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  • Writer's pictureLars Christensen

The long game by Dorie Clark



I finished this book in January 2023. I recommend this book 10/10.

"If you plan with a longer horizon than everyone else, and you're willing to endure the ups and downs along the way, you'll be able to accomplish far more than others—or even you—imagined." ~ Dorie Clark.

Get your copy here.

My notes and thoughts:

  • P6. My friend Martin Lindstrom is a top branding consultant and advises one of the world's royal families. The monarch pulled him aside during a visit: " Mr. Lindstrom," he said, "Don't be short-sighted; I want you to think in the long term." How long? "We're not interested in the next couple of months," he said. "We don't make quarterly earnings announcements; we don't even operate with a midterm horizon of five or ten years. We operate with a lifelong horizon, one generation at a time. In your strategic branding work for our family, if one generation does well, you've accomplished your job."

  • P8. There's a great quote by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that goes something like: we measure ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others measure s based on what we've done. This makes sense, of course. But it's awfully frustrating when there's a gap between what we know we can accomplish and what we've done up to that point.

  • P11. If it were easy to be patient, and easy to do the work, then everyone would do it. What I've come to love about patience is that, ultimately, it's the truest test of merit: Are you willing to do the work, despite no guaranteed outcome? We earn our success by toiling without recognition, accolades, or even any certainty that it's going to come to fruition. We have to take it on faith and do it anyway. That's strategic patience. You have to surround yourself with people you admire and trust and learn from their examples. You have to study what's worked before and what you wish to emulate, and then determine where you want to do something different. And you have to be willing—and so many aren't—to make choices. To recognize that saying "yes" to one thing inevitably means saying "no" to something else. But the power of consciously choosing how we're going to spend our time—and, therefore, our lives—is monumental. You have to place your bets, make your move, and wait. So I've become OK with patience.

  • P29. People push Dave all the time to reveal his favorite productivity app. His answer invariably disappoints them: it's a calendar. "You want to determine what's most important, and then you schedule that the soonest in your calendar," he says. "Whatever is less important, you schedule further out. Whatever is not important at all, you don't schedule it at all. You get rid of it. You delegate it. You say no to it. If you start operating from the calendar rather than a to-do list, you take back control over your day. It's the productivity version of the quest for the perfect diet. Keto? Atkins? South Beach? Intermittent fasting? Actually, just eat less.

  • P32. So I started getting more selective. I had to, or it would have been easy to let every day slip away, buffeted by other people's requests and schedules like a jellyfish against the waves. As my status (and, frankly, self-respect) increased, I made adjustments to my procedure:

  • I wouldn't contort my schedule to fit theirs but only agreed to times that were convenient to me.

  • I requested that they come to a location near me, or we picked a time when I was already going to be in their neighborhood.

  • I stopped agreeing to meet people "just because." In the early days of your career, when you don't know anyone, it's a fine starting point. But you have to become more selective, so I'd only meet with people who either had a relevant professional connection or seemed legitimately interesting.

  • P72. One possibility is to "optimize for interesting" and follow your curiosity. Ask yourself:

  • What am I already doing that I enjoy? Look at how you already spend your time voluntarily, which is a strong indicator of genuine interest.

  • Why did I start on this path? Think about your original motivations for pursuing your field or interests, and reconnect with them.

  • How can I tune out others' judgments? Not every experience or path has to be linear. Just because something isn't an established path doesn't mean it's the wrong one.

  • What kind of person do I want to be? Identify experiences that will help you grow into that.

  • How can I think bigger? Don't be constrained by what's possible now. Think about where you'd like to be in the future.

  • P80. Here's the bottom line: you should never bet more than you can afford to lose. That's why it's only 20%. But you do need to bet something because otherwise, you can expect a lifetime of doing the same thing over and over again. Some people suddenly become willing to experiment when things have gone badly. Their dreams have been shattered, and their backs are against the wall. That's the wrong time, Jonathan says, and way too late. It takes time to develop your side opportunities: "Do it when you're strong, not when you're weak." But with steady, consistent effort, even 20% can lead to disproportionate—and life-changing—returns.

