“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” – Warren Buffett
Our culture is suffering from an increasingly short-term focus. We’re trying to do too much, keep track of a lot of stuff — fending off the stimuli that keep pouring over the horizon … fighting today’s fires but missing the extraordinary value of a long-term perspective.
Building on the quote above, Warren Buffett is well known for his long-term perspective, which gives us other brief quotes such as “At Berkshire, our time horizon is forever” and “that to finish first you must first finish”.
He is certainly talking about the need to balance short-term performance with a long-term perspective that creates a lasting organization. However, this man, if you have studied him, almost shows a complete disregard for the short-term. He could care less what Wall Street thinks about his short-term earnings. He’s a value investor, and he’s in it for the long-haul. He cares about where things will be in the far-off future, not today or tomorrow. Quite refreshing, actually.
The biggest reason I personally enjoy running long distance is the challenge in actually finishing instead of trying to try and get a good time. I get more satisfaction in actually finishing a very long distance run instead of clocking record times for a few miles. To me, it is more challenging, and I think it keeps me focused on the long view when it comes to other things.
I am not built like a runner. I am about 5’10” and look lean when my weight is under 200 pounds. The first time I ran 10 miles without stopping it was quite a feat for me. When I run, I think about the long-term and I really use the running to renew my mind. I remember how important it is to pace oneself and to make sure I am thinking about how to finish the race without stopping. The time you post is important, yes, but to me, finishing the race is the bigger goal.
Traditionally, taking the long view has been correctly identified as one of the most important roles a leader must fulfill … because no one else has the unique knowledge, both inside and outside of the organization, to provide that balanced perspective. What would you do differently as a leader (and in other aspects of your life) if your time horizon was truly long-term? How would you make decisions if you were thinking about how those decisions would make things look like in 5-10 years rather than next week? My bet is that your decisions would be quite different. Try it this week. For example, if you have a spouse and/or children, think about how your decisions (try to think about it when you’re in the situation) will affect that person 5 years from now. Another benefit: sometimes you realize that the decision won’t really have any impact on things in 5 years, and that can help to alleviate some stress in your life!
My wife and I have a “dry” house. We do this, in part, because we thought through the long view on bringing up 4 boys. We want to create a house full of love, support, and we want to walk the talk. We try to keep anything we don’t want them doing out of the home. That’s an example of how I take the long view in my own personal life. I should note, however, that this works for us, and it’s not for everyone. Your long view decisions may take a different outlook altogether, and it also depends on your personal situation and personal goals.
If you’re still having trouble really grasping the concept of thinking long-term, here’s my favorite video about taking the long view (I recommend you watch it even if you think you have this all down – it’s only 4 minutes):
I do realize that any leader of any organization has to pay attention to today. I’ve seen countless companies go under because the leader can’t get his/her head out of the clouds. You have probably worked with someone like that before. They are inspiring and can be very fun to work with, and, they can also drive you crazy! There’s no question that current performance is life-sustaining. We can’t ignore it … but we can be mindful of our long-term goals and make sure that a quick buck in the short-term isn’t destroying our ability to build a lasting business.
What are you doing to think long-term on a daily basis? Are you encouraging your team to think long-term, or is this month’s performance the only thing on everyone’s mind? Do you talk about the long-term vision but hammer on people for short-term goals and/or metrics?
Some are still hopelessly addicted to the quick fix and the fast buck. They haven’t yet realized that the true bottom line is … that there is no bottom lines, much less limits or logic. Life isn’t linear and sequential, with one thing logically and consistently leading to another. Rather, it is chaotic, contrary, unexpected, and ambiguous. Things do not happen according to plan, and they are not reducible to tidy models.
Jesus certainly took the long-term view on things. I wonder if this is why he often preached on top of hills. I wonder if this is why he was ok with the woman pouring perfume on him to clean his feet. That certainly seemed like a waste of money in the short-term, but Jesus saw the long-term teaching opportunity of what the woman was doing. Even though Jesus could have taken on the Roman Empire and eliminated them from Judea, he chose not to. He said, “my kingdom is not of this world”. In the end, he showed us the ultimate long-term view. He allowed himself to be brutally beaten and then crucified. No rational person would do this unless they took the long view and were certain that it would come true. Jesus knew that he would go to heaven and that his death was God’s plan. He knew that God takes the long view and that his plan is perfect. He decided to acquiesce to the long view and lived it out!