Learning from the world’s longest-lived organizations to build a discipline of shareable knowledge for our future
One of Long Now’s founding premises is that humanity’s most significant challenges require long-term solutions. Projects like long-term ecosystem management or space exploration require follow up over the course of hundreds of years. Historically, projects and solutions enacted without some type of support infrastructure often dissipate within a generation, their noble goals relegated to the obscurity of history books. Similarly, civilization’s most critical knowledge is often housed in and cared for by institutions —such as the United Nations and various national archives — that are not designed to withstand predictable natural disasters and social upheaval. In the business world, average company life spans are shrinking at a rate of nearly one year per year. In a world where civilization now has the power to alter the planet on millennial timescales, we lack the long-term institutions to work effectively over generations.
However, there are a small number of companies and organizations that have managed to stay stable over many centuries, and in some cases, over millennia. Surprisingly, there are few data-driven studies of what makes these organizations succeed. Long Now has been informally tracking these organizations for years, and in 02019 formed The Organizational Continuity Project to study these long-lived institutions. These institutions range from universities and martial arts communities to guesthouses and breweries. Early research shows that a vast majority of them are in the alcohol, food and hospitality sectors, and the largest majority geographically are in Japan. While the historical record will be our best teacher, we also hope to learn from emerging organizational structures that may change our conceptions of what companies or institutions could be.
As our research develops, The Organizational Continuity Project is working to discover the lessons behind these long-lived organizations and pull these lessons into a first of its kind book, led by Continuity Project Director & Executive Director Emeritus Alexander Rose. We hope that the book can distill the lessons and stories in an accessible way for contemporary institutions, companies, and governments.
- Long-Lived Institutions: Lessons from six long-term thinkers on how to create organizations that last
- The Way-Forward Machine by Research Fellow Samuel Arbesman
- Why Civilizations Collapse by Research Fellow Samo Burja
- Intellectual Dark Matter by Research Fellow Samo Burja
- Established: Lessons From the World's Oldest Companies by Dark Angels Collective
- Why Cities Live Forever by Stewart Brand on the talk by Geoffrey West
- The Corporation As Time Machine by Lynn A. Stout
- Long-term Building in Japan by Alexander Rose
- Deep Time Organizations by Frederic Hanusch and Frank Biermann
- Building on Tradition — 1,400 Years of a Family Business by Irene Herrera
- Japanese Survey of "Long-Established" Companies from 02016
- Die slow, or not at all by Mwiya
- Alexander Rose: Continuity Project Director
- Skaidra Smith-Heisters: Research coordinator
- Samo Burja: Long Now Research Fellow and founder of Bismarck Analysis
- Samuel Arbesman: Long Now Research Fellow, scientist, and author
- James Anderson of Baillie Gifford
- Ethereum Foundation
In February 02019, Long Now held the Inaugural Meeting for The Organizational Continuity Project. The group consisted of Long Now board members, staff, and outside experts.
Scenario Planning for the Long-term
Peter Schwartz, a founding board member of Long Now and author of The Art of the Long View, distills the lessons learned from his work in scenario planning for organizations.
Intellectual Dark Matter
Samo Burja, a Long Now Research Fellow and theorist, explores how civilizations have historically lost knowledge, information, and, in some cases, even the foundations of their entire societies. These examples underscore the pitfalls that any organization aspiring for long-term survival must avoid.
The Data of Long-Lived Institutions
Long Now Executive Director Alexander Rose shares his preliminary research into what type of organizations last, what they have in common, and which elements and strategies they developed that have contributed to their survival.
The Longevity of Nature
Dr. Eric Berlow, a complexity researcher focused on mapping the health of ecological systems, broadens our thinking about the mechanisms of long-term systemic success in nature.
Language, Meaning, and Culture
Dr. Laura Welcher, Director of Long Now’s Rosetta Project, explores one of the longest lived human systems — language itself.
Generational Transitions and Governing Systems
Katherine Fulton, Co-Chair of Long Now’s Board of Directors and a leading thinker on the future of philanthropy, tackles generational change, which is often one of the most critical moments in any organization that hopes to last.