Illustration: Cathy Wilcox.

Illustration: Cathy Wilcox.

THE other day someone said to me, "Well let's just see what happens."

What nonsense!

Whether it's in media and marketing, which is what this column is mostly about, or in life generally, the whole point is to make things happen.

And to do that well we need vision, confidence and planning.

Just think of our forebears who decided that Sydney could grow to become a great international city if it had a bridge that united it. Ninety years later, it is still a vital transport link for its population and an international icon.

And in Melbourne, the creation of one of the world's greatest boulevards can still handle the traffic flows, 150 years after its horse and buggy age construction.

There's also the great Snowy Mountains scheme which was completed in 1974 and nearly 40 years later is providing us with nearly 70 per cent of our renewable energy.

Now there's vision for you. And the ability to plan for the future.

There are many other examples in our short history as a pioneering nation.

And in the media, the advent of television was recognised by some of the old newspaper proprietors as a way of the future and they bought in and helped establish a nationwide network for our tiny population on the globe's biggest island.

And speaking of islands, it's worth remembering that Lee Kuan Yew built the economic powerhouse of Singapore on a swamp 1000th the size of New South Wales.

In every case, it was vision and confident planning that brought about enormous benefits for generation after generation.

It's in this spirit that the federal government has taken the decision to roll out the national broadband network. Good on them!

But that's only the start. If we're to make the 21st century Australia's greatest century, we will need to lift our sights further and plan now for decades ahead.

It's a great test of leadership for all our political parties who get so easily mired in the 36-month election cycle.

But it can be done. We have the 12th-biggest economy in the world, although there are 50 countries with a greater population. We are linked to the incredible growth of China, which simply decided it would be great again and set about doing it.

When I started our media buying business in 1976, I picked up on the Chinese idea of five-year plans and we became number one. And only because we had five-year plans to become number one.

In 2000, we decided that the digital age was going to be the biggest change to communications since the printing press, so we launched a company and changed our thinking to digital.

We didn't say, "Let's see what happens''. We said, "Let's make it happen''.

I remember when James Packer said to his father, Kerry, that they should tie up and develop Ninemsn. The Packers have always understood intergenerational planning.

The owner of this paper, Fairfax, moved into the digital age but only after the earlier managers missed the opportunities taken by Seek and Carsales as the classified ads went digital. But they are now making up lost ground and you are probably reading this online.

For more than a decade, we have been saying online shopping will happen and of course it has and it has only just begun.

The inspirational American economist Richard Florida is worth noting in these tentative days. In his book about the creative class he said "The United States may have ushered in the era of high-tech industry and perpetual innovation, but it is by no means our nation's manifest destiny to stay on top. To remain innovative, America must continue to attract the world's sharpest and most creative minds. And to do that, it needs to invest in the further development, from both internal and external sources, of its talent base. Because wherever talent goes, innovation, creativity and economic growth are sure to follow."

So the job for next week is to decide where you want to be in 10 years and check your current performance against the words of the old American vaudevillian Professor Irwin Corey: "If we don't change direction soon, we'll all end up where we're going."

Harold Mitchell is an executive director of Aegis.