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October 8, 2001—Back to the Future

Strategy is Back. The movie Back to the Future is for kids and adult kids wanting to escape the present day into phantasy games. But now we are back to the future in quite a different way. After 10 or 15 years of opportunism and patchwork tactics in every aspect of our lives, we are now once again in the strategy game, forced to grapple seriously with the future, defined in decades instead of days. The opportunity has gone out of opportunism.

Preventive Medicine. This is as true in education, business, and health care as it is in statecraft. For instance, tactical maneuvers and technology splotches have raised costs explosively and damaged the national health -- trends that continue unabated in spite of our fitful experimentation with HMOs. About the only way to get out of the whole health-care mess is to motivate individuals to take up preventive health care -- a 360-degree change in strategic direction. In this vein, there is some news about colon cancer this week on Stitch in Time. It is the second biggest cancer killer, yet it could be reduced to almost zero by adequate screening. Right now, strategy is the only thing that will work.

Unfocused Brands. In all sorts of enterprises, profit and non-profit, we find folks who do not know what they are selling -- for a lack of a strategy. In Agile Companies this week, you will discover that brand-building has gotten so complex that the product itself has begun to be forgotten (are we talking about cars out of Detroit here?). In several entries on Big Ideas, you will find that schools have overstuffed the child's day and made a mishmash of the curriculum: the 3 Rs, healthful living, and a sense of proportion are forgotten. Good strategy, on the other hand, would insist on purposeful simplicity.

Listen to Abigail. If all this is right, the way to get something done now is to escape the moment and to think 10 chess moves ahead. This means listening to different voices, unheard up to now, that utter sounds of tomorrow. According to David McCullough's John Adams, the Adams family could have died rich if only John had listened to Abigail: "Had the Adams invested in government securities as Abigail wished, they would, almost certainly, have wound up quite wealthy." So listen to your spouse, your closest friend or a contrary thinker, and you may be able to get off the tracks to nowhere.

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