We are all worried, justifiably, by the economic slowdown, and in the technology sector in particular. But theres one thing we do know for sure: Things will get better. Call it the economic corollary of gravity; whatever goes down, must come up. That axiom may not apply to certain dot-com stocks hovering around 50 cents a share, but it does apply to the economy as a whole.
The overall skittishness about the downturn is really more a factor of the uncertainty of when that downturn will reverse itself. The problem with this reassurance is that many of those with an interest in technology have no faith that things will get better; they believe the bubble has burst permanently. But a theme of a recent conference I attended was that we are in a larger cycle of the economics of new markets that has repeated itself many times.
As a result, this particular downturn presents unique opportunities that could help make sure that technology managers, developers and investors are prepared for growth when things do get better: Invest now for the future. Pundits as diverse as Esther Dyson and Merrill Lynchs Henry Blodgett, who spoke at the Silicon Alley conference this month, agree on this point.
What worries me more than anything is the lack of real historical perspective that makes managing economic cycles easier and more predictable. Many of the 20- and 30-somethings who are, or were, running dot-coms have never experienced a slowdown like the recession of the mid-70s, for instance. To them, this economic correction may seem like the end of the world.
Which brings us to our lost historical insight. To wit: Journalist Ken Auletta, who also spoke at Silicon Alley, slipped when he tried to sum up what makes up Bill Gates competitive spirit, saying, "Gates is Vince Lombardi with glasses." Turning to the young woman taking notes next to me, I said, "Vince Lombardi did wear glasses."
Her response: "Whos Vince Lombardi?"