How Will Your Business Hold Up 50 Years From Now?

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My dad is turning 91 today. He never planned to be around this long. Both of his parents died young (his father, my grandfather, died at age 42), so he just kind of assumed that he would too. But here he is, nearly 50 years later, still chugging along.

Most of us don’t plan to live until 91. Oh, we say we do—but we don’t act like it. We have no plan, and we certainly have no savings. Most of us don’t even begin to think about our retirement until it’s already upon us. So this isn’t news.

What might be news—and what I’ve been thinking about this week—is that many of us run our businesses the way we run our lives: with no long-term plan, and no real thought about any kind of future beyond the next few years. So here’s my question to you:

How will your business—the products, services, and value you offer to your customers—hold up 50 years from now?

I can already hear some of you—the “clever” ones (and by “clever” I mean “snide”):  “Okay Bill, what if your business is making mayonnaise? Mayonnaise won’t hold up 50 days from now, much less 50 years.” Well, Richard Hellmann started making mayonnaise (using his wife’s recipe) in 1905. Now, I wouldn’t recommend using a jar of that original 1905 mayonnaise in your next egg salad; but the point is that the Hellmanns took enough care with their product that it’s still going strong over a century later. (For those of you west of the Mississippi, Hellmann’s is called Best Foods. I don’t know why.)

When they first started, the Beatles never expected to still be a musical force nearly 50 years later. When asked how long he thought they’d last, John Lennon famously said, “You can be big-headed and say you’ll last ten years, but then you think, ‘We’ll be lucky if we last three months!'” That was in 1963. Seven years later, the Beatles were no more.

Here’s the thing, though.

The music holds up. Really, really well. Now, bear in mind that the Beatles had no realistic expectation that people would still be listening to—even dissecting and analyzing—their music nearly 50 years later. They couldn’t even be sure that people would be listening to Beatles music 50 weeks later. But they still cared enough about the products (the songs) to craft them for the long term. Most other bands were content to churn out fluff, or cookie cutter songs, in order to get a quick number one, or a few bucks in the bank. But look at what planning for the long term—even when they weren’t sure there would be a long term—did for the Beatles.

So how about you? Is your business going to the the pop music equivalent of a flash in the pan, a one-hit wonder? Or will you go to work this week asking yourself “How can I improve my product or service so that it could hold up, even 50 years from now?”

Happy birthday, Dad. You’ve held up well!


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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