Fight the Next War, Not the Last

When a team of Army Rangers liberated US POWs from a Japanese prison camp toward the end of World War II, the prisoners--American soldiers, Marines, and sailors--wouldn't leave their cells. They were afraid of the Rangers.

The POWs had been imprisoned since the Bataan Death March in 1942. American uniforms, equipment, and lingo had advanced 20 years or more in the three years since. The new Army was as foreign to the POWs as were their Japanese captors on the day they surrendered Corregidor.

In 1942, America was geared up to prevent another war like the last one. But the last one ended a generation earlier. In Vietnam, the US is said to have fought the Korean war all over again. Throughout history, non-aggressors have fought the last war. That's usually a losing strategy.

In business, we call it applying "lessons learned."  Like fighting the last war, responding to the last opportunity is a sucker's game.

If you've lost a customer or missed a sale because your products, services, features, software, or approach is out of date, you cannot catch up.  The market leaders are already ahead, and your copy-catting will only put them further ahead.

Instead, define and fight the next war. Create the tools of the future and force the competition to fight your way.