Long-Term Thinking

How Can Long-Term Thinking Save The World

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Hey reader! You know what? You can save the world. Yes, I’m pointing at you. “But I’m only a teenager,” you might say. Nah. Don’t worry. You too can help society and actually do something that will be beneficial for generations to come. You might think that making a dent in a universe is really, really, hard and it’s a dedicated task only for the ultra-rich people but we, the averages, can also make a valuable contribution and together cure the world of its current crisis state. We just need to adjust our perspective.

Seriously. I’m positive that each and every one of us can participate in making this world a better place. I hate to say it, but we’re screwed if we put our future in the hands of politicians or gigantically rich eCommerce owners playing philanthropes in their spare time but while in reality, they are simply looking to cash in.

So, in this post, I’m going to explain how you can play your part in the world-saving movement. How to keep going when shit goes bad or sideways and what we need to do so we can save the world from going completely mad. Don’t worry, it’s not as hard as you might think. Actually, you only need to do one thing.

But before we dive into the practical aspects of the guide, a short story about a clock.

The 10,000 Year Clock

How long do you think a mechanical clock can last? One year? Two years? Twenty years? Longer than Chuck Norris? How about 10,000 years?

The Long Now Foundation, a non-profit organization established in 1996, is on a mission to change the way we think about time and apparently about clocks. I mean, who can create a clock that can outlive you? Not to mention such that can work ten millenniums. Even wrist-jewelries like Rolex start to show signs of malfunction after around 15 years of use.

On top of that, building something that lasts for so long is surely not in the business plan in most of the 21st-century companies. And we can all understand that, who wants something that can practically last forever? No one, obviously, a business industry relies on their stuff breaking so users can get more over time. But not the guys from the Long Now Foundation. They’re not doing this for the money – even though this project costs millions – they want to teach us a lesson. And a valuable lesson that is:

I cannot imagine the future, but I care about it. I know I am a part of a story that starts long before I can remember and continues long beyond when anyone will remember me.” Danny Hillis1

The grandiose idea of the clock is not to show time – even though that’s the main purpose of the clock – is to shatter our understanding about time and about how we think and make decisions. The people building this behemoth of a clock want to make us care about our future. About the future generations. To care more. To be responsible citizens of the world and to ask ourselves questions like this one: “Are we being good ancestors?”

10000-year clock to help us save the world
The 2000 prototype of the clock.
The Long Now Foundation

And while modern civilization likes to “move fast and break things.” To dream about immediate pleasures, one-day deliveries, and to think about the future as something happening 5 minutes from now, the founder of the 10,000-year clock, Danny Hillis, has a different idea. He gives us a different context about life and about what we should do with our time here, on Earth. He inspires us for a quest completely different from our current desires for 10x-ing, optimizing, or growth hacking. He prompts us to stop for a moment and think about the future long after we’re gone. To think about what we want to pass on to generations to come. Or to directly quote Alexander Rose, Executive Director, and Clock Project Manager, “Mostly what you want to do is do things that allow the next generation to have greater choices.”

Or in other words, instead of focusing on what video game we’ll play tomorrow, the guys from The Long Now ask us to think about what we can do/create during our live spawn that can assist future generations.

It kind of looks like this:

how-to-save-the-world-from-crisis
There are 1000 squares above and they represent 1000 years. Usually, the average life expectancy is around 71.5 years. Hopefully, more of us will live till 90 years. I geeked out about the squares and the years and I’ve also created this – LINK. Check it out. 10,000 years represented in squares.

A quite different approach than your seemingly important desire to get a new pair of jeans now, egh? Unfortunately, this is how our current world looks like: In the quest for online attention that doesn’t actually serve anyone, expect to feed our ego, long-term thinking is often forgotten. But long-term thinking is exactly what we need if we want to make the world a better place. Most of the global issues that are currently threatening our existence – climate change, our educational system, health in poor countries – can be solved only by thinking long-term. I mean, you can’t fix earth by simply tweeting, you know? You can try if you like:

You can’t fix earth by simply tweeting, you know?

Only by focusing on building things and making decisions that will be beneficial for you and for others in the future, you’ll ultimately create a better future for everyone.

But nowadays the opposite happens. Instead of thinking about the future, we think about our next vacation or about when to post our next Insta story.

Why We Don’t Think Long-Term?

There are 2 main reasons for our short-sightedness:

1. We Don’t Think Long-Term Because Our Basic Needs Are Not Covered

Well, for a lot of people the idea of long-term thinking is a luxury good. If you don’t have enough money, you worry about your next meal or about keeping the roof above your head. If you’re living off credit cards because you don’t have a choice, thinking 5 years from now is out of the question, not to mention 10,000.

Unfortunately, a lot of people find it difficult these days to make both ends meet, thus they can’t afford thinking about something pleasant in the future. Their idea about tomorrow narrows down to “what’s for dinner.”

You’ll first need to ensure that your basic needs are taken care of so you can start thinking about possible future benefits for yourself and for others. But this doesn’t only means money and shelter, you also need to be emotionally satisfied.

2. We Don’t Think Long-term Because We Are Emotionally Dissatisfied

When you buy a coffee from the local Starbucks you do it with the intention to wake up, spoil yourself, or something in between, right? Then, why the hell you’re Instagramming it every time? Social media won’t make the venti coffee frappucino with two scoops of ice taste better, right? Regardless, the Gram is flooded with pictures of coffee mugs. And do you know why? Because we’re emotional vampires, always looking for ways to squeeze a bit more blood (likes).

