BOOK REVIEW: 4 steps to develop compassion like the Dalai Lama

Compassion is a critical element of emotional intelligence which is considered one of the key skills for now and even more important for the future. Daniel Goleman – the father of emotional intelligence – wrote a very interesting book A Force for Good which looks at the Dalai Lama’s vision for a better and more compassionate world. I chose 4 steps from the book which can help anyone develop compassion like the Dalai Lama.

Every day at 5.30 a.m., the Dalai Lama wakes up bright and early to listen to the BBC news while he eats his breakfast. Through this daily ritual, he’s come upon a great revelation.

Listening to the news reveals how full of violence, cruelty and tragedy our world really is. But why? The Dalai Lama believes it actually comes down to one single deficiency: a lack of compassionate moral responsibility.

Seems quite grim, doesn’t it? But look at this way: if humans have the power to wreak so much damage and destruction, then we might also have the power to exert an equivalent positive impact. This is what the Dalai Lama calls a force for good.

A force for good begins with individuals, and from within them. By creating an inner shift that diminishes our negative emotions and strengthens our capacity to act morally, we become better able to overcome impulsive reactions such as rage, frustration and hopelessness. This shift will also see us become more compassionate to those around us, and to our shared planet.

STEP # 1: Reflect on your emotional responses to make better decisions

Even the Dalai Lama had a short temper. Of course, he learned to master his emotions, and he did so with a few techniques that are simpler than you’d expect. One important technique entails taking a step back when tempted to act on your feelings and considering the consequences of your choices. In March 2008, the Chinese army shot at demonstrators and arrested many Tibetan protesters, particularly monks, during a series of protests in Lhasa and other cities. How did the Dalai Lama react? Of course, hearing such news would have filled him with rage. Nevertheless, the Dalai Lama chose to stay calm. He visualized the Chinese officials and replaced their negative feelings with his love, compassion and forgiveness. Having reasoned that the consequence of acting out of anger would only be further damage, he chose instead to control his feelings.

But remember: controlling your feelings is not the same as suppressing them altogether. Bottling up negative emotions can lead to outbursts that are impossible to control. When dealing with powerful emotions, it’s best to stay mindful.

We’re better off recognizing negative emotions when we experience them, and asking whether the emotions we feel are in proportion to the situation or whether they’re familiar. By understanding our negative emotions, we’re better equipped to channel them into positive actions.

STEP # 2: Connect to our biological predisposition to seek comfort in affection, compassion and a sense of belonging within a group

Compassion and awareness go hand in hand. Now that we’ve taken a closer look at emotional awareness, it’s time to delve into compassion, starting with where the notion comes from in the first place. In the Dalai Lama’s view of the concept, compassion is deep in our nature and does not come from religion. In fact, it is rooted in our biological makeup. Parents’ instinctive care for their young, who would otherwise die, is one sign of a biological predisposition for caring and compassion. Moreover, our bodies have built-in needs for positive emotions such as love, joy and playfulness. These experiences help to boost our immune strength and lower the risk of heart disease. But above all, we’re psychologically predisposed to seek comfort in affection, compassion and a sense of belonging within a group. Compassion puts our attention on something bigger than our petty concerns. This larger goal energizes us in turn.

STEP # 3: Make positive statements and build individual friendships as they are powerful solutions for conflict

Even the Dalai Lama concedes that humans will always create conflict – clashes of ideas are only natural. In order to cope with such clashes, good communication and mutual understanding are vital. In fact, it’s easier to create a healthy dialogue than you think. There are a handful of basic moves that you can turn to during a confrontation with another. The first is as simple as saying something positive about the other person and something positive about yourself.

That’s exactly what philosopher A. J. Ayer did in 1987 at a high-society party in New York. Notified that somebody was being assaulted, Ayer rushed to the scene to find Mike Tyson forcing himself on then-unknown Naomi Campbell.

Ayer insisted that Tyson stop, to which Tyson asked him, “Don’t you know who the (expletive) I am? I’m Mike Tyson, heavyweight champion of the world.” Ayer replied, “And I am the former Wykeham Professor of Logic. We are both preeminent men in our field; I suggest we talk about this like rational men.” While they talked, Campbell slipped safely out of the room.

In this situation, Ayer demonstrated commendable emotional intelligence. By saying something positive about Tyson and about himself, he established the foundation for an open dialogue on a level playing field.

But what if you’re facing a conflict that’s been around for months, years, even centuries? The solution is simple: friendship between individuals. To prove that this approach really works, social psychologist Thomas Pettigrew tracked down more than 500 studies from more than 38 countries, with responses from a quarter of a million people. He found that time and time again, an emotional involvement with someone from an opposing group, be it a friendship or a romance, was enough to overcome prejudice.

