How far ahead do you tend to think? Five years? Five months? Five days? What about 88 years? That’s Wu-Tang Clan’s strategic time line.
If you are unfamiliar, Wu-Tang Clan is an all-star rap group. They’ve been voted “the No. 1 greatest hip hop group of all time” and Rolling Stone called Wu-Tang “the best rap group ever.” This nine-man band has cultivated a loyal following with their original sound and smart lyrics.
Recently, Wu-Tang made news with the release of a new album entitled Once Upon A Time In Shaolin. They don’t put out a lot of new music, so this was a big deal. What made it bigger is that Shaolin was auctioned off for $2 million dollars to one person. There will not be a wider release, you won’t hear tracks on the radio, and it will not appear on iTunes or Pandora. There is one copy and one person owns it.
When you buy a painting or a sculpture, you’re buying that piece rather than the right to replicate it. Owning a Picasso doesn’t mean you can sell prints or reproductions, but that you’re the sole owner of a unique original. And that’s what Once Upon a Time in Shaolin is. It’s a unique original rather than a master copy of an album.—RZA, a founding member of Wu-Tang Clan
In exchange for the one-of-a-kind double-album with its silver-and-nickel-plated box and jewel case (valued at $55,000), the purchaser of the album cannot release it commercially for 88 years. This $2 million investment is the ultimate in long-term thinking. Maybe he’s a Wu-Tang fanatic who didn’t buy it to earn a profit (for the six-figure price tag, it’d be nice to recoup some of the expense) or maybe he just wants to brag about being the only one who’s heard the LP, but as a business man he’s in the rare position to be forced into an 88 year long-term plan.
Eighty-eight years might be a long time, but how many leaders are focused and working towards even a 10-year goal? They all say that there’s a long-term plan, and I think they believe it, but are their actions moving them closer to reaching the goal or is it a dream without substance?
All CEOs have aspirational long-term goals. They all want to make their companies better and stronger over the long term. Yet when it comes to priorities and plans of action, few have headlights that can shine further than two or three years.—Nitin Nohria, Dean of Harvard Business School
The reality of the work environment is that the pressures of more immediate concerns plus the uncertainty of the future leads to a short-term focus. Annual budgeting forces you to think in 12-month cycles. Quarterly earnings expectations force you to think in three-month phases. And technology forces you to think in 2-minute increments.
These burdens are unavoidable, but that is not an excuse to ignore working towards a more desirable future. With a well-defined long-term plan, our day-to-day responsibilities should blend with the vision. To counteract your short-term impulses consider:
Redefining reward. Instead of succumbing to instant gratification, develop incentive systems and compensation schemes that reward long-term success. Employee profit sharing is one such method.
Changing your metrics. Set long-term metrics that de-emphasize quarterly or annual earnings. Also avoid public accolades of “quarterly success” that might send the message that you base career success on short-term wins.
Implement a “Heist Clause”. Wu-Tang’s contract stipulates that the seller may legally execute one heist to steal back Shaolin, which, if successful, would return all ownership rights to the seller. This heist can only be undertaken by members of Wu-Tang and/or actor Bill Murray, with no legal repercussions. Your heist clause may not be as legally questionable (or involve Bill Murray), but you need processes in place where people, besides yourself, can “heist” the vision in the event it becomes outdated or goes array.
Long-term goals are a necessary part of leading. Without them, you will work really hard to find that you are back where you started. Develop, communicate, and live by a vision defining where the organization is going. Reward people on the end goals and create an army of people loyal to the objectives set forth. This will solidify your success and give you time to create your $2 million work of art.