Are you innovating in the long term?

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The current drive for agility pushes businesses and brands towards short term thinking and immediacy, but how long is this system sustainable for? Everything is fast paced, smaller and more and more ephemeral, not really helping our ever shrinking attention spans. Due to this, businesses are finding it even harder to maintain consumer’s attention. Meaningful Brands has some interesting information about this:

“(…) in many cases, the connection between brands and consumers is either weak or broken. One of the main findings was that the majority of people in Europe would not care if 93% of brands disappeared.”

This is hardly surprising, if we think of our own personal experience – how many brands do we actually care about? Or even, how many brands do we have time to care about?

For a while now we have been hearing of movements that try and go against the grain – Slow Food,  Slow Management  are just a couple of examples. Many of us are trying to slow down, as we realise that this short termism can be the biggest threat to a company’s future.

Martin Lipton, founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, specializing in mergers and acquisitions, stated that:

“The effects of short-termism are damaging to the economy as a whole. A firm that invests for the long term will make more investments in future productivity, whether that’s developing lifesaving medicine; building or buying newer, more efficient machinery; or paying for training for its workforce. All of these investments show up immediately as expenses on the balance sheet and reduce profits in the current quarter but raise future productivity of the firm. Incentivising a continuing short-term focus lowers future output, reduces long-term competitiveness, and diminishes future worker productivity and the higher wages that it can bring.”

Some organisations are already taking steps in this direction: Google is involved with The Long Now Foundation, an organisation interested in fostering long term thinking and Evernote dubs itself the 100 year start-up. These are just a couple of examples reflecting what is known as “cathedral thinking” – a term coined after the vision the old medieval cathedral builders had to have, to build something in the long term, even with the knowledge that they might not see its completion. This is the type of mentality that is necessary to build immortal brands, that are meaningful, that last and tap into the consumer’s desire for longevity.

It is now important to start thinking in the long term, plan not just for next month or next year but have a wholesome vision of what you want your organisation to be in the future. Listen to the consumers but also listen to your partners – who knows they will have the idea that will take your vision into the future? Innovation is a process that takes time and effort. You need to be prepared to invest these into your organisation, if you want to make the right decisions that will take your company into the next century, even if you won’t be around to see it.

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