Sometime in 2013, I decided to write.
Nudged by a senior to try, I had never really written before. Apart from the school essays, there wasn’t much I had truly written. My senior suggested I try my hand at this new website called Quora.
So I wrote.
My first answer on Quora was upvoted by 13 people. I was thrilled enough to think writing might be a good idea. A year later, I started writing every week.
For the last 312 weeks, it hasn’t stopped.
It has powerful consequences just like compounding interest. If you do learn and improve every time, it helps you grow more in magnitude.
People ask me how much time I take to write a piece. I say that I have taken 6 years to write this piece in 30 mins.
The decision I made was to play storytelling’s long game.
Playing the long game. The saying isn’t new. It has taken a new meaning because of the sheer amount of distractions at our disposal.
With sensory and information overload, we are caught playing the short game. We do what feels pleasurable in the moment, rather than focussing on how we can feel wholesome tomorrow.
But if we kept the actions that provide instant gratification with a long term perspective, you might realise that it barely moves the needle at all. It’s easy to get lost in the details and what seems urgent.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to put in the work and do what’s necessary. It’s more important to find the motivation behind it. For motivation, people ask will what you’re doing matter in the next 5 days, 5 weeks, or 5 years?
I ask a simpler question – am I learning, challenging myself, and having fun? If the answer is no, I rethink.
The concept of the Long Game is powerfully explained through a small psychological experiment called the Marshmallow experiment. Craving marshmallows? Wait for it.
The choice is simple. Eat one now or eat two later. The results of this experiment was not in noticing who waits it out for the second marshmallow. It was following these kids right into adulthood and finding surprisingly positive results when it comes to academics and relationships
But what does this have to do with the Long Game?
If you look around, you are part of many marshmallow experiments. Watch Netflix or work now and get paid later. Take the job that pays you more money today, or take the job where you learn more.
When life gives you marshmallows, wait for two.
Our basic instinct is to take one marshmallow immediately. It makes sense, because we are optimizing for as many resources we can get now. Having lived in scarcity, it’s self protection.
It is not intuitive for the human brain to understand compounding. If you grew 20% each month over 12 months, it would not add 0.2*12 = 2.4x to you.
It would take you 9 times where you are. If you play the compounding game long enough, you are close to 10x where you are today.
The human brain also has a superpower, which is the ability to imagine the future.
Combined with the ability to imagine the future, compounding is truly the 8th wonder of the world. We have seen it play out well and horribly – in stock market returns, and the explosion of COVID.
It also indicates where compounding is most powerful – money and networks.
$81Bn of Warren Buffet’s $84Bn came after 65th birthday. Facebook took its first 7 years to add 300M users, but added 1.2Bn in the next 7 years.
Money is more easily understood than networks. The most powerful network you have is your mind. Ideas can grow in a compounding manner because of the nature of your brain.
Ideas that compound beyond the conceptualizer’s brain are known as startups. Once the founder is starting the company, she is probably playing the biggest marshmallow experiment of her life, with a twist.
Take a nice salary today or multiples of that through her equity in the future. But unlike the marshmallow experiment, there isn’t certainty she will get the multiples later.
Founders, and VCs by virtue of investing in founders, are playing the Long Game. I tell my friends that the most important attribute as a venture investor is patience.
Good things may come to people who wait.
But you don’t need to be a founder or VC to play the Long Game. You can play the Long Game in anything – career, health, relationships, passions. Once you decide the game, playing it for the long haul can entirely change your perspective and decision making.
You will think thoughtfully, react thoughtfully, and act thoughtfully.
As I write for the 313th week in a row, the benefits of playing the Long Game have begun to accrue. I intend to keep playing this game for a long time. Not because of the benefits, but because I am learning, challenging myself, and having fun.
What’s going to be your Long Game?