  • P100. I'll set aside blocks of time—typically three to six months—in an explicit heads-up or heads-down mode. In the former, I'll set up dinners, calls, and meetings to network. But all that changes when heads-down mode rolls around. I'll turn down all but the most urgent requests, and I spend hours at a time immersed in deep work on projects like developing a new online course or writing a book. In exercise, you're not supposed to lift weights every day; your muscles need time to recover, heal, and grow back stronger. Switching between heads-up and heads-down enables you to leverage the power of focus to your advantage.

  • P100. I've come to believe in thinking in waves. There are four key career waves in becoming a recognized expert in your field: Learning, Creating, Connecting, and Reaping. Like the ocean tides, we need to learn to ride each wave and then transition into the next. Trying to hold on to a wave for too long leads to frustration and stagnation. But when you can absorb the lessons of each and then carefully shift, it enables you to keep growing, developing, and moving forward.

  • P102. I didn't have an MBA or a Ph.D. in business; I had never even worked in a corporation. I was a philosophy major as an undergrad and had a graduate degree in theology. Those are solid credentials but not necessarily a compelling reason for corporate executives to listen to my counsel; given my background and approach, I suspected I'd probably break a few conversations once I started my business—and that's a great way to differentiate yourself. But you have to do it consciously and understand what convention looks like in the first place. Otherwise, it's just ignorance. Part of playing the long game is understanding that you can't always immediately jump into the ring. Moving slowly may feel like wasting time. But every moment you spend understanding the nature of the game and how it works makes you stronger once you do get in.

  • P103. She had spent untold sums of money searching for the training that would magically enable a business to drop into her lap. But learning doesn't generate income on its own. It's one important step in the journey, but it's only the first wave. Once you've familiarized yourself with the basic frameworks and ideas in your field and have begun formulating your own perspective, it's time to create and share your ideas.

  • P108. As with everything in life, there's always the possibility of having too much of a good thing. One colleague I know is a sensational networker who seems to know everyone and constantly making connections. That's a great skill and a wonderful asset. But it's almost the only thing he does. He spends so much time making connections that he neglects almost every other part of his business, and his limited revenue reflects that. Thinking in waves means you can't focus exclusively on the parts of the process you enjoy. You have to keep moving and growing.

  • P112. We all have strengths, but too many of us overplay them and then get bitter when we don't get the results we want or expect. Playing the long game means understanding where you are in the game and what skill is necessary to deploy at what point. When you learn to think in waves, you'll choose your tool to suit the moment and ensure that you don't stop and don't stagnate. That's how you win. And now that we're focused on the right things, it's time to think about leverage. How can we double down on what's working to elicit more-dramatic results in our lives?

  • P112. Remember:

  • To get more done. Alternate between heads-up and heads-down modes.

  • You can't do it all—at least not all at once. Instead, follow the career waves:

  • Learning. Study your field, so you become knowledgeable.

  • Creating. Now that you have experienced, give back by creating and sharing what you've learned.

  • Connecting. Begin leveling up your connections with others in your field, so you can learn from them and contribute as part of the community.

  • Reaping. You're at the top of your field, and it's time to enjoy the benefits of your hard work.

  • Remember: don't stop learning. Soon, it'll be time to start the cycle over again, so you don't stagnate.

  • P117. Drucker was a master of strategic thinking and inspired my reading; I wrote these questions out:

  • What should I spend my time doing?

  • What are the 20% of my activities that will yield 80% of the results?

  • What can I stop doing?

  • How can I use constraints to my advantage?

  • What are my hypotheses about the future—and how do they inform my actions today?

  • P125. I came to realize there are three key components to becoming a recognized expert in your company or field. They are:

  • Content creation. You can't become known for your ideas if other people don't know what they are. Thus, you need to find a way to create content, whether that's through writing articles, giving speeches, starting a podcast, making videos, holding lunch-and-learns, or whatever channel you prefer.

  • Social proof. People are busy, so you need to give them a reason to pay attention to what you say. Social proof—your demonstrated credibility—is a quick way to do that.

  • Network, Finally, creating content and being credible is essential, but if no one knows who you are, it still won't do you any good. You need to develop a network that can help you amplify your voice and spread the word about what you're doing (not to mention help you identify which ideas are good and which aren't in the first place.)

