Pennsylvania's PowerBall lottery jackpot late last week reached somewhere north of $160 million, and lots of people were talking about what a Merry Christmas the winning ticket would bring. There's an almost otherworldly fervency to the selection of numbers and buying of tickets and watching the results, as if the one and only way to have any chance of making it in the world is by defying odds of one out of 150,000,000 and winning the loot--it's as if some of the folks snapping up tickets feel they have no other choice, no other alternative.
Two months ago, at a lunch with a venture capitalist and a CIO, we all agreed that we'd never seen so many very talented and accomplished people out of work, and both of my lunch companions said they themselves had paid off their mortgages and eliminated all outstanding debt and were hacking away at some discretionary household expenses in anticipation of the worse that's still to come. Alan Oaks, a recruiter with the Jotorok Group, tells of how one company was taking full advantage of the bloated talent pool by requiring that a new spot be filled by someone with very high-level IT experience who's ALSO a doctor or nurse. And it gets better--after reviewing the first wave of applications, the company decided to ratchet its recruitment specs up even more by saying that only a nurse/IT manager with extensive emergency-room experience would be considered.
We have a news story in this issue touching on the idea that some CIOs get bonuses based on how much of their organization's budget they sock away for an even rainier day. What's behind this? Do these business-technology executives feel that none of the stuff out there can deliver business value, so why spend anything? Do they think their competitors are also shunning investment and innovation in the hope that a draining pool will lower all boats? Do they think that we have hit "the end of IT" and that much of the stuff they already own as well as all of the stuff that's just coming out is irrelevant, unproductive, and just not worth it? Do they see today's economy as a big poker game where the game used to be all about huge raises and bluffs, but it's now little more than kicking in nickel antes each hand before folding without a bet, purely in hopes that the other players will drop from exhaustion first?
Or have they reached a point where they're simply tired of fighting and are willing to capitulate--fighting for budgets that later get frozen, fighting themselves by telling the CEO and the board one thing but failing to summon the will to lead the charge with the folks in the trenches? Does the fatigue come from a lack of hope that the economy will get better--ever? From thinking that we spent the late '90s on an unforgettable bender and must now, like mama in her kerchief and I in my cap, settle down for a looooong winter's nap?
Thomas Paine wrote that "these are the times that try men's souls," and I think a lot of us could say that about what's going on right now at the end of 2002. From the local concerns for our own industry and professions all the way out to the ongoing and incredibly important global war on terrorism, these are soul-trying times indeed.
But the worst of all is the loss of hope. Of optimism. Of will, and of courage, and of entrepreneurship, and risk-taking, and motivation and energy and a sense of doing whatever must be done. I don't think these, among our most ennobling qualities, are gone, or that they've even strayed very far. Rather, I think we've come through a lot in the past three years, and particularly the past 15 months, certainly enough to rattle the foundations of any people, any country. What we have that no one can take is our freedom--to act, to think, to live, to grow, to strive, to build, to love, and even to fail. We've taken some horrendous shots in the past year or so, but that's OK--we're going to emerge stronger than ever before.
I'm looking forward to 2003, and not just because it means 2002 is gone. It's time for us all to recommit ourselves to being the very best we can be, personally and professionally, in the coming year and beyond. Happy holidays to all of you from all of us at InformationWeek.
Editor in Chief