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Archive for the ‘people’ Category

Jun
5

Pioneering Within

“Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.”

                                                                       - Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph was the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympics.  In the 1960s, she was considered the fastest woman in the world.

Astonishingly, this world-class athlete and inspiration to millions was born prematurely, weighing only 4.5 pounds. She was a sickly baby and child, surviving attacks of infantile paralysis, polio and scarlet fever that left her with a twisted leg requiring an orthopedic brace, which she had to wear until the age of 12.  She once said, “My doctors told me I would never walk again. My mother told me I would. I believed my mother.” 

As time goes on, I become more and more convinced that, though we can’t always control the circumstances of our lives, we can always have tremendous control over our reaction to those circumstances.  For example:

Today I was telling some colleagues about an amazing woman named Tao Porchon-Lynch, a 96-year-old yoga teacher, championship ballroom dancer, wine connoisseur and  peace activist who has become my inspiration and role model.  I see no reason, barring illness or death, that I (or you) can’t be living an equally satisfying and active life in our nineties. 

Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of the day I met my beloved husband. We were reading through emails from the early days of our courtship, and agreeing that we love, like, and desire each other more today than we did five years ago – and that we fully expect our love to continue to expand and deepen throughout our lives. 

I’m entirely certain that I will be able to learn new skills, make new connections with people and discover new problems/mysteries/puzzles to solve until the day I die. 

In fact, here’s a suggestion. Whenever that voice in your head tells you that something you hope for just isn’t possible, stop and ask yourself –  Why not?


Feb
15

Thank you, St. Valentine

Yesterday, my wonderful husband gave me a beautiful custom-created card, complete with a romantic poem he’d written himself. Inside were tickets to an off-Broadway show (that he’d secretly worked with my assistant to schedule). I sent him poetry, and tomorrow I’m making him a carrot cake – his favorite. This morning, our granddaughter – proudly and with hugs – gave us a heart-studded card she and her mom had made for us.

imagesFrom my point of view, Valentine’s Day is simply an excuse to express your love a little more extravagantly than usual. I get that some people don’t like it – that they see it as pure, cynical marketing and commercialization (US consumers, after all, will have bought almost $500 MILLION worth of candy this V-day week).  And I know there are thousands of other people who hate February 14th because it highlights the lack of love in their life: they feel especially lonely, unloved, and sad in stark contrast to the messages of love and romance they see all around them.

But, as with all holidays, it’s your choice – you can make Valentine’s Day whatever you want it to be: you can choose not to pay any attention to it at all; you can spend the whole day raging against cruel fate and/or the capitalist machine; or you can declare it a day of special care and lovingkindness to those who mean the most to you (including yourself).

I vote for the third option. I intend to keep using Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to do particularly sweet and thoughtful things; to be just a little more affectionate than usual; to look a little more kindly on my fellow humans; to be especially gentle with and supportive of myself.

Why not?

Happy Valentine’s Day.


Jan
15

Sharpening My Ax: the Joy of Mastery

Just got back from an exciting, inspiring, exhausting, fun and thoroughly worthwhile event: the first annual Soundview/Nour Author Summit in Atlanta.  For a number of year, I had attended a similar event put on by my friends and colleagues at 800CEOREAD, and when they laid down the torch after last year’s event, and weren’t talk-out-of-it-able, Rebecca Clement and David Nour decided to pick it up and carry it forward.

I learned useful stuff, met great people and laughed a lot. (I also ate an extremely tasty lobster dinner, which added to the overall impression of wonderfulness.)

More than anything, I understood even more deeply about the joy of mastery.  I learned yet again that mastery doesn’t mean getting to the point where you’re the expert and you get to tell everybody else how to do stuff.

with David Nour and Jennifer BridgesTrue mastery means wanting to keep learning, even when you’re good. That is, getting good enough at things to feel proud and happy of what you’ve learned and accomplished – and at the same time feeling hungry to keep going. I’ve become a good writer, a good teacher, a good(ish) marketer of my books and ideas, and I can build connections with lots different kinds of people — and I have so much more to learn in all these areas; so much I want to do better.

