Editor's Note

Say 'Hello' to Your Future

How in touch are you with the future of your business? If you say 'not very,' you're not alone.

Here are some seemingly weird questions for the owners, operators and management of HME provider businesses: How in touch with the future of your business are you? Does that future version of your business feel as tangible as your current business? Or, does it feel far off and remote, perhaps as though it was an entirely different business ran and staffed by entirely different people?

I started thinking about these questions after reading an article by Tim Herrera, the founding editor of the New York Times’ Smarter Living newsletter. He was talking about the various mental tricks we play on ourselves when we think about the future. Chief among them is a strange behavior: we see our future selves as entirely different people.

No kidding. Thanks to a mental trick we play on ourselves called the “present bias,” we focus on our immediate present needs to the point where we become mentally disconnected from our future selves. Herrera cites a paper on “hyperbolic discounting” by the University of Minnesota’s Behavior Lab, which conducts academic studies related to psychology and marketing. In the paper, the lab finds that many people will take $100 immediately, rather than $110 a day later, while at the same time, they would wait to take $110 in 31 days, rather than $100 in 30 days.

In other words, you and I will take an immediate monetary gain over a larger gain delayed by a mere 24 hours, but we’re more than happy to defer our gratification if it’s happening a month from now. We are hard-wired to take that bird in the hand right now, but are fine with making our future selves wait just a little longer.

Furthermore, we have a tough time identifying with that future self at all. Herrera cites a couple of studies that demonstrated that: In one, test subjects were far more likely to identify with the idea that their lives would be better if they immediately won the lottery, but had a much harder time conceptualizing enjoying a stable retirement made possible by steady, incremental savings. In another study, subjects looked at images representing themselves exercising, someone else working out, and themselves doing nothing. Only those that picked the first image reported that they had then worked out in follow-up interviews conducted a day later.

I believe the same holds true when it comes to strategic business planning. While there are plenty of businesses out there that can set revenue targets or profit goals, how well do the managers of those businesses envision exactly where they want that business to be in five years? If we are just as mentally disconnected from the future of our businesses as we are from our personal futures, then the answer is “not very.”

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Researchers say that if we can better visualize our futures, we can start to identify with it, and thus not succumb to present bias and hyperbolic discounting. For example, if we can better conceptualize our retirement — activities, health, location, lifestyle, financial situation — then we can start to identify with that future and see our future selves less like strangers and more like, well, us.

Can’t we extrapolate that idea to business planning? Sure, we might have a revenue target or a new location in mind, but we can get deeper and more strategic by asking some open-ended questions about our future: What post-acute markets should the business to be in? What will be its chief revenue sources and business partners? Can the business carve out niches safe from the capricious nature of Medicare policies? What are those niches? Do we know what milestones will get the business where it needs to be?

The more questions management asks, the more a picture of the future comes into focus. From there, the business can set goals and regularly track its performance against them. Moreover, management can regularly review its vision of the future and adjust it based on changes in the market, policy or healthcare.

To help you in that endeavor, members from our Editorial Advisory Board have listed key trends that could impact your business in coming months (see “A Look Ahead for HME”). It’s not easy to identify with the future, but it is possible.

This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

David Kopf is the Executive Editor of HME Business and DME Pharmacy magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @postacutenews.

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