Aftermathematics

How Dr. Dre and Jay-Z gave us a new word for strategy

Dr. Dre (Andre Young) hadn’t released an album in almost a decade, not since The Chronic in the early 1990s. It wasn’t as if he wasn’t working. He’d put out hits; produced debut studio albums with Snoop Dogg and Eminem (Calvin Broadus, Jr./Doggystyle and Marshall Mathers III/The Slim Shady LP, respectively). 

But the stakes were high for his next album. Expectations…maybe even higher.  

So in November 1999, when Dr. Dre released “Still D.R.E.” as the lead single for his second studio album, it was more than a song. It was a statement. 

From that unforgettable opening beat, featured in the award-winning movie Training Day, to the Shakespearean-level lyrics, the statement was strong. The word “still” is used with machine gun frequency, 44 times, with unmistakable effect. (“It’s still Dre day…Still the beats bang, still doin’ my thang…Since I left ain’t too much changed, still.”)

Dr. Dre was back. The song was a hit. The record went multi-platinum. It worked.

Because the stakes were so high, Dre brought on the best wordsmith out there, Jay-Z (Shawn Carter), who wrote most of the album and likely all of “Still D.R.E.”  

At the end of the second verse, either Jay-Z wrote or Dr. Dre added something interesting. It’s not quite clear who, but one or the other seems to have smashed two words—“aftermath” and “mathematics”—into one.  

And so “aftermathematics” was born. It’s a word every strategist should get to know.

Word mashups and shortcuts aren’t new. They’re actually pretty old. We get the term “mob” from “vulgus mobile.” We get “cab” from “taxi cabriolet.” The word “laser” is formed from “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.” It’s called language compression, and it’s one reason why new words and terms come into use all the time. 

In this case, we’re looking to compress two distinct ideas into one package. 

Aftermath” means “something that results or follows from an event.” A consequence.

“Mathematics” is a little trickier. It’s original meaning in ancient Greek was “that which is learnt” and “what one gets to know.” Over time, the term’s become narrower and focused on a particular form of abstract quantitative learning. But its origin is more generally about learning. 

So let’s dive in. Here’s how they intersect. 

Strategy is an orientation toward success, but its aim is ultimately to manufacture a better tomorrow, a better paradigm, a better “end.” (As I’ve written before, the way we do that is all in how we change the game.)

Aftermathematics is the study of strategy. 

Aftermathematics is how we learn to create consequences. 

Aftermathematics is getting to know the art and science of manufacturing a better tomorrow. 

Aftermathematics is practical, empirical, multi-disciplinary, and necessary. 

Because there is no word for the study of strategy. “Strategic studies” is at best a poor stand-in, like referring to history as “historical studies.” But we use it because there is no “stratology.” (Which almost disqualifies itself because it comes a little too close to that Saturday Night Live skit that forever chained former president George W. Bush to the made-up term “strategery.”)

Stephen Biddle’s pointed out this problem before: 

“Intellectually, I study strategy. I study the conduct of war, the outcomes of wars, the role of technology in war, recent combat experience. The difficulty for me is that unlike the workings of an economy, for example, or elections or other complicated social phenomena that have disciplines to study them, war does not have a discipline to study it—it lies on the seams of the way academia is organized.” 

Same goes for strategy. 

That’s really what a term like “aftermathematics” gives us. A word for the study of strategy. Or, as Biddle orders it, how we get from “conduct” to “outcomes.” 

If strategy’s goal is to bend the future toward your will, then aftermathematics is about how you learn to bend the future—the aftermath—toward your will. 

Thanks Dr. Dre. Thanks Jay-Z. 

*Afterthought: “You know the only enemy more dangerous than a man with unlimited resources...is one with nothing to lose.” (Paul Giamatti, playing Chuck Rhoades, in Season 1, Episode 12, “The Conversation,” Billions)

*Editor’s Note: What do you think? (No, really, what do you think?) Please let me know with a comment, and, if you enjoyed this, forward it on to anyone you think might benefit or find it of interest. Your word-of-mouth mention to another person means everything to this community’s continued growth. 

All the very best & see you next week, Matt