Saturday, January 24, 2009

Not all doom and gloom for 2009

With the constant bombardment of tough economic times ahead and mounting job losses (100K in the first 3 months of 2009 alone), it is of course natural to feel panicked and our purse strings tightening. But losing your job isn't all that traumatic if you take a moment to think about your situation and make the best of it.

Over 10 years ago, I was happily employed by Matrox, a hi-tech graphics display company in Dorval. By 2001, Matrox had reached its pinnacle of success with revenues of close to $1B Canadian, and a workforce globally of about 1700 people. Emotions were high as was morale. However, as the dot-com crash of 2001 settled in, Matrox was not immune to its effects. In addition to a rapid shutdown of all things tech, bad management, product delays, unfavourable reviews, competition, and the strength of the Canadian dollar all contributed to a rapid decline in Matrox's prosperity. The immediate and most notable result of this was the constant threat of being laid off.

Throughout the several years that followed, I ended up surviving through 3 massive rounds of layoffs, the largest of which saw over 100 people being escorted by security out the front door on one Friday morning. The last major layoff while I was still employed at Matrox came in 2004 and was a complete shock to everyone, including those people like me who didn't directly lose their jobs. To this day I distinctly remember driving into work about 15 minutes later than usual, and as I was walking into the building, a colleague from my department was walking the other way, clutching his coffee mug and a small box of personal effects. Jokingly, I said to him, "Executive hours?" to which he replied, "I was just laid off." This colleague has one of the best sense of humours of anyone I know, so it didn't occur to me that he was actually serious. But I kept looking at his face, and knew him well enough to know that he wasn't joking. He then continued walking to his car. I then quickened my pace into the building only to realize that my co-worker wasn't the first to have already "walked the green mile" so to speak. As I sat down at my desk, I kept seeing other colleagues in my department being called to the front of the building, being escorted by the department manager, never to return. I sat there cowering in fear and hunched over, foolishly thinking that if my manager didn't see me, maybe I'd be safe.

After about 2 hours of being completely destroyed emotionally, and bewildered by what was going on (not knowing was the worst aspect of this), another manager in my department came over to me to see if I was ok. I told him no, of course. My face was pretty pale and I was about to throw up. He went to the department manager and told him that he'd better clue me in on what was going on for fear that I'd collapse. By that time, the layoffs had ended and the department manager came up to me and told me that it was going to be ok. I was finally able to breath again, but I was still stunned to see my department shrink from 11 people to 5. This experience made me to learn to position myself strategically within any company that I'd work for -- make yourself indispensable. Do your best, and you'll be too valuable to be let go, regardless of your job title.

Being in my late 20's at the time, newly married, and with a large mortgage to pay, the thought of being laid off was incomprehensible. It would have been the most traumatic experience of my life, so I thought. Feeling like a failure, feeling worthless. And then the thought of going through the effort of finding a new job... The interviews. The waiting. The salary negotitation. I couldn't bare the thought. Fortunately, I never had to really face this threat in practice, but being surrouded by the cloud of layoffs for several years helped shape me into the entrepreneur that I am today.

My prediction is that 2009 and 2010 will see unprecedented growth in sole proprietorships. I've been seeing this already since mid-2008 as more and more new companies have been coming to Red Dream Studios in search of logos, business cards, and a website -- the earmarks of a new company offering. Since our niche has long been small business and entrepreneurs, we've been fortunate enough to cater to quite a few of them.

As people will find themselves in the unfortunate position of having lost their job, questions of course arise -- to find a new job with another company (and obviously face that miserable possibility of being laid off again), or become one's own boss, with merely one's own potential to be held accounted for as a business success or failure. What excites me about all this is that countless of great ideas are floating out there in people's minds -- however the fact that many of these ideas never get off the ground into something tangible because the people that have these ideas are locked into careers (which they may or may not even be passionate about), is something truly devastating.

What if someone knew how to solve the world's energy crisis, but felt compelled to keep their job buying socks for the president of some company for fear of not earning an income. Would they have the possibility of bringing their idea to the rest of the world? Possibly not. This is why I think that entrepreneurs are the most powerful and respected people on the planet. They take the risks that most others would not. They dare to explore the possibility of human potential and dare to dream the ideas that others dare not.

So despite all the doom and gloom predicted for the next 2 years, I am excited to see the human potential that arises from tragedy. When people are pushed to explore options they dared not challange, what a fantastic world this could be.

What do you think?