How Long Term Is Your Long Term?

Dr Ross McKenzie - Entreprenuer - The Startup Business

Some years back I was in Sweden visiting friends. It was actually a reunion and we were camping on a farmer’s property. Very picturesque. Mid-summer by a lake, with a forest all around us.

I got to talking to the farmer and he explained to me he would be shortly harvesting some of the forest that was planted by his grandfather, but at the same time he was planting new trees with his son. You see, the time between planting and harvest basically went beyond one family’s generation.

I was really impressed by this because to me it summed up everything about being a steward for the future. About investing, no short cuts, just patience and of course having a future vision.

How do you see your business? Can you visualise what you are doing today and how that might be in say just ten years, in comparison to my Swedish farmer of fifty years?

If you have not read Peter Schwarz’s book The Art Of The Long View, you should. I mean Schwarz challenges us to think really long term, beyond our own lives. To me, this really gets you shifting beyond self and your own immediate needs and circumstances.

On his website you will read the story of the 10,000-year clock project – a clock currently being built and is designed to tick just once a year and the century hand advances once every one hundred years!

Now some might say “what’s the value of that?”- well for you and me today, possibly not much, unless we really reflect on what this may mean in our lives today symbolically.

I believe a challenge in our modern society is we think and plan short term.

By short term I think it is typically a few years for governments (ie between election cycles) and for businesses, often just the next twelve months. I guess that is OK, but what is the big picture here?

You may argue that with technology and particularly today with globalisation and digital disruption, the next twelve months is all you can plan for. Well I get that, but I think we need to challenge that paradigm at the same time.

While we may not necessarily predict the future (though Marty McFly and Doc Brown went close!) we should anticipate the future.

The future is the ONLY thing we can do anything about.” –Hillis

We should consider possible scenarios that could play out. I am not talking about best case or worst case, I mean considering thoughtfully of our role or our businesses role, today and how that may be in just ten years’ time to start with.

How might the need for your services be in ten years time? The skills and capabilities you have today, will they still be in demand or has something changed?

Thinking more broadly, is it possible that in many societies, governments will not be in a position to support many of the services that they currently support today? What could the threat of global warming have in just ten years’ time? More forest fires? People being displaced from low lying islands? Will that have an influence on various investment instruments and global economics?

What are the new opportunities and the new services required? How will these services be delivered? How will communities interact? What help will they need?

We can go on and on with these questions and the answers are anyone’s guess. The point I am making here is that we all need to just take time out and consider the future and our role in it.

From a practical point of view, I think it is essential that all of us should do this each year. Take time out and ponder those questions. Consider scenarios, the threats, the opportunities, and make plans accordingly.

Finally, think about my Swedish farmer and his son planting trees for the future.

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