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 August, 2013


Farewell (For Now) To The Insider List – 08/26/13

When I started writing the Insider List 3 years ago, in September of 2010, Proteus was a very different company. For instance, more than half our current staff and consultants had not yet joined us. We didn’t have a NYC office, we had no presence in Latin America, and were doing minimal work outside the US.

I was still in the middle of writing Leading So People Will Follow, and we hadn’t yet created the Accepted Leader Assessment.  The paperback of Being Strategic (along with the Public TV show) had just come out.

And most important relative to the Insider List – I hadn’t yet been asked to become a contributor at Forbes, so the “How Work Works” blog didn’t yet exist.

Fast Forward to 2013…

Now, three years later, Proteus has doubled in size; we have many wonderful new staff members and consultants who are raising our game and helping our clients get clearer and stronger.  Ivan Cortes, our LATAM director, is bringing the Proteus brand to South America, and we’re doing significant work in Europe, India, Asia and the Pacific.

We’ve also created the Leading So People Will Follow LinkedIn group, which provides another place for sharing wisdom about leadership.

And the Forbes blog has really taken off – it’s generally getting over 100,000 visitors a month, and is widely socialized across the net.  I usually post there 3 times a week. I’m still posting at erikaandersen.com too, though less often, and I end up writing articles or doing interviews that appear in other publications 2 or 3 times a quarter.

So what does this mean for the Insider List? As I’ve reflected over the past month, I’ve realized that there are many more options for being involved in a conversation with me than there were 3 years ago.  And the conclusion that brings me to – though I have to say I’m a little sad about this – is that it’s probably time for us to sunset the Insider List, at least for the present.

For those of you who have enjoyed getting the Insider List and haven’t taken advantage of our LinkedIn group, the Forbes blog or the erikaandersen.com blog, I invite you to join us there.  They are all great places to continue our conversation about leader readiness and how to make work the best it can be.

Thank you so much for your support and interest, and I hope to keep growing together with you for years to come.

Very warmly,


Posted in Insider List


How Does Stuff Get Done Around Here?

As many of you know, I wrote a book called Growing Great Employees a few years back.  One chapter focuses on how to get new people started well in your organization. I proposed that, in general, people want three questions answered when they start a new job: Who do I need to know?,  How do things get done around here?, and What’s expected of me?

Not long ago a client of mine turned me on to an article published a few years ago in Business Week about the (then) emerging discipline of Social Network Analysis. I got very intrigued, and continued to research the subject.

Social Network Analysis (SNA) is “the mapping and measuring of relationships and flows between people, groups, organizations, computers, URLs, and other connected information/knowledge entities. The nodes in the network are the people and groups, while the links show relationships or flows between the nodes.”  I got that definition from the website of orgnet.com, a company that’s been doing SNA and providing SNA software to clients for 15 years.

I find this both fascinating and useful: SNA is a way of making visible the answer to two of those three core questions –   “Who do I need to know?” and “How does stuff get done around here?

SNA provides critical insights into how information flows (and doesn’t); who is at the core of networks of people and who’s at the periphery; where there are silos and where interaction happens freely. If used well, it can help companies take best advantage of the employees who are “examplars” – those to whom others turn for advice, knowledge, insights.  It can also help organizations see “blockages” in work and information flow, and focus more usefully on how to get things unstuck.

This isn’t new – many of these concepts are at the core of Seth Godin’s latest books, for instance, and orgnet.com has a big client list – but I love the idea that this way of visualizing organizations is becoming more widespread.  It’s yet another indication to me that what has historically been thought of as “the soft stuff” in organizations is finally getting recognized as key to productivity and profit.

SNA demonstrates, in a very clear and 21st century way, that people really are our most important resource.


Giving a Hand Up To The Next Generation – 08/19/13

OK, I am now officially tired of listening to baby-boomers and gen-Xers trash talk about Millenials.  The complaints I hear over and over: “entitled,” “no work ethic,” and “disrespectful.”

