How Long-Term Planning Leads to Long Term Achievements
Recounting his time as Chief Scientist at Amazon, Andreas Weignard recalls how, after every meeting he had with Bezos, he always left the room feeling more energized and more motivated than when he had first gone in. “He [Bezos] had a way of thinking and planning details ten to twenty years into the future,” he says. “We began by selling books, but the long-term plan was to sell everything to everyone everywhere. That was his vision.”
Amazon chief Jeff Bezos left his Wall Street job in the 90s to start the online retailer after imagining himself at 80, looking back on his life. It was the size of his long-term vision that determined his long-term achievements.
Bezos’ long term strategy worked out well for the company. Today, Amazon ships out billions of products worldwide and employs tens of thousands of people across the globe.
Bezos’ visionary plan for the company shows that he did not overestimate what he could achieve in the short-term while underestimate what he could achieve in the long-term, he instead did the opposite. His company took nine years to turn a profit— despite the billions of investment capital that had been seeded by venture capitalists.
The long term planning and vision paid off eventually, Amazon has gone to disrupt hundreds of industries and has acquired thousands of companies. Their next target for disruption in the 2020s is Big Pharma, Big Finance, Big Tech, Supply Chain & Logistics networks, Food retail, and Insurance.
Long term planning was key to their long-term success.
Back in 1976, an air-force magazine published an article that covered a novel new research paper that discussed a theoretical global positioning system called GPS. The future implications of this technology, the writer imagined, would revolutionize the future of travel.
“Someday,” he wrote, “if the United States really invests in electronic miniaturization, a soldier would be able to wear a backpack that weighs about 15 pounds and costs $12,000, this device would enable him to know exactly where he was at any given moment at anytime on the face of the earth.”
The article was received with ridicule. The magazine’s editor came under fire for publishing pseudo-science in a well respected engineering journal. Can you imagine a world without GPS today?
Now suppose the same author wrote the same thing about the future miniaturization of phones: “Someday, if the United States really invests in electronic miniaturization, a soldier would be able to carry a device that will fit in his pocket and enable him to know exactly where he was at any given moment on the face of the earth. In addition to this, it will also double as a radio, a tv, a telephone, a calendar, a clock, a portable encyclopedia and a camera — allowing him to talk face-to-face with anyone anywhere in the world. This device would be owned by every person walking on the street.”
Now no self-respecting editor at the time would allow this article to go into print. It is based on too much speculation and requires technology that does not even yet exist. But imagine a world without cell phones today?
“Standing in the future and looking back is easier than standing in the past and looking into the future,” says Steve Justice, former head of Lockheed Martin, and he should know this all too well.
When they began building the SR-71 Blackbird back in the seventies, they had to build it using technology that didn’t yet exist. His mentor, Kelly Johnson, instructed the team to think three to four decades ahead of their time.
During the development of the F22 Raptor in 1971, an engineer was asked about the technology of this $66 billion dollar aircraft, he replied: “Well, the people that are going to fly this thing aren’t even born yet. They’re going to grow up with a computer that I cannot imagine now, they’re going to interface with computers in a different way than we do now, and so I have to build it so it does not seem too archaic to them then.”
It is no surprise that the SR-71 Blackbird remains the fastest stealth aircraft in the world today. When it was completed, it was the most advanced Jet Fighter that had ever been built in the world, and had the most powerful computer systems known at the time. With their company vision of building systems thirty years into the future, who knows what they could be working on today?
“We have aircraft in existence today that can fly you anywhere in the world in less than an hour,” says one Skunk Works engineer. “The technology we have now is so far ahead into the future that it is thirty years ahead of anything we have today.”
A long term strategy allows us to accurately prioritize things. It allows us to focus on the big picture and not just what’s happening now. If we have a long term vision, challenges become easier to deal with.
A long term plan allows us to imagine scenarios way in advance and accurately predict what it will take to get there. It encourages us to adopt the 10x approach, which is to think 10x bigger than we are currently thinking now.
As an Athlete, what will it take to dominate my sport?
As an entrepreneur looking to grow his company from a $10 million evaluation to a $100 million evaluation in the next 10 years, what will it take from me and my team to reach that target?
What kind of growth should I expect year on year and what should I do to achieve it?
Having a long term vision allows us to accurately measure what it is we want, when it is we want it, and how to effectively achieve it.