True mastery means being able to learn from almost anybody: those who are farther along the path than you, those who are journeying beside you, and those who are just starting out. Some of the things that most inspired me and made me think over the past two days were said by folks who are just writing their first book or just contemplating how to build a practice around their ideas.

True mastery means increasing – rather than diminishing – curiosity. I find myself more and more fascinated by the process of clarifying ideas and sharing them in a way that’s compelling and useful. I found myself listening to many different people, to hear how they do it, and whether that works for them.

True mastery means being willing to start over and over again. I discovered, for instance, how little I understand about using Twitter as a means of community-building, business-building and idea-sharing.  I thought I was pretty good with – but no: just scratching the surface.  Damn.  OK – time to go back to “I don’t know that…how does that work?”

And there is joy in all these things.  I have a suspicion that joy arises from freedom. When I let go of thinking I have to be an expert, a grown-up, a teacher, the one-who-knows, and simply share my insight and knowledge as a gift, and then learn more, take in more, from everything and everyone around me – that’s truly joyful.


Dec
26

‘Tis The Season

My husband likes to poke (gentle) fun at my addiction to Christmas movies. During this time of year, every time I start watching another one, he says, “And I bet in this one, everyone will finally discover the true meaning of Christmas.”

I always laugh – and yet that is, of course, the premise of pretty much every Christmas movie ever produced: someone starts out hard-hearted and Grinch-ified, and ends up having discovered that: 1) the most important thing is love, 2) it’s better to give than to receive, and 3) there are people who want to love and support you – if you can accept their help.

The interesting thing is that, generally speaking, those 3 things are true.  And they’re true all the time. It’s just that most people seem to think it’s eye-rollingly, embarassingly sappy to allude to these things except during the last two weeks of December. Somehow, during the Christmas season, we’re willing to put aside our pretensions to world-weary cynicism sufficiently to focus on the power of love, the joy of giving, the satisfaction of recognizing that we are loved – and the gratitude that arises from all these things.

Now, I’m realistic enough to know that millions of people have very mixed feelings about this season, and that for some – especially those in need or who have experienced personal tragedy during the holiday season in years past – those feelings are mixed heavily toward the negative.

But too many people also seem to believe that it’s somehow not cool to be too happy about the Christmas season if others are having a hard time. I’m sorry, but that just seems goofy to me: it’s like saying that you shouldn’t feel grateful for good health because some people are sick; or you shouldn’t love your spouse because some people have bad marriages.

My point of view: revel in the simple love, joy and generosity that abound in this season.  Share your love, your hope and your gifts with those in need and with those you love.  Feel grateful; feel contented; feel loved and loving; feel joyful.

Having a a wonderful holiday season doesn’t hurt anyone; it helps you and those with whom you come in contact.  And perhaps it will even move the world toward more love all year ’round.

With deepest hopes for a deliciously loving, giving and grateful holiday season.

Posted in Community,people

Dec
2

Seeing Selling Differently

courtesy of nostalgiapassages.com

courtesy of nostalgiapassages.com

I’ve always had a pretty good relationship with the idea of selling.  For some reason, even from an early age, I had the idea that sales was simply about finding people who had a real need for what I had to offer. So, for instance, selling Camp Fire Girls candy in grade school held no terrors for me: I’d go around and ask people if they wanted to buy it, and if not, I’d ask the next person.  I figured there was no harm in asking, even if they didn’t want it - and them not wanting it didn’t have anything to do with me; maybe they didn’t like candy, or were on a diet, or had already bought some from somebody else.

And actually, that’s pretty much how I sell today, 50 years later.  I set up a conversation with someone; I listen to find out whether he or she could have a need for something Proteus offers.  If so, I explain the service or product I think they might find useful. I ask if they’re interested in exploring a possible fit between their need and our offer.  If not, I assume it’s because they 1) don’t see the need in the same way I do, or 2) they believe they have a better way of meeting that need that doesn’t involve Proteus.  Next!

