When starting a business, or running an existing one, it's hard not to focus on the quick wins. Quick wins yield high monetary returns, but more often than not, they set us on a path to act reactively instead of proactively. Reactive action pushes the big picture to the back burner. The result is often an unsustainable business. There are a few companies who use big visions for the future as the basis for what they do--TED-Ed is one, XPrize and Nasa are others. It's no surprise that the creative agency behind these three companies uses long-term thinking to create an impact that is yielding results now. I had an opportunity to pick the brain of Marc Mertens, CEO ofA Hundred Years about how brands can dream big while still focusing on today - and why that matters.
According to Mertens, "the biggest challenge we encounter is having the client break out of the short-term business mindset. The policies, culture and incentive structures we have acquired over the course 20th century have solidified this short-time horizon in many companies. At the same time, we've found it easier to get a broad group of stakeholders aligned around a 100-year vision than a 5-year plan."
Through A Hundred Years, Mertens has worked with some of the most creative minds in business by bringing life to the core values within a company. A Hundred Years exclusively works with organizations who put purpose at the core of their business, and helps those who want to bring it back. Here are 3 ways you can create a strong sustainable business by paying attention to goals a hundred years from today.
Innovation Stems From Long-Term Goals
According to Mertens, "A long-term focus allows for new inventions and radical innovations instead of incremental improvement of the status quo. Sometimes that innovation can unlock new markets and significant new business opportunities. A long-term focus constantly clarifies what an organization is uniquely positioned to do, while bringing a deeper sense of purpose and meaning into the core activities of the organization." If you can focus on the bigger picture, you will be surprised by how much starts to change on its own in day-to-day practice.
Balance long-term brand equity over short-term sales and profitability goals
"The short answer is to stay relevant and to focus resources and energy on what really matters in building lasting, sustainable businesses. The world is changing at a rapid pace and it's critical for organizations to explore how assets and strengths can be leveraged to capitalize on that change, before that change is seen as a threat.
A key pattern we see in organizations not meeting their bottom line is a chronic over-indexing on short-term results. Over time, this focus leads to a lack of clear, long-term vision for an organization that deeply inspires both internal or external stakeholders. This is often rooted in a mindset that defines the core purpose of a business as maximizing short-term financial returns. That leads to organizations walking away from their original story, and prioritizing incremental growth over big-picture innovation that ensures relevancy relevance in the long term."
Identify Pain Points
If you feel you have lost your way, or are just beginning to build a company, the key is to remember what message it is you are rallying around, and what it will look like, years into the future. The message has to be clear enough to allow all stakeholders to come to an agreement about the focus. In the case of purpose-driven companies like those A Hundred Years works with, Mertens tells me that "the real difficulty is weaving that vision into day-to-day business practice, be it the HR policies, supply chain choices or incentive models. Articulating the promise of a purpose-driven business is foundational, but the real work lies in driving that vision. The 21st century requires an organization to not just have a big vision that goes beyond the generation of financial returns (which is still a great outcome, just not the only one - and definitely not the purpose of the organization in itself). On the flip side, we find organizations who are farther along on that journey. These companies have a sharply defined vision that has a purpose at the core, yet they are challenged to operationalize that vision." The key is to define what it is you are missing from that big picture today.