re metaphorically wounded.

How about you? Is your current plan, whether professional, personal, spiritual, solely for the short-term? Worse, does it kill future potential just to maximize the return this quarter?  Only the naive don’t realize that American business has changed a great deal in the last decade. But relationships still matter. A lot.

Especially…in bed!