If you're starting a business it's natural to look ahead and try to make predictions. How big will this market become? What will customers want in the future? What sort of competition will I have? But according to Jeff Bezos, attempting to predict the future actually isn't the most important use of an entrepreneur's time.
Instead, he told the Re:Mars A.I. and robotics conference in Las Vegas this week that entrepreneurs should focus on asking themselves: What won't change in ten years time?
No one has a crystal ball, not even Jeff Bezos, and that's OK.
"It's interesting, I do get asked quite frequently what's going to change in the next ten years. One thing I rarely get asked is probably even more important -- and I encourage you to think about this -- is the question: What's not going to change in the next ten years," Bezos said from the stage.
Why is focusing on what will stay stable more important that trying to peer into your crystal ball? First, it's way easier. Jeff Bezos is clearly a super smart guy who can afford to hire even smarter folks, but no matter how intelligent you are, predicting the future is hard. (Even Einstein had a few famous flops.)
On the other hand, figuring out what's unlikely to change should be obvious. "You won't have to do a lot of research on that. As soon as you think about it that way, these things are so big, so fundamental; you can just write the answers down," Bezos insisted.
The second even larger benefit of focusing on what won't change is that once you've taken a minute to identify those things, you'll find yourself in a much more secure place from which to craft a strategy for your business. For example, Bezos noted that while drones may replace delivery trucks or ordering by voice may become more common than clicking a button, customers are always going to want fast delivery and low prices.
"It's impossible to imagine people saying to me, 'Jeff, I love Amazon. I just wish you delivered a little more slowly. Or, I love Amazon, I just wish your prices were a little higher,'" Bezos quipped.
Once you're clear on these unshakeable customer priorities, you should also be clear on your business's essential priorities. That will help you avoid running around like a chicken with your head cut off, while still leaving room to experiment with execution.
The answer to the question 'What not going to change in ten years?' allows "you to organize your activities. You can work on those things with the confidence to know that all the energy you put into them today is still going to be paying you dividends ten years from now," Bezos concluded.
Old wisdom worth repeating
As my Inc.com colleague Jeff Haden pointed out a few years ago, this isn't the first time Bezos has shared this bit of entrepreneurial wisdom. He's repeated this advice several times over the last 20 years. But the fact that he thought it was worth mentioning again underlines that this basic approach to building a business in the face of uncertainty is as sensible now as it was two decades ago and likely will be equally sensible in another 20 years.
Given that truth, maybe you should take a moment to ponder Bezos's question: no matter what changes in the world, what's not going to change in your business?
Looking for more advice from Bezos's appearance at the conference? Business Insider rounded up several other tips shared by the Amazon founder.