Brian Fuller's blog on the media, marketing and content creation

Good bye to all that

Posted on | December 31, 2009 | 4 Comments

Should old acquantaince be forgot? Absolutely. To 2009 and the decade of the 2000s? Drop dead.

We always give thanks this time of year, this time of reflection. And I seem to be tracking with the mainstream who believe that 2009 was awful and that the decade just ended (although technically not for another year) was the worst in memory, according to a Pew Research poll.

Familiarity breeds contempt and people may have a different view of the 2000s in 20 years, but don’t bet on it. This was a stretch that saw the Internet bubble burst and then the real estate bubble explode; that saw the media industry convulse and collapse; that saw most of us in it deal with profound and painful change, job loss and uncertainty.

But while “good riddance” has a certain satisfyingly dismissive sound to it, this year and the decade that it capped were a fantastic learning experience.

Not-so-free education

At the outset of this year, I was laid off for the second time in 18 months. The first time, I was already working on Plan B; the second time I hadn’t kicked Plan B in to action yet. It happened (February) at the worst, most uncertain moment of the Great Recession. Unemployment was inching up toward 7 percent and anyone with a pulse knew it had a lot of upside ahead of it.

Here’s what I learned:

  • As my (relatively new) boss, Ron Collett, likes to say, “nothing like a hangin’ to motivate people.”
  • Great Recession is one thing; Great Recession when your peer group is the expensive, health-care-benefits-devouring salary band companies are targeting for elimination is another. Experience is its own penalty these days.
  • It’d be less of an issue if health care weren’t so expensive, but that will never change as long as mush-brains inhabit Congress.
  • Mush-brains will always inhabit Congress.
  • Your own unemployment is nerve-wracking; the unemployment of longtime friends is heart-rending.
  • Just when things look darkest, a ray of light appears.
  • Nobody owes you nothing.
  • Nurture your garden, and things will grow.
  • The definition of employment and how providers work with consumers of labor is changing before our eyes. Low unemployment rates may no longer being a gauge of economic vitality.

In 1929, my dad’s parents pulled him and his brothers aside after the stock market crash and told the boys they would hang on to what they had and ride out the storm. This wasn’t as difficult as it sounds as they ran an 80-year-old company and had plenty of money. My mother’s side of the family took in extra boarders in a couple of homes they owned in West Oakland; sometimes the boarders couldn’t pay for a while, but they never got kicked out.

A year ago, I stopping looking at whatever 401K and investment statements I received. There was no use granting tyranny to figures that someday would reverse course. When I finally opened one statement last month, the value that had evaporated overnight in ’08 had begun to return in ’09. (This morning, The Wall Street Journal reports that 2009 was a banner year for stocks).

What’s the point?

While I am a committed capitalist and understand where there is reward there is also risk, I am too far down the track not to take lessons from ’01 and ’08-’09 and apply them. Putting my future in the hands of investment managers is both good (see 1990s) and bad (see 2000s). And at the end of the day, am I really any better off, in relative terms, than I was in 20 years ago? Financially, it’s hard to say. But I’d like to think I’m wiser.

Maybe the farm that (out of the blue) I started thinking about 20 years ago is a way to regain some of the control I’ve ceded since then to money-market managers and (sadly and more recently) a dysfunctional Congress.

I’ll let that thought continue to germinate and for now wish you and yours a happy and prosperous New Year.

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4 Responses to “Good bye to all that”

  1. Karen Watkins
    December 31st, 2009 @ 3:06 pm

    Re 2010,Quoted from Dan Blank weekly eNL re publishing/media reinvention & Full Stops: 12.31.09

    Earlier this week I was watching a documentary on music legend Les Paul, and he described a pivotal period in his life. He was a very successful guitar player in Chicago, and one morning his wife mentioned that she heard him play a live performance on the radio the previous evening. He said that was impossible because he had played a live show somewhere else that had not been broadcast.

    What had happened is in part that others were copying him, and also that he was playing a musical style OF the moment. What he realized was that he needed to be ahead of everyone else, create something unique and powerful that would carve out his own niche. Because without that, his future would have strict limits. What follows are three ways he reshaped his music within the time frame of three years:

    So he left Chicago – a thriving city of jazz, country, and popular music at the time. He went back home, and he spent all of his time in his garage. He was widely known as one of the great guitar players of the time, and he locked himself in his old garage. He wanted to find what he called “a new sound.” This was 1946.

    When Les reemerged, he had done just that. He had recorded complicated guitar parts, then sped them up in the recording process, added echo, and a few other tricks in the process. It was unlike any music heard before. This sent him off on a successful solo recording career that moved him beyond his previous role of backing up other singers and musicians.

    Amidst the success of his solo records, he realized that instrumental work would eventually run dry. He decided that to sustain his level of success, he would need to work with a singer. So he sought a partner, and found just that in Mary Ford. I’ll save you the details, but throughout the 1950’s, they sold more than 20 million records.

    In 1948, a car accident badly injured his right arm, and doctors talked of amputation. They managed to save the arm, but it took a year and a half for him to recover use of his arm.

    But in this moment of time, he did something incredible: he pioneered the use of overdub recording in popular music. This allowed him and Mary to layer guitar riffs and voices on top of each other for a textured sound that was unlike anything that came before it, and it set him and Mary off on a meteoric rise of hit records.

    He attributed the magnitude of the change in his life to the accident. He said it would be very hard for anyone to make such a large shift in their life if something didn’t bring them to a full stop first. What came after was a string of music inventions that affected the latter half of the 20th century in profound ways, including multitrack recording. Without Les, we wouldn’t have Sargeant Pepper.

    As the media and publishing worlds sit here at the end of the car-crash year of 2009, we need to ask ourselves: Is this the full stop that we needed in order to rethink priorities & processes, and find a path to creating something rich and new, something that will reshape the next 50 years of media? What is your ‘new sound’?”

  2. Brian
    December 31st, 2009 @ 3:53 pm

    Wow. Karen, thanks for tipping us to Dan’s post. That’s one of the most insightful perspectives I’ve heard in some time, and I don’t think I’ll ever think of the future again without thinking of Les Paul.
    I have been thinking of my new sound, although using different language. My problem at the moment is that I have to clean out my garage before I get serious about finding it!
    ; )

    Cheers and happy New Year.

  3. bfuller9 (Brian Fuller)
    December 31st, 2009 @ 4:34 pm

    Twitter Comment

    Happy New Year but good bye to all that (’09 and the ’00s): [link to post]

    Posted using Chat Catcher

  4. Andy Schlei
    December 31st, 2009 @ 4:34 pm

    Excellent post Brian, very thought provoking for me as I move into an uncertain year. Karen’s follow-up story was an excellent follow-up too.

    While I head into “restructuring,” I’ll keep both of these thoughtful perspectives in mind.

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