Maybe I’m hanging out with the cream of the crop, but the folks I know who are in their 20s and early 30s aren’t any of those things.  Or maybe I’m just seeing it differently. Rather than “entitled,” I’d say, “questioning traditional pathways to success.” Instead of “no work ethic” I’d say, “unwilling to work hard at things that aren’t meaningful to them.”  And I don’t see the young people I know as “disrespectful,” I see them as being “unwilling to respect others based on role or position.”  In fact, the Millenials I know have enormous respect for what they see as important accomplishments, financial, social or moral.

The way my peers talk about the generation now coming up is eerily reminiscent of the way the World War II generation talked about us baby-boomers when we were in our teens and twenties.  In fact, I’m absolutely positive, when I was a hippy in the late sixties and early seventies, that those exact accusations (entitled, no work ethic, disrespectful) got thrown at me and my friends.  So perhaps it’s simply a universal grumble that each generation has about the subsequent one.

Why Not Grumble?

I think it’s important, though, to stop indulging in generation-based griping, and figure out what we can do to help them instead.  These young people who are now entering into their adult lives are the future of our world.

Until recently, most human cultures ascribed to the theory that each generation would impart skills, values, and knowledge to succeeding generations.  Young men and women apprenticing to their parents in trade; young people listening at their grandparents’ knee to the stories that defined their society – its cautions and taboos, its accomplishments and values.

And I think we can still aspire to pass along what we understand and know how to do to the next generation.  I find it deeply satisfying when one of my kids, or a young colleague or client tells me that something I’ve shared has been valuable to them: it makes me feel as though I’m doing my part to support the evolution of the human race. The more we can pass along, the less each generation will have to start from scratch in figuring out important stuff.

So, my question for you: what skills, insight, or knowledge do you have that you could offer to the new generation?  That is, how can you – personally – help ensure that the next generation has what they need to make this a better world?

Till next time,


Posted in Insider List


Unleash The Genius In You

A friend once told me I was a genius. When I demurred, he added, “Genius is about seeing patterns where others see only chaos – and you’re really good at that.”

In the years since, I’ve seen similar definitions.  My favorite is by the literary critic and author Malcolm Cowley, in his introduction to Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina:

Genius is vision, often involving the gift of finding patterns where others see nothing but a chance collection of objects.

So: if a core element of genius is an unusual capability for pattern recognition — can we cultivate that?

First, let’s talk about why it’s so useful. Even before we talk about genius, it’s important to recognize that being able to see the patterns in our experience is the key catalyst for learning. My almost-three-year-old granddaughter is relentless in finding and using patterns.  For instance, after trying a variety of approaches (including demanding and fake crying) she’s learned that saying “please” will almost always get her what she wants. So “please” is quickly becoming a standard item in her vocabulary.

Take that basic human learning tool and ramp it up to “seeing patterns where others see nothing but a chance collection of objects,” and you have the core of all innovation and new understanding – what people call genius. It’s also an essential quality of good leaders.

And yes, we can get better at it. Here are three simple tools for stretching those muscles:

Get curious: Curiosity is that deep internal impulse to investigate. We all have it in abundance as children: it’s the source of their endless “why?” and “then what?” questions. Unfortunately, by the time we get to be adults, it’s been largely socialized out of us; we think we’re supposed to know everything and it’s seen as either rude or naïve to be too curious.  But if you want to access and develop your innate ability to see patterns, you have to first re-ignite your curiosity.  One great way to do it is to consciously ask “Why is that happening?” or “How does that work?” in day-to-day situations that you’ve come to take for granted.  For instance, I recently encouraged a client to reflect on why her relationship with an employee had gotten strained.  She came back to me a couple of weeks later, saying that once she started looking at what had changed, she realized that she had fallen into the habit of disagreeing with his ideas in meetings because his way of presenting those ideas was irritating to her – and that she was both ignoring some potentially useful ideas and hurting their relationship as a result.  Voila – pattern recognition! 

