100-Year Vision, Unleashed

100-Year Vision, Unleashed

A short while back I was watching a Stanford’s eCorner Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders talk given by Evernote co-founder and CEO Phil Libin. In this wide-ranging and inspirational talk, Libin challenged some of the conventional beliefs and behaviors in the start-up world. One thing he said stood out and resembled something I’ve seen in some of the best companies and products I’ve experienced.

“There is no exit strategy at Evernote, and there never was,” he said. “We’ve turned down every acquisition offer. We’ve structured our board and our investment so we could build a 100-year company.”

They built the product so that he and his team could commit their lives to fulfill its purpose. Of course, this sent a clear and motivating message to his crew that they’re there to stay. Commitment comes to mind.

This mindset of a purpose with no exit spoke to me at the time where I was working with a company to help them craft their 100-year vision. This approach to business is the antithesis and perhaps the antidote to the tech-start-up mentality of building a quick business just to make a quick buck. Think: house flipping versus building a home.

I’ve had the honor to work with several companies who have their own 100-year vision and have played a role in helping several of these companies define and implement their 100-year vision. In each, the owners, leaders, and stakeholders take a long view of the business. By setting in action the plan to create on-going value in 100 years from now a company commits to a path of sustained excellence.

How one decision makes big changes.
Whether you call it a mission, a vision, or a purpose when a company identifies this super-power and commits to it long term, it changes the attitude, trajectory, and landscape of the company. Your strategic decisions shift beyond a short-view vision—like rapid growth of customer acquisition—to long-term decisions that consider right growth, standards of excellence, and planned sustainability in all facets of the business.

The way you treat your innovation and product development changes to consider the long-term effects and opportunities.

The way you treat your team shifts from revolving door human resources, to a purpose-aligned team that is united and ignited by a common cause.

Ultimately, your view and treatment of all stakeholders (partners, investors, community, employees, and customers), companies shift from serial monogamy to a life-long commitment stance.

Why a 100-Year Vision Matters.

A vision aligns people in activities that cut across the organization. By shaping and activating a 100-year vision, it will reorient your business strategy, goal setting, and planning. It helps people set priorities. At Hewlett-Packard, a product manager said, “We’ve got to introduce an IBM-compatible personal computer now.” A lab manager asked, “But where’s the technological contribution?” The senior manager replied, “But what if that’s not what the customers want?…. And what if the market window will close unless we act now?” The junior lab manager said, “Then we shouldn’t be in that business. That’s not who we are. We simply shouldn’t be in markets that don’t value technical contributions. That’s just not what the Hewlett-Packard Company is all about.”

A vision defines what you will do as well as what you will not do. BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) energize people. In early 1961, the most optimistic odds-makers of getting someone on the moon and returning them safely was at best a 50-50 proposition. At that point, NASA hadn’t done anything close to the goal. But JFK did not say, “Let’s beef up the space program.” He said, “that this nation should commit itself to achieve the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.” Congress immediately allocated $549 million and billions more over the next five years.

The BHAG was a clear, extremely challenging focal point for NASA. Richard Feynman, who served on the panel investigating the Challenger disaster, believed that one reason for the miscommunication and poor quality that led to the explosion was that NASA no longer had a vision that united all parts of the agency.  

Here’s a list of just a few companies that have a 100-year vision:
H.G. Fenton
Stanford University

Getting Unstuck.
When I see companies that are stuck in unmoving inertia, it’s often because the leadership has ceased looking at the long-view. This head-down approach is like watching the road roll by through a hole in the floorboard of the car you’re driving. Sure, you know you’re moving, but in what direction and to what destination? Doing this changes your sightline and will stop you from investing in your long-term success. Quite common in these companies is the leader has their attention fixed on the exit. And because of this, they’re bypassing the difficult, principled decisions that cultivate long term success.

The remedy to this is to see your business as a life journey. Companies of any size can do this. When you change your perspective to the long-view you see your daily and difficult decisions, including the way you’re living your life outside of work, as an integrated system. This, my friends, is called integrated wholeness. It’s the remedy to burn out. It calls to you to be in full alignment of who you are, what you do, and why you do it, day-in and day-out.

Choosing a life of integrated wholeness may be the best decision you’ll ever make.

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