I recently read a wonderful little book, Dan Pink’s To Sell Is Human, that pretty much reinforced the positive ideas I’ve had about selling for all these years.

However, it also made it much clearer to me why most people don’t view sales in a positive light – why they have a ‘cringe’ relationship with the idea of selling. Rather than seeing it as a collaborative, mutually beneficial process of finding a fit between need and offer, they see it as manipulative, pushy, inauthentic, slightly sleazy.  Sales, for most people, evokes images of being glad-handed and lied to by some untrustworthy used car salesman in a shiny suit and bad toupee.  No wonder people think they don’t like to sell!

The problem with holding on to that old, outmoded conception of selling is that almost all of us need to be able to sell.  If you define selling, as Pink does, as ‘the art of moving others,’ we’re selling ideas, opinions, and proposed courses of action every day – to our kids, our boss, our spouses, our PTA group, our employees.

And for those of us who are entrepreneurs or freelancers, even more of our time is spent ‘moving others’ to see that fit between our business or ourselves and their need.

So it makes sense to shift our ideas about selling – and that means (you know this is favorite topic of mine) changing our self-talk.  Here’s a quick and simple exercise for doing just that:

1) Ask yourself: What words come to mind when I think of myself as a salesperson?

2) Listen to the response that arises inside your head:

2a) If you find you’re thinking words like helpful, partner, problem-solver, relationship builder, mutual benefit  - congratulations. You have the core mindset of a successful 21st century salesperson.

2b) If your thoughts are running more along the lines of words like rejection, pushiness, annoying, drudgery, scary – I suggest you continue on to step 3.

3) What could you say to yourself differently that’s more positive and hopeful about the idea of you selling – yet still feels true to you?  I asked my husband (whose self-talk about selling is quite negative) and his response was, “I have a great product that some people will find useful. If people don’t want to buy it, it’s no reflection on me.” Great, simple, positive, accurate.

4) Once you’ve come up up with more supportive (yet still believable) self-talk, you’ll need to remind yourself of it whenever your old, unhelpful self-talk muscles its way toward the front of your brain.

Changing your mindset in this way is key to feeling differently and then acting differently about selling. And as selling starts to occupy a new place in your brain and heart, you might feel comfortable enough to explore ways to get better and better at it.

Just in case, here are two articles to support your evolution: The Unexpected Secret to Being a Great Salesperson, a post on my Forbes blog from earlier this year, and Sales Tips: 4Ways to Avoid Cold Calling, a post I wrote for the Salesforce blog.


Aug
22

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.

community12-300x103Social 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.


Jul
31

Why We Hate Strategy

I have to admit, the general attitude toward strategy – as boring, soulless and impractical – is a puzzle to me.  In my work and in my life, I see the real power of operating with a strategic mindset every single day.  And when we teach our framework for thinking and acting strategically, participants report that it provides a great way for them to bring their focus up out of the weeds, and helps them and their teams stay focused on their vision for success, and on how to address the most critical issues confronting them.

But I digress.  Most people would rather do their taxes than think about strategy.  In fact, when I wrote my second book, Being Strategic, a dear friend of mine in the business book world, for whom I have a great deal of respect, told me he thought it wasn’t the right book for me to write. “You’re so warm and personal,” he said, “and you have such a great way of connecting with your readers.  Strategy just doesn’t seem like you: so heady and cold.”  It turned out he hadn’t actually read the book yet.

I believe his assumptions are widespread. So, without further ado, here are my top 5 reasons why people think strategy is boring:

5) No agreement about what strategy is. I have a google alert on the phrase “being strategic.”  It’s astonishing to me how little overlap there is among the various meanings people ascribe to this phrase.  For instance, some people use it to mean “acting only for your own benefit,” while others think it means “staying mono-focused on destroying the competition,” and still others use it as high-falutin’ way of saying “thinking like I do.”  In this welter of conflicting definition, I believe people just think, I don’t know what it means – and I don’t care.

