Dorie Clark approaches life as a long game, focusing on the big picture rather than short-term gains. “I try to walk the talk,” Clark tells The CEO Magazine. The Wall Street Journal bestselling author of books such as Entrepreneurial You, Reinventing You and Stand Out provides actionable professional development advice for time-poor executives.
In her most recent book, The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World, she presents the case for professionals to adopt a long-term strategy in a world wired for short-term wins. Using real-life case studies to illustrate the principles and frameworks she presents, The Long Game is written to guide people toward a career – and life – with more meaning.
“There are a couple of instances I can point to,” she says when asked how she has played the long game herself. With a master’s degree in theological studies, her career started in journalism and was followed by a stint as a presidential campaign spokesperson before taking on the management of a not-for-profit business. In 2006, she transitioned into corporate consulting. “I realized about a decade ago that I needed to do something different to expose myself to a new audience,” she says.
As she looked to move away from the small not-for-profits and government agencies that made up her clientele toward larger corporations with bigger budgets, she turned to content creation for the answer. “I began a campaign of writing hundreds of articles for high-profile publications such as Forbes and the Harvard Business Review.”
Going “all in” on her strategy, she consciously decided to cut out the lowest-paid quarter of her work. “My income decreased by more than six figures in a year,” she reveals. It was a short-term sacrifice, but one that allowed her to position her business for the long-term. “It did pan out, but it took years to do so.”
Today, as a strategy consultant, keynote speaker and executive education coach, she is one of the Thinkers50 Top 50 Business Thinkers in the World and was awarded the #1 Communication Coach in the World accolade at the Marshall Goldsmith Coaching Awards. Her clients include Google, Microsoft and the World Bank.
Clark says it was seeing her executive coaching clients struggle with the question of “what next?” that inspired her to write The Long Game. “So often they felt like they were missing something or falling behind or that there must be some new magic thing for them to be doing,” she explains. “Time and again, I was telling them to keep doing what we agreed they would do.”
Because, as she argues in the book, to make progress and show results, it’s necessary to work on meaningful projects for a sustained period of time. Of course, she knows that’s easier said than done when everyone around you seems to be kicking constant career goals.
“It was those short-term pressures that I saw in so many of my clients,” she says. “I wanted to create a framework to help people understand those impulses and be able to move through them to the other side where they could make the impact they wanted to make.”
Who does Clark feel in business leads the way when it comes to playing the long game? “He has his admirers and detractors, but what is undeniable is that Jeff Bezos has been an exemplar of long-term thinking,” she points out. “He has been willing so publicly and adamantly to be a role model in eschewing the stock market fascination with quarterly earnings and continually reinvesting in the company over the long-term to create a strategic moat and build up a strategic advantage.”
Clark explains that The Long Game contains a specific message for leaders and executives. “Every day, a CEO makes strategic decisions for the company, that’s their raison d’etre. But what they often fail to do is apply those same principles to their own lives and careers,” she reveals. “However, if you are willing to delay profits to pursue a strategic advantage, the results over time can be dramatic.”
And, she adds, this is the lens we need to apply to ourselves as we start with small decisions today that will make large outcomes possible in the future.
> Just as we do with investment portfolios, we need to diversify our life portfolios. “I am a big believer in hedging risk,” Clark says. In The Long Game, she explains the importance of 20 per cent time, or time off to explore where your passions take you. “It enables you to develop skills, interests, connections and relationships that may pay off in unexpected ways.
> It’s human to continue to maximize what we are good at and understand. “But long-term success comes from understanding that we can’t do the same thing again and again,” she says. Instead, Clark suggests working through four phases: learning, creating, connecting and reaping. “Many CEOs assume that reaping is the final destination. Instead, we need to recognize that it’s a circle and we need to move back into learning mode so we can continue to stay fresh.”