The up-side of technology during a down economy

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It looks like we’re heading into some rough economic water again, which makes me very excited. Some of the greatest advances in technology take place during economic slumps, so I am looking forward to the results of a second dip.

Here’s how it works: When the economy is strong, all of us techies are busy with client work and that makes the CEOs happy all around. However, it hamstrings our ability to innovate, because instead of technologists we turn into line workers in a tech factory just doing the same things over and over. Some small innovations come from this kind of work, but in order to really reach for the stars, we need some quiet time to test, experiment and really get our hands dirty in a non-revenue project that will have business applications sometime in the future.

The real mind-blowing innovations of our decade (think Facebook, WordPress, and “apps”) have been have been developed and expanded by technical geniuses who were not at big companies. When brilliant people are allowed to follow their own logical and creative sequences, they produce game-changing results.

Being unemployed worked for me

In 2001 I was out of work in the aftermath of the tech bubble, and there was no possibility for a new job for me because of my particular specialization. So, in the interest of making my mortgage payment (and avoiding yet another episode of Jerry Springer) I picked up my keyboard and started work.

There was no particular project, but I followed my gut and built a search engine optimization company that sold five years later for almost $2million. It wasn’t one of those major acquisitions that you see in the news, but it was great for me and the innovation developed has become the part of the lexicon for Web development in this part of the country.

What does this mean for business?

I’m telling you this story to bring some good news into a slumping economy. The more people out of work, the better our chances are for amazing innovation. It’s also an opportunity to acquire new technological advances at bargain basement prices.

Say, for instance, that you’re interviewing for tech positions. Several interviewees have been out of work for a year or more — ask them what they’ve been working on with their spare time. You may be amazed at what they’ve built and it could change your business. AND you can probably acquire the technology simply by hiring them. It’s a win-win.

Marketing consultants — get ready

The other big opportunity in a slump like this is for marketing consultants. If the technology developed during this time has legs, the developers are going to need your help. They aren’t going to know how to go to market, or even how to describe their product in a way that sounds interesting.

You’ll need to be patient and learn how to go through software demonstrations, but if you can understand the breakthrough, and sell it, there is serious money to be made here.

The possibilities are endless

Perhaps the era of big companies performing repetitive work is over. We’re becoming an innovation economy, and the sooner we can retool to recognize and monetize individual genius, the faster we will all recover and excel. Embrace the slump and ride it to profitability.

Marci De Vries is president of MDV Interactive, a web consulting firm in Baltimore. Reach her at marci@mdvinteractive.com.