Why Thinking Long-Term Is The Only Thinking Worth Doing


Saturday, 9.37pm

Sheffield, U.K.

In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation… even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine. – Derived from the Constitution of the Iroquois Nation

It’s not possible for long-term thinking to be in fashion. Ever.

Shortcuts, on the other hand, always are. Shortcuts or hacks or tips or timesavers – such things are always of interest.

A few years ago I did a study on change, talking to people involved in trying to make it happen.

And it was telling just how much focus there was on making everything line up with what was perceived as important.

For example, many in politics focus on jobs. Anything that increases jobs is a good thing. So everyone creates a pitch that talks up how many jobs their project will create.

Or take climate change. What we need is a more sustainable society and that is a hard thing to do. It’s easier to build new green power stations than to get people to use less energy.

But societies don’t make decisions.

People do.

So, what kind of decisions should we make?

For example, what should you do if you want to have a good life? What do you really want out of life?

When you’re young the chances are that you want to be rich or famous or both.

But the people who end up having a good life are not the ones with the most money or fame but the ones with good relationships.

Relationships with family and relationships with their community.

Which poses an interesting approach to doing business.

One of the big risks we face in a technological age is how dependent we are on technology we don’t own or control.

A writer, for example, writing with pen and paper is creating something that could live for decades, even centuries.

My grandfather memoirs, written over forty years ago, are still there on crumbling paper.

They have now been transcribed and the challenge is keeping them digitally for future generations.

If you’re a business, however, what sort of time frame should you use to think about what you do?

John McPhee in Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process writes about using the editor KEdit in 1984.

A friend, Howard J. Strauss, created scripts and programs that helped McPhee use KEdit in his writing process.

Howard died in 2005. In 2007, KEdit stopped being updated and its creator, Kevin Kearney, is semi-retired. There aren’t that many users left around.

I hadn’t really processed this message, this idea that a tool will die with its creator and those that use the tool will also slip away.

It only really struck me when I was browsing the website of the sqlite database and read these lines from Hipp, Wyrick & Company, Inc., (Hwaci), who support the software.

Hwaci intends to continue operating in its current form, and at roughly its current size until at least the year 2050. We expect to be here when you need us, even if that need is many years in the future.

Now, that’s long term thinking. Maybe the kind of thinking you should use in your business.

But is it long enough?

I’m writing this in Emacs, the editor created by Richard Stallman. This tool will never die, because Richard has given the world the source code. And it will outlive him as those who use it keep it alive.

But the editor doesn’t matter because the words themselves are in ascii text. Yes they make their way to a website where you can see them but they aren’t held prisoner by that website.

But, why think about all this? What’s the point?

The point is to think about the future. The future that your children and their children and the generations to come will live in.

I’d like future generations to know my grandfather’s experience. Especially because he took the time to write it down.

It’s my responsibility to pass it on. More importantly, it’s my responsibility to pass on that sense of responsibility to future generations.

I think that when you start to think of things that way, think of the long term, it seems obvious that shortcuts aren’t really worth taking.

You see, you’re not really trying to save ten minutes. You’re trying to create a future for children generations down the line.


Karthik Suresh

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