Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Gold Rush or Something More Sustainable?

By the time the pioneers that small person is studying right now made their way west, most of the emigrants were farmers looking to build a sustainable way of life for their families. What got this wave of emigration really started though and broke trail and started the early settlements that made everything possible for the mainstream settlers was fur trapping and the gold rush.

Animal rights activism aside, fur trapping is an interesting business case - this was temporarily a sustainable industry fueled by an actual consumer interest in a particular product. What the mountain men out trapping fur animals and the companies that bought and sold pelts mostly didn't take into account was how fickle the market could be - it seems that silk became all the rage in Europe all of a sudden (but fur is so much warmer and it's not like they had polar fleece in those days!) and there went the fur trade. Companies went under very quickly after that because they hadn't come up with any viable alternatives.

Some did pretty well by shifting their strategy to one of provisioning the 49'ers and the more mainstream settlers, and therein lies another interesting business case.

A few people who were able to get in early and stake good claims right away did get rich off the gold they found. Most though, did not. By and large, the people who actually made money during the rush were the ones selling the miners the supplies they needed for mining and day to day life. Call me cynical, but I'm thinking that anytime you see that the only ones making any money are those 'helping' you to earn a living, you should run for the hills - and not the ones that are purported to have gold in 'them thar'.

And even when there really is gold out there to be had, it's important to go in with eyes wide open about what you're getting yourself into and to be as prepared as possible so that you're not caught short while you're still trying to make it. Keep in mind too, that just like driving in bad weather, sometimes it's not enough to be good yourself - you have to be prepared for the idiot(s) out on the road with you as well.

This whole cycle of gold fever, unprepared hordes who never got what they sought, and the people who made their wealth and lives off of said hordes has played out here in Seattle again and again. Not really sure exactly what that's about (note to self - think carefully about anything having to do with Seattle that sounds too good to be true), but I also know it happens elsewhere too.

So - no matter what business you're in or where you are, it's probably worth asking yourself if people really are making any money at it. It matters who they are and how they're doing it - if they're primarily making money off of each other, then what you've really got is a pyramid scheme. Is what you're considering really a sustainable concept or one that is too dependent on fickle tastes. How prepared are you for what lies ahead and how will you adapt if the market shifts?

On the good side, those pioneer farmers may not have made it big, but they did make it and when they found good homesteads, they made a decent living and raised loving families. They may not have struck it rich but many of them did thrive, always a worthy goal.

Interestingly enough, some of them even made it to Seattle. Some of us made it here a little later through later-wave pioneers - both the farming kind and then later than that through early aviation. Of course, real pioneering - the business of scouting out new territory and making it sustainable for more and more mainstream use - is a new topic altogether. I'm sure I'll get to it eventually though - since it's quite literally in my blood, I have a bit of a fondness for the subject.

If any of this sounds allegorical to the tech boom/bust or anything else, guess what... you're right.

After three weeks of studying about pioneering, I'm sure there's still plenty I don't know... and would be happy to dare you to stump me anyway. Send messages to me at and we'll talk about the gold rush or whatever else is on your alleged mind.

What is the reality of your current situation

Kimm Viebrock is a Certified Professional Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organizaion, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.