Business planning and brainstorming concept

Business plans: How thinking long-term will help you get ahead

Business planning will challenge you to think long-term, years and decades ahead.

I use a time frame of 10-20 years for most aspects of my plan. If I think only 6-12 months ahead, I fail to see how particular paths can magnify into problems down the road, and I overlook major opportunities. If I try to think more than 10-20 years ahead, my plan becomes too speculative, although I can think further out for some aspects that are likely to remain stable.

by Steve Pavlina

A lot can change in 20 years. If you had a PC 25 years ago, you probably had a 386 or 486 running MS-DOS 5.0 and possibly Windows 3.0. Windows 3.1 didn’t ship till 1992, and Intel didn’t ship the Pentium processor till 1993. No smartphones. No web browsers. No Google or Facebook. No YouTube. No social media unless you liked BBSing.

You may have had email, but you probably checked it using a slow dial-up modem. If you did use the Internet, you may have accessed it via CompuServe, Prodigy or AOL. If you owned a video game system, it was probably a NES, Super NES, Sega Genesis, Turbo Grafx, or Neo-Geo… or Game Boy or Game Gear for a handheld. If you went to the movies, you’d have be wowed by the 3D special effects in Terminator 2.

So if so much is going to change, how can you possibly create a long-term plan that makes sense? Isn’t planning pointless in light of such uncertainty?

The purpose of planning isn’t to predict the future. The purpose of planning is to sharpen your present-day decisions and to give your business an intelligent basis for growth.

It’s true that you can’t know what’s going to happen even a few years from now. Surprises will occur. Some of those surprises will help your business. Others will throw you for a loop. No matter what, you’re going to have to adapt as you go along.

But some aspects of the future may be fairly predictable. I feel good in predicting that personal growth will still be important in 20 years. It’s been around for thousands of years. It will probably survive a few more decades.

Actually, I predict it will be even more important in 20 years than it is today. For at least the last few decades, this field has been trending towards expansion, growing by many billions of dollars in annual revenue within the past five years alone. People are spending more on personal growth than ever before. And as far as I can tell, this increase is expected to continue for many more years.

One of the reasons personal growth will become increasingly important is that change is accelerating, especially technological change. The job market will continue to shift. To be competitive workers, people will need to adapt more quickly than ever to changing circumstances. They won’t be able to trust that they can just get a job and keep it for decades.

I predict that traditional educational systems like universities will become increasingly less relevant, failing to adapt quickly enough to marketplace changes. By the time a student graduates from a 4-year degree program, so much of what they learned will already be obsolete.

This is already a major issue today, but it will continue to get worse. College grads will enter the workforce wholly under-prepared for the competitive realities of the workforce.

This creates tremendous opportunities for the personal growth field (which overlaps traditional education) to fill in the gaps. There will be increasing demand for faster, more intelligent, more practical sources of education — forms that can adapt their curriculums more quickly to changing circumstances.

Archaic elements like tenure only make it harder for old systems to adapt, so if those structures aren’t replaced with more flexible systems, those institutions will be out-competed by smart entrepreneurs who are willing to embrace change. To some degree this is already happening, and I expect this sort of change to continue.

The business opportunities in education alone are staggering. I’ve lost track of how many millionaires I’ve met who built successful businesses teaching people important skills that aren’t normally taught at traditional universities. By leveraging the Internet, they can do it at much less cost for their students, they can do it faster, and they can keep their programs modern and practical under today’s conditions.

All this growth and expansion will create more confusion and stress. Self-discipline and focus will become increasingly important qualities for people to develop since distractions will surely keep expanding. The demand for better management of one’s life will increase significantly.

You don’t need to be a technologist to make some reasonable predictions about the future. Just look at some of the general trends that have been building for years, and project them forward. Smartphones will get smarter and will become even more common. Tablet computers will become more powerful and more common. Data transfer rates will increase. The Internet will become much bigger. New major players will emerge. There will be more interests competing for your attention than ever before.

Some major breakthroughs will occur, and human beings may begin integrating tech-based enhancements onto or into their bodies, but the concept of growth won’t go out of style. Very likely it will become even more important.

The fastest-growing, fastest adapting people will have a major competitive advantage over those who are slow to adapt. This remains true whether the world of the future becomes more abundant or more scarce.

By making some reasonable predictions about the needs of future humans (or cyborgs, or whatever we become down the road), you can make decisions today that set yourself and your business on a path to long-term success. You can avoid getting bogged down in short-term thinking that leads you astray. You can build a business to grow in alignment with the direction that the world is heading, not where it’s been.

I can see pretty clearly that people are going to need a lot more help with focus, self-discipline, and self-control over the next several years. I can see that many traditional educational institutions are going to get worse in terms of their ability to teach students skills they’ll need in today’s workplaces, especially as they have their budgets slashed. I can predict that more people are likely to access my work on devices that aren’t a desktop computer or a laptop. This helps me make intelligent choices about how my business can serve those needs while remaining flexible and adaptable.

It’s important to get clear on the difference between your medium and your message. Your message can remain fixed, even under changing circumstances, but your medium must remain flexible if you want to have a competitive business across decades in time.

My message is conscious growth, and that message can adapt to many different media. I don’t need to worry that blogging may someday go out of style. Ten years from now, most of our interactions may occur through a medium other than blogging.

Growth is my business, not blogging, and growth can be communicated in many forms. With a plan based on your message, you don’t need to fear change; rather, you can be excited by all the new opportunities change can bring.

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