STEP # 4: Work with your children to concentrate, regulate and reflect on their thoughts

What parent doesn’t want their kid to get good grades? Although it seems healthy to encourage children to pursue academic success, it can lead to immense pressure and emotional damage. In a world where academic achievement is everything, the Dalai Lama believes that modern schooling needs a reform that prioritizes the heart. One way to educate the heart is through mind training. Mind training is not the same as learning facts, figures and historical dates. Rather, training the mind centers on improving a student’s ability to concentrate, regulate and reflect on their thoughts. Simran Deol, an eleventh-grader, sat with her eyes fixed on a dot in front of her while wearing a helmet that measured her concentration levels. Her concentration soon began to waver, so the Dalai Lama reminded Simran that, when training our mind, it’s useful to make a distinction between the mental and sensory levels of thought. As Simran observed the dot, her mind was focused on it on the sensory level. But this focus was hindered by other sounds and sensations. In order to sharpen her focus, Simran began to concentrate on the dot within the mental plane as well; this meant holding the image in her mind’s eye.

Her concentration made a striking improvement, demonstrating the power of a rather simple, but very useful technique. Just think of all the times when you know you could have made a better choice if you had just been more concentrated on the task at hand! Today’s children are tomorrow’s leaders, so we should equip them with what they really need: powerful, reliable ethics and the capacity for living by compassionate values. Using mind training exercises like the one performed by Simran, the Dalai Lama’s proposed education of the heart covers the basics of how the mind works: the dynamics of our emotions; skills for healthy regulation of emotional impulse; the cultivation of attention, empathy and caring; learning to handle conflicts nonviolently; and, above all, a sense of oneness with humanity.

Silvia Lepiarczyk: One Woman, Thousand Opportunities

Imagine that you run your first business at the age of 18. At the age of 32, as a young blonde woman, you become CEO of Autohaus Verlag, the biggest publisher for the automotive industry in Germany. By the age of 40, you achieve the position of CEO for Central and Eastern Europe at Ringier publishing, being responsible for 96 magazines in seven countries, a dream position at the corporate level for many.  You remember the promise you made to yourself and to your friends and decide to leave the corporate world by the age of 40. After a sabbatical, you use this new beginning to follow your dreams and you return to university studies. In addition to running a consulting business, which might not be a surprising career trajectory, you pursue your passion and support new start up projects, in the emerging field which combines Artificial Intelligence and Alzheimer disease. She has chosen Prague as her hometown, however, she could rank herself to the millennial generation, as her businesses are connected to both Berlin and Vienna.

Meeting with Silvia Lepiarczyk was like meeting a kindred soul. It was one of those meetings that based on facts, you have known the person for less than an hour but based on feelings, you have known someone in another lifetime.

Despite the geographical distance, as she was born in “the West”, and I was from the “East”, we both experienced being exposed to leadership positions at quite a young age, in an industry not traditionally associated with women. We both gave up corporate careers to pursue our dreams and we both are passionate about new forms in learning and development. As a social cause, we both strongly care about Alzheimer disease and I was glad to connect Silvia to the Seňorina center, the leading care institution for Alzheimer in Prague.

Silvia started her introduction by saying that she was born in the last millennium which defines her to a great extent. Despite her interest in artificial intelligence, big data and technology, she was truly pleased to receive a hard copy of our magazine, as she claims she loves to touch and experience “the real stuff”, not the virtual ones. The second thing she mentioned, was the value of hard work and physical work, which she learned to appreciate during her childhood, being born in the industrial Essen area and her ancestors being coal miners.   

Source: Czech&Slovak Leaders

Silvia, your career seems to be proof that the German “dual education system”, combining apprenticeship and formal education is working. In your case, you got your first job in management at the age of 18 while studying a university degree in psychology.  

My father died when I was young. Luckily, I was able to receive some funding from the owners of the dancing school I attended. As a high school student, I tried to reciprocate, and I was giving dancing lessons. Suddenly, the owner of the school fell very sick and she asked me to take care of the place. Simultaneously, I managed to graduate from the high school and to enter the university to study psychology. However, being connected to the business, I was not interested in becoming a therapist, instead I was interested in applied psychology, particularly diagnostics and creating a suitable working environment. As to my first real job after the university, I became a headhunter for a prestigious company in Cologne and for two years I specialized in the areas of banking and science. I was 23 years old, and I found myself facing men two times older than me and asking them challenging questions while doing diagnostics or career advising.

Year 1989 marked the history. I was living the Velvet Revolution, Germany celebrated the fall of the Wall and on a personal level, that is when your career in publishing and media started.

