About Weather and Climate

Despite the sound of this title, and despite the fact that it is written in a week in April in which Michigan expects a lot of snow, this article is not about global climate change. Needless to say, most people in Michigan this week would very much hope global warming would kick in soon! Many have seen all the snow they wanted to see in the 2008/2009 season! That’s it: we want flowers, not snow; we want shorts, not snow pants.

This post is about the importance of noting that changes occur on many different time-scales. It is well-documented that temperatures are actually increasing over North America, but that is a slow underlying trend with a time-scale of 10-20 years or even longer. On top of that trend we have weather, which happens on a time-scale of days and even hours. This morning, the weather is sunny – and it’s going to rain or snow this evening.

It turns out that almost all important aspects of our life suffer from the same tremendously large range of time-scales. Career planning, for example, is a classic example. It is not possible to plan a great career by only focusing on today. Many people are trying to do that, and they get frustrated very early. All great careers have ups and down and it is absolutely unproductive and unwise to focus too closely. From afar, our career looks like a beginning driver who weaves down the road with a face of fear trying not to hit the curb as he focuses 2 yards ahead of the car.

Businesses are the same, it turns out. Some of the most blatant failures we are currently experiencing are due to the fact that company executives and company boards missed big yet slow trends. The trend towards expensive gas is just an example. Yes, gas was cheap ten years ago, but it was clear that it was bound to go up. And it did – it finally exceeded $4. And, plans were not in place for such a transition and the likely reaction from consumers.

It turns out that it is particularly difficult to plan strategically when something bad is slowly starting to happen, but everybody is still doing well! People are making lots of money, tapping on each other’s shoulders, and giving each other lots of bonuses. This money, it turns out, should not be wasted, because it is absolutely needed to enable the strategic transition. If that does not happen, a major crisis is slowly but surely coming. And, it arrives with a bang!

Entrepreneurial businesses follow the very same rules. Needless to say there are lots of attention-grabbers in the near future – money runs out, the lease needs to be paid, the prototype needs to get out. But, in all this, it is very important for leaders to extract themselves and think clearly about longer time-scales. What has to happen within one year, within five years, or within ten years? What are the big trends that make the business a winner? Are there overarching technology trends that make the business more important or less important?

Taking this thinking and planning time is extremely important. It’s an investment in the future. The question about the success of businesses is ultimately in the small frequencies not in the high frequencies, the long, strategic time-scales and not the tactical day-to-day jitter.

This is perhaps the best piece of advice I ever got regarding my career, and I still think of it every month: “when planning your career, focus on the small frequencies!” The same is true for your business. Keep working towards these big objectives. That’s what keeps the chin up and away from trivia that, though important, can swallow up the entire purpose for pursuing the business.

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