Wacker theories of being and time

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The Independent Online
At first sight, Watts Wacker's theories look about as strange as his name. As set down in The 500-Year Delta: What Happens After What Comes Next, they appear to amount to disjointed outpourings on such seemingly unconnected subjects as physics, philosophy and ancient history.

But the US has been lapping it up, and the book, co-authored with Jim Taylor, global marketing director for the computer company Gateway 2000, and journalist Howard Means, has just been published in the UK.

Wacker, described recently as "a 43-year-old blond teddy bear", attributes some of this success to a growing interest in the future as the millennium approaches. But he takes an original approach.

The idea, he explains, is to provoke rather than instruct. As such he likens his role to that of a court jester. "My job is to poke holes into things that are apparent." Insisting he has no ambition to be king or kingmaker, he says he can whisper things that get others beheaded.

Conversely, given he is constantly pointing out that the ever-increasing pace of change has created chaos in place of order, he preaches that companies must, above all, aim to survive. "The definition of a successful company is being," he says, adding that, in the effort to survive, the US firm General Electric, for example, now makes a significant proportion of its profits from financial services.

The companies that do not evolve like this are in denial, believes Wacker, who has worked with such clients as Coca-Cola, Volvo, Nike and Gateway 2000. And it is his job to disturb the complacency of those who are convinced that their success will continue for ever.

Conscious that many executives are immune from the world around them he seeks to introduce them to trends and changes in attitudes and, above all, the idea that companies must become demand-led, in the way that Gateway is in building personal computers to order.

Once a company has a proper sense of the world and its place in it, it can set out its goals. This leads to the title. Wacker says companies should forget five-year business plans and prepare ones to last half a century.

The second part of the title is a double entendre - "delta" is Greek for change and refers to the area at the end of a river which can be water, swamp or more solid land. "For us," he says, "crossing the delta is perilous because you can't tell whether it's quicksand or terra firma."

`The 500-Year Delta' is published by Capstone at pounds 15.99