How to Stay Successful and Sane in Today's Uncertain Economy

Today's uncertain economy is affecting everyone's jobs, businesses and the world of tech in general. The uncertainty is creating psychological, mental, financial and social stress on everyone. Knowledge Center contributor David Gewirtz gives IT professionals some coping strategies to make it through this uncertain and stressful period.


Some years back I wrote a pretty well-received book titled "The Flexible Enterprise," which was all about how businesses can manage and thrive in a changing economy. Over the past week, I've gotten a bunch of letters from readers asking about how all the economic fuss we've been experiencing will affect their jobs, their businesses and the world of tech.

I've talked to a lot of concerned and confused people. It doesn't seem to matter whether you're an employer or an employee, an American or someone outside of the United States. The economic wackiness all across the world is making everyone a bit nuts.

I'm not going to be a Pollyanna and claim everything's hunky-dory. But I can share with you some coping strategies that will help you make it through this thing and come out solid on the other side.

Tips for Staying Successful and Sane

Psychologically, it's really important that you don't freak out. Stay calm. Freaking out hurts, physically. It also hurts the people around you, and it interferes with your ability to think. Ever watch a James Bond movie (or MacGyver)? When things get dicey, our favorite heroes stay calm and get resourceful-not crazy. Stay calm and get resourceful.

There's a point in your mood where you have the choice of going full-goose bozo or simply letting it wash over you. There's a point between stimulus and response where you actually make an internal decision to freak out, to ride the emotion. Make the choice to stay off the ride.

Stay Calm, Then Think

Once you're calm and in a resourceful frame of mind, the next thing to do is think. Expect things to get better and start preparing yourself.

Start thinking about what you should be doing. If business is still churning away, do a better job and charge less. Ask your customers what they need from you and do your absolute best to get them what they need. But be careful about just offering discounts willy-nilly-doing so could devalue your brand after the downturn is over.

If you're between jobs, or things have slowed down too much, focus on building infrastructure. For an individual, that usually means training. Most of you are techies, so you folks should use this time to learn or improve your skills. Pick up a new programming language. Learn a new technology. There's so much free information available on the Web, including full academic course programs. There's no excuse for you to not continue your training during slow times.

Spend Wisely

Be smart about what you spend. This is a big thing. I'm not going to tell you to stop spending. In fact, a bad economy is often a great time to buy stuff cheap. But I'm going to suggest a practice I've often used during the leaner times, and it's always worked: Only buy what you plan to use soon.

It's that simple. Don't buy stuff you intend to warehouse, unless it's explicitly for investment purposes. If you like to knit, buy only the yarn for the projects you're doing now. If you like to collect things, only buy new items that totally float your boat. Don't fill out your collection now. With eBay and Amazon, stuff will always be there for you.

On the other hand, be sure to buy stuff you really need. Don't skimp on the medications you need to stay healthy. Take vitamins. Try to eat real food, food your grandmother would recognize (that rules out everything I ate between 1992 and 2001).

Keep Marketing

If you're a business person, keep marketing. I know that's going to sound self-serving from someone who makes part of his living selling advertising, but it's important. If people don't know you're out there, you won't sell stuff. And you need to sell stuff.

Be creative and look for good deals. Ask for discounts and measure your results. Explain your needs and your reality, and work with your vendors to get deals that are fair for everyone. Stay calm, and remember your vendors are probably as overwhelmed and challenged right now as you are.

Be Kind

Finally, be kind to other people. After the last few weeks, everyone's a bit on edge and some people may lash out. Just be nice. It'll help everything run more smoothly. It'll help you feel better about yourself, and it may help you get what you want more easily.

When it comes to the economy, we're all in this together, for real-whether you live in the United States or somewhere over the pond. This is an ecosystem as much as it's an economy. The buying and selling we all do fuels everything around us. And it's that flow of money that keeps trucks on the road delivering produce, planes in the air delivering us to meetings and conferences, cars on the road taking little Jimmy to soccer practice, and you and me in our homes, sleeping soundly.

Hang in there, folks. We're a pretty resourceful people, and it could have been a lot worse. I think we've dodged a bullet.

Before I go, one warning for the next boom time: If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

For more than 20 years, David Gewirtz has analyzed current, historical and emerging issues relating to technology, competitiveness and policy. David has written more than 600 articles about technology, competitiveness and national security policy. He is the Cyberterrorism Advisor for the International Association for Counterterrorism & Security Professionals. He is a columnist for the Journal of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security.

David is a member of the instructional faculty at the University of California, Berkeleyextension. He has been a guest commentator for the Nieman Watchdog of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

David is the editor in chief of the ZATZ magazines. He is the author of "Where Have All The E-mails Gone?" and "The Flexible Enterprise." While "The Flexible Enterprise" is out of print, he's working on a next-gen version of the book to be called "The New Flexible Enterprise," which should be out some time next spring.

David is the recipient of the Sigma Xi Research Award in Engineering, and was a candidate for the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Letters. He can be reached at [email protected].