In the following summary, you’ll learn two life philosophies that will help you play the long game.
“Long-term thinking protects us during downturns (of all kinds), because it keeps us moving toward our most important goals.” – Dorie Clark
What would your life look like if you embraced the long game?
Optimize for interesting
Think in Waves
15 Questions to Help You Become a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World
About the author
Table of Contents
Video and Podcast
Business Culture, Self Help, Leadership, Productivity, Personal Development, Management, Entrepreneurship, Psychology, Job Hunting, Career Guides, Business Motivation, Self-Improvement, Motivational
What would your life look like if you embraced the long game?
- If you had a vision of playing with your great‐grandchildren at age 100 and let that vision drive your decisions, you would pass on fast food meals, prioritize exercise, and stick to a nighttime routine to get adequate sleep every day.
- If you embraced the long game, your work would be more satisfying because you’d patiently master first principles in your field and become a well‐known expert who is greatly admired and respected by others.
- If you played the long game, you’d make more money because instead of pushing customers to make a sale, you’d focus on providing excellent service and building great relationships that will result in repeat sales and countless referrals.
- And if you played the long game, you’d be less stressed because when your portfolio goes down, you zoom out and have confidence that your investments will go up ten years from now.
Develop the patience and perseverance to play the long game and experience better health, job satisfaction, wealth, and less stress by adopting two life philosophies:
Optimize for interesting
When given a choice, choose the more interesting path. The more interested you are in a journey, the more likely you are to stay the course and see annoying problems as rewarding intellectual challenges.
- A lawyer in the book enjoyed a long and fulfilling career as the in‐house lawyer at Esty because as a part time jewelry maker who sold some necklaces and earrings on Esty she related to the artists and was eager to fight for their rights each day.
- If you create a product to solve a problem you’re struggling with, you have a vested interest in building, testing, and innovating your product until it succeeds.
- If you pick publicly traded companies whose business models you’re interested in and have a deep understanding of, you are more inclined to see short‐term stock volatility as noise and hold onto a growing company long enough to make a profit. For decades, Warren Buffett has restricted his investments to businesses and sectors he understands (which is code for businesses and sectors he’s willing to study several hours a day).
When you optimize for interesting in your career, business, and investments, you have the energy to play the long game. But to ensure your interests fuel you as long as possible, document your interest at the onset of an endeavor.
- Why were you excited to start the job you have now?
- What sparked your interest in starting your business?
- Why did you commit your hard‐earned money to your investments?
When you document your initial interest, you can better evaluate the strength of your interest and revisit your interest when you get frustrated or bored.
Think in Waves
When things are going well in our careers or businesses, it is nice to believe it will continue. But no matter how good we are at something or how well a product is selling now, there will come a time when we feel stagnant in our career and our product sales decline.
Short‐term thinkers fail to see a career plateau or sales decline looming on the horizon and panic when it happens. But long‐term thinkers expect their current opportunity and advantage to run their course, so they are constantly generating future opportunities.
- A business owner playing the long game aims to stretch the sales of their current product while investing in research and design, so a new product is ready when their current product sales eventually decline.
- An author playing the long game will put her head down to write for months. But when the book is complete, she lifts her head to market the book and maximize sales, so her book gains traction and sells for several years. After a few weeks of marketing, she puts her head down and works on her next book.
- A freelancer or consultant playing the long game dedicates a portion of their workweek to overdeliver for their current clients and a part of their workweek looking for new clients.
Thinking in waves means anticipating future plateaus/declines and cycling between head‐down mode (exploit an opportunity) and head‐up mode (explore new opportunities). When you think in waves and cycle between these two modes, you can patiently pursue new opportunities while making the most of your current opportunity, which generates the financial and psychological security you need to play the long game.
“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
15 Questions to Help You Become a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World
These days – in both our personal and professional lives – there’s constant pressure pushing us toward the short term.
A sense of urgency can be helpful – up to a point. But, taken too far, it can create a frenzy of activity, reaction, and comparison that actually impedes our ability to make progress on what matters most.
In order to achieve lasting success, we need to reorient ourselves to a longer-term, more strategic perspective.
