Tuesday, June 09, 2015


Nestle have 50 year planning meetings. A recentish shift was that they think of themselves as 'nutrition, health and wellness' company rather than a 'Food' company. Criticism came when they bought ice cream and pizza companies shortly thereafter. How can you identify those lofty ideals and then get stuck into the naughty stuff? By trying to have an impact. People eat lots of pizza and ice-cream. If in 50 years you can slowly improve the healthiness of stuff people actually eat, you are likely to have a bigger impact than setting up a salad bar people walk past.

50 years is a hell of a long time though. Most of us struggle with 5 year plans, and yet 5 years is a ridiculously short time. In investing, there is the Catch 22 of waiting for enough data to make a sensible decision, but once you have enough data the data is stale. Meaning the data is useful at looking backwards, but not forwards. If you respond to short term changes, you are responding to noise. Lots of things happen for absolutely no reason whatsoever other than the fact that they can happen. If you spin a coin and it lands heads ten times in a row, you may think this is incredible. It's not. It will happen roughly one in a thousand times. Because we ignore stuff that isn't amazing and remember stuff that is, we end up basing to many of our decisions on these short term sugary morsels of 'truth'.

The advantage of looking 50 years forward, or 50 years back is that it helps try think about what the engine is. What is the stuff that really matters? What does something actually do? What could go horribly wrong? When your planning horizon stretches out that long, it may ironically allow you to focus more on the short term and tweaks. It allows you to become Micro-ambitious. Set little achievable goals. Let them add up. Nestle can't change everything we eat to be healthy now. We won't eat it. It can tweak.

When people, families, cities, nations or global citizens start thinking along those lines, we can start thinking of ourselves as Custodians. We can think of real disasters and how to avoid them. We can look back hundreds of years to learn lessons. Then we can look forward hundreds of years to where we want to be.

Then we can tweak. Which also means we still get to eat pizza and ice-cream.

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