Long-Term Thinking


A forward-thinking organization is building a clock in a mountain designed to last for 10,000 years. Why?

Civilization is revving itself into a pathologically short attention span. The trend might be coming from the acceleration of technology, the short-horizon perspective of market-driven economics, the next-election perspective of democracies, or the distractions of personal multi-tasking. All are on the increase. Some sort of balancing corrective to the short-sightedness is needed-some mechanism or myth which encourages the long view and the taking of long-term responsibility, where ‘long-term’ is measured at least in centuries. Long Now proposes both a mechanism and a myth. – Stewart Brand

This “10,000 Year Clock” is meant to encourage greater societal consciousness about time, leading us to ask questions like, “Are we being good ancestors?” Its originator, Danny Hillis, states,

When I was a child, people used to talk about what would happen by the year 02000. For the next thirty years they kept talking about what would happen by the year 02000, and now no one mentions a future date at all. The future has been shrinking by one year per year for my entire life. I think it is time for us to start a long-term project that gets people thinking past the mental barrier of an ever-shortening future. I would like to propose a large (think Stonehenge) mechanical clock, powered by seasonal temperature changes. It ticks once a year, bongs once a century, and the cuckoo comes out every millennium.

You can read more here.

I recently read an interview with Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos in which he described our current era of online shopping as “Day Zero.” From his perspective, we’re not even at Day One yet. Talk about long-term thinking! No real surprise then that he’s connected with The Long Now society and donated millions of dollars to get the clock underway.

Long-term thinking seems to be increasingly rare. People like the Iroquois used to ask, “What would be good for the next seven generations?” Now many people seem more concerned about getting the next iPad or their plans for the weekend.

Back to the clock. It’s being made based a on specific set of principles, and I can’t help but wonder, “How might these guidelines apply to a life or to an organization today?” My questions are in bold.

* Longevity: Will our lives meaningfully outlive us?

* Maintainability: How will others carry on our impact after we’re gone?

* Transparency: Are we living lives above reproach?

* Evolvability: Are we working with wet or dry clay?

* Scalability: Are we working on little models today that will help us build a bigger tomorrow?

Being too caught up in the present results in imprisonment to the now. We do ourselves and others a great disservice when we fail to stop, zoom out, and look ahead.

My approach to time has been this: Learn from the past, live in the present, and lean into the future. As I look at these principles, I realize I have much room to grow when it comes to engaging in the future.

The future is bigger than what’s left in a lifespan; it’s about the lives of those who follow us and what we give them before we go.

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