I was 25 when I got the offer to join the Bertelsmann international media enterprise in Munich, joining the HR department and being responsible for its development. I truly loved the job and, at that time, Bertelsmann already had quite an elaborate system of educating and training young talents. I also had a great mentor who helped me a great deal. As the company was acquiring another publishing house in the USA, I was sent to New York to oversee the acquisition from the company culture point of view. You can imagine the clash of a small-town Germany culture of acquiring firm versus the New York style culture of the company to be acquired. So, I found myself living in New York at the age of 27 and, needless to say, I enjoyed it.

The following promotion led to the HR Director of Bertelsmann with the responsibility for professional magazines.

What was it like to be the HR Director under 30? I became the acting director of the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the age of 27 and I remember how many times I was asked to take the minutes, to prepare a coffee or to wait for a “male director”.

At Bertelsmann, we were all quite young and we were given the responsibilities but also the trust and freedom. At first, I oversaw HR, but later I had to restructure the whole company and downsize the staff, including firing people, by no means an easy task in Germany. Apart from HR, I was also in charge of operations, overseeing the internal infrastructure as well as the construction of the new premises. In addition to HR disciplines, I was again challenged to get closer to business, to negotiate with third parties and so on. I proved my management skills and another acquisition came. I was asked whether I would like to be the CEO of this company.

Let me guess…Was it Autohaus Verlag? 32, blonde and in charge of car publishing magazines.

Luckily, my psychology background has helped me to deal with this challenge. I was responsible not only for the magazines, but also for a training academy and a printing company. I learned everything about traditional publishing from beginning to end, with some on-line content slowly emerging. Just to remind you, we are talking about 1994 with heavy Nokia communicators. As the publishing house was expanding, the company became international as well as the nature of my job, we had branches in most countries of the Western Europe, but all that travelling happened while enjoying my life style in the gorgeous town of Munich.

Now, I am expecting the shift that brought you “Eastward”.   

Some juicy stories are coming. My partner and I separated, my former boss also left, and he started to work for Ringier. I was in Munich alone, not enjoying being by myself anymore. I got the offer to come to Prague. I did not speak Czech, I was still rather young, and I knew it was going to be another big challenge. I had nine months leaving period from Bertelsmann, as they were not willing to let me go. This time, it played to my cards. The first position I was offered was the publisher of the magazines. During the nine months, the former CEO left and so eventually I became the CEO of Ringier, Czech Republic, with the responsibility for 1200 people, combined business of both magazines and newspapers (Týdeník televize, ABC and Blesk to name the most prominent), all this in a foreign country still having the former eastern bloc mentality. In 1997, people were still not leaving toilet paper in the company restrooms as it was stolen, most staff were wearing funny slippers and everyone was working from 6 am until 2 pm and then leaving sharply. I restructured the whole company and made many changes regarding the company culture. I remember constantly reminding most of the staff that the salary is not paid for one’s coming to the office but for getting the work done. I was working from 7 am until 10 pm every day. Slowly but surely, I gained the confidence of Czech people, as they saw my ability to make decisions, bring changes and get the results.  Nevertheless, I did not get the best publicity from our competitors, calling me “German cruel lady not having a pity on people”, which was not true. Most people who left did so with relevant packages at the time of almost zero unemployment and they thanked me.

I am proud that with the help of my team, we became the no. 1 on the market, Blesk circulation at that time was 700 000 copies per day. We sold Lidové Noviny. At the verge of the millennium, I also became responsible for Slovakia.

Then you got the promotion to the regional role in Zurich, Switzerland. In many cases, this is the decisive factor, as the nature of the work changes completely and not everyone enjoys the shift.

As I enjoyed living in Prague, I accepted the offer based on the condition that I will fly to Switzerland. But as to the nature of the job, in my country role, I was used to the freedom and ability to make decisions. In Switzerland, at headquarters, everybody was telling me what to do. The first day I was asked, are you the trainee coming from Slovakia? My reply was: No, I am your boss. Being a female manager in the Czech Republic even not speaking the language was much easier that being a female manager in Switzerland. After I had the job for nine months I was considering leaving, because I was not happy, another shift came. I was appointed the CEO of Ringier CEE. I was not sure about accepting the position, but my colleagues also supported me to get this role as they knew me, and they preferred to work with me than with someone coming from outside. I had the position for five years, sometimes being on the airplane three times per day. I was travelling not only to get the staff, the partners but also the competitors and last but not least, the politicians.

Being a journalist myself, I will not press you to reveal sources or details. But how was the relationship between you, representing the media and the politicians, often resisting them?

