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The End is Near or Is It?

It’s common to talk about the long road from recession to recovery as a marathon. After the Boom, the market would not rebound quickly. This wasn’t going to be – couldn’t be --- rushed. And with lots of long, hard miles behind us, it’s beginning to look like the race might actually have a finish line. The deluge of bad news is all but over. Jobless claims are falling. Earnings reports are holding steady. In recent weeks, a handful of venture firms have put together new funds. The stock market sputters still, yet it is beginning to have more up days than down.

And it can’t come any too soon. Certainly, there is agreement about that. There’s even a little tension on the course, like so many tired distance runners heading into the last mile, hoping to time perfectly the moment when they tap the last reserve of energy to make the sprint to the finish.

So why, if the end of this long hard race to rebound is actually nearing, have I become cautious about the future of the personal technology business?

Because somewhere late along the route -- as I listen to so many tired executives talking about their survival as their success, hearing about tentative plans for forthcoming products, noting the caution as they look to the future -- it occurred to me: This isn’t a marathon at all. It’s a triathlon. The Iron Man of economic downturn and recovery. What looks like a finish line, it turns out, is in reality a transition area for the next leg of the event.

And the athletes are tired. Very tired.
The good news may well be that we’re two legs into the event, if you’ll allow me to stretch the metaphor. In a traditional triathlon, the first leg is the swim, wherein the competitors kick and thrash and generally just hope to get out of the water alive. In this Post-Boom Iron Man, the Crash was the first heat. If you are still in business today, you survived it and are nearing the transition for the final leg -- the transition from conservative business management to careful rebuilding and growth. And most triathletes know that it’s the transitions that can make or break the race. So what’s a weary executive, one who has never trained for this event (hell, didn’t even want to enter it), going to do?

Reset expectations now. First and foremost, begin thinking about the next six months not as the end of the economic recession, but as the beginning of the recovery -- the start of the next leg. Companies have been judiciously meting out resources to make it through these tough times. Reset the timetable, realizing that current resources may need to last beyond this leg of the race and into the transition period. Allow yourself to think that the end of the race is just around the corner and you risk spending your fuel too early.

Take time to “rehydrate”. Face it: You’re tired. You’ve put all your energy and focus into guiding your organization through a very difficult 36 months. You want a break. You need a break. Take it. You may lose a few minutes in the transition area, but you’ll be refueled for the next leg of the race. Find a way to get your mind re-energized. Take some time to lie in the hammock and read the latest business book or drop a few bucks to attend a conference and rub elbows with your peers. Whatever it is, get some fresh perspective. You’ll need it. Because you won’t be successful in the transition if you’re still thinking like a cost-cutting, resource-hording, recession-focused manager.

Draft off of strong athletes. Set your eye on the smart players you believe will spot the moment when the market turns from recession to new growth, then watch them closely. You can’t cut your way, or even maintain your way, to growth. Advantage in the last leg will go to those who can shift quickly from recessional thinking to growth thinking, to those who will begin to reinvest in the growth of the organization early. You don’t want to hit too soon an updraft that isn’t there, or wait too long when you’ve got to sprint like mad to catch up. The opportunity costs of future growth need good timing, so pick your indicators now and keep them close. It’s not too late to train for this race. It’s time to reset expectations. The sooner you begin to focus on the future, the better prepared you’ll be to make the transition and exploit the opportunity.

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Chris Shipley is the executive producer of NetworkWorld’s DEMO Conferences, Editor of DEMOletter and a technology industry analyst for nearly 20 years. She can be reached at

Shipley, has covered the personal technology business since 1984 and is regarded as one of the top analysts covering the technology industry today. Shipley has worked as a writer and editor for variety of technology consumer magazines, including PC Week, PC Magazine, PC/Computing, and InfoWorld, US Magazine and Working Woman. She has written two books on communications and Internet technology, has won numerous awards for journalistic excellence, and was named the #1 newsletter editor by Marketing Computers for two years in a row.

In addition to her work with print publications, Shipley has extensive experience in online publishing, having developed online content and communities on every major platform, including AOL and the Web. Before joining IDG, Shipley established a consulting practice to help Silicon Valley technology companies define their media strategies. Shipley is a frequent speaker at technology industry forums, and acts as an advisor to several startup ventures.

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This column was reprinted with permission of Network World Inc.

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