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"Think long-term" and "imagine what you can make happen." (From this list.)

I believe one key reason most businesses shy away innovation is the lack of a direct relationship to the immediate bottom line.

Innovation is an attitude – a way of being. It brings many intangible and hard-to-quantify improvements to the workplace and end results. What you cannot do is package it neatly in a cost-benefit equation. Just like you cannot say “if I spent $x in meditation lessons, my income will go up by y%.” But will my life be “richer”? Undoubtedly yes. Will being at peace help me be more effective at my work? Very likely. Will I therefore earn a bigger pay rise? Potentially yes. But that is not guaranteed.

"Chaos is not a business model" wrote Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff in the recent WIRED magazine article The Web Is Dead. Long Live the Internet. Chaos is necessary for innovation. But businesses have been designed to crave predictability. And for most businesses and for all practical purposes, never the twain shall meet.

Many businesses operate on a very short term basis these days. The reporting and regulatory compliance admin work is very short term-based. I know of businesses that do weekly financial reports – not because the numbers change that often, but because of knee-jerk regulations. Of course, no one really serious read any of these reports. But they get produced nonetheless to tick off a short-term must-do list.

On a day to day work level, most people are too busy doing, fighting fires, etc, to stop and think. Long term vision is the last thing on their minds when the next report is already late, and clients are ringing non-stop chasing up missed deadlines.

How do you cultivate and rise up to a long-term mindset when you are deeply set within a short-term framework of working? How do you find the time, energy and inclination to stop and imagine what the future could be like?

Businesses are concerned more with projecting the future based on the past, and not imagining what could be. No wonder there are few truly visionary businesses out there.

Projecting the future based on the past is “safe” – because we can back it up with rational numbers (trend analyses, case studies, statistics mining, etc.), and to gut feel or some other more esoteric left-of-field approaches. This is akin to driving and obstacle course while looking only at the rear-view mirror.

This projection into the future is also based around the farcical concept of trying to control the future. Any imagination at work is limited to coming up with what could go wrong, and less about possibilities. We certainly hear more about (and businesses spend more on) risk management than we do visioneering.

The very visionaries who are supposed to look ahead – the board members – are also stymied by how things are done. Most board members don’t receive any training on far-sighted visions and strategies. Most of them climbed up steadily from the ranks of the doers. Their careers have been spent in (necessarily) shorter term thinking, planning, problem avoidance and repeated execution. They have learnt to play by the rules well, to make predictions based on what has gone before, and to operate as safely as possible. They are risk-adverse and responsible. Is there any surprise that boards do not tend to produce compelling visions or game-changing strategies?

Apple single-handedly turned the computer into a fashionable accessory with their never-before-seen colourful iMacs. That was certainly not in the rear-view mirror of the PC industry!

The fear is that we may make a mistake in our vision of the imagined future. We are afraid to play, to embrace the infinite possibilities in the world around us. We’d rather be safe in case we were wrong. We would rather sacrifice adventure for our well-worn armchairs. We are more afraid of losing our comfort than we are of not discovering and fulfilling our potential. Both as a species as well as individuals.