We do this because we seek approval from other people – 24/7. We’re programmed to want to be like each other, to be liked and appreciated by others. That’s why social media is so addictive and so widely used. But that’s also the reason we sweep long-term thinking under the rug.

Big projects that can save humanity are substituted with social media posts that don’t serve any real purpose, but feel good. But, as mentioned, that’s understandable. That’s why the second more important reason people don’t think about the distant future is their emotional disbalance.

For instance, if you’re single, and if all of your peers are in a relationship, you’ll naturally seek for a partner. All of your daily doings will be focused towards meeting your future partner, which includes the following activities: spending a couple of hours to capture your “best self” and/or traveling to places so you can “sound” more exciting and more genuine to others which will hopefully land you a date.

Your desire to feel good now, destroys each and every thought about a possible long-term project. Over time, this behavior becomes automatic and you start imitating the desires of the people around you. Meaning, you scroll mindlessly on your phone where you see stuff you don’t have and you start wanting them. This loop becomes your ultimate habitat and your one purpose in life becomes feeling good all the time.

However, the feeling-good-all-the-time is just a myth. It’s something invented by capitalism to make us spend our money so we can keep the production going.2 There is no product or service that can make us happy all the time. The things we buy offer just a temporary relief from our unavoidable miseries. The only solution is to comfort pain. Or as Mark Manson says in his latest book, Everything is Fucked, “Because pain is the universal constant. No matter how “good” or “bad” your life gets, the pain will be there. And it will eventually feel manageable. The question then, the only question, is: Will you engage it? Will you engage your pain or avoid your pain?”

And how do you confront the pain and how can you make it a bit better? By thinking long-term and solving problems at scale. This is only possible if we involve ourselves in things that last.

How Thinking Long-Term Can Save The World?

How long do you think small businesses survive? 30 years? 20 years? A year?

According to data researches, less than 30% of all small businesses will survive the 10-year mark.[/note]Keep in mind that small businesses are such with fewer than 500 employees. Resource: LINK.[/note] And do you know what’s the most frequent reason for business failure? According to a U.S. Bank study, a whopping 82% of businesses go out of sign because of cash flow problems.3 And do you know why businesses have cash flow problems? Well, that something few are willing to admit.

Since business owners want big results, as fast as possible, they take big loans and ask for big investment from banks and VCs. And since this money isn’t practically theirs they hustle and grind so they can pay back their investors. But often such rash decisions are not good for the business which leads to their dreadful end.

Businesses start with the desire to get rich fast. They focus on the short-term. Similar to your desire to get a ton of likes on your new social media post or to get a new pair of shoes, now. Not after 3 hours. You want them NOW.

But the desire for quick results leads to nothing productive in the future. Usually, when people want things now when they get them, they start wanting other things, again, now. This creates this endless loop of dissatisfaction:

feedback-loop-of-desire
The feedback loop of dissatisfaction: When you constantly want things and when you get them you’ll constantly want other things.

It’s the same for businesses and for individuals. When we focus on quick wins we’ll never feel satisfied because we’ll want other quick wins.

But what if you think about things differently? Instead of focusing on one year return of investment, you focus on 10 years, or 20 years. And instead of focusing on selling something that can satisfy the basic human needs – e.g. chicken flingers or Donald Trump toilet paper – you can think about something that can be beneficial for generations to come. Focus on creating things slower but better.

And it’s all about perspective. When we start a business we want to be profitable after less than a year. This way we force our mind to think about the surface problem and we keep it away from going deep. However, if we remove the pressure from the nearer goal, we might start to imagine how we could lay down the groundwork for something better in the future.

how-to-save-the-world-step-by-step
A 3 step process of creating something that lasts.

For instance, if you were given a task to solve the climate change in 5 years, the best you can do is probably produce reusable eco-friendly bags and sell them online. However, this won’t actually solve the problem. This is just a tiny bandage covering a small part over a big wound. It might as well lead to more waste produced by your company.

But if you think about the same task and you have 200 years, or 500 years, your strategy will be completely different. Of course, you won’t be there to see your final result, but what you can do is start laying down the groundwork for this massive project.

That’s the only way we can save humanity. By thinking about The Long Now. When you don’t blur your mind with instant pleasures, you’ll start investing your time and energy on more durable things. Things that can outlive you and help generations to come.

Some Closing Thoughts

Usually, when we mention clocks we imagine a wrist tick tock thingie that helps you keep track of time. But the story is completely different if we talk about the 10,000-year clock. The guys involved in the project say the following about their long-term mission:

I hope someone who stumbles across the clock in the future realizes we built it because we cared about them. And maybe it will inspire other people to build things that last, or to work on more ambitious problems with longer timeframes.” Alexander Rose

It might seem impossible for the average person to do something of such a scale. But it doesn’t necessarily have to last 10,000 years, nor 1000. If you apply a long-term strategy in your life and business you’ll start seeing and imagining things differently. You’ll go deep into the field and ultimately become inspired by the challenges coming along. You’ll start investing in better equipment and better resources for your goods, therefore, the things you produce will last longer. Eventually, you can actually start something that requires future generations to finish. And what better way to spend your days than creating something that can even inspire your great-grandchildren?


Footnotes:

  1. You can see the full story, here.
  2. Capitalism is fueled by people buying stuff. The more we buy the more we invest in a certain company. Thus, the company in question have more resources to produce more goods. It’s a continuous cycle.
  3. Resource: LINK.

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