About Erika Andersen

Over the past 30 years, Erika has developed a reputation for creating approaches to learning and business-building that are custom tailored to her clients’ challenges, goals, and culture.

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Archive for March, 2009


Unfettered Nepotism

The End of Excess: Is This Crisis Good for America? – TIME.

My brother Kurt is such a clear thinker and such a wonderful writer.  I know I'm not objective in this regard, but I truly think that his cover story in Time magazine this week may be the most insightful balanced piece I've read about our current situation.

And – this is the sister in me talking – I'm so proud of him!

Posted in Thinking


You’ve Been Laid Off – Now What?

Most people have, at some point their lives, lost their job.  Fired, downsized, laid off, the company’s gone bust– whatever the reason, it’s inevitably a shock.  And at this particular moment in time, it’s happening to us in record numbers.

I’ve talked to a few people who have lost their jobs recently. They say that knowing there are lots of people in the same boat makes it both a little easier – “I’m not the only one; it’s not my fault” – and harder – “So many people out of work – so much competition for whatever jobs are out there.”
But the real question is – what now?  If you’ve lost your job, what’s the best next step?
We all have deeply wired-in fear responses that are designed to kick in when we feel threatened – psychologists label them fight, flight and freeze.  And losing your job can catalyze any or all of them: fight – a panicky and over-zealous focus on finding a job – any job – as soon as possible; flight – a total and obsessive focus on anything BUT finding a job; and freeze – staying in your apartment with a pint of ice cream, in your jammys with the TV turned way up.

Take a deep breath.  The most useful way to deal with this very difficult situation is to take one giant mental step back from it.  First, look at your current reality with the clear eye of a scientist (I know this is hard, but bear with me).  What do you actually have to going for you?  Look both within you (your skills, experience and knowledge, for instance, or your charming personality) and around you (e.g., your human network, both professionally and personally, any available financial resources). Now – and this is harder to do without giving in to fear, but it must be done: look clear-eyed at the negatives in your current reality. Are you most skilled or experienced in a field or industry that’s really tanking? Is your financial safety net thin? Acknowledge it all…don’t let it paralyze you, but acknowledge it nonetheless.

Once you feel as though you have a pretty objective and accurate picture of your situation – both the good news and the bad news – look to the future.  This is perhaps even more difficult – fear tends to close down our mental and emotional aperture, so that we can’t see possibilities, but only threats.  One way to get around your own fear is to literally imagine yourself in a successful future.  You might want to say to yourself, “A year from now, having leveraged my strengths and assets and overcome the obstacles, I’ll be….”  Ignore, for the moment, the frantic voice in your head that’s yelling “Not possible, not possible!” – and just focus on seeing it.

Then say it out loud to yourself.  There’s great power in this, in declaring an intention…and it’s not just woo-woo new age stuff; research shows that people who state their goals are significantly more likely to achieve them.

You might be surprised at what comes out of you.  It could be something as simple as “I have a job I like and am good at, that supports me comfortably,” or it could be something like, “I’m teaching 8th grade at a private school – something I’ve always wanted to do,” or “I found a job managing a research and development group in a large company…which, as it turns out, I’m really good at.”

Having a vision is a wonderful thing. It focuses your attention; it catalyzes hope. Then you can start working toward it, and fear tends to take a back seat, almost magically.  Especially when you’re clear about where you’re starting from – then you can determine and take the practical steps that will move you from where you are now to where you want to go. 

With both your starting point and your goal clearly in mind, you can make some core directional choices – select some strategies – that will best take you there. And you can balance those choices that will provide a practical foundation (minimizing your expenditures, deciding to find interim work) with those that will move you toward the future you want to create for yourself (clarifying the work you want to do, figuring out how to position or educate yourself, deciding how to take best advantage of your friends’ and colleagues’ connections).  Once you’ve made these directional choices, it’s then much easier to decide the specific actions – the tactics – you’ll need to take to make them happen.

And – I’ve experienced this myself, in tough times – once you start moving toward one thing, it may well be that other, even more interesting opportunities will arise.  If you put up your sail to catch the wind you’re looking for – it makes you available to other winds, as well.

Finally: if that “it's not possible!” voice in your head starts yammering again, say this to yourself: “I know where I am, I know where I want to go – and I have a plan to get there. Back off.” Trust me, it will work much better than Haagen Dazs.

Posted in learning


Leading Away from Fear

Great Leadership.

Here's a really good post from my cyber-friend Dan McCarthy.  I really thought this was valuable – it's his top ten list of ways leaders can create and maintain a positive, motivating environment.  In my ongoing quest to inoculate people against falling victim to fear and panic, I found this a wonderful vaccine.

Posted in Leading People


An Anthropological View of March 17th

Hundreds of thousands of people participate in St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York _English_Xinhua.