Be objective.  My client’s recognition of that unhelpful pattern – and her part in it – required not only curiosity but also objectivity, which is the ability to look at all sides of a situation with openness and dispassion. If you go into a situation with deeply held pre-conceived ideas about what you’ll find, it’s unlikely that you’ll see anything new.  The key to being objective is to cultivate the skill of being a Fair Witness, which I’ve blogged about regularly. The essence of being a fair witness is to observe your own self-talk (your internal monologue) to see whether what you’re saying to yourself about a situation is neutral and accurate.  And if it’s not, to change it.  For example, if my client had gotten curious but not objective about the situation – with slanted self-talk that supported her pre-existing beliefs, she might have come to the conclusion that her employee was simply an irritating guy, and that there was nothing she could do to improve the relationship. Being a fair witness quite often allows you to see things in new and unexpected ways, as my client experienced, to her benefit.

Pull back the camera.  Once you’ve gotten curious and put yourself into an objective, fair witness mindset, it’s critical to step back mentally from the situation so that you can see the whole: that’s when patterns emerge. Years ago, I was at MOMA in New York.  When I walked into the room where Monet’s single-panel Water Lilies hangs, I was first struck by its size:  it’s over six feet high and almost twenty feet long.  You have to stand across the room to take it all in at once; from a distance, you can see how wonderfully Monet captured the tranquility of light-suffused water, floating Japanese lilies, clouds overhead.  But when you move in close to the painting, the pattern dissolves, and all you see is a collection of seemingly random brush strokes, in a variety of colors: your ‘camera’ is pulled in too close to make sense of it.

If you ‘get caught in the brush strokes’ it’s nearly impossible to access your own genius. For instance, let’s say that sales are down at a particular company, and the head of sales is desperate to figure out why.  If she ‘pulls in the camera too close,’ she might focus, for instance, only on one or two formerly high-performing salespeople who are missing their targets. Just looking at that one part of the situation, she could assume any number of things: that they’ve somehow lost their edge or are slacking off; that firing them will solve the problem; or, conversely, that if she really leans on them, they’ll get better.  Based on those assumptions, she might let them go, offer them training, read them the riot act, etc. – but never see the whole picture and the real patterns inherent in it.

If, instead, she “pulls back the camera,” she might (for instance) find that an important new product line isn’t performing as promised because there’s a slight manufacturing glitch. The high return level is affecting both current sales numbers and customers’ willingness to reorder. The broader view gives a very different perspective, and will almost definitely lead her to a different, more effective, more genius-like response.

The beauty of these approaches – getting curious, being more objective, pulling back the camera – is that they’re all practical, developable skills.  In other words, you have genius in you…it’s time to let it out.


Learning in the Digital World – 08/06/13

As some of you may know, our mission at Proteus is: We help clients clarify and move toward their hoped-for future.  However, we also apply our mission to ourselves – we consistently work to clarify and move toward our hoped-for future as a company. The last couple of years have been especially wild and fun: we’ve been growing quickly, and looking for ever-better and more effective ways to support leader readiness at every level.

One of the things we’re really trying to sort out lately is how to best use distant learning to support our in-person training, coaching and facilitation.  Even though our foundation is in-person learning, and we believe deeply in the power and efficacy of face-to-face development, we want to figure out how to augment that with other learning approaches.

Our point of view is that no matter how technologically advanced we become, human beings are still physical creatures, and much of our most profound and permanent growth happens as a result of interactions with others. But that learning can be reinforced through lots of other means. In the leadership and management training we do, for instance, we’ve found that having the opportunity to hear about, see, discuss, practice and debrief new skills in real time with an excellent instructor and other learners is key to real behavior change. However, we also know that learning online can be a great lead-in to those face-to-face learning situations, and – even more important – can be powerful in supporting participants’ ongoing learning after the session.

So -What Works?

At this point, we’re talking to smart, experienced people to get their insights about how best to take advantage of the options now available, through technology, to prepare for, support, and sustain face-to-face learning.

And you, my friends, are smart, experienced people.  I’d love to hear from you about any ‘distant’ learning options you’ve found valuable – online, mobile, video, whatever.

Just drop me an email, and let us know: What did you like about it?  What did you learn? What could have been better?  And if you have the chance to send along links, or app names – that would be wonderful, too.

As an added incentive, just for turning us on to something you’ve found valuable, we’ll give you free access to our first online support system, once we’ve developed it.

I can’t wait to hear from you….



Posted in Insider List