What If Your Business Only Had 600 Months to Live?

Last Updated Apr 18, 2011 12:22 PM EDT

"What would you do if you only had six months to live?" is a popular idle conversation topic (along with "What if you won the lottery?" and "What's up with Donald Trump's hair?")


Naturally, answers are usually based on a "life is too short, live for today because there may not be a tomorrow" perspective. It's an interesting question to consider, although only in the theoretical, since most people feel they focus too much on the long term and not nearly enough on the present.

Most people are wrong.

While we tend to think long term, we nearly always operate from a short-term perspective. When deadlines loom, revenues are down, customers are deserting, making payroll seems like an impossible dream, or we are forced to live paycheck-to-paycheck, a short-term perspective is often all you can afford. Who has time for long-term considerations when the short-term is uncertain?

But what if you knew? What if you knew, without a doubt, that you and your business or career would survive for the next 30 years? What if you knew:

  • A problem employee will still be here one or two (or heaven forbid 30) years from now. Does it make sense to keep ignoring the problem? Do you really want to deal with him for years?
  • A disengaged partner won't leave the business of his own accord; for the next 30 years he'll make minimal contributions while taking major profit shares. Would you try to address the problem now, or choose to live with it?
  • A small market with a limited customer base will remain small. Would you relocate, expand, or find different sales channels, or would you keep complaining about limited opportunities for the next 30 years?
  • Opportunities for promotion will remain nearly nonexistent, and it's likely you will hold the same basic role 20 years from now. Would you look for other jobs, try to gain new skills, or even start your own business, or would you stay where you are and hope your prospects magically change?
Short-term crises cause us to ignore longer-term headaches, roadblocks, and challenges. We tend to push aside larger chronic problems while we fight smaller, more immediate issues.

So take a step back from the day-to-day and turn the "what if?" game around:

Assume hard work, intelligence, and persistence will overcome short-term business or career problems. Assume you and your business or your career will still be here. In fact, assume you'll still be right here, right where you are today, facing the same problems and frustrations. Assume you will look back and think, "I can't believe it's been 10 years and I'm still dealing with this [male bos taurus fecal matter]."

Then assume you will still be holding on to the same hopes and dreams that, tragically, remain unfulfilled.

How does it feel?

Life is too short, but life is also way too long. Go change yours.

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flickr photo courtesy alancleaver_2000, CC 2.0
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    Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business from managing a 250-employee book manufacturing plant. Everything else he picked up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest CEOs and leaders in business. He has written more than 30 non-fiction books, including four Business and Investing titles that reached #1 on Amazon's bestseller list. Follow him on Twitter at @Jeff_Haden.