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You're History

As history repeats itself, pick which role you want to play.


Has there ever been anything like the Internet? Actually, there has, says Harvard Business School professor Debora L. Spar. In her book Ruling the Waves (Harcourt), Spar points out that since the development of improved navigational techniques more than 500 years ago led to the global explosion of ship-borne exploration and trade, cycles of booms and busts based on technology have been spurred by the invention of telegraphy, radio, TV and satellite broadcasting, among others.

In a lucid analysis, Spar shows how each cycle is split into stages ruled by different types of participants. Pioneers begin cycles. Pirates, attempting to profit from the new arena's raw lawlessness, follow. In the last stage, policy-makers regulate and control the technology. Opportunity exists in any stage, including the rule-making era, in which the Internet now finds itself. During this stage, Spar says, cyberspace will be brought to heel, and the rewards-potentially greater than those divvied up by the first-wave dotcommers-will be won by those shrewd enough to get a say in the rule-making. In the near future, Spar sees the cycle exemplified in emerging standards for disseminating recorded music over the Net. The names MP3 and Napster, she suggests, may one day rank alongside Columbus and Marconi.

Into the Unknown

You can't escape business uncertainty. But you can learn to deal with it, says McKinsey & Co. consultant Hugh Courtney in 20/20 Foresight (Harvard Business School Press). Courtney says uncertainty ranges in degree from being able to make a fairly exact prediction to having no idea what might happen. For each level, Courtney offers five questions to ask, beginning with whether you should try to shape events or adapt yourself to them, and ending with whether you need a new set of decision-making processes to handle the situation. Tackling uncertainty is tough, but Courtney brings his target down to earth with a solid thump.


Austin, Texas, writer Mark Henricks has covered business and technology for leading publications since 1981.

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This article was originally published in the December 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: You're History.

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