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How to Live Forever

In the 1990 movie, Joe vs. the Volcano, Joe agrees to jump into a volcano to appease the gods on a South Pacific island, after learning he has a terminal disease. Soon after, the daughter of the man who hired Joe asks, “Did you ever think about killing yourself?” “What… Why would you do that?” asks Joe. “Why shouldn’t I?” she replies. “Because some things take care of themselves. They’re not your job; maybe they’re not even your business.”

Great companies don’t die from murder, they die from suicide. — Jim Collins, American business researcher and author

The irony, of course, is that Joe is saying this as he is planning his own fatal leap. While most people and businesses don’t intentionally kill themselves, a surprising number fail to do what is needed for a long life. There are many parallels between the longevity of individuals and the longevity of organizations, and intention is one of those. For both individuals and organizations, asking ourselves what is required for longevity, and then doing those things, is a vital first step to a long life. Here are some of those things:

Healthy Foundations: Just as a balanced diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep contribute to individual health and longevity, healthy foundational practices such as sound financial management, strong governance, and ethical business practices are crucial for corporate longevity.

Purpose and Vision: Individuals with a clear sense of purpose often lead more fulfilled and longer lives. Likewise, companies with a strong, clear vision and a commitment to core values tend to outlast their competitors and make a more meaningful impact on their markets and communities.

Relationships and Community: Strong social connections are known to increase individual longevity and well-being. For corporations, fostering positive relationships with stakeholders—such as employees, customers, and communities—is similarly vital for sustained success.

Continuous Learning and Innovation: Lifelong learning is key to personal growth and staying relevant in an ever-changing world. Similarly, corporations must innovate and continuously improve their products, services, and processes to stay competitive and relevant in their industry.

Preparing for the Next Stage: While individuals may plan for their education, choose a suitable career, and ultimately plan for their retirement, businesses, too, go through growth stages. To survive and flourish means anticipating, and being ready for, what is next.

There is no success without succession. — Peter Drucker, American management consultant, educator, and author

In summary, it is striking how similar the principles of longevity are between individuals and organizations. We should all want long, healthy lives for ourselves and the enterprises we undertake. But while average human lifespans have increased from around 25 years for our distant ancestors, to more than 76 years in 2021, average business lifespans have decreased from about 60 years in the 1950s to a much shorter 15 to 20 years today. While Joe is right that some things take care of themselves, there are still things we can and should do for long, healthy lives.


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