Seth Godin, one of my favourite authors and thinkers, had a great podcast episode called “Long term”. In it he had several stories:

  • He had a story about Charles Ponzi who is infamously named for the Ponzi scheme. The idea was to get investors in promising them high returns. He would then get even more investors and pay off the original investors then try to get even more investors to pay off the next set of investors (and on and on) until he couldn’t keep up with the number of investors and payments that needed to be made. People were looking for get rich quick schemes and thinking about the short term.
  • There was another story about Jor-El – Superman’s father, who on Krypton, noticed that the planet that they were living on would soon meet its destruction. He was a leading scientist who tried to convince others on the planet to leave to save its inhabitants but failed. As the planet met its demise, he launched Kal-El off in a rocket and that’s how we ended up with Superman. Again, this is another case of short term thinking – the scientists were not thinking about the long term.
  • Google’s Larry Page was at a conference and he was talking about his product, at the time, a relatively unknown search engine called Google. He said that he does no marketing for Google. The reason is because the product (Google) was getting better and better every day and rather than having customers come in to see a product that is not as good, he would rather wait for customers to come in at a later point so that they can see a better product. This is a fascinating way of thinking about your product in the long term.

This got me thinking about we should be thinking about things in the long term. In fact, there’s a podcast about long term thinking called the Long Now and there’s a foundation that is dedicated to long term thinking called the Long Now Foundation (not just 5, 10 or 20 years but really long term like 100, 1000 or even 10,000 years). You may have heard the story about Jeff Bezos building a $42 million dollar clock that will run for 10,000 years. Part of the reason why he built this clock is to remind himself, and others, about what it means to think in the long term. Think about how to make products or services that would last 10,000 years (or more) and how that would change things.

Another author that I really enjoy is Nassim Taleb who wrote the best sellers Black Swan, Antifragile and most recently, Skin in the Game. He has chapters that compares what it means to be a black swan, what it means to be anti fragile (and not anti fragile) and what it means to have skin in the game or to not have skin in the game. I’m going to do something similar and compare what it means (to me at least) to be a short term thinker vs. a long term thinker.

Short term thinking Long term thinking
Job salary (money) Career experience, growth and learning
Weight loss Active healthy lifestyle
Start and flip companies Slow and sustained growth
Renting a place Buying land / property
One night stand Great relationship based on friendship
Refusing to refund a customer for short term profits Refunding and giving a coupon to the customer for a future sale to develop a relationship
Enormous houses Space efficient housing / duplexes
Learning the topics that are hot today Understanding big trends and forces that will impact the market in the long term

What are your thoughts on long term thinking and how it can apply to your life? How will it change the way you think about things?