I recently read “Don’t Eat the Marshmallow … Yet” by Joachim de Posada. It is a great book about self-discipline and deferring immediate gratification. It references an experiment with 600 children between the ages of 4-6 at Stanford. The experiment was conducted in 1972 by psychologist Walter Mischel of Stanford University. The experiment has been repeated many times since, and the original study at Stanford has been “regarded as one of the most successful behavioral experiments”. In the study, a marshmallow was offered to each child. If the child could resist eating the marshmallow for 15 minutes, he was promised two instead of one. The scientists analyzed how long each child resisted the temptation of eating the marshmallow, and whether or not doing so had an effect on their future success. The results provided researchers with great insight on the psychology of self control.
Two thirds of the children ate the marshmallow. They then followed up years later and the one third that did not eat the marshmallow had better SAT scores and was overall more successful in life. I’ve read all sorts of comments and over-analysis of this test but we tend to make things too complicated. The simple fact is self-discipline normally has long term rewards.
I also heard an interview with the author. This book has sold over 2 million copies worldwide in many different languages. There have been 20,000 sold in the United States. Koreans have bought one million copies. When the author was interviewed on a Korean radio program, he asked why the book had sold so many copies in Korea. The interviewer responded “In your book, you identify the secret to success which is self-discipline and the ability to delay gratification. That is why it has not sold well in America. Delaying immediate gratification is America’s Achilles tendon. America has become a nation of consumers and not producers. They spend more than they produce.”
When I heard this comment by the Korean it really upset me…. for about 15 seconds. He was right. I couldn’t form a good argument. We are not healthy, wealthy or wise as a nation. The only thing I came up with was…uh…nothing. The White House will not fix this. Every one of us is responsible for our own success or failure.
In management and leadership, ignoring performance problems is the same as eating the marshmallow immediately. Problems do not go away. Ignoring it is the easy thing to do today but not long term. Waiting and getting two marshmallows is the equivalent of doing what is necessary to improve results, profitability, sustainability and possibly keeping your job.
Moral of the story; Address the performance problem and get two marshmallows.