The following self-assessment questions are inspired by The Long Game, and I hope will be helpful as you think about your own life and career. We can all benefit from becoming more strategic thinkers. I hope these questions will help spark your own thoughts and ideas, and give you space to consider the future you want.
Creating More White Space
The first step in thinking more strategically is creating space to think. Here are some questions to consider.
1. Look back on your calendar for the past 2 weeks. What are the major categories of how you’re spending your time? What feels most – and least – essential? Come up with at least one way you can maximize what’s important and minimize what’s not.
2. Look at the tasks you identified. Ask yourself:
a. Should I be doing this task at all?
b. Could I delegate it to someone else, or stop doing it altogether?
c. Where should I focus my effort in order to get the biggest return?
d. If I were starting fresh today, would I still choose to invest in this project?
Write down your observations and insights.
3. Many professionals end up with an overstuffed schedule because it’s hard to say no. Before saying yes to any opportunity, ask yourself:
a. What is the total commitment required?
b. What is the opportunity cost?
c. What’s the physical & emotional cost?
d. Would I feel bad in a year if I didn’t do this?
Look at your inbox and identify an upcoming opportunity you’ve been offered. Now apply this lens – should you say yes?
Focus Where It Counts
The starting point in developing a long-term mindset is carving out room to think. But now we have to deploy that extra time wisely – and that means focusing on the right things.
4. What ideas, topics, or issues are you most curious about? If you’re unsure, think about how you voluntarily spend your free time – What activities do you choose to do? What books or articles do you love to read? What events do you attend for fun? This can provide valuable clues about areas you’ll want to spend more time investigating.
5. “20% time” is exploratory time you carve out of your schedule to investigate new, innovative ideas that can lead in fascinating directions (or might not work at all – which is OK, because you’re placing a limited bet!). Start brainstorming below – what projects or activities might you undertake as part of your “20% time”?
6. We’re most productive when we alternate between “heads up” mode – exploring options, meeting new people, and seeking out ideas to pursue – and “heads down” mode, in which we focus on executing. Which mode are you in now? How long do you plan to focus there, and when do you plan to switch modes?
7. There are three types of networking:
a. short term (you’re meeting people because you want to get something, such as a job, right away);
b. long-term (you’re building connections with people in your field or industry whom you respect and who might be useful to know someday, but you’re not sure how); and
c. infinite horizon (you’re connecting with people in other fields and industries who have no obvious relevance to you – but they expand your world and your sense of possibility).
Short-term networking – by definition transactional – should be avoided whenever possible. The goal is instead to develop lasting relationships.
Most savvy professionals are decent at long-term networking, but often don’t do much – or any – infinite horizon networking. But those relationships can be the most transformative, because they expose you to ideas and possibilities that never would have arisen otherwise.
Write down at least two specific ways that you might personally expand your ‘infinite horizon’ circle (e.g., involvement in an alumni association, cohosting a dinner or virtual cocktails with a friend in a different industry, reconnecting with a long-ago friend, attending an ‘ideas’ conference, etc.).
Keeping the Faith
Often, the hardest part of playing the long game is ‘the slog’ – because results almost never come as fast as we’d like. In order to achieve our goals, we have to develop the ‘strategic patience’ necessary to endure, even when it feels like we’re not making progress at all. That’s how we can outlast and outflank the competition, and achieve the results – and build the life – that we want.
8. In the moment, it’s almost impossible to tell if something “isn’t working” or “isn’t working yet.” Think of a time in the past where you were unsure about your progress, but it worked out because you persevered. Write it down. This is a useful reminder to return to!
9. For many worthwhile professional endeavors, it takes time – often 2-5 years – to show meaningful results. That’s why it’s so important to monitor and celebrate ‘small wins’ – aka ‘raindrops’ of progress. Think about the tiny signs of progress you’ve seen in your own work (a congratulatory note, a media request, a client inquiry, a compliment, etc.). Write them down: they’re signs that you’re on the right track toward a meaningful goal.
10. During challenging periods where it feels like you’re not making progress, remind yourself of the following:
a. Why am I doing this?
b. How long did the process take for other people I admire?
c. What do my trusted advisors say?
