Interesting times, indeed

There’s a saying that many people pass along to others as a Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times. The provenance of this saying is disputed; there is no written record of it occurring in Chinese literature, so says Wikipedia. It may, however, have something to do with a real Chinese proverb, “It is better to be a dog in a peaceful time than a be man in a chaotic period.
By Michael Ivanovich, Editor-in-Chief November 1, 2008

There’s a saying that many people pass along to others as a Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times.

The provenance of this saying is disputed; there is no written record of it occurring in Chinese literature, so says Wikipedia. It may, however, have something to do with a real Chinese proverb, “It is better to be a dog in a peaceful time than a be man in a chaotic period.”

After reading today’s newspaper and looking at my dog sleeping at the foot of my bed, I wonder if it’s not better to be a dog in a chaotic time, too.

The zeroes filling the news stories are staggering—billions and trillions of dollars in bailouts and loans. Hundreds of thousands out of work. Millions way behind on their mortgages, or going into foreclosure. Who can keep track of it all? And the bailout money is going where? Because the things that are happening were the things we warned would happen if we didn’t pass the $700 billion bailout. But we passed the bailout …

Will all this impact the construction industry? Sure it will. There will be a slow down, a downturn, a contraction, as it is normal for markets to do. But the volume of the non-residential market is projected to remain very high, about $450 billion in 2009, according to a recent Reed Construction Data forecast. And there will be an uptick in renovations and retrofits as new construction falls off a bit.

And I think the financing problems will get straightened out and projects will get green-lighted. America wants to do business; it just has to untangle a bunch of knots in the purse strings. So, what to do in the meantime, amidst the doom and gloom?

For one thing, keep doing your job well. There’s something soothing about regulating your immediate work environment, making it predictable and efficient. Keep your e-mail under control, rather than letting it control you. And don’t be a choke-point in anyone else’s projects either.

Another thing is to keep your professional networks in good repair. Leave yourself some time in the beginning or end of each day to talk to a friend or colleague. Go to the local chapter meetings of your professional societies and your in-house brown-bag seminars. This is a good way to see what markets are up or down locally.

And support your boss. Project and staff managers are under a lot of pressure to cut costs, and sometimes are not being given much of an option as to how. Pick your battles wisely when responding to curtailments.

If work is slowing, this is also a good time to catch up on your reading and continuing education units, or to take some graduate courses. Or just go home and relax a bit. You’re so used to working 50- and 60-hour weeks, normal work days might seem “light.” Recharging your education, family, or your energy is a good thing.

You might take heart that Wikipedia cites another potential source for the “interesting times” curse: Heroes (leaders) are made over turbulent times.

Send your questions and comments to: Michael.Ivanovich@reedbusiness.com