Prepare to be wrong

In 2000 I joined a dot-com business. I was an IT professional, I had worked with computers for 15 years, and I was part of the team that had connected the energy company I was previously working with to the Internet in 1990s. I could see the enormous potential that the Internet brought to business, and I wanted to be a part of it. Strictly speaking the company I joined was a supplier company, providing consulting, marketing and software development services to dot-com businesses. Within six months the bubble had burst, and our clients started going broke. Within another 6 months, due to unpaid bills, bankruptcy was looming for us too. My boss, the CIO, left to join another company, and the CEO asked to see me. He gave me good news and bad news. The good news was I was being promoted to CIO, and the bad news was that I probably wouldn´t have that job for long, as we were running out of cash fast. For that short period of time, I got to see what happens to an organization when customers stop paying their bills, and I also got to see how executive boards behave in dire circumstances. The experience was invaluable, and allowed me to put “Head of IT” on my CV when the time came to look for another job a short time later.

I took two lessons from this experience. The first is the difficulty of predicting the future. New technology creates opportunity, but determining which ones will “stay the course” is not so easy. I thought joining a company that was supplying to a range of businesses would spread the risk, and the overall growth in the market would cushion any short-term shocks. However, the nature of a service business is that you normally get paid after you´ve done the work, or not at all if your customer is now bust. I was wrong in my prediction. The second is the importance of contingency planning. If you can be flexible when things go wrong then unexpected opportunities can arise that can be even more fulfilling. So as the Scouts say: be prepared, and especially: be prepared to be wrong.

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