The Long View

I recently ran across an old post from Bijan Sabet, referencing an even older interview with Jeff Bezos, who outlines a “framework” for his decision to leave a cushy Wall Street job and start Amazon.com.

In the interview, Bezos calls this a “regret minimization framework.” It’s a brilliant use of perspective to help make correct decisions:

If you can project yourself out to age 80 and sort of think, “What will I think at that time?” it gets you away from some of the daily pieces of confusion. You know, I left this Wall Street firm in the middle of the year. When you do that, you walk away from your annual bonus. That’s the kind of thing that in the short-term can confuse you, but if you think about the long-term then you can really make good life decisions that you won’t regret later.

Since that decision, of course, Bezos has consistently stressed the importance of making decisions in the context of the long view. His first annual shareholder letter, in 1997, reads:

We believe that a fundamental measure of our success will be the shareholder value we create over the long term…Because of our emphasis on the long term, we may make decisions and weigh tradeoffs differently than some companies.

Recently, he donated generously to a project designed to build a 10,000 year clock from the Long Now Foundation (the photo above is a model of the clock now under construction) and even wrote a special letter explaining it.

When interviewed by Wired, Bezos explains how Amazon as a company earns a competitive advantage from thinking longer term:

If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people. But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that.

This long view thinking resurfaces in many different places — Gretzky tells us to skate where the puck is going, not where it’s been, and in high performance driving clinics you’re taught to have “high sight,” because if you’re focused only on what’s right in front of you then you’re really focused on things you can no longer affect.

Taking the long view is a great skill to cultivate.