If you have read some of my pieces here at TheStreet, you may think I'm some sort of crazy pie-in-the-sky optimist.
I'm not. I just know when it pays to be optimistic.
Recessions are where optimism pays off. When everyone else is selling, calling the game crooked, that's when I'm looking around for the next great start-up.
It's when everyone is singing and dancing and assuming that happy days are here to stay that I start getting down. I am no fun at parties.
When I began my journalism career, at the Houston Business Journal, in 1978, it was a very optimistic time. Failed wildcatters were building office parks everywhere, empty fields 20 miles from town were becoming subdivisions. The oilpatch was booming, the 50 miles of refineries along the Ship Channel were doing record business.
I was a non-stop downer.
I saw a collapse in the city's future. Three-story wooden apartment blocks were going up – bang, bang, bang – on the southwest side and, watching the happy young singles moving in, I said “that's going to be a ghetto in five years.” (It was.)
I sort of fled screaming, and my friends didn't know what to make of it. I moved out on June 1, 1981, and by 1984 Houston was an economic wasteland. The Great Recession of the last few years was nothing next to the Houston of the oil bust. Anyone who went through it was scarred.
In Atlanta, I became a tech reporter. I covered PCs, I covered local networking. I covered telecom, and I covered education. I covered multimedia, and starting in 1985, I did most of it online. When the web was spun, in 1994, I launched daily news coverage of it, and in 1997 I started my own newsletter, a-clue.com.
I was miserable.
The newsletter tried to identify those who were “clued-in” and those companies who were “clueless” based on whether I thought their leaders could see the future, whether their business model made sense in anything but boom times. By 1999, I had 17 writing clients and a six-figure income.
The peak came at the turn of the century. I was making $20,000 for four days' work, at a hotel by the LA Airport. My fellow speakers, none of whom had ever run a real company, and I were all talking about futures in philanthropy. But I couldn't sleep. My face was florid. My heart was racing.
A week later Time Warner (TWX) bought AOL (AOL) and the dot-bomb began. In 2002, I had zero clients and made zero dollars. (I also found out I have hypertension and a cholesterol count like an Internet stock. “Sell,” I said.)
And so we come to these times. The collapse of the last few years has made everybody wary. All kinds of institutions have failed us. It's very easy to be a pessimist, to assume the world is about to be consumed in fire, by its own greed, and that our fellow creatures are all clueless.
I don't think we are. I see people starting new businesses every day, like Marshall Kirkpatrick, a fellow journalist in Portland. He thinks he has found a way to cut through the Klout, and the blogs, and the rest of the hyperbole, to learn just who you need to follow, in any field, and who the real leaders are.
Will he succeed? Maybe, maybe not. Will someone? Most definitely. Big problems are also big opportunities. And times like now are the best times to tackle them, when everyone says it can't be done.