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2/19/2002
12:38 PM
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The Observer: Turning The Page

We've all experienced enough personal and professional pain to last a decade, much less just one year, says Lou Bertin. Events suggest, though, that it may be time to look ahead and not behind.

Several nights ago, I was sitting with an old friend and enjoying the eponymous house beverage at a New York City saloon called Brew's when my friend of many years uttered the summation of all summations for these times: "I'm tired of dealing with the unimaginable."

My friend, a CPA by training, New Yorker by choice, and veteran of several technology companies as both vendor and user, was reacting to a statement uttered by an Andersen executive (who shall, here anyway, go nameless) to the effect that Andersen was "proud of its decision" to cooperate with the myriad investigations of the Enron case now afoot.

He was incredulous that anyone at Andersen would ever consider cooperation a matter open to decision. "What was that idiot thinking when he said that? That Andersen has anything to be 'proud' about in all this? That somehow they had some 'choice' in all this? It's completely unimaginable and I'm tired of dealing with the unimaginable."

This from a man who watched the attack of Sept. 11 and its aftermath unfold from an office just blocks from the former World Trade Center site; who in the last year lost a sibling to cancer and a spouse to neglect borne of tending to a demanding career; who has seen the staff at the credit-card company he oversees for a major bank more than halved over the past 14 months.

My friend would never consider claiming Job-like status (or even status as a Job-manqu?</I>), but he captured perfectly the sentiment that has dominated so many of our professional lives over the past year. It has been unimaginable and we've all had to deal with it.

I think back to a conversation I had among several friends from the InformationWeek marketing and sales staffs at last April's InformationWeek Conference. The talk was light, but it had elements of whistling past the graveyard. Finally, one of my very good friends, a veteran of long and successful standing, piped up with "I've had it with slowdowns. Let's just declare 2001 over with and let's get started with '2001, Part II'." His bravado--no doubt absolutely sincere--drew appreciative, heartfelt laughs from colleagues who were selling into the same suddenly barren environment.

Ruefully, his comment came to mind the other day as he and I exchanged E-mail wherein he passed along details of his new professional home, a home he secured in the wake of what must have been an excruciating series of layoffs.

Telling, too, was the reaction drawn at a recent InformationWeek roundtable I led in New York at the tail end of December. At the outset, I reminded those assembled that many of us had gathered in that very room in December 2000 for a comparable roundtable that was notable for its ebullience, optimism, and general high spirits (fueled, no doubt, by the bonuses that flowed the attendees' ways earlier that month). I asked them to recall their spirits at the earlier gathering, and was greeted with a raucous recounting. I then asked them about their current spirits; the room fell utterly silent, the gloom and doom complete.

As I sit and write this, today's edition of The Wall Street Journal tells me that economic indicators are favorable and that consumer confidence is strong, perhaps unreasonably so. In a bit of a coup, The New York Times actually agrees with The Journal, perhaps a sign that the apocalypse indeed is upon us.

Instead, I'll take that unlikely confluence as a sign that "The Recovery," perhaps, is among us. Certainly it seems to be, if the sentiments I've been detecting as I bounce around the country are at all accurate. Confidence indeed is up ... at least among the professional optimists populating the sales staffs at technology providers I've been talking to. It's up, too, among members of the user community who are talking about spending without the inescapable refrain from the past year: "As long as my budget isn't cut again."

My very safe bet is that we've all had quite enough of the acts of God, acts of madmen, and acts of a fickle economy that have all but decimated us for the last year or so. Enough, already.

As I write this, it's a typically gray, old, grim February day. But my spirits are far brighter than the day, because I know that as you read this, spring training will be in full swing and there's an unmistakable sense that the worst indeed has passed.

It'll be interesting to see how my assessments match up with those of you I'll be seeing at this spring's upcoming InformationWeek Spring Conference. But whether there's consensus or not, there's hope. And if not hope, there will for me be a couple of days at a ballpark in Tampa watching the guys who were my neighbors when I lived in the Bronx. That visit may not feed the bank account, but it feeds the soul. That's never a bad thing and, it says here, we've never needed it more.

Talk with Lou Bertin--about your spirits or anything else--in his discussion forum.

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