Using the slowdown to slow down

“Barn’s burnt down…now I can see the moon.” – Masahide

The first draft of this column is being written on a plane on the way back from a great weekend in San Francisco. It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I went down to see Jimmy Buffett play in San Jose on St. Patrick’s Day.

Aside from a great show, I saw some things that made me think about what’s ahead for the IT business and those of us in it.

The City by the Bay feels different than it did even 10 short months ago when I was last down, and there’s a palpable feeling that the party is well and truly over.

It’s even more noticeable as you drive down the 101 through the heart of Silicon Valley. There are far fewer of the large and usually unintelligible billboard ads the techies use to brag about arcane technical stuff to other techies as they drive up or down that freeway. Maybe those incredibly expensive geek-centric adds were a sign that things had overheated a little too much anyway.

So what of it all?

Aside from shaking out some of the stupidest business ideas ever (“If it’s on the web, it must make sense, right?”) and the humbling of some arrogant cyber twerps who really couldn’t add value through IT if their life depended on it, the question turns personal: so how do we respond to a slowdown?

Are we going to batten down the hatches, be fearful, compete harder, put in those extra hours (the extra ones above and beyond your already too-little-time-to-get-it-all-done 60 hour weeks – you know the ones) to ensure that we’ll still be around if the axe starts falling.

Maybe not. Is this in fact an opportunity to really make things better for our lives, for our customers, for our families, for the world (no priority implied in that order, of course)? What if we decide that we don’t care if the NASDAQ comes back right away? What if we decide we’re not going to kill ourselves to get double-digit revenue growth next year?

I’ll tell you what I’m not gonna do. I’m not gonna buckle under to more work, more fear, more hours, just to make up the difference. I don’t know about you but the economy on afterburners has had me working about as many hours in a week as I ever wanted to.

During this downturn, it’s time to do something else. If things are slower this summer than last I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend my evenings and weekends punching out proposals for my customers, returning e-mail and voice mail and doing the administrative stuff the job demands. It can all wait.

With a downturn, maybe we’ll all be a little less frenzied. We don’t want it so slow that we all lose our jobs of course, but just enough to give us a bit of a breather, to give us a little more perspective on the important stuff.

Maybe it’s not a revelation to you, but I need to be regularly reminded that the work we do, for the most part, isn’t the really important stuff in life. Urgent, yes; important, no, not in the grand scheme of things.

As business slows down, maybe we’ll gain the wisdom to be a little less frenetic, and keep it that way even if things heat up again.

Much as I love what I do, I faintly remember that I used to love windsurfing more, and I’m going back to it this summer. I’ve been promising to do that for years, but was always too busy.

After all, once you’ve worked long and hard to get a board and sail, the wind’s free.

Hanley is an IS professional in Calgary. He can be reached at [email protected].

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