Infinite Time

I love this letter from Brian Chesky on having an “infinite time horizon”:

I know that a lot of companies are thinking about being long-term oriented, but an alternative way of thinking about it is  being infinite. Being an infinite company is an idea that my friend, author Simon Sinek, has been discussing with me. Simon explained that a company’s purpose is to advance its vision, and since a vision is a mountaintop you never quite get to, you should have an infinite time horizon. But many companies are designed to be finite.

Finite companies are focused on beating their competitors and appeasing short-term interests. But business is not finite. Unlike sports, there is no time clock, so there can be no winning or losing – there is merely surviving and innovating to endure. This doesn’t mean that meeting clear goals isn’t important or that you should lose your sense of urgency and avoid tough decisions.

Short term success is still important so long as it advances your vision. As Simon put it, it means that your focus should be on getting to the mountaintop, not the rest stop on the way up the mountain.

We think that a company should survive to see the next century, not just the next quarter. A 21st-century company should eventually become a 22nd-century company. By having an infinite time horizon, a company can be more audacious, take more responsibility for what they make, and create more lasting change.

via AirBNB

It’s hard to have an infinite time horizon because we do not naturally think in those terms or in that way; even as I sit here and think of the larger project that I’m working on I can’t help but think about boundaries of time, expected deliverables, and things that need to happen within those time-bound constraints.

But what if we did, in fact, operate as if we could last forever? What would be end up doing differently?

One thing that I’ve been contemplating heavily (and now my team is beginning to execute against this perspective) is taking even longer to bring the core product to the market, publicly.

Meaning, with an infinite time horizon we can give ourselves more time (and be less impatient) about launching a product that not only does what we want it to do but that we can be proud of.

What’s a few more months (or even years…?!) to get to launch?

To be honest, the difference is probably far smaller than we want to posit or admit. In fact, we’re probably worse for it by launching prematurely based on some “industry standard” wisdom set.

Rather, we should operate against our company’s conscious and culture, which is to do things with excellence and with serious intention and consideration.

And, we end up serving our customer and our community better when we take the time necessary to bring them our very best.

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