One politician stood out from the crowd and I admired him. Václav Havel.  As to the rest, I had no illusions, so I could not be disappointed and there were no pleasant surprises either. Unfortunately, I faced one of the most difficult personal and professional decisions, in an issue related to Václav Havel. The tabloid Blesk got the story of a scandal around Dagmar Havlová. To publish it or not to publish it? Well, for the type of the magazine, it was a good story and it was true. I gave permission to publish it, with a special edition on Sunday. Dagmar Havlová then invited me for a cup of tea, accusing me of being a horrible person. I tried to explain to her what I have done many times to others: it was not the press that created the problems, at least at that time, it was the improper behavior that got exposed and subsequently caused the problems.

It seems that you have seen it and you have lived it all, at least with regards to the publishing business. What made you to leave it?

At the age of 35, I made a promise with a group of friends to retire by the age of 40 to pursue our dreams. When the time was coming, I was 43 and I told the owner of Ringier that it was my dream. He tried to stop me, he offered so many incentives to keep me. I made a deal.  If the company would reach 25 % ROI, I would leave for a one-year sabbatical. I surpassed the figure and my boss kept the promise. In 2007, I went to Myanmar for one month. It is a beautiful country, I was alone with a local guide and as there was no phone connection, only land faxes between the hotels, I truly could disconnect. This was important not only for me but also for my team members, as they truly had to realize I left and they had new leadership.

After one-year sabbatical, they tried to lure me back to work, but I declined. I enjoyed slower travelling, being able to stay at one place for several weeks. I went to see my friends and I was so glad to be able to keep so many relationships. I also wanted to support social causes, so I joined the CARE supervisory board. During my second-year sabbatical, I started to invest in start-up companies, on-line businesses etc. I also met my current partner, the perfect match for me, as it was impossible for me to have a relationship while working for Ringier. I accompanied my partner to Vienna and we lived there for three years. I was working for CARE and travelling to Uganda, Burundi, Zambia, Ethiopia, Nepal, India and other places.

Silvia, your life story could easily become a book. However, I have the feeling that the next chapter brings it full circle.

My partner also quit his job and spent three months in Berlin. We became familiar with the start-up scenes, particularly with the artificial intelligence (AI). Now, I am interested in solutions that AI can provide for Alzheimer and dementia related diseases. I hope that dialogue toys and other IT solutions will be providing stimulus for the patients and at the same time relief to the families. I am looking forward to collaborating with interested institutions and companies. Finally, I can truly pursue my mission by bringing all my life experience as well as my expertise from university studies together. I am excited about it.

Published in: Czech & Slovak Leaders magazine.

BOOK REVIEW: 6 steps to improve your focus

Have you wondered how can you live a FOCUSED life with all the distractions we are having from technology to even our own thoughts? Focus is key in Education and Leadership. I have been researching this topic and got inspired especially by the book FOCUS by Daniel Goleman, father of emotional intelligence. I put together these 6 steps to improve your focus.

Unsplash.com, Romain Vignes

#1 Strengthen your selective attention by using more your top-down mind

We live in distracting times. The constant urge to respond to the overwhelming amount of information and stimuli in our environment leads us to a state of continuous partial attention in which we leap carelessly from one thing to another, from our phones to our email to Facebook and in doing so weaken our ability to select what we pay attention to.

However, it is possible for us to focus, even when we’re surrounded by activity and stimuli. What we need is strong selective attention. Choosing to pay attention to one thing rather than another involves a push-pull process between the bottom-up and top-down minds. The bottom-up mind, responsible for our automatic and routine mental activity, is very fast, driven by our emotions, and impulsive. In contrast, the top-down mind, in charge of planning, reflection and learning new skills, is slower and requires voluntary attention and self-control.

#2 Allow time for rest and mind-wandering

It might not always be valuable to have a narrow focus or a goal-oriented type of attention. Sometimes it can be more effective to maintain an open awareness or mind-wandering. This is because allowing our minds to wander provides fertile ground for serendipitous insights. It’s certainly a luxury to find a moment in the day when we’re alone and able to slow down and reflect. Yet such moments are extremely valuable, as they allow us to improve at tasks which depend on experiencing flashes of insight, like those which require quick, imaginative wordplay, or inventive and original thinking.

Like a muscle, focused attention requires rest. While it’s true that we have to exercise our focus to keep it “healthy,” tightly focused attention inevitably becomes fatigued after a while. It’s easy to notice when this happens: you’ll find yourself staring at the words on the page, unable to make sense of something that should be simple, or you’ll notice that your mind keeps slipping from the task at hand. When this happens, it’s a clear sign that you need to give your focus a break. The most effective way to restore your attention is to switch from top-down to bottom-up control. In other words, allow your mind to wander and to make whatever associations it makes. After a while, it will become clear that you’re ready to return to top-down mode, and you’ll do so feeling refreshed and clear-headed.