(If they say you’re on the right track, believe them.) Choose one goal or project you’re working on now, and write down your answers.
11. Think of a goal or project you’re working on. It’s a useful exercise to identify multiple paths to that same goal (both as a backup plan, and so that you can identify other options that might even be better!). Write down your goal, and also alternative possible routes to achieve it. (For example, if your immediate desire is to “get a job at Google,” alternative paths might be working for a different tech company, launching your own startup, writing a book or article about Google, conducting academic research on aspects of their technology, etc.)
12. One of the best ways to ensure you fulfill your stated goals is to “put a date” on them. What goal or activity have you been contemplating that you want to commit to definitely? Write it down below – along with a date by which you’ll take action.
13. Borrow a technique from Silicon Valley and the Lean Startup methodology: the ‘minimum viable product.’ Think about a goal you have or an idea you’d like to explore. Write down the smallest possible way (i.e., fast and cheap) that you can investigate this option (for instance, if you want to write a book, start with a blog post to test audience response).
14. One of Jeff Bezos’ favorite techniques is to conduct planning on a seven-year horizon, because most of his competitors can’t or won’t look that far in the future. “Just by lengthening the time horizon, you can engage in endeavors that you could never otherwise pursue,” he told Wired magazine. What is your seven-year plan for yourself and your career?
15. Many of us fall prey to ‘shifting baseline syndrome,’ in which we unknowingly recalibrate our frame of reference – causing us to forget how far we’ve come, and overlook the major progress we’ve achieved in the past. Write down at least three ways you’ve progressed in your career or in your life over the past 3-5 years – and celebrate the hard work and effort that got you there.
It’s so easy to be pushed into short-term thinking and short-term solutions. But to make progress on our most meaningful priorities, and create the career we truly want for ourselves, it’s necessary to fight back and carve out space for long-term thinking. I hope these questions have helped you reflect as you progress on your journey.
About the author
Dorie Clark is a consultant and keynote speaker who teaches executive education at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business. She is the author of Entrepreneurial You, Reinventing You, and Stand Out. The New York Times has described Clark as an “expert at self-reinvention and helping others make changes in their lives.” Her books have been translated into eleven languages. Learn more and download your free self-assessment at dorieclark.com.
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Table of Contents
Section 1 White Space
1 The Real Reason We’re All So Busy 21
2 Saying No (Even to Good Things) 31
Section 2 Focus Where It Counts
3 Setting the Right Goals 55
4 Time to Explore 73
5 Think in Waves 95
6 Strategic Leverage 115
7 The Right People, the Right Rooms 129
Section 3 Keeping the Faith
8 Strategic Patience 159
9 Rethink Failure 173
10 Reap the Rewards 191
Coda: Three Keys to Becoming a Long-Term Thinker 209
Further Resources 227
About the Author 233
It’s no secret that we’re pushed to the limit. Today’s professionals feel rushed, overwhelmed, and perennially behind. So we keep our heads down, focused on the next thing, and the next, without a moment to breathe.
How can we break out of this endless cycle and create the kind of interesting, meaningful lives we all seek?
Just as CEOs who optimize for quarterly profits often fail to make the strategic investments necessary for long-term growth, the same is true in our own personal and professional lives. We need to reorient ourselves to see the big picture so we can tap into the power of small changes that, made today, will have an enormous and disproportionate impact on our future success. We need to start playing The Long Game.
As top business thinker and Duke University professor Dorie Clark explains, we all know intellectually that lasting success takes persistence and effort. And yet so much of the relentless pressure in our culture pushes us toward doing what’s easy, what’s guaranteed, or what looks glamorous in the moment. In The Long Game, she argues for a different path. It’s about doing small things over time to achieve our goals—and being willing to keep at them, even when they seem pointless, boring, or hard.
In The Long Game, Clark shares unique principles and frameworks you can apply to your specific situation, as well as vivid stories from her own career and other professionals’ experiences. Everyone is allotted the same twenty-four hours—but with the right strategies, you can leverage those hours in more efficient and powerful ways than you ever imagined. It’s never an overnight process, but the long-term payoff is immense: to finally break out of the frenetic day-to-day routine and transform your life and your career.
