Issue # 10 - Effects of Downturn

In this issue, you will find:

1. A discussion of the effects of a downturn and what we can do to ride out the storm

2. A summary of the book Taking Charge When You're Not in Control: A Practical Approach to Getting What You Want Out of Life by Patricia Wiklund, Ph.D.

3. Pointers to additional information on this topic



"If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust when all men doubt you,
But make allowances for their doubting too…"

When I was in junior high school, we memorized Kipling's poem, "If." Some of the lines have stayed with me all these years, and they seem particularly apt in times like these.

Here in Silicon Valley, at "the epicenter of innovation" according to a recent newspaper article, the bottom has fallen out. Overnight, literally. Not just at the dot.coms, but everywhere. Companies that were on the steepest growth ramps ever have suddenly found themselves with dramatically reduced demand, excess inventories, and too much capacity. Shortages of qualified workers have quickly given way to RIFs, VSPs, and unemployment. Companies who thought themselves to be immune from the effects of carnage discovered that they were not protected. There are also unobtrusive measures about the state of things: less traffic and faster commutes, less heft to the local paper as advertising drops off, and the list of weekend real estate Open Houses is way longer. Business, like everything else, is cyclical, so that part's not new. And what we now recognize about this round that's different is the speed with which it hit and the extent to which it was unanticipated.

However, we, like others, have wondered about the extent to which the downturn and its effects have been exacerbated by the media. How it's been endlessly obsessed over, hyped, speculated about. How it's been the hottest item about which to create "news" which is then broadcast through every channel, until we believe that it must be true, even if our own experience runs counter. If you studied contagion theory in school (and if you took Freshman Psych, then you did), you know that our beliefs about and then our behaviors in response to mass events are heavily influenced by the messages that we receive, especially from mass communications sources that we're exposed to over and over. These messages also have an emotional aspect, so that we don't get just content but affect-instructions, both subtle and overt, for how to feel about the message and how to react. This effect is well researched and documented and applies to how products and ideas as well as messages and behaviors spread, resulting in social change. Seemingly innocuous shifts like fashion trends occur this way; so do much more disturbing and deliberate ones, like the rise of fascism prior to and during the Second World War. Like viruses, they are epidemics-phenomenon that are programmed to self-propagate and spread, the effects and speed of which are heightened by inducing or encouraging evangelism.

So in times like these, it's easy to lose your head rather than keeping it and to get increasingly caught up in the emotion and the speculation which, of course, contributes to the contagion. This happens in subtle ways, gradually, often without our being aware of it. And then one day, we have bought into a reality that's characterized by fear and cynicism; we feel more and more out of control, more like victims.

What are our alternatives? Much has been written about things that businesses can do to weather the downturn storm and emerge with resilience. But what about individuals?

Here are three things to consider, things you can do that will enable you to be more centered, more clear, and more likely to be satisfied with yourself and your life-regardless of what's going on around you:

  • Be aware of and stay focused on what matters most to you. This requires that you know what your values are, what your personal life purpose or mission is, and where "there" is for you. During difficult times, it may not be possible to make as much progress as you'd like, but it is nonetheless important that you not lose sight of your larger and overriding life goals.

  • Pay attention to your beliefs. A belief is a statement of that in which we have trust or confidence, and our beliefs are life shaping. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that what we believe is what gets manifested in our lives. (Just because this may sound "New Age-y" doesn't mean it isn't true.) So if you're believing that things will get worse-or better-in your life, you are right.

  • Watch your attitude-it's contagious. Attitude is a mental position about a situation or experience, how you think or feel about the events in your life that then gets expressed-directly or indirectly, and often unconsciously. Events and experiences are, in fact, neutral, and we assign valence or meaning to them. We can internalize and accept someone else's construction of meaning, or we can choose how we think and feel, which in turn affects how we behave. How we think and feel also effects and influences others: what kind of impact do you want to have?

