Take the long view home

In business life you are often asked to choose a timeline or a strategic horizon. This timeline will help you take into account the plus and minus aspects of a particular product, project or initiative. If you take the short view, you are a weatherperson (tomorrow’s weather and maybe a five day forecast). If you take the long term view you are a scenario planner.

The weatherman is often wrong and the scenario planner isn’t always right — but the planner is also never wrong about future-world. In the book, The Art Of The Long View, Peter Schwartz (a long time scenario planner for Shell) argues that leaders with short term horizons experience frequent disruption in their business models. These companies are crisis prone, as Schwartz explains, because they live in a static world where the changing context is never taken into account (because the time horizons don’t allow for it). In Schwartz’ experience at Shell, they choose to imagine plausible future worlds and how those worlds would be impacted by Shell’s decision — and impact Shell as a company in the long run.

You have a choice. You take the long view like you take the short view. You aren’t assigned a view either. Even if muddle management insists that you stay inside the 90 day box, it is still your decision to be a business-yessir or a business revolutionary. Think of the window of decision as your perspective or lens by which you see the world and react.

Suggested business activity: The next time you are in a group decision meeting at work on a new idea (product, initiative, etc.), create a time capsule with the power point deck, a note on the group’s decision and any dissenting notes (especially ones with long term concerns). Document who was for what and which timeline each person in the group took (now, later, much later). Make a date in your digital calendar in the not to distant future to open and inspect the time capsule (1-3 years). Do a roadshow with your time capsule and encourage other groups to do this too when dealing with issues that have short and long term implications. Set a date in the longer term (5-10 years) where the time capsule will be opened and reviewed for decision quality. This strategy is actually conceived of as a future service to companies in Whole Earth catelog founder Stewart Brand’s book The Clock of the Long Now. This activity will force people to take more accountability for the perspective they choose to take. Everyone knows that there will be a mid and long term review of the decisions. This will cause different questions to be asked in the meeting and confront everyone to choose the BEST perspective or timeline for all the stakeholders and not just the company. The planet is stuck on the long timeline and so is most of the business ecosystem for that matter.

In the end you will find that business wisdom is a matter of length of view. Longer is wiser. Toyota figured it out when they took the long view of Consumer consciousness and launched the Prius before its time. GE has been in future world for over a decade and launched EcoImagination, based on the long view of sustainable business. They all finish at the top of their game and rob market share and mind share from their short term thinking competitors.