In fact, hard times can be the source of innovative inspiration, says Chris Shipley, a technology analyst and executive producer of the DEMO conferences, where new ideas make their debuts. "Some of the best products and services come out of some of the worst times," she says. In the early 1990s, tens of millions of dollars had gone down the drain in a futile effort to develop "pen computing" -- an early phase of mobile computing -- and a recession was shriveling the economic outlook.
Yet the tiny Palm Computing managed to revitalize the entire industry in a matter of months by transforming itself overnight from a software maker into a hardware company.
"Our biggest challenge right now is fear," she says. "The worst thing that a company can do right now is go into hibernation, into duck-and-cover. If you just sit on your backside and wait for things to get better, they're not going to. They're going to get better for somebody, but not necessarily for you."
HOWARD LIEBERMAN, also a serial entrepreneur and founder of the Silicon Valley Innovation Institute, says innovation breeds effectiveness. It's not about efficiency, he argues. "Efficiency is for bean counters," he says. "It's not for C.E.O.'s or inventors or founders."
The current economic downturn comes as no surprise to him, he says, because it mirrors the downturn at the time of the dot-com bust. Then and now, the companies that survive are those that keep creativity and innovation foremost.
"Creativity doesn't care about economic downturns," Mr. Lieberman says. "In the middle of the 1970s, when we were having a big economic downturn, both Apple and Microsoft were founded. Creative people don't care about the time or the season or the state of the economy; they just go out and do their thing."