100 Years

Friday February 1st marked the centennial anniversary of New York’s Grand Central Terminal. The terminal in its current form was completed in 1913.

This image is the southwest corner of Grand Central in 1918 and you can get just a little bit of a sense of the type of lives people lived back then. I walk through this intersection every morning and this picture makes me think about the history of this city and the things that have been built here by its people.

It also got me thinking about building things that last. What does it take to build something that will last 100 years? What are we building today that will be around 100 years from now? 1000 years?

The lifetime of something is often a consequence of use, maintenance, and disaster. The more rigorously something is used the more maintenance it requires. And in the case of disasters, natural or human, often nothing can be done but rebuild.

There are plenty of such examples. The pyramids benefit from a highly stable structure. The Great Pyramid of Giza has stood for 4,553 years.  Jeff Bezos’ team is working on the 10,000 year clock - a testament to his view on long-term thinking – deep in the caves of west Texas. Other structures such as the Mallau Viaduct represent marvels of modern day engineering.

Organizations have the potential to last. They have the benefit of being maintained and replenished with human capital but require a vision and the courage to change with the times.  Nokia was founded in the late 1800s as a paper mill company and eventually expanded into rubber and other industrials. In the 1960s their CEO at the time had the boldness to turn efforts towards their electronics and telecommunications equipment. Unfortunately in the past 20 years Nokia has lacked this same bold leadership and has failed to effectively replenish its human capital.

What about software? Which software company will be the first to reach the century mark? Google and Amazon come to mind. They were founded in the mold of a company built for long-term, 10X bets.

Evernote is a young company that has released some excellent products and intends on being a 100-year company.

“We don’t think a billion dollars is all that cool, either. You know what’s really cool? Making a hundred-year company.” — Phil Libin, CEO Evernote

Given the rapid pace of innovation and change in the technology sector, reaching this mark may prove more difficult than in other industries.

One commonality among these centenarian projects is interdependence – teams of people coming together to build something that would out-last their own individual lives.

At 100 years old Grand Central is youthful among some of history’s longer lasting monuments. But it is a reminder of the things we are capable of completing as a team and the goals towards which we should strive.

Image credit: Wikipedia