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The (Really) Long-Term View

The March 3 edition of The Economist included an article describing some of the management philosophy of Amazon’s founder/CEO Jeff Bezos (“Taking the Long View”). It also tells us that he has invested $42 million of his own money in a 10,000 year clock being built in west Texas that measures time one tick every year (”10,000 Year Clock“).

Bezos described the project as “an icon for long-term thinking,” which, The Economist said, is an apt description for him as well.

I’d say so.

Can you think of any company, existing today or in the past, that has taken a more long-term view of their business, sacrificing short-term profit in the process? I recall wondering back in the late ’90s how long Amazon could continue to spend like drunken book sellers, seemingly with no concern for making money, while all the time attracting additional investment capital. And now 10-plus years later, with profitable annual sales in excess of $48 billion, we know.

It would be easy to suggest that Bezos’ management style is right and anyone who focuses only or primarily on the short term is wrong, but Amazon’s success to date alone doesn’t prove that is true. Still, it intuitively makes sense to me, that and being convinced that too short term a focus is counter-productive.

So what comes from a long(er)-term perspective? According to The Economist, quoting Bezos, the time necessary to discover and develop mold-breaking new “big ideas,” which are at the heart of corporate reinvention.

“As companies grow, there is a danger that novel ideas get snuffed out by managers’ desire to conform and play it safe. “You get social cohesion at the expense of truth,” he says. He believes that the best way to guard against this is for leaders to encourage their staff to work on big new ideas. “It’s like exercising muscles,” he adds. “Either you use them or you lose them.””

So how about you? Do you and others in your company have and take the time to think about how to reinvent who you are, what you do, and how you do it? To “think different” as was once the mantra of another company you’ve no doubt heard of, also known for innovation.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once said, “A man’s mind, stretched by new ideas, may never return to its original dimensions,” which, for me, represents the upside to thinking “big new ideas.”

And what happens if, as Bezos says, you don’t “exercise” your mind’s “muscles,” attempting to reinvent your business?

While much less eloquent, I think “use it or lose it” pretty much says it all.

William Matthies is the CEO of Coyote Insight ( and can be reached at [email protected] or at (714) 726-2901. Visit Business Wisdom at