Coping in the economy

February 21, 2009 5:02:56 AM PST
Immobilized, fearful and uncertain are just some of the terms Americans are using to describe their future during this poor economic time. Anthropologist Andrea Simon joined us with some tips to change your mind set. 1. These are very confusing and unstable times, how might an anthropologist shed some different perspective on what is happening today and perhaps provide some guidance to help people deal with this crisis?
Anthropologists are social scientists who study culture and society-- people's values, beliefs and behavior-- through systematic observation which is called ethnographic research. Many larger companies have anthropologists on staff. We work with businesses that want to or must change and now we are finding ourselves coaching people who must change because their business has disappeared or they jobs are gone.
Anthropology is heavily dependent on observation. We often spend "a day in the life of a client" or use cameras and other tools in such a way that we can better "see, feel and think" what people actually do---less what they say and more what they mean.
Not much time to do research today as things are changing so fast, but we are watching as so many companies and people are trying to figure out what is happening to them and how to respond. They know they need to adapt to the changes taking place around them?but there is a lot of confusion about what and how. My clients see something happening but much is obscure, ambiguous and simply a bit scary.
Feels like that deer in the headlights--immobilized.

2.What do you see happening as people and businesses try to cope? What we see of course is that we are facing a Structural Break--
? Time when the trends and patterns from the past are not good at helping you plan on the future.
? Unlikely that the full-steam re-expansion of the financial services industry or a turnaround in housing is going to happen soon.
? Deep down we know that the future is going to be different than the past. But we are not sure how-- much less how it is going to impact me.
? Old sources of competitive advantage are shifting and new sources are appearing.
? We are afraid that upstarts might leap ahead. We don't want to be left behind.
? Old patterns vanish and new ones emerge.
? "More of the same" doesn't work. But what does?
How to cope? The trick is to find a way to get past old assumptions and certainties. Now is the time to begin to "see, feel and think" differently about what you do and who you are. Reinvent yourself before you have to. Key is how to adapt to very fast transformations. How to re-invent yourself? Or your business?

3. How do we deal with this uncertainty and change?
While our President won this election in part because of this urgent need to change, few people really are prepared to change. And to exactly what?
Our brains hate change and it hurts. Ambiguity feels dangerous.
All those norms and values, beliefs and behavior reinforce the life style you lived all along?changing those is not going to be easy. This is all about some very human, basic social processes. You are going to feel awfully incompetent.
And for businesses, few have management that has studied, practiced or are even comfortable with how to reinvent their business for new economic times. And many are not even sure what that "new times" mean. Will the changes be better than hanging in there with what they know from before?
So this ambiguity is very stressful.

4. With the stimulus package opening up new opportunities, jobs, investment, new industries, what should people do to take advantage of those 3 million job possibilities that are begin discussed. And how do businesses capitalize on the opportunities?
As we look ahead, here are some of the things we counsel our clients on and research has shown can be of help and they are as applicable to someone running a business as to someone who has lost their job:
1. You are not what you do or did.
a. You think you are what you do or your did---you are a printer or a writer or a marketer or a manager.
b. And you might have been deeply connected to your place of business. You were the PR guy at Bank xyz. You were a very successful executive at company ___. Or you work for years at that great manufacturer that is no longer in business.
c. Hard to separate out the two. But now you have to.
d. Change requires you to separate what you do from who you are?and that means rewriting the script -- You use to be Hamlet and now you are Macbeth. But you don't quite know how to play the role.
e. But you can play a new role. You did the other one so well. You have talent. Open yourself to new opportunities
f. And try to look at your business and your job as much richer. With lots of dimension to it.
g. If you believe you can, you can reinvent yourself to capitalize on the new jobs and industries that the stimulus bill is attempting to develop. Using your talent in new ways.
h. So you need to start building that new story.
2. Change is literally pain.
a. We are learning that from the neurosciences. That working memory is high energy and would rather let old habits and hardwiring keep you where you were.
b. The brain would rather not change
c. So, in this time of change, you have to force yourself to turn this into something positive, quiet your mind. Let it learn new things.
d. Or, your brain is going to fight the changes you are going through.
3. Must go Exploring
a. You cannot "see, fee and think" about new opportunities by imagining them.
b. Can't ask people---they will tell you "more of the same"
c. You have to get out and start to look at possibilities in new ways.
d. From inside the office or your home, you can only imagine your options.
4. Deal with Group Think ?
a. We are part of a community, a culture, and we share common beliefs, values and behavior. That group-think sustained you before. Everyone knew their daily routines, their place at the plant, their roles and relationships.
b. That is both the nature of being a human being and a real problem when things are changing.
c. So, surround yourself with the right colleagues. People in different stages of change can inspire you or bring you down. Find the right friends for this trying time.

5. Avoid the Paradox of Choice?try to avoid that awful feeling of not being able to make a choice because you aren't sure if a particular one is better than another that might come tomorrow. So you don' make any. You might have to move ahead in slow motion testing options and learning along the way.

6. Simple tool is to start to say "Yes and?" instead of "No, but?." Changes the way your mind accepts new possibilities.
Remember, Darwin might have said that--
a. "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change."

We are going to have to enjoy the journey.