With the new decade well & truly underway, I’ve been thinking about the future, and wanted to share some helpful techniques with you. These techniques can enable us to extend the range of our thoughts, supporting us to take a longer-term perspective and imagine possible futures.
The future is itself an idea: we conjure it in our imaginations. We are better than other species at making this imaginative leap, and it is the reason we have civilisations, have landed on the moon, plant trees for future shade, and have built cathedrals across centuries, for posterity.
However, we’re also by nature impulsive and reactive... The short-term vs long-term tension is part of who we are, and balancing it appropriately is important. For example, this tension arises in the healthcare and financial services industries when encouraging people to look after their health. We’d mostly prefer to eat treats and relax on the couch, but doing this consistently is bad for us, so well-designed incentives (such as shared value models in an insurance context) can encourage us to make good choices now (like moderation and exercise) that lead to future health benefits.
This article is inspired by the work of Bina Venkatamaran, a former journalist and policy advisor who teaches at MIT, and Ari Wallach, a futurist. Both of them gave separate TED talks, and we also reference Bina’s book and Ari’s essay in Wired magazine where he calls for a “visionary yet goal-oriented” framework for long-term strategy that “can help leaders navigate the balance between short-term gain and long-term ruin. A CEO might say: ‘That may be good for the bottom line, but it poses significant risks to our longpath’.”
It’s also about how we choose to measure our success, and the meaning of our lives. In Bina’s words: “Do we measure ourselves by the moment, by what’s happening in this immediate moment, or do we measure ourselves by what we’re doing towards the longer endeavour of both what we’re doing in this life and how we’ll be remembered?”
Read more to explore Bina and Ari’s ideas, examine our preference for immediate gratification and the mistakes we naturally make, consider our unique capacity for mental time travel, contrast prediction and forecasting against judgement and foresight, discover different tools and techniques for thinking ahead, and watch Bina’s TED talk. It’s particularly fitting too that 2020 is synonymous with perfect vision – I hope that these tools will help us all to envisage our ultimate aims more clearly.
In this post, we feature some career advice from Lenny Rachitsky (@lennysan), derived from answers he has given in his newsletter and shared on Twitter and elsewhere. We cover his advice on five skills needed to step up in your career to a “director-level” position, and advice on “managing up”.
Lenny began his career as a web developer and engineer after completing a Computer Science / Engineering degree at the University of California, San Diego. He ascended the ladder at Webmetrics (acquired by Neustar), becoming a Senior Manager of Engineering, and then Head of R&D. In 2010 he co-founded a location-based Q&A service called LocalMind, which was acquired by Airbnb in 2012. Lenny spent seven years at Airbnb, as a Product Manager, and then Product Lead.
In his words: “Deciding to open your home to strangers is a complex decision. Over the course of the seven years that I spent at Airbnb, my work centered around helping people all over the world make this decision. As the number of homes on Airbnb scaled from around 100,000 in 2012 to over 6 million today, I led teams tackling everything from supply growth, to guest booking conversion, to marketplace quality.”
While most of his career has been spent in California, Lenny did spend time in Canada too while building and growing LocalMind.
Lenny is currently “tinkering” / working on something new, so we look forward to seeing what emerges!
Lenny has given speeches and blogged since early in his career (including while at Webmetrics). Earlier this year Lenny started answering inbound questions he receives on “driving growth, building product, and broad leadership skills” in his newsletter.
We find his leadership advice authentic, especially as he has himself grown through different levels in different organisations, and experienced leadership from different perspectives, including as CEO of a focused startup, and through leading change in a rapidly scaling business.
While largely centred on product management in the technology sector specifically (given his own background, and the nature of his audience), his advice has broader applicability across many sectors, and we have generalised it below.
A terminology point: “manager” here refers to managers of people and teams, rather than a manager of products, services or projects (i.e. a “product manager” or “project manager” doesn’t necessarily manage people, and may be an individual contributor).
Lenny says that as you move up these management stages, “your gaze rises from the week-to-week, to months out, to years out. You’re increasingly looking further out into the horizon — laying ground-work, anticipating challenges, and working towards a long-term vision. You focus less on day-to-day execution and more on putting in place strong vision, strategy, and people.”
Five critical traits to demonstrate if you’re looking to manage a function are:
1) Long-term Strategic Thinking
2) People Leadership
3) Stakeholder Management
More detail on each below.
Adding mutual value in business relationships is a great way to build a network of people who can offer you information, resources and support to succeed over your career. In this article, we discuss networking and building business relationships, a topic our members ask about, whether as an ongoing process for career success, or specifically when they are joining a new organisation. We love that they, by asking, signal they are thinking of relationship-building in a strategic way while also appreciating that things get done through working with others.
Everything is attached to another human being. They write the cheques. They have the funding. They know about the job opportunities... Research for years has shown that your network equals your net worth.”
Using ideas from Judy Robinett, we discuss the importance of building and sustaining your network. Judy grew up in a very small town in the US and “didn't know anyone of wealth, power or influence”, yet over her career she learnt lessons and built relationships such that today she has “such a broad and deep network that I’m connected to almost any resource you may need, so I’m having fun”. The term “networking” can have negative connotations, conjuring up images of schmoozing, manipulating others for self-serving ends, superficiality, or rigidly diarised followups. Read more to explore Judy’s tips to focus our relationship-building on adding value (including her "three golden questions"), learn more from a Harvard Business Review article on networking in a new job, and see Judy’s book about strategic networking and one of her TEDx talks.