#3 Focus on improving your willpower – it’s one of the key factors in achieving “inner focus”

Accomplishing goals requires strong focus, motivation and determination – all qualities that constitute strong willpower. And the more challenging the goal, the more willpower we require. But self-control and willpower aren’t necessarily qualities you’re born with. They have to be developed throughout our childhood and even in adulthood. The most effective way to develop stronger willpower is to do what you love.

#4 Focus on building your empathy – it will help you navigate within any social context

In order to have fulfilling interactions with others, we need to be empathetic, and empathy takes two main forms: cognitive empathy and emotional empathy. Cognitive empathy is the kind that enables us to see the world through the eyes of others. It can help us to comprehend other people’s mental states and the ways in which they understand the world. However, while this empathy allows us to observe, for example, that someone is sad – say, if their loved one had died – it doesn’t allow us to feel what they feel. Emotional empathy, on the other hand, does enable us to feel what others are feeling. Moreover, this is actually a physical phenomenon, as we sense other people’s emotions within our own bodies.

#5 Create focused and clear visions to direct the attention of a collective, whether a team or an organization

When it comes to leading a successful organization, focus is crucial. The ability to move an organization’s focus to the right place at the right time depends on the leader’s level of self-awareness. One reason that focus is crucial to being an effective leader is that the more focused and clear a leader’s vision is, the more likely they are to convince others to believe in and work toward it. A great vision is central to any strong business plan, but bringing such a vision to reality requires a brilliant leader who is able to communicate it clearly to others and convince them it’s a worthwhile cause.

#6 Meditate as it will help you focus on one thing and keep track of your attention span

Attention is not an innate gift that you do or do not have. Rather, it’s a kind of mental muscle – one that you can strengthen and grow by exercise. One way to do this is to learn to be aware of when your mind starts to wander and correct this by refocusing your attention on a given target. Training awareness in this way is the essence of one-pointed focus meditation, which involves focusing completely on one thing, such as your breathing. As you do this, you’ll notice that after a while your mind will probably begin to wander. But that’s OK. The main thing is that you’re aware of the wandering and that you refocus your attention onto your breath and keep it there. When you inevitably lose focus again, simply repeat the process. As with weight training, the more repetitions you perform, the more powerful the muscle gets. The key to training your attention is being able to maintain an awareness of your own mental processes – like noticing when your mind starts to drift away from the object of focus. This is called meta-awareness. This kind of meditation can greatly enhance your ability to disengage your focus from one thing and shift it onto another.

Šárka Kulkusová: “An opportunity to deal with matters conceptually”

This issue, I have decided to take the interview with “doctors” section not from the perspective of a doctor, but rather of those who play a large part in hospital operations. Šárka Kulkusová’s story, however, has given me plot twists and surprises at a number of levels. Meet a lady whose mission is to connect and communicate knowledge, and through sharing and teamwork move things forward. She has held numerous management positions within pharmaceutical and medical device companies for over 15 years. She studied Healthcare Management at the Advance Institute. She ended her career in a regional role, but at that time she was already battling burnout syndrome. Once she discovered that a career within corporations did not fulfil her, she swapped corporations in the capital city for working where she lives and in a sector which is currently fulfilling her. For a year now, instead of selling medical devices she has been dealing with all strategic purchases for the hospital where she works. She has time and energy to spend on her family life and five-year old daughter. She is continuing her studies too, taking a course in Authentic Leadership. The history of Rudolf and Stefanie Hospital in Benešov goes back to 1898. At the beginning of the 20th century, the hospital operated a unique tuberculosis ward in Benešov, one of a small number in Austria-Hungary, and another important milestone in the hospital’s history is the boom in laparoscopy during the 1980s when the hospital was at the cutting edge of the field. While in the past patients insisted on seeing experts in Prague, today in contrast many Prague residents travel for treatment outside the city. The benefits include shorter appointment and waiting times, a personal approach and a more intimate, almost family environment with care at least comparable to university hospitals.

zdroj: Czech&Slovak Leaders

A year ago, you swapped a corporate environment for the public sector, while remaining within the healthcare sector. How did you perceive this change?

Healthcare is a constant presence throughout my whole career, and I am very pleased I took the opportunity to stay in the field. The leap from one of the largest healthcare corporations in the world to the public sector was a big one. At the very beginning, it felt like it was a completely different world, but with each new day I came to realise, and I am still discovering, that both worlds have a lot in common. The experience of working in an international, frequently culturally very diversified, team has undoubtedly helped me to quickly adapt to different environments. I was able to exploit this experience, for example, in the process of hernia centre certification by an American independent accreditation company, something our hospital acquired last year.

