By Gordon Hecht, Serta Simmons Bedding
Those of us born way back when there were only 48 united states probably remember the hot Summer of ’69.
While revolution and demonstrations were in the air, it was still a relatively innocent time compared to today. You could buy a gallon of gas or a loaf of bread for less than 30 cents, and got change back from your dollar when lunching at Mickey D’s.
For me, the best part of that summer was the music. In the heat of July, Elvis Presley, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and The Beatles all had top 20 hits. (The Beatles had two songs in the Top 20).
But the coveted No. 1 hit in the U.S. belonged to a Nebraska duo by the name of Zager & Evans.
Denny Zager and Rick Evans were the archetypical one-hit wonders. Their song “In the Year 2525” held the top spot for six solid weeks. But following that run they would never again chart in the Billboard Top 100.
We won’t be around to see if good ol’ Z&E’s vision of the distant future was correct, but we can have our own vision of the future for our businesses — not for the next month or next year, but for five, ten or more years from now.
The year 2525 is centuries away, but 2025 is quickly approaching. You can be certain that in the next 211 weeks until we get there, we will experience about 200 business disruptions, all of which are as yet unknown. Chances are good that 180 of those disruptions will be minor (broken delivery vehicle, top performer leaving your company, temporary road construction on your street), meaning about 40 disruptions will be more significant.
On the other side of the balance sheet are the 1,500 or so days between now and 2025, each one full of opportunities to take one more step toward the future that you envision. When creating that vision, just don’t get wrapped up in the numbers and short-term challenges.
In his book The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek defines the difference between finite and infinite games. A finite game is like football or basketball: there is a set amount of time, mutually agreed upon rules, and designated players. If a player breaks the rules there is a known penalty. The goal is to win at (almost) all costs. You then move onto the next game.
Business should be an infinite game. Dig this (a 1969 expression): the goal for your business is to play so that the game never ends. You will win on some of those next 1,500 days and lose on others (you already know that). Keep your vision in mind and make those losses become lessons on changes to achieve that vision.
Yes, you need finite games in business too. Think about all your scorecards — monthly and quarterly sales reports, annual P&L statements, and operational metrics. But those scorecards aren’t steps to reaching your 2025 vision.
Here is where you flip your thinking: Achieving short-term goals doesn’t help you reach your vision. Rather, keeping your vision in the forefront of all you do helps you reach your short-term goals. This may be hard to swallow, but your vision may often cause short-term losses, monetarily or otherwise. Consider this:
• Building your empire by opening new stores often means suffering a short-term loss for six to eight months in the new location until you are established.
• Having a top-notch sales or ops team may mean changing your players. In sports it’s called a rebuilding year; it takes time for your new players to become dominant.
• Having the greatest share of voice in your market may mean investing in new advertising venues to reach new audiences. Expect at least a 90-day lag time on that.
• Giving the reigns of some or all your business to the next generation (family or others) may mean losses incurred from their mistakes (a.k.a. not doing things the way you did them).
Any of those initiatives can make your quarterly results look ugly. But leading your business one quarter at a time is rarely a good plan.
Creating a vision for your business is challenging, especially when avoiding metrics based on artificial parameters (“Best store in the market,” or “My town’s favorite place to shop”). It gets a little easier to define your vision when you consider four factors: your customers, your community, your employees, and your investors (even if you are the only investor). List the long-range benefits that you want to consistently deliver to each group and carefully rank the groups in order of importance to achieving your vision.
When Rick Evans wrote “In the Year 2525” in 1964 (yes, it took four years to record it and another year to release it), he may have had a finite goal of earning money from a song. His infinite goal may have been to have an enduring cultural impact, and half a century later we can click a button and hear his words and music.
If Denny Zager’s infinite goal is a career in the music business, he still lives that vision. Next time you’re in Lincoln, Neb., be sure to stop by 3820 J Street, home of Zager Guitars, custom built to your needs.
Gordon Hecht is Senior Regional Manager/Strategic Retail Group at Serta Simmons Bedding and a regular contributor to YSN. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.