What these three things have in common is that we have control over them-they are perhaps the only things that are completely within our control. Together, they are our anchors, our grounding, that which gives meaning and purpose to our lives. In his classic study of Holocaust survivors (including himself), Man's Search for Meaning, Vicktor Frankl found that those who survived were more likely to have had a clear sense of life purpose and meaning. So we know that these small but important awarenesses can make an enormous difference in the very worst of times, and they can make a significant difference in how we view and react to the times we are currently experiencing.


2. Taking Charge When You're Not in Control: A Practical Approach to Getting What You Want Out of Life by Patricia Wiklund, Ph.D. (Ballantine Books, 2000)

In these times of uncertain business environments and economic downturns, Patricia Wiklund's Taking Charge When You're Not In Control is a "must read."

Wiklund introduces us to the concept of Imposed Change: life-changing events we can't predict, didn't cause, don't want, and can't avoid. Many of us believe that if we just work harder, longer, differently, or more diligently, we can control any situation. Wiklund tells us that this is simply not possible with imposed change. Control in these cases is a myth. However, although we cannot take control, we certainly can take charge. Taking charge means doing what you can do rather than waiting for the situation to change, an other person to act, or a white knight to come and rescue you. Doing what you can do means finding the options that are available and then making choices about those options.

Particularly valuable are chapters 8 - Tell Yourself the Truth; 11 - Consider Yourself Empowered; and 15 - So Don't Just Sit There, Do It!

Once we start telling ourselves the truth about any given situation, we have to deal with what is and what is not, rather than what should be. Wiklund says that as we continue to tell ourselves the truth and take charge of events, we'll move from denial to detachment. Detachment lets us move painful, uncomfortable, and/or unpleasant experiences away from the main focus of our lives. We acknowledge what has happened, without the emotional charge that denial holds. Once we are a bit detached from the situation, we can start using our critical thinking skills to help us take charge.

Empowerment has been embraced as a management concept, almost a sacred business model du jour. Yet empowerment--having confidence in your competence--has an incredible impact on your ability to take charge when you're not in control. If you can acknowledge your accomplishments, accept appreciation graciously, and use failures for their lessons, you are well on your way to having confidence in your competence. Wiklund also reminds us that choosing to take action can be empowering, almost regardless of what you do.

Just doing what needs to be done is the final step in taking charge of a situation we can't control. But it isn't a quick step. It involves finding your purpose, setting effective goals, scheduling for results, and linking your purpose to your daily behavior.

What makes this book so useful is that Wiklund provides clear examples and case studies for every concept she introduces. At the end of every chapter, there are a series of exercises that show how to integrate these concepts into our daily lives. This book serves as a practical guide to defining and achieving success in today's ever-changing economy and business environment.


3. Websites and Other Resources we've found about this topic include:

The Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara offers several innovative programs that focus on and integrate life purpose, beliefs, values, and goals, including one called Life Launch.

NTL Institute for Applied Behavioral Science offers a program called Acting with Deeper Meaning in Life/Work that addresses these issues and topics, as well as others that deal with personal and professional development.

If you're interested in a local view of what's going on at the "epicenter of innovation," where high-tech news is the local news, check out the San Jose Mercury News Business section (beware of contagion J) or (Added bonus: you can create your own customized comics page-and the daily strips are in color!!)


Frankl, Viktor. Man's search for meaning. (1998). Washington Square Press.

Bridges, William. The way of transition: Embracing life's most difficult moments. (2000). Perseus Books.

You've probably read one of Bill Bridges' other now classic books on transitions. This is his newest one.

Johnson, Spencer. Who moved my cheese?: An amazing way to deal with change in your work and in your life. (1998). New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.

Bolles, Richard N. (1991). How to find your mission in life. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press. By the author of What color is your parachute?, this book is a reprint of an Appendix from the Parachute series. (Note: the author has and represents a strong Christian bias in this book; however, his process is nonetheless reliable.)

Gladwell, Malcolm. (2000). The Tipping Point: How little things can make a big difference. Little Brown & Co. This is an interesting and informative work on the dynamics of effects of contagion.



Home About Us Services Clients Publications Contact Us

© 2001, Brenowitz Consulting. All Rights Reserved