I see a certain difference as compared to the corporate sector in the flexibility of decision-making – we deal with problems here and now, using more direct processes, with less meetings, planning and reports. On the other hand, healthcare is subject to loads of regulation, the legislative framework isn’t always entirely simple and this naturally places demands on both medical and non-medical staff, and the job of management is to set up conditions within the organisation such that the administrative burden and processes are as efficient as possible while remaining in line with all regulations. Another large area is company culture, which, regardless of whether you are in the corporate or public sector, is very important in achieving good results whether in terms of care provided or in terms of economic parameters. My colleagues and I perceive this area as highly important. I see further space for development and investment in the computerisation of processes, opportunities for sharing and data harmonisation between hospitals within the one overall authority leading to greater efficiency both in purchase and, for example, in the spectrum of care provided. To be honest, this was probably the greatest surprise for me. Each hospital has its own different IT system, but unfortunately the systems can’t always communicate with each other, even within one hospital. Working with data thus takes a long time due to the absence of a single system of analytical tools and so on. One positive is that with EU grant programmes, hospitals have an opportunity to deal with these often costly investments, even at the overall authority level. After working in the hospital for a year, my greatest reward is the feeling of a job done well, and the purpose behind what I do. As in my previous jobs, I’ve been really lucky in my high quality team and colleagues, something which is an important factor for me since the positive and clearly grasped results of teamwork are my greatest motivation.

Many forty-somethings are looking at leaving corporations and seek out other ways of working which will fulfil them more. What was the crucial moment for you?

There were definitely a number of factors involved. I had been gradually losing enjoyment from my work. Corporations are usually highly focused on performance, and with increasing globalisation it isn’t always possible to deal with matters in the way which is best at a local level. After 10 years, I had the feeling that I had nothing more to offer the company. Paradoxically, I had begun to have these feelings at a time when I was doing well professionally, I had a team which was working well and we had great results. I was ever more looking at what next, how to continue… I knew that I had to change a number of things in my life, but I didn’t have a clear idea of how to do so, and probably for the first time in my life I couldn’t even clearly define it myself. After leaving the corporation and numerous medical issues, I prescribed myself a holiday of a number of weeks with my daughter, and I put the direction of further professional steps on ice. By chance, immediately upon returning from my travels, I found out about a newly opened position in a hospital near my home. Intuitively, I felt that this was an opportunity I wanted to take on, and I was successful and landed on my two feet in the public sector. I was very attracted to being able to be there at the genesis and having the power to influence how parameters and purchase management processes would be set up within the hospital. The opportunity opened for me to deal with matters conceptually within a local environment where the main parameters aren’t just numbers and performance, but with great stress placed on a personal approach both towards our clients and in the quality of care provided.

You’ve swapped Prague for Benešov. What are the specific features of your hospital?

Benešov’s Rudolf and Stefanie Hospital can boast a very long history – this year we’re celebrating 120 years since we were founded. We currently have around 830 employees, making us the second largest employer in the region. We have 20 specialised departments which provide both outpatient and inpatient care. The spectrum of care we provide is set in line with the hospital’s regional status, with Internal Medicine, Surgery, Orthopaedics, our newly renovated Gynaecology and Maternity ward, and our ENT department including sleep laboratory forming our principal departments. Our objective is to provide primary care. We have opened a new inpatient rehabilitation ward where care is provided to patients following joint replacements and others – conceptually it builds on our Orthopaedics division, which performs the full range of joint replacements. It is certainly not our ambition to build up highly specialised centres. For our clients whose conditions require specialised treatment, we secure specialised care at Na Homolce hospital, with whom we concluded a Memorandum of Cooperation last year. We provide patients with care in a pleasant family environment in which we place emphasis on a personal approach and close multidisciplinary co-operation. It is no exception for patients from more distant regions to seek us out, especially within ENT, orthopaedics and our Gynaecology and Maternity ward. Last year, our hospital became the only certified Center of Excellence in Hernia Surgery in the Czech Republic (COEHSTM), joining ten other Centers of Excellence in Hernia SurgeryTM around the world. In November 2017, we successfully renewed our Spojené akreditační komise, o.p.s. (Joint Accreditation Commission – SAK) accreditation, and we were very pleased to once again be awarded the title of Best Central Bohemian Region Hospital 2017 in the safety and satisfaction of outpatients and inpatients. Personally, I see as very positive the fact that despite dealing with a lack of staff like every healthcare facility, we have not as yet been forced to limit care as a result.

What is your vision and mission for your new position?