4) As practiced in most organizations, strategy IS boring.  Have you ever sat in a ‘strategy’ meeting at your company?  I bet you have.  Complicated charts, Ben Stein clones droning on about some obscure algorithm having to do with market share as a function of cycle time, blah blah blah.  And then fat binders get created, and sit on shelves, and get pulled out and referenced (maybe) in excruciating detail once a year.  Oh my god, let’s all just shoot ourselves right now.

3) Mind-numbing language. As above.  Somehow, most people think they’re “being strategic,” if they’re saying obscure, intellectual-sounding stuff.  Here’s a quote from Michael Porter, probably the world’s best-known strategy guru: “Strategic positions emerge from three distinct sources, which are not mutually exclusive and often overlap. First, positioning can be based on producing a subset of an industry’s products or services. I call this variety-based positioning because it is based on the choice of product or service varieties rather than customer segments. Variety-based positioning makes economic sense when a company can best produce particular products or services using distinctive sets of activities.” What, now? Oh, wait, I don’t care.

2) Practitioners who want to seem smarter than you.  See the above. The charts and graphs, the language, the lack of clear definition – all support the strategy consultant’s implied contention that strategy is an arcane and complex body of ancient wisdom, able to be understood and practiced only by the anointed few.  Many CEOs are taken in by this and pay kajillions of dollars to be told what to do and why.  Most of us, again, are thinking, Whatever, dude. Can I just do my job now?

And the number 1 reason people think strategy is boring (drum roll):

1) They don’t see the connection to real life.  Because of the way “strategy” is thought of, talked about and practiced in most organizations, it seem entirely disconnected from people’s day-to-day concerns: how to do a good job; how to build positive relationships with those around them; how to get good results; how to have a reasonably good time doing it.  Even those who are passionate about their jobs or about the success of the company simply don’t see how “strategy” – again as generally practiced – is going to help.

It’s a shame really, because there’s actually something extremely valuable hidden in the midst of all this.  And even Michael Porter (who I love to diss) has said wonderfully clear and accurate things about the value of strategy on occasion. My very favorite quote of his is “the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

Because that’s it: strategy is thinking in a focused way about what’s most important and how to get there, and it can give you critical insights as to the things you shouldn’t be doing that won’t get you where you’re trying to go. How about if we define being strategic simply as consistently making the core directional choices that will best move you toward your hoped-for future. In other words, thinking and acting strategically means figuring out the future you want to create for your enterprise; then getting clear about where you are now; then building a path with your colleagues – making core directional choices – for getting there.  And finally, being consistent about walking down that path together.

That doesn’t sound so boring.  That actually sounds reasonable and very useful.  Let’s do that.


Jun
14

Bundles of Pure Potential

Charlie & GrameeMy second grandchild was born last week – Charlotte Autumn Van Carpels.  And when I met her, I was stunned (as I always am by babies, but it’s even more stunning when they’re somehow related to you) by her unsullied beauty and sweetness.  As I held her in my arms, I thought about all the possibilities ahead of her: a hundred years of learning, love, accomplishment, joy and insight.  The future world she’ll both be a citizen of and help to create.

It’s made me reflect on the traditional Christian doctrine of ‘original sin,’ the idea that all humans are born in a state of sinfulness, based on Adam’s fall from grace in Eden. I’ve never been able to understand this; it just doesn’t resonate with my experience of babies and young children. Looking into Charlotte’s gorgeous little face, I could only think: this is innocence and purity. In fact, my main impulse toward her is to do whatever I can to help her maintain some portion of that marvelous simplicity and light intact as she grows.

She seems to me to be a bundle of purest potential: full to bursting with life; her curiosity ready to be engaged; surrounded by a thousand thousand circumstances, objects and people that can ignite the process of her personal evolution.

