Things That Will Stay The Same
Over the last few weeks, I have been sending letters to a friend of mine. In our most recent letters, we started to discuss the idea of how things will change in the future. We started to discuss not only how things will change, but how things have changed in the past — the factors that caused those things to change. I find it very interesting to consider the things that happened in order for one big change to occur. The 13th Amendment, for example, was the culmination of decades of not only fighting, but also an open forum where everyone had a different opinion. It took years for people to reach some form of agreement — even the final agreement was debated. In our exchange, I started to discuss the history of coffee, which I find particularly interesting. In the past, coffee was seen by kings as a substance that would corrupt the mind. Decades ago, the idea of a coffeeshop being the place between home and work was crazy: then Starbucks came along. As a long-term thinker, I like to consider not just what has changed, however. I like to consider what will stay the same — what we can depend on over time.
Things That Stay The Same Give Us Perspective
This is a very different perspective than what we are used to seeing. When we turn on the news, every day we can read about a new change. A change in power; a change in policy; a change in a stock price. Everything is changing around us and the news brings all of that information together for us to consume as much or as little as we want. We are surrounded by people taking about changes that have happened. We are also surrounded by people who try to make predictions about what will change — the stock market is basically a huge amount of predictions, same with political forecasting. But we don’t hear a lot of people talking about what will not change.
This makes sense because it sounds a lot more exciting to talk about what will change — what new thing will happen — than what we already have today. But I think that most successful people — especially in business and investing — have realized that recognizing and analyzing what will not change is critical. It gives us a new take on something. It allows us to understand what we can expect from the future based not on a prediction, but on the proposition that what is going on right now will not change. In my aforementioned letters, I considered this idea in-depth. We can learn a lot from the past which can help us understand what may happen in the future. Understanding the events that lead up to the change in coffee culture -- from being a beverage you consumed at work or at home to being a social experience -- may give us a hint as to where things are going in the future. Often those trying to inspire real change in the world reflect on the past because it tells them what hasn't worked, why it didn't work, and what they can do in the future to avoid classic mistakes. The past is powerful, if we recognize it.
"What's going to change in the next 10 years?"
I cannot answer the question “What’s going to change in the next 10 years?”. For one, the question is too broad. But my real problem is that humans are notoriously bad at predicting the future. Most people try to look ahead into the future and make predictions based on things they think will happen. The approach you should take, however, is to analyze what is happening right now, in this moment. Then think about what will stay the same, what is likely to change, and what will change. We knew that transportation was going to change for two reasons: we knew that people wanting to move around was never going to change, and people would always want to get around quicker. The same with the internet: we knew that consuming information quicker was a trend that was going to happen — who would want to read the news slower? — and that people would always be working toward making that happen. Some of the best predictions in the world have been based on the idea that some things will stay the same, but those things will link into what will change.
"What is not going to change in the next 10 years?"
So instead, we should ask ourselves “What is not going to change in the next 10 years?” Let’s take the iPhone for example. Apple knew that people would always want to communicate; it is a natural human desire. But Apple also knew that people wanted to communicate quicker and more efficiently, and found a real opportunity in that market. They knew that in the future everyone would want to communicate quicker, and they built their business model around that idea. Their underlying business model — selling tools to help us communicate — would never die. Maybe the means of communication that we use would die. Perhaps in 10 years phones will be replaced by a chip in our brain. But if Apple kept true to the idea that we will always want to communicate more efficiently, they could get ahead of that trend. More people should be asking questions about what will not change in the future, because the answers to that question make for effective businesses.
There are people all around the world betting on change. Change is exciting. We love to bet on what is going to improve or get worse because it makes us feel alive. The job of an investor is to identify changes that are going to happen before they actually happen. The job of a political analyst is to track trends in politics and make predictions about what candidates need to talk about to get elected. But the truth is that change is almost impossible to predict. Humans are notoriously bad at predicting the future. Sure, investors make millions — billions, even — on correct bets, but most bets are based on unsustainable models. In order for a candidate to get elected, they need to convince their entire constituency that they are a good fit for the job. In order for a business to succeed, they need to convince their entire market that they can fill a true need that consumers have. Most people fail at doing this, and so therefore the people that bet on these changes also fail.
Almost Everything is Changing; Not Everything, Though
In a world where it seems like everything is changing, it feels refreshing to consider just how things may stay the same over time. Our world is based on a set of fundamental principles — many of which are engrained into human nature — which form our reactions to certain circumstances. Because these principles exist, there will always be something that we know will never change. Yes, technology will change. But the fact that we want to communicate quicker will not. Sure, insurance will change. But we will always want to protect ourselves from risk. Great businesses can be built on the idea that something will change, but that something else will always stay the same.
Every day we see stories of tech companies failing. They fail for two main reasons. The first is that they tried to make a change happen and people were not interest. The second is that they have already made a change, but they failed to internalize the fact that some things will not change. Previously great businesses often fail to develop new technologies to get ahead of the very trends on which their business was built, and so they are no longer competitive in the market.
There are a few major things which we know will not change. We know that we will always want more choices (even if the human mind cannot comprehend many new choices, we still like to have as many options as possible). It is also clear that we will always want something to entertain us and to make us feel comfortable. Humans will also always want tools which they can use to communicate — human nature is based on communication. We will want things that protect us from risk. We will want things that make us feel better. We will want things that solve problems quicker. We will want things that solve those problems cheaper than ever before. There are so many different things in the world that will never change. Smart people make bets not only on what will change, but also on what will change. You can make long-term predictions on all of these things because even if your exact prediction is not correct, the underlying principles will remain the same. If you are scared about how quickly things are changing, consider this: some things will stay the same. Change is a natural part of society, but never bet against the fact that some things will never change.
Embrace change; it is natural. Consider what will change. But, above all else, understand that some things will not change.