Along with my colleagues, I have many plans in my new position, and I trust that we will be able to gradually implement them. Personally, I am really looking forward to one new project: creating our hospital charitable foundation. Another goal is to build a new complete rehabilitative care wing, and the complete renovation of our Internal Medicine wing. My personal goal is the computerisation of the purchase system across the hospital, which will allow us to work more efficiently. Another objective is to gradually boost co-operation between individual hospitals falling within the one authority, and not just in terms of purchasing. I will definitely be satisfied if we manage to maintain current quality, especially in the field of medical devices and medicines, without having a negative impact on the hospital’s budget. Working in healthcare is very fulfilling and it brings me joy that I can work, and perhaps even help a little, in moving forward the hospital in the region where I live and where I was born. I am glad I can apply what I have learnt in business, and thanks to sharing experience with my colleagues move things forward for the better. Work in my new team enriches me enormously, and allows me to continuously learn.

Let’s move on to your Masters of Healthcare Administration studies.

I would highly recommend studying Masters of Healthcare Administration to anyone in a management role in the healthcare sector, and also to doctors in management roles. The programme gives students a comprehensive overview of contemporary healthcare. I was very pleasantly surprised by the high quality of teachers, structure of lectures and I also see added value in the high quality and diverse selection of students. Programme participants come from various segments – hospitals, insurance companies and suppliers, allowing for fascinating discussions, and the acquisition of real, practically applicable knowledge.

Work–life balance is major topic not just for healthcare personnel, but also managers. How are you managing in this regard?

If I were to give it a school-type grade, then I’d give my past year a B. I believe that everything that happens to people in their life has some significance or meaning, and in my path I have finally learnt to spend time on myself. I have a strong and stable family life, for which I thank my great parents. Contentment in my private life is very important for me, because when one’s working and personal life are imbalanced for a long time it creates negative consequences which sooner or later will make themselves apparent. I am a person who can’t do nothing, and as such I spend my leisure time actively with my daughter, partner, friends and family. I love good food, I really enjoy cooking which is a kind of relaxation for me, and if I can combine good food with travel, then that’s just ideal.

Your final message…

I probably can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can certainly set up the sails on my boat so I can always sail to where I want to go.

The interview was published in Czech & Slovak Leaders magazine.

Vivienne Ming: How to Robot-Proof (Not Only Kids but also Ourselves)

Dr. Ming was named one of 10 Women to Watch in Tech in 2013 by Inc. Magazine. She is a theoretical neuroscientist, technologist and entrepreneur. She co-founded Socos company, where machine learning and cognitive neuroscience combine to maximize students’ life outcomes. She sits on the boards of StartOut, The Palm Center, Emozia, Engender, and Genderis Inc., and is a Chief Science Advisor to Cornerstone Capital, Platypus Institute, Shiftgig, and Bayes Impact. She is an author of the upcoming “How to Robot-Proof Your Kids” and “The Tax on Being Different”.

zdroj: Czech&Slovak Leaders

“The Best Way to Predict the Future Is to Create It” was the opening quote of Singularity University, made by its co-founder Peter Diamandis and being such, summarizes the unique approach of this two-day conference that took place at the Prague Žofín Palace from March 5-6, 2018. Singularity University has been called an Ivy League university from the future and described as a conference like no other. Imagine an event that in two days covers highly scientific expert subjects from artificial intelligence, self-driving cars, the latest development in medicine and biotechnology, the future of finance and blockchain, alongside the wider societal concerns like future of work, future of education or exponential growth and abundance.

Perhaps there is no coincidence, only synchronicity, as to the venue. The Knights Hall at Žofín Palace in Prague used to be a very special place for the Czech elite in the middle of the 19th century and played a significant role during the Czech nationalist revival. Based on historic accounts, it was believed that had the heavy chandelier fallen from the ceiling, no one speaking Czech would be left, as most of the Czech educated largely male group taking part in the national revival movement, used to always be together.

At first, it seemed almost impossible to choose one conference speaker for our interview. On the other hand, it does not come as a surprise, that I chose Dr. Vivienne Ming who was giving a keynote speech on How to Robot-Proof Your Kids. Not only is the subject of education, learning and development based on talents and passion important for me professionally, but also personally. I am a mother of a ten-year old boy, who is extroverted, communicative and soft-skills advanced. By the way, we usually tend to associate these skills with girls in our society. I was glad to hear that my son is good at five general cognitive abilities such as social skills, self-regulated learning, emotional intelligence and creativity, since these skills were singled out by Dr. Ming as necessary for the future. Unfortunately, I was brought back to the present by my son’s private tutor, who called me right after Dr. Ming’s presentation to let me know that my son is unlikely to pass the exam for the eight-year high school. His five-year primary language school program partly co-financed by the EU is coming to an end. Given the competitiveness of the eight-year high school system in the Czech Republic, like many Czech parents, we have gone through the ordeal in investing large amounts of time, energy and money during the last eight months trying to improve his weak spots in mathematics, analytical thinking and information-based learning. The contrast between what is needed for the future and what is the status quo could not be any starker.

