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How to Think Like America's 18th-Richest Man, Jeff Bezos

A shift in perspective-focusing on the long-term possibilities instead of short-term gains-may inspire new business growth strategies.
Jeff Bezos
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Jeff Bezos–America's 18th richest man, according to Forbes magazine—has just bought himself a new watch. Well, more like an expensive clock. It's a $42 million timepiece that will be buried deep in the West Texas countryside and designed to run untouched for the next 10,000 years.

The goal of the 10,000 Year Clock project, as Bezos recently described to Wired magazine, is to get people to think long-term about things: "My opinion is that human attention spans haven't changed much over time. We've always been a fairly short-sighted species. But while our attention spans are staying roughly constant, our problems are becoming much bigger because of our past successes as a species. Our tools, our technologies now require us to step it up and have a longer attention span."

The fact that Bezos has bankrolled the 10,000 Year Clock project is not entirely surprising given that he has a history of taking the long view on things. He cosponsored Long Bets, a forum for making and debating long-term predictions, and in his first-ever report to Amazon shareholders in 1997, he warned that "because of our emphasis on the long term, we may make decisions and weigh trade-offs differently than some companies."

Groupon vs. Nike

With all of the noise around the impending initial public offerings of Groupon, Facebook and Zynga, it is tempting to think great companies materialize overnight. But Bezos and fellow Seattle native Bill Gates would have us think differently.

In his 1996 book, The Road Ahead, Gates famously said, "We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10."

In fact, if you look at some of the greatest companies in the world, many of them got off to a slow start:

•    Phil Knight started off importing Tiger brand (now Asics) running shoes in 1964 under the name "Blue Ribbon Sports." It wasn't until 1971 that he introduced the first Nike shoe.

•    McDonald's was a single-location hamburger stand in its first decade. The Golden Arches didn't first appear as its logo until 1962 – 22 years after the restaurant was opened.

•    William Harley and Arthur Davidson built their first prototype for a motorized bicycle in 1901, but it wasn't powerful enough to get up even Milwaukee's modest hills. It was a full four years later – 1905 – that the first Harley-Davidson motorcycle was sold.

Taking the long view: $500,000 in sales to $19 million

It's amazing what you can accomplish given time. Take, for example, a business generating $500,000 in sales today. If that business grew 20 percent a year for the next 20 years, it'd be generating more than $19 million in annual sales in 2031.

What could you accomplish by taking the long view?

 

 

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Aug 2, 2011

JOHN WARRILLOW | Columnist | Sellability

John Warrillow’s new book, The Automatic Customer: Creating a Subscription Business In Any Industry will be released on February 5, 2015. John is also the author of Built to Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You and the founder of The Sellability Score, a company dedicated to helping business owners improve the value of their company.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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