Named one of the Best Work and Management Books of the Past Year by Charter
“…breezily presents very common sense advice about careers and business. Among Clark’s recommendations: adopt the ‘20% time’ approach popularized by Google and devote that portion of your time to exploring new areas.” — Charter
“Dorie’s book helps us … create the kind of interesting, meaningful lives we all seek.” — Forbes
“Few people understand strategic thinking as well as Dorie Clark…” — Inc. magazine
“Clark’s rich and varied background—college graduate at 18, award-winning journalist, presidential campaign adviser, documentary filmmaker, and more—uniquely positions her to advise people on how to accomplish anything they want.” — Civil Engineering Magazine
Advance Praise for The Long Game:
“Filled with hard-earned wisdom, The Long Game is the book so many of us need right now. Dorie Clark’s best book yet.” — Seth Godin, author, This Is Marketing
“Dorie Clark has written an essential book that addresses the leadership challenge of our time: solving hard problems in a world with a limited attention span. The Long Game is a blueprint for building our organizational futures.” — Frances Frei, coauthor, Unleashed
“As always, Dorie Clark delivers the goods. By telling the stories of an array of high achievers, she shows the importance of strategic patience and the enduring power of curiosity and resilience. Prepare to take notes!” — Daniel H. Pink, author, When, Drive, and To Sell Is Human
“If you want to create a blue ocean strategy for your career, read The Long Game. In this essential guide, Dorie Clark shows you how to build a unique and powerful professional trajectory.”— Renee Mauborgne, New York Times bestselling coauthor, Blue Ocean Strategy and Blue Ocean Shift; Distinguished Fellow of Strategy and International Management, INSEAD
“If you’ve ever felt like you don’t have enough hours in the day, you have to read The Long Game! Clark will help you strip away the things on your calendar that keep you from spending time on what’s most important and achieving your ultimate goals.” — Marshall Goldsmith, New York Times bestselling author, Triggers, Mojo, and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There; winner of Lifetime Achievement Award, Institute for Management Studies; and two-time winner, Thinkers50 Leadership Award
“The Long Game offers a thoughtful, practical, and compelling approach to achieving one’s higher ambitions in a demanding, short-term-focused world. A very worthy read.” — Doug Conant, founder and CEO, ConantLeadership; Chairman, CECP; former CEO, Campbell Soup Company
“If you want to take control of your life and career—and cultivate the habits for success—read The Long Game.” — Charles Duhigg, bestselling author, The Power of Habit and Smarter Faster Better
“To redefine success on your own terms and build a life that matters, read The Long Game.” — Keith Ferrazzi, New York Times bestselling author, Never Eat Alone and Leading Without Authority
“This is one of those rare books that can help us refocus on what truly matters. Masterfully written and packed with actionable advice, Dorie Clark’s The Long Game shows us how to break the every-day-is-a-sprint cycle and discover our comfortable, personal marathon pace.” — Francesca Gino, Tandon Family Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School; bestselling author, Rebel Talent
“If you’re interested in building and living a truly meaningful life, this wonderful précis by my extraordinary friend Dorie Clark is for you. It’s full of specific, actionable advice that you’ll be able to apply immediately.” — Hubert Joly, former Chairman and CEO, Best Buy; Senior Lecturer of Business Administration, Harvard Business School; and author, The Heart of Business
“Be prepared never to look at your life the same way again. The Long Game is a must-read for anyone desperate to be liberated from the shackles of the screen and discover a life post-Covid.” — Martin Lindstrom, bestselling author, The Ministry of Common Sense and Buyology
“Success is not a question of how much stuff you get done. It’s not even a question of what you manage to achieve. Instead, it’s knowing your purpose in life and taking the right steps to fulfill your potential. Dorie Clark is one of my favorite writers, and The Long Game may be her best book yet. Filled with inspiring examples and practical advice for how to approach your career differently, this book will quite literally change your life. I highly recommend it.” — Erin Meyer, author, The Culture Map; coauthor, No Rules Rules; and Professor of Management Practice, INSEAD