The Power of Long-Term Thinking

Last week, I read an article on MSN titled, "Do You Have the Lazy Gene?"

The article was based on a study conducted at the University of Missouri where ten generations of rats were bred to be either "super runner" rats or "couch potato" rats. At the end of the study it was concluded that runner rats ran 10 times as much as couch potato rats -- the only physical difference between both breeds being their genetic markers.

So, of course, having pondered over the physical superiority of a specific species of rodent, I automatically began to wonder if there were genetic differences between people who are more successful than others -- a logical transition that I'm not going to try and justify.

What I've found is that, no, there isn't a conclusive genetic difference between people who are more successful, but there is an interesting pattern of behavior that successful people have: They think long term.

According to "Unheavenly City," a book by Harvard sociologist Dr. Edward C. Banfield, of all the factors that determine a person's wealth and upward mobility, the single most important is their ability to make specific goals and think long term. His study asserts that, ultimately, success is NOT a matter of where you went to college, who your parents or mentors were, what race you are, or how smart you are.

The perfect example of the triumph of long-term thinking would be Steve Jobs. He was the orphan of a Swiss-Catholic mother and a Syrian father, and his adoptive parents never completed college. He, himself, graduated from high school with a 2.65 GPA, and only completed six months of formal college instruction. Yet, he is now known as the "father of the digital revolution."

Why was he so successful? He had a goal, and he was determined to have his way.

If you look at Steve Jobs' personal history, you'll find that he was notorious for long-term planning. Starting back in 1984, Jobs was determined to reinvent the concept of the personal computer, and it became his life's mission. Over a decade's worth of products and innovations can be traced back to a speech he made at Macworld 2001, and even further back to speeches that predate 1998. The extent of this planning can't be overstated. Even after his death in 2012, Steve Jobs had a plan. He left behind a five-year road map for the next generation of Mac products, so he could truly follow through with his vision for the company.

The point of this whole anecdote is to illustrate that long-term planning -- over the scope of 5, 10, or 20 years -- is the key to successful people. It doesn't start -- or stop -- with the education we pursue, but in the realization of our goals.

Hopefully, this provides a little food for thought as we move forward in the world of education. Success is not contingent upon the pedigree or reputation of a school. It's not even based on your mentors, teachers or advisors. It's really based on a goal and plan and using your resources to meet that goal.

I think it's imperative that we, in the education world, encourage students to take the right path for their own goals. Whether that's a technical degree, an associate degree, a bachelor's degree, or no degree, we should make sure that people know all of their educational options, and feel supported in what they choose. Who knows, they might turn out to be the next Jobs.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, Matthew Yohe