Editor’s note: Eric Jackson’s Going Deep column is a regular feature on Tuesdays.I had a bit of fun last weekend. I woke up Friday night with intense chest pain. A few minutes later, I blacked out and collapsed.

Being an intelligent sort, my wife concluded that something was amiss and called 911. There followed much excitement for the neighborhood as fire engine, police and ambulance all squeezed into a street not all that well suited to normal vehicles and rushed me off to the hospital.

After a night of tests and the usual delightful ambience of an emergency room, we found, to our great relief, that I had not had a heart attack, but was suffering from a localized kind of pneumonia that lacks the usual coughing and congestion, but causes significant pain in the inflamed region of the lung.

Now I have to admit that it is not all that strange that I should fall sick. The past three months have seen family visits, an interstate move, long separations from my wife, a new job requiring that I learn a great deal in a very short time, and a month of international travel, to mention just the highlights. No stressors there, no sir.

Hanging in there

What is interesting, though, is when I got sick. There has been any number of times over the past quarter that I’ve been exhausted or completely stressed, where I’ve pushed unreasonably to meet an unreasonable deadline, or gone too many nights without enough sleep. Getting sick would have been a perfectly normal response. But no, I pulled through all of those fine. I only got sick last week, the first real weekend in a while that I could spend calmly with my wife, the first week that left me feeling like I might finally be getting a handle on things. The first week when I wasn’t stressed out and exhausted.

Nor is this the first time. In fact, there is something of a pattern here, as I look back. I am good at hanging on all the way through to the point where the crisis is through, whereupon I proceed to fall apart. Nor, I think is this unique to me.

Nor does it apply just to individuals. It is a pattern that you can find in organizations as well, for example, among companies that survived the tech crash a few years ago, came through the stagnant succeeding years, and are beginning to find life again today.

When the economy took a dive, many companies didn’t make it, of course. Many who did make it, however, did so only by drastically cutting back spending, surviving the next few years with inadequate staff, inadequate funding, inadequate resources of every kind. But everyone pulled together, did their best, and got by.

Rising expectations

Things are looking better now. Some of those companies have got their heads above water and are growing again, making money, hiring staff. Things should be all right, right?

Perhaps not. Chances are, these companies will face some troubles that may take them by surprise. Everyone has been under pressure for a long time and that has had costs, just as pushing too hard has a cost on the health of an individual. Small tensions that no one had time to deal with have been buried and have been festering. Everyone is exhausted.

Actually, the very fact that things begin to get a little better can be the trigger for an explosion of dissatisfaction. Sociologists have noted that revolutions do not happen when things are at their worst. They happen when things start to get better, but fail to keep pace with rising expectations. Similarly here. As the company begins to experience success again, two things happen. First, there is an inevitable general expectation that everything will be all right now. But after a while people realize that the new prosperity does not address the grievances that have built up over time, they are likely to be more dissatisfied than might seem reasonable. Second, it is unlikely that the company has invested heavily in either infrastructure or building good processes while it was simply trying to survive. As success hits, it is likely to strain, and possibly break, the inadequate systems that the company has not yet gotten around to upgrading or rethinking.

Obviously good times are a good thing. It is good too to be aware that survival may have had a cost that wasn’t obvious at the time. So enjoy the good times, but be prepared for the issues that your people might suddenly feel they can afford to let arise.

Ideas? Suggestions? Contact Eric at eric@deepweave.com

Eric Jackson is the founder of DeepWeave. He has built his career pioneering software solutions to particularly large and difficult problems. In 2000, Eric co-founded Ibrix, Inc. He is the inventor of the Ibrix distributed file system, a parallel file storage system able to scale in size and performance to millions of terabytes.