  • P141. You don't want to be a sucker—don't keep giving to people who never reciprocate. But if you begin your interactions from a place of generosity, the right people will notice and will be inspired to help you, too. As Kris says, "It's business built on trust and a genuine interest to help each other." Long-term networking isn't about getting a job next week or next year. Instead, it's about cultivating connections with people you admire and want to spend more time with. We don't know precisely what form it will take. But when you're in the right rooms with the right people, it creates the conditions for an opportunity.

  • P160. One of his early hbr.org articles even went viral, becoming one of the ten most popular of the year. But, as he notes, "the honeymoon goes away quickly." Psychologists call it hedonic adaptation when the happiness or excitement we feel about something fades, and we revert to our baseline levels. Getting published regularly in august publications would have seemed like an amazing victory to the Ron of the year or two prior. But now he had different problems to contend with.

  • P167. And it turns out; it's not just technology and business that exponential growth applies to: It's also life. As Aikido master George Leonard notes, "In the land of the quick find, it may seem radical, but to learn anything significant, to make any lasting change in yourself, you must be willing to spend most of your time on the plateau, to keep practicing even when it seems you are getting nowhere."

  • P190. Remember:

  • You need to be excellent at what you do. But you also need at-bats, because random chance means that even excellent performers will "fail" sometimes. You have to give yourself multiple chances to succeed because, over time, if you're truly top-notch, you will.

  • Test out concepts and ideas in small ways before investing fully. That way, if something doesn't work, it's not failure—it's an experiment, and you learned something valuable from it.

  • Always think broadly and identify multiple paths to your goal. One might not work out, but there are almost always other possibilities.

  • Try to adapt plans that didn't work out. Are there alternative ways you can leverage the connections you made, the time you put in, or the work you created?

  • To make success more likely, always put a date on the calendar and involve others in your plan. That enhances your level of seriousness and commitment.

  • P191. H.L Mencken, the famed early twentieth-century satirist, defined wealth as "any income that is at least one hundred dollars more a year" than what your brother-in-law that we're comparing ourselves to. It's our colleagues at work, our friends from high school and college, reality TV stars, influencers, and anyone else whose social media feed is across our sightlines. In other words, it's everyone.

  • P193. Long-term thinking, and the actions that enable your eventual success, require sacrifice—including, at times, the sacrifice of our dignity and pride. If you're willing to endure the discomfort and humiliation, the rewards can be powerful. But most people aren't.

  • P200. We also live in terror that our plans may change. What if I'm wrong? What if it doesn't work out? None of us has perfect information. Over time and through experience, you may well learn new things about yourself and your skills and preferences or about the business. You certainly don't have to hew to the same plan for seven years, no matter what. But engaging in long-term planning enables you to think big and adapt where necessary.

  • P201. "I thought it was coaching, but I am so far from the destination now." He still loves working with clients, but it's just one modality. He conducts workshops, he serves on a corporate board, he invests in real estate, and more. "I'm finding that I seek wisdom," he says. "That's my journey; that's my arc. I'm discovering things about myself still. That's the beauty of this journey." When you plan for the long term and are willing to adjust and adapt, you can create extraordinary experiences.

  • P202. Success—always—takes longer than we want. If we wait until we've finally "made it" to celebrate, we'll likely be waiting forever. After all, what is success? In ecology, there's a phenomenon known as shifting baseline syndrome. Over time and generations, we forget what the natural world around us used to be like. Dire and dramatically changed circumstances, like deforestation or the extinction of species, don't seem like such a big deal because, hey, hasn't it always been like this?

  • P207. Remember: We can train ourselves to be long-term thinkers using the following strategies:

  • Get started in a very small way. Any goal can feel overwhelming if you look at it in its totality. But you'll create positive momentum if you start small and can see your success build.

  • Understand what it really takes to accomplish your goals. Too many people get discouraged that they're not progressing faster simply because they never took the time to ask questions or discover how long it takes others to succeed. Develop a clear picture first so you can pace yourself and set realistic goals.

  • Setting constraints on the time you spend at work will, paradoxically, make you more efficient. You'll be forced to devise better systems and processes to manage your workflow.

  • If you plan with a longer horizon than everyone else, and you're willing to endure the ups and downs along the way, you'll be able to accomplish far more than others—or even you—imagined.

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