© 1999 Michael S. Hyatt

About once a week, someone sends me an e-mail, asking how I am going to feel when Y2K turns out to be nothing more than “a bump in the road.” If you’ve been trying to build awareness with your friends and associates, you have no doubt experienced the same thing. These people express a confidence about the outcome of Y2K that makes you wonder if they have just returned from a trek to the future.

However, the people who ask this question are not typically computer professionals. Their information about Y2K often comes from the mainstream media, where the reporters are too lazy or too rushed to read anything more than a press release or an executive summary. Or perhaps their research into the issue comes from their cousin Ernie who talked to someone who knows a programmer who says it will be no big deal. Or maybe they are simply a PC “power user,” someone who thinks they fully understand automated technology because they can record a Word macro or know how to write an Excel formula (as long as it’s not too complicated).

Even when I have had big-league computer professionals challenge me — and it has only happened a couple of times — it usually comes from someone working in a corporation where they did, in fact, start early on the problem and have worked hard to solve it. These individuals tend to be myopic, thinking the whole world is in as good shape as their organization is. (To be fair, I have seen the opposite problem as well, where programmers in companies that have done a poor job addressing Y2K think that the whole world is in big trouble.)

Regardless of the source of the questions, I usually respond in one of three ways. I offer these in the hope that you may find them useful with the naysayers in your life.

1. Let’s hope that Y2K is a bump in the road. I like to find common ground wherever possible, and this is one place where we can agree with our adversaries: No one in his or her right mind wants Y2K to be a disaster. I certainly don’t, and my guess is that you don’t either. (If you do, you need counseling!)

I like my life the way it is. I appreciate automated technology as well as the next person, and I can assure you, I hate the idea of living in a low-tech world. (I don’t even like to camp!) My idea of a good time does not include the possibility of losing electricity, clean water, or any of the other things I take for granted in my day-to-day life. I enjoy living in a prosperous economy and would be delighted for it to continue unabated.

2. Those sounding the alarm are, in one way or another, minimizing the impact of Y2K. When I started researching Y2K, I talked to my wife candidly about my fears regarding speaking out about Y2K. I said, “What if I sound the trumpet and then nothing happens? Won’t I look foolish?”

She said, “The only way you can lose is if you don’t say anything at all.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, if you speak out and help raise awareness on the issue, then maybe — just maybe — the problem can either be fixed or its impact minimized. If that doesn’t happen, then at least people will know what’s at risk and have the opportunity to prepare for it. Either way, you get to be part of the solution. But if you don’t speak out, if you don’t call attention to this issue, then you become part of the problem. You have this information for a reason — now use it!”

I think her advice was right on.

But this is also true of you. To the extent that you have warned your friends and colleagues, you have played a role in helping to solve the problem and minimize its impact. If people haven’t listened to you, then the responsibility is theirs. You have done your part, and that’s all you can do.

3. We’ll have supplies we can use for any emergency. If I prepare for Y2K, and the problem fizzles out, I’ll still have water I can drink, food I can eat, and other supplies that will prove useful in other situations. At the very least, my family’s expenses for early 2000 are going to be significantly reduced.

But if I do nothing to prepare, and Y2K creates significant disruptions, then I will, at the very least, put myself and my family in a place of great inconvenience and discomfort or, at the most, in a dangerous or even life-threatening position.

To prepare or not to prepare? Is that really such a difficult question? I think not. As I have said before, it is better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.

Sometime next year we will all be able to look back and see whether or not Y2K was something to worry about. But, unfortunately, right now we don’t have the perspective that hindsight affords us. What we do have are specific examples of Y2K failures, conflicting surveys about the progress of remediation, self-reported data from federal government agencies and various businesses, and the newly-awakened knowledge that we are more dependent on automated technology than we ever thought possible.

Will I feel badly if Y2K turns out to be nothing more than a bump in the road? Not at all; I will be delighted. But will the naysayers who have done nothing to prepare feel the same way if Y2K is more than a bump in the road? I doubt it.

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