By Rieva Lesonsky

When you own your own business, it’s easy to spend all day putting out fires. Between paying the bills and making sure you get paid, your horizons can shrink down to the view from your desk. That’s when you’re at risk of the entrepreneur’s occupational hazard: thinking small. Thinking small is a mistake that can not only drain the joy from running your business, but also destroy your company. Let me explain.

Not too long ago, the conventional wisdom was that you needed to have a business plan that laid out your goals for one year, five years and 10 years ahead. Having that type of plan forces you to think big. But in today’s fast-changing economy, that advice has changed too. Now, more often, entrepreneurs are advised to gear their plans in quarterly increments. You can think one or three years out, but planning five or 10 years out begins to feel like an exercise in wishful thinking when it’s hard to predict what technology, markets or opportunities will exist just months down the road.

Anyone who knows me knows I don’t like to make plans that are set in stone. So I love that we’re no longer forced to plot out our every move five or 10 years from now. But thinking short-term can also lead to thinking small if you’re not able to see beyond what exists today. Responding nimbly to change requires being willing to think big and imagine what might be in one, three, five or 10 years.

How can you keep yourself thinking big? Here are some tips.

  1. Set aside thinking time. Just an hour a week to catch up on key reading and let the ideas percolate without interruption can bring big brainstorms. Take downtime, too, to meditate, exercise or whatever floats your boat and gets your creativity flowing.
  2. Mix and mingle. Talking to people outside your industry can open your eyes to big ideas you might never have considered on your own. Just a quick coffee or lunch chat can spark lots of big plans.
  3. Keep up on trends. Stay abreast of what’s new and notable in your industry, sure. But try to think beyond that by drawing trends out to their logical conclusion. For example, in the restaurant industry, food trucks are hot. How would food trucks go to the next level? What if other industries went mobile? What if food could be delivered digitally? What if restaurants disappeared? Let your imagination run wild.
  4. Let money be no object. In reality, of course, your business goals are limited by your budget. But what would you do if you had unlimited funds? Envision your wildest business dream, write it down—and work from there. Maybe you can’t fund it all…but if you think big enough, you might find someone who will.

Thinking big attracts other big thinkers. Thinking small just keeps you where you are. Take it from a big thinker–Robert F. Kennedy–who famously said: “Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?”