2004 is just around the corner. Although some companies are saying that IT spending is on the rise - IBM, for one, just reported this - others are hedging their bets.This means we are probably in for another tough year in budget and project approval. And that will have many of you pulling out your hair. There's only so many MacGyver-like tactics you can pull with your networks before the wheels start to come off the bus. Bubble gum and twist-ties can only go so far.What you need is to climb out of your innovation slump. Normally I focus on innovation throughout the industry - who's doing what and why it's important. But I believe that each person has an ability to innovate as well - one that doesn't have to cost their companies an arm and a leg.Your personal innovation is sparked by things you see and hear around you. The slump arises when you cocoon yourself off and fail to get out a little. It's easy - especially in the harsh climate we had in 2002 and 2003 - to get so heads-down in work that you become your own worst enemy.Innovation could come from having lunch with a peer and discussing some of the latest technologies you've read about. Something as simple as them telling you about their new voice over IP installation or a storage network upgrade could make you look at your own projects in a whole new light. Better yet, send your team off to do the same and then have a lunch where you all discuss what you learned from your peers. Chances are you'll come up with some great ideas for boosting your own network success.Another way to spark new ideas is to free up your budget that little bit to go to a conference - any conference. As I write this, my colleague Chris Shipley is in the midst of selecting products to be featured at DEMO 2004. All year, Chris meets with start-ups and established companies to hear how their new wares are going to revolutionize the way we interact with each other personally and professionally. In February, she'll introduce the cream of this year's crop at the annual DEMO conference in Scottsdale, Ariz. It's one of my favorite conferences to attend because of the chatter is creates. Each product or service Chris introduces creates side conversations in the audience among innovators, investors, IT folks, the press and more. And those conversations - whether continued in the hallway or over drinks later on - inevitably lead to back-of-the-napkin ingenuity. Discussion breeds more innovation. It's a great atmosphere for recharging your creative batteries.Sometimes, if I'm feeling a smidge out of the loop, I'll call Chris to get a taste of what she's seeing and hearing about in the field. It's a great chance to remind myself that innovation is alive and well in our industry. That's my way out of the innovation slump.Another great way to crawl out of the innovation doldrums is to catch up on your reading. Grab hold of some special issues of some of your favorite magazines (including Network World, of course) and read about how your peers have made a go of projects that you've only just begun to think about. My colleague Beth Schultz puts together our bimonthly Signature Series issues (https:\/\/www.nwfusion.com\/indepth\/index.html) and those are chock-full of network improvement ideas. From the Extended Enterprise Issue to the annual Best Issue, you can get a storehouse full of information without leaving your office. My other favorite magazine to look for is MIT's Technology Review Innovators issue. Released in October, this issue listed the top young innovators who will impact our world.Making time to learn something new is also a way out of the slump. In talking to IT managers after our seminars, I find that though they were stressed about taking time out of the office, they oftentimes learned something that saved them even more time later on. And that learning doesn't always come from on-stage. Spending time with colleagues during the lunch break or hanging out after the seminar for a quick chat, the same IT managers said the networking with peers was invaluable.Whatever way you choose, make time to get inspired. As I said 2004 could prove just as challenging as 2002 and 2003, but that doesn't mean you have to stop moving forward.