Make 2009 a Year To Do

Jan. 9, 2009
“Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.” —Yoda, in “The Empire Strikes Back”
Welcome to 2009. For about ten years, the United States and much of the world has suffered from one shock after another. First we had the “dot com” bubble and burst. Then there were the corporate scandals—think Enron—that led to what is perhaps excessive regulation of public companies. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 sent a shock through the country that had repercussions throughout the world. Just after that, in June 2003, Automation World began. We began at the end of a recession, but we were optimistic that things were turning around. The assumption was correct, and AW has been doing well.Then came the current crisis. There are multiple causes, of course, but the biggest problem, as always, is greed. There comes a time in every market when people think that the upward movement just won’t end. Then it does. It only takes one shock and the house of cards starts tumbling. This was touched off when someone realized that multiple gaming of bad mortgages was untenable. When someone announced that the emperor had no clothes, the whole banking system collapsed. Credit dried up, and the economy came to a standstill.So, what do you do? Well, follow Yoda’s advice and do something. Some of us have been through these things before. If you were wise and built a strong company during the good times, then you have cash and loyal customers to help you through the down cycle. Now is the time to strike. Go after the competition that was not so wise. Build up your brand. Grab talented people laid off from, or discouraged, at weaker competitors. This is the time for action.The focus of this issue is asset optimization. The articles deal primarily with physical assets, but the most important assets of a company are its employees. Organizations are built on a foundation of talented people. The core concept of our magazine is the “automation team”—the group of people who together intelligently implement automation in support of the business’s financial goals.There couldn’t have been a better person to interview to begin our new department focus on the automation team than Woody Flowers. He’s an engineering professor at MIT and founder of the FIRST robotics competition. His concept of gracious professionalism permeates the competition. It is also an attitude that those of us in the workplace can learn from the college generation. This idea takes Yoda’s injunction one step further—do, but do ethically, do with kindness toward others, do with an eye toward leaving a beneficial legacy.Learn by listening
IT Conversations ( produces a variety of shows on science and technology. On a recent “Tech Nation” podcast, host Moira Gunn interviewed Judy Estrin. Estrin is chief technology officer of Cisco Systems Inc. and author of “Closing the Innovation Gap.” She proposed a number if interesting ideas—enough so that her book is on my “to-read” list—but two thoughts hit me hardest. Both are on leadership, and both relate to the topic. On the one hand, she castigates leaders who are too reactionary. This is reactionary not in the political sense, but in the sense that they don’t think ahead but just react to the latest event. Leaders who are developing an innovative organization must be inspirational. Leaders need to inspire others to learn new things, try new ideas and be willing to fail occasionally in pursuit of innovation.So get out there and do something innovative with grace this year. Make 2009 a year to take charge. Let’s kick it up a notch this year.IT