Are You Swimming With the Current?


If not, then that could explain why you're working so hard


I met the most relaxed human being ever while on a plane traveling from Phoenix to Salt Lake City. Seated in first class, he carried no luggage and certainly, it appeared, no worries. Relaxed and genial, he browsed through a copy of The New York Times and then later a copy of Ski Magazine while paying scant attention to a Bloody Mary that begged for attention on his seat tray.

Why, I asked him, is life so good? Simple, he told me: He's a Scottsdale, Ariz., dermatologist.

With that introduction, he conveyed the very nature of his relaxed state: He is a man who has found joy and fulfillment swimming with the current.

Think about it. Short of screwing up royally, he couldn't fail in 100 years. Consider all the environmental and social factors working on behalf of his medical practice every day while he sleeps and regardless of whether he works. Greater Phoenix gets more than 310 days of sunlight per year. Its altitude is 1,200 feet above sea level. With that weather and at that level, the city's 2 million residents, a good number of whom are older than 60 and with a mean net worth of $600,000, get four times the sun exposure than residents do, say, in Chicago. Oh, and one other thing: The city of Phoenix is growing at a rate more than eight times that of Boston. And many of its newest residents are senior citizens whose No. 1 concern is cancer.

Phoenix may be dry as a bone, but there this man found a lucrative current that has carried him to the promised land. Funny thing is, he swears he stumbled into it by luck. He studied medicine at a respectable Midwestern medical school, then ventured out West to pursue a woman. His marriage failed decades ago, he told me, but his luck never ran out, he added with a wink. Want proof? The reason he didn't have luggage was because all of his mountain needs--clothes, equipment, etc.--were waiting for him at his "modest, little ski place in Deer Valley," where nothing is small or humble.

For much of my career, I have felt lucky to have worked in technology, where there typically have been a few more loose coins floating around than, say, in steel, mining or agriculture. What about your situation? Is your company in a market that it cannot miss, or is fighting for momentum at every turn?

Here's why I ask: If you step back today and look at the big picture, you'll note there are several opportunities that are sure hits. And, no, it's not fuel-efficient cars, the success of the Toyota Prius notwithstanding. Think bigger picture. Given Americans' fast-food eating habits, sure bets include plus-sized clothiers for both men and women.

What else? How about companies that make batteries? After looking at the toys my kids received last Christmas, I couldn't wait to invest in Energizer Holdings. (Its most recent quarterly sales, by the way, were up 11 percent over the prior year.)

In addition, considering the socioeconomic trends, you simply have to conclude that companies that make energy-efficient air conditioners, moderately priced bifocals and in-home medical diagnostic equipment can't fail. As for IT, well, there are some safe bets, for sure.

For example, can you really miss if you can effectively deliver backup-and-recovery solutions to small businesses? Not in the wake of Katrina. Right about now, every business in Mississippi and Louisiana that didn't have its records backed up and securely stored off-site is wondering why.

What about cost-effective, IP-based videoconferencing? The technology exists to do it right; someone just needs to deliver it in a manageable way.

There are scores of other can't-miss markets. Pursuing them will seem more like shooting the Boh in Borneo than relaxing on the AuSable River in Michigan. Most revolve around addressing the issues that confound IT managers most: too much e-mail, too many servers, not enough security, too much complexity, insufficient application integration, etc.

If all of this sounds like prosaic advice to you, then ask yourself whether your solution-provider company is pursuing any of the preceding opportunities in earnest. If the answer is no, then you're probably working too hard (and carrying too much luggage). Others are traveling more swiftly--that is, with the current--and are not looking back, save, perhaps, for the occasional glance over the shoulder to marvel at what a seemingly effortless ride it is.