Rely on things that won’t change in the future

When successful entrepreneurial business leaders are cornered by journalists, they’re often asked to give predictions. They might be pressed to share a few thoughts on how their particular industry might develop over the next few years, or to provide some further insight into future trends.

Of course, for those that are blazing their own trails, there’s great merit in doing so. After all, these individuals have proved that they can:

  1. accurately identify an area of (often explosive) growth;
  2. come up with a product or service that addresses a pain point for customers that increases as the sector expands; and
  3. executed a strategy over a prolonged period of time which – if not quite flawless – contains very few missteps (the hardest skill of all).

Success ultimately requires a huge collection of variables to align correctly at the right time. Hence the reason that so few are able to pull it off on a grand scale. But for those that do, the cachet of entrepreneurial business leader is bestowed willingly upon them by others. And rightly so – they called it, committed to it and delivered it.

However, asking about the future often comes with a subtext. Most people share a common desire to minimise risk and so they will seek out the certainty of a guarantee if at all possible. Removing even one option from a long list of many possible outcomes within an uncertain world appeals to the natural human tendency to prefer a decision that avoids loss to one that results in gains. It’s a fine line between accelerating your learning by using other’s war stories and simply seeking a ‘how-to’ shortcut.

Anyway, here’s how Jeff Bezos answers those who are seeking to predict the future:-

“I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. …

[I]n our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher,’ [or] ‘I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’ Impossible.

And so the effort we put into those things, spinning those things up, we know the energy we put into it today will still be paying off dividends for our customers 10 years from now. When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.”

Identify the things that are never going to change and base your business on those fundamentals. Work with a laser-like focus on improving the things that you guarantee will remain relevant to your business over the long run and develop the business from there.

It’s a different way of looking at things – and no doubt goes part of the way towards explaining just why Bezos has enjoyed massive business success to date.