And I like to think that we are all still that, 10 or 30 or 70 years later: bundles of potential, able to keep reaching new levels of understanding throughout our lives.  I believe we stop ourselves, assuming that we’re too old, too big, too stuck, too tired.

But what if those 2nd century Christians had it exactly backwards: that instead of coming into this world tainted with sin, having to work our way painfully to some state of grace, we arrive in the most complete and lovely state of grace, and have the possibility of staying at least partly in that state while we figure out how to acquire the knowledge, insight, skills, experience and capability to live our best and most satisfying life.

Looking at Charlotte, I believe that’s true.


May
28

Let’s Create An Actual ‘Brave New World’

“O Wonder, How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world that has such people in it!”

-   William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act. V, Sc. I

courtesy of Wikipedia

courtesy of Wikipedia

People have been using this quote for 400 years, mostly ironically (in line with Shakespeare’s original use):  the utterance of a protagonist who misunderstands a new world, thinking it wonderful, when it is in fact dystopic (probably the best-known example being Aldous Huxley’s 1939 novel, Brave New World).

However, I’m proposing today that we can also use it in a completely positive way.  Just last week I had great time doing a podcast with a wonderful guy named Tanveer Naseer.  Tanveer and I started following each other last summer on Twitter. Then he responded to a query from our publicist Kaila (all via email) and indicated that he’d like to interview me for his podcast show, Leadership Biz Cafe. Tanveer and I did our interview on Skype, and now it’s available on his site.

OK, so think about this.  Tanveer  lives in Montreal, and I live primarily in New York City. We have (as far as I know) no intersections of school, family or friends. Without current digital technology, we never would have run into each other. And now (I’m sure) we’re permanently connected, and will support each other’s work and success in whatever ways we can.

And you – who may never have met either Tanveer or me, and perhaps never will – can benefit from our interaction as well, where ever you are. If you hear something that resonates for you in our conversation, you can use it for your own benefit, and pass it along to whomever you wish. A truly brave new world, indeed.

I know technology can do all kinds of bad stuff, and that Huxley-esque aspects exist in this “brave new world” of ours.  But we can also use all of these new capabilities that exist to learn, to create connections, to innovate, to grow.

Let’s do that.


May
8

Words Are Weird – You Need a Compass

Some of you may not know that I write a bi-monthly email called the “Insider List,” and send it to everyone who has opted to receive it (you can do that here on the site, if you’re interested). Last time I wrote about the slipperiness of language – and how that slipperiness makes listening even more important. The example I used was the word/phrase “mayday” or “May Day,” which can either mean a happy spring holiday or a call for help.

In response, one of my “Insiders,” a friend and colleague named Todd Sattersten, sent me an email letting me know that there’s a word for words that have two opposite meanings: they’re called contronyms. Here are a few great examples (some of them from Todd):

sanction - ‘a penalty’ or ‘official permission or approval’

fine – ‘the state of being good’ or ‘a penalty for doing something bad’

shop – ‘buy’ or ‘attempt to sell’

custom – ‘special’ or ‘usual’

bolt – ‘secure’ or ‘run away’

dust – ‘add fine particles’ or ‘remove fine particles’

strike – ‘hit’ or ‘miss (a ball)’

buckle – ‘fasten together’ or ‘break under stress’

I love such quirky, illogical, counter-intuitive, imprecise aspects of language: I get a big kick out of the fact that such words exist, and that we’ve created a word for them.

And the fact that language is often like this is one of the main reasons listening well is so important. Contronyms are simply an extreme example of the potential for misunderstanding inherent in any conversation. It’s so easy to assume you understand what someone is saying…and miss what they’re actually saying.

If, instead, we were to approach every conversation assuming we really don’t know what the person is thinking or what they intend, and then get very curious about finding that out – I’m convinced about 90% of our misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and mis-matched expectations would simply evaporate.

Contronyms (and other slippery words) would lose their power to confuse – and speaking would become a bridge to understanding rather than a barrier.

What do you think?