I found this article thoroughly charming: today’s St. Patrick’s day parade in New York viewed through the eyes of a Chinese journalist.

I especially like the slight misunderstandings: “A band marches down the Fifth Avenue,” and “[It] is generally celebrated on March 17.”

How wonderful and strange it all looks from this different point of view! Through this lens, the pictures of the celebrants in their green ritual costumes and face-paint seem suddenly bizarre. Whereas, when I actually saw them in the flesh as I walked down Sixth Avenue today, they looked perfectly normal.

Hope you had whatever kind of fun you wanted to have today.

And happy birthday, Rachel!

Posted in Current Affairs


The Power of Connection

Today I went to visit FDR's home in Hyde Park.  I've lived in the Hudson Valley for years, and had never been to see it – so today I decided to rectify the situation!

I really enjoyed it – I love all things historical, and it was fascinating finding out about FDR's life and family.
However, there was a single room that affected me mostly deeply.  On March 12, 1933, FDR delivered the first of his Fireside chats.  It was the first time a President had addressed the nation in such an intimate and informal way, and it had a profound impact.  The simple, straightforward address focused on explaining the bank crisis in a way that people would understand, and that would encourage them to trust the banking system.

Sixty million people sat by their radios and listened to their president explain both the government's approach to addressing the crisis and the rationale for it.  He spoke to them as though he were sitting with them in their living rooms.

In the room in the Presidential Library dedicated to this historic event, they've papered the walls with hundreds of the many thousands of letters sent to FDR within a few days after the address.  I spent some time walking around this room, reading these letters.  They were typed and handwritten; sophisticated and simple; written on letterhead from captains of industry and on lined paper from schoolchildren. As I read, I found myself having to brush away tears.

Every single one carried essentially the same message:  Thank you for speaking to me, Mr. President.  Thank you for telling me the truth, and providing hope in this difficult situation.  Thank you for leading us.

When the banks began reopening the next day, very few people withdrew their money.

Posted in Leading People


Staying Strategic

Bain & Company: “Clarify strategy: choose where and how to win” < Articles < Publications.

More resource – here’s a good, clear article from Bain and Company about staying strategic in challenging times. The authors talk about the deleterious effects of fear, and offer some excellent advice about what to do instead.

I’m just going to keep finding this stuff and sharing it with you!

Posted in News


Fear, Begone – Redux

Preoccupations – In Hard Times, Fear Can Impair Decision-Making – NYTimes.com.

Here's an article from the NYT by a guy named Gregory Berns, a neuroeconomist. (Did you know there was such a thing? I didn't.)  Dr. Berns provides a whole new set of reasons why it's important not to become a victim of fear in these times.

As you know, I've been beating this antidote-to-fear drum for months.  I love getting additional reinforcement for my point of view from someone who knows a whole lot of things I don't know!

One part of the article I especially like:

The most concrete thing that neuroscience tells us is that when the fear system of the brain is active, exploratory activity and risk-taking are turned off. The first order of business, then, is to neutralize that system.

This means not being a fearmonger. It means avoiding people who are overly pessimistic about the economy. It means tuning out media that fan emotional flames. Unless you are a day-trader, it means closing the Web page with the market ticker. It does mean being prepared, but not being a hypervigilant, everyone-in-the-bunker type.

I strongly encourage you to read the whole article, though…it's really excellent.

Posted in Thinking


Let the Fun Begin

strategy and execution internet radio show 3/4/2009 | Erika Andersen, author of Being Strategic.

Dearest readers, here’s the first-ever interview about Being Strategic.  We recorded it this morning; my host was Zane Safrit, a wonderful fellow-midwesterner who I met last December at 800CEOREAD‘s Author Pow-wow.

We had a lot of fun, and Zane was/is marvelously supportive and inquisitive.  See what you think…

Posted in Books


Exploring Good News

Driving revenue growth at Xata Corp..

In my ongoing effort to help clients figure out how to position  their companies to stay solid through the recession and be strongly positioned once the economy re-stabilizes, I’ve been trolling the web for stories of currently successful organizations.

Here’s one that I really like.  It’s about a small company that’s growing, vs. contracting, and their growth is based largely on a change in their business model. The article goes into some depth about specifically how they’ve done it, but the essence is that their new business model created:  1) a lower cost of entry for their clients (important when money is tight), 2) a more reliably recurring revenue stream for themselves, 3) a higher quality of service for their customers.

I actually think this is the silver lining of this time: if we can stay focused on success, rather than becoming paralyzed or reactionary, we have the opportunity now to find new ways of operating that work better — that are simpler, more efficient, more customer-friendly, more reliable. And these ways of operating will serve us well now and in the future.

It’s kind of the organizational equivalent of losing weight and getting into shape: it may not be fun, and it requires focus and commitment…but when you’re done, you feel, look, and work a hell of a lot better.

Posted in Organizations