Appearing Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union the new HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, said, “We know that, even if this (H1N1) doesn’t present itself as a very virulent strain right now, it could come back with greater force in the winter and fall, when we get into flu season. So, this is no time for complacency. We want to stay out ahead of this. ”
Some compare this encounter with a new virus to the “phony war” of September 1939 to June 1940, which was followed by an overwhelming blitzkrieg and collapse of France.
The early 21st century struggle against terrorism has been called The Long War. Some have argued that framing the struggle as a “war” may result in application of unhelpful mental models. Few have argued that “long” is the wrong adjective.
Saturday, Warren Buffett, commenting on the US economic recovery said, we have overcome last September’s “economic Pearl Harbor.” But the prophet of Omaha tells CNBC, “we’re still at war.” He expects — you guessed it — a long war.
The foundations of modern management can be traced to the experience of the Thirty Years War and the following three-plus centuries of European continental and colonial wars. The American Civil War had a comparable impact. Effectively supplying, organizing, and leading large armies and navies provided a kind of genetic code that spawned key concepts of large enterprise management. The military-industrial complex of the Cold War and since has tended to reinforce the pattern.
The American military experience — incubated in a high-risk revolution, refined in the existential experience of civil war, and confirmed as a rising and reigning superpower — has been to seek the enemy’s unconditional surrender.
Michael Porter and other contemporary business strategists argue this “us or them,” “win or lose” perspective can be inconsistent with reality and complicates the achievement of both enterprise and market objectives. Success is often a matter of finding collaborative niches and complementary roles rather than pursuing total victory or total defeat. In risk management, mitigation and resilience can be as effective — or even more effective — than response and recovery.
European friends comment that American problem-solving often seems to reflect American football. Complicated strategy and tactics are set-out in a secret huddle, followed by shouting code-words that no one else can understand, followed by a brief explosion of violence, then back to the huddle. They argue the sustained agility of the rest of the world’s football (soccer) is an option at least worth considering.
As an old football tackle who has tried to play soccer against his son and daughter, I will say the two games require a very different kind of physical conditioning, mental perspective, and sense of timing.