Long-Term Thinking

Photo Credit: Gian-Reto Tarnutzer — https://unsplash.com/@reto_gian

Building anything great is hard. It takes a bunch of stuff that doesn’t come together by accident or very often. So you have to work at it and plan for it. But planning is hard as well. There are unknowns and distractions. Storm clouds and rocky mountains. These things paralyze the most gifted teams and destroy the most promising head starts.

So how do you plan for success?

Success is knowing exactly what you want and then being willing to do anything to get it.

Let’s assume you have what it takes to do the work. Then the most important thing is nailing the first part. You can’t think you know what you want, you have to know you know what you want.

In the context of building products or businesses, knowing exactly what you want means you have a deep, burning conviction. A mission. You understand something that is always going to be there. Regardless of any challenges or roadblocks along the way, you see a beacon in the darkness.

If you skip this step, here’s what happens. You’ll have a great idea, work really hard, but eventually not on the right things. Because you’ll try, measure, see imperfect results, feel lost, regain confidence, try again, see something new, question if you really wanted the old, research the new, re-group, then finally you’ll think you know what you want, work really hard, but eventually not on the right things. You see where this gets you right?

Long-term thinking is the only way to plan for success.

Start with the raw materials. By observing fundamental laws, or first principles, you’re able to identify concrete building blocks. From there, reason your way far, far into the future. Past all the trials and tribulations. When you start with a firm foundation, a deep understanding of some truth, you can plan great things because you know exactly what you want. You can see success so you aren’t distracted by the possibility of not finding it.

This way — when you try, measure, review — you’ll know what you want and therefore how to react. A compass is only useful if you know the coordinates of your destination.

There’s a plague in startups today. The “adapt quickly” and “pivot” your way to success strategy. It breeds a culture of thinking we know what we want, but never actually knowing. Of looking outside for answers. At competitors and trends. It leads to large groups of people getting distracted and paralyzed by questions and possibilities. It leads to working really hard, but not on the right things.

Elon Musk is probably the most famous current example of the power of using fundamentals to think long-term and plan for success. At each major milestone he publishes the Master Plan, making sure everyone at Tesla knows what they want and feels public pressure to do it.

Amazon is the gold standard in long-term thinking. It runs through the veins of the company. They don’t do anything unless it’s part of the long-term. It’s at the heart of how they innovate and measure themselves.

I don’t think that you can invent on behalf of customers unless you’re willing to think long-term, because a lot of invention doesn’t work. If you’re going to invent, it means you’re going to experiment, and if you’re going to experiment, you’re going to fail, and if you’re going to fail, you have to think long term. — Jeff Bezos

Building anything great is really hard. Focus on rules that won’t ever change to reason your way forward. Don’t start until you know exactly what you want. Plan for success by thinking long-term and take comfort in the fact that regardless of what monster is blocking the path ahead, you’ll always have a beacon to guide you.

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