Mike's random thoughts and ramblings

Taking the Long View

My good friend Linda posts an incredibly interesting blog entry about taking the long view of things:

I wonder how their lives would be different if they were required, as part of their education, to conceive and begin a project that would be completed by their children's children. I wonder how their sense of the world would change if they had to make real, practical plans to begin something on that scale. I wonder how their sense of happiness would change if it included the impact of their actions two or three or ten generations from now.

This is an issue that I often struggled with at my last company. Being in a start-up environment, the whole world exists on an incredibly short timeframe - the company has been around less than 7 years, and, given the bent for consolidation in this industry, will probably last less than 10 years total.

My experience of the start-up (both nCircle and elsewhere) was that decisions are made on a 3-9 month timescale - anything past that is far too uncertain to really consider. Who knows if the company will radically change in that time? The time horizon for most projects is less than a quarter, and some of them are scoped in terms of weeks rather than months.

Contrast that to where I am now - the company has been around for a century. Decisions are made that ensure that the company survives for the long term - we talk about projects that have time horizons measured in years rather than weeks.

It's a significantly different game, and it often reminds me of Carse's description of Finite and Infinite Games. A finite game is a bounded game, with a beginning and an end - much like the concept of a "start-up" contains built-in within it the concept of an "exit strategy".

On the other hand, some companies are infinite games - the main goal of the game is to ensure that we continue to play.

What about your company? Is the game finite or infinite? And on what timescale do you make decisions? How would it change it if you moved it farther out or closer in?

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Michael Murray

Michael Murray