Don’t Eat the Marshmallow

In the late 1960s, psychologist Walter Mischel (a professor at Stanford University) did a series of studies with young children. In these experiments, a child was offered a choice between one marshmallow provided immediately or two marshmallows if they waited for a short period, approximately 15 minutes (which, admittedly, is an ETERNITY for a child), during which the tester left the room and left the child unattended.

But the study didn’t end there. 

They followed these children as they grew up, through adolescence, and into adulthood. For 30 years, they did follow-up studies… And the researchers found that the children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index (BMI), and other life measures.

The kids that didn’t eat the marshmallow ended up living better lives. Why?

Delayed gratification.Delayed gratification, or deferred gratification, is the ability to resist the temptation for an immediate reward and wait for a later reward.

Why does this matter for business leaders and entrepreneurs?  (I’m glad you asked.)

They are no short-cuts to building a successful brand. You either do the work (and reap the benefits later) or you don’t do the work (and there is no later).

Entrepreneurs that front-load the hard work end up being more successful in the long run. If you’re looking for a quick high, starting a business is a silly choice. Throw your idea in the trash and go buy a scratch ticket.

But if you’re ready to do the difficult (and often un-sexy) work of building a strong foundation, your business will be standing strong in the storm, while the others are scrambling to keep their straw-huts together.

When I decided where I wanted to go to college and declared a major (Visual Communications with a focus in Graphic Design), it seemed like nonsense to most of my friends. They were going to business school, doing internships at big city companies, and leaving school with 6-figure incomes. Very tantalizing.

But now a decade later, I’m seeing them make a boatload of money, but they’re completely miserable. They’re stuck in middle management. With 70 hour work weeks. And a thousand pounds of pressure sitting on their chests.

The path we took was different.

We built Emery Creative to actually create freedom in our team’s lives, not fill their lives with busy work. We aren’t skittering around trying to fill our schedules with $50 logo designs. We decided early on to work with a very small number of clients. This allows our Strategists and Designers to wake up every morning and only have one or two Clients on their mind.

Less plates to keep spinning.

And this was only possible because of the work we did on the front end. We studied. We cut the fat. We made difficult decisions. We structured ourselves strategically.

And we didn’t eat the marshmallow.
(Even though it looked really, really good.)

A question for you today…

What can you do today that you’ll benefit from a year down the road?

If we all stop looking for “short-cuts to success” and instead use that time building strong brands and foundations for our business…

We might just discover a few marshmallows along the way.

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