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July 9, 2001—Decidedly Undecided

Mixed Signals. Fuel prices have fallen so much that some have opined that California's energy crisis is over . We sure like buying regular for $1.32, even though that is tough when you remember the glorious days of $.32 in days of yore. What with the Fed interest rate cut--and another half point to come shortly--we have a little liquidity splashing around the system. And the numbers in non-manufacturing are bumping up a bit. But tearful earnings reports abound, employers are now into their second round of job cuts, and the stock market is going nowhere.

Indecision. We cannot get the engine of growth started again because nobody can decide it's time to get going. Despite all the cash in their piggy banks, the venture capitalists are sitting on the sidelines. In our Annual Report on Annual Reports 2001, we found that new CEO's were being thrust to the front lines at a prodigious rate, but neither they nor their boards had a real clue as to what to do next. This comes on the heels of a decade where projects and capital expenditures were discussed to death, leading to half-decisions about the wrong things much too late. The difference now is that nothing is getting approved, and things are grinding to a halt. Currently, decisiveness consists of shutting something down, not getting something started.

Decisively Indecisive. For a while, it seems, we all must bet that things could go either way--up or down. This may not lead to much of a strategy, but we just seem to be at one of those moments where you figure out how to waffle, whether investing in the stock market or figuring out your inventory position for the next sales cycle. We have currently bet both ways in the stock market, so we are making more than a nickel. The money-makers at the moment are managing risk well, not seizing opportunities.

Stunned by DW3. We keep discovering more and more terrific websites put together by academics. A Duke librarian has created an absolutely magnificent resource on classical music, DW3, which you can find on the Global Province this week. All this proves that academics and scientists, who more or less created the Web, still understand best what it is all about. Even profound businessmen don't quite get it: the sophisticated Jeffrey Skilling, head of the nation's energy broker, Enron, thinks of it as a different kind of telephone system. But it is a collaborative-knowledge tool where everybody owns a piece of the rock. Is not this lack of understanding one of the reasons for our present impasse--this period of indecision? We are now being presented with technologies whose applications we do not understand. So we try to use them to replicate or automate yesterday's tactics, instead of facing their implications and linking them to brand new strategies and operating styles.


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