Dr. Ming is also a great example of a leader. Her life journey was not easy. She failed out of university and almost took her own life. She then discovered her life purpose: to make the lives of other people better. This discovery gave her the drive to complete a BA in neuroscience in only one year! She had undergone gender transition. Since then, she has had amazing success in her field, is a mother of two kids and specializes in the future of human potential. She has worked on applications to help patients with diabetes, bipolar disorders and learning.

Dr. Ming started her conference speech with a short statement,“The problem with the education system is that everyone has an opinion about it. Everyone is different, yet we develop systems meant for one type person”. I wondered whether she was aware of the fact that in the Czech Republic, the educational system has become prey for politicians and a panacea to many societal problems. The economy is currently suffering from the lack of manual workers? Let us introduce both manual skills classes and even agriculture lessons to primary school curriculum. The population is afraid of terrorism? Let us also include civic defense classes. Many students are choosing humanities instead of STEM studies? Let us introduce obligatory high-school graduation from mathematics. All of these implemented, without any deeper debate, without following latest expert debates and successful trends in education.

Dr. Ming then continued “Role modelling is absolutely essential for parenthood. Be the person you want your kids to be”. Wow, another challenging notion in a country, where the majority of parents still believe that it is up to school to provide both education and also upbringing and they are not ready to take part.

Dr. Ming, your talk was fascinating. Let us start with your conclusion. Find your talent and grow it. But how? On one hand, there are numerous possibilities, on the other hand, many young people do not know how to navigate themselves in today’s complex world.

Recently, I had the privilege to give a convocation at the school where I once failed and subsequently, after my amazing success, I gave my talk on three lessons I would do differently.

The first lesson states whatever you do right now, go all in. You are right about many young people receiving various contradictory advice from their surroundings but if they do not invest time and energy, if they do not try hard, how can they find out if they are going to love and succeed in an area? You are unlikely to be an expert at anything from the day one. I love what I do, but I had to struggle so many times to find the answer.

The second lesson says construct your purpose. There is not one thing you are meant to do in this world. You get to build your purpose yourself. You have to search for it, look for the clues.

The last lesson is about having the courage to “die” and start all over again. It takes about seven years to truly master something, therefore starting at the age of 11 and living up to 88 years, you have seven opportunities to become truly great at something. This notion is wonderful because it frees you from the pressure that one decision will influence the rest of your life. Your purpose will guide you, but on each journey, you will go deeper. Look at my life-story. As a man, my life was a massive failure. On my journey I became a scientist, an entrepreneur, and then a mum. There is no wrong choice if you are honest about it. Listen to what others say, but at the end it is your choice and again, go all in. Every time I have had an invention, it was thanks to these transition moments. From a neuroscientist into an educational company, to inventing treatments for diabetes and bipolar disease.

Your latest research is about maximizing human potential and you have become a strong advocate of soft-skills that you do not like to be called soft-skills, as they are measurable. The Czech educational system has witnessed the latest attempts to introduce farming lessons, manual workshops and civic defense classes to respond to pressure from the industry rather than to prepare kids for the future. What do you think about the future of education?

I am not criticizing specific policy choice but rather the broad policy choice about training people to do specific things. If you told me that the government is introducing programming, STEM only education and intellectual skills, I would be also worried. I can build an AI system that can do all of the above better. Therefore, the most disrupted careers will be in advising – whether financial, legal or medical. Economically speaking, earthly skills, such as agriculture will be more economically resilient than professional skills. Perhaps the labor cost is still cheap in the Czech Republic, but we should not forget that the labor cost runs downhill and ends in Rwanda. But governmental policy also affects the discussion in the US. As we will not allow Mexican immigrants to do low wage manual jobs, we might be constructing robots to do them, since no US worker is willing to pick food anymore.

What are the main points that governments are missing?

It is very simple policy trap in the form of solving the last problem. It is not about forward thinking – what the problem is going to look like in ten to twenty years. I am not a futurist but I knowthat a small number of people will be writing codes in twenty years. You need to look at the broader picture. You need to watch where the economy is moving. What is the US shifting towards, what is China shifting towards, what is happening in India and elsewhere?

Our 15 minutes is up. You have been quite disruptive also in regards to the future of universities. You research proved that university diplomas are not predictive as to the successful future. Charles University in Prague is celebrating 650 years of existence. What future do you see for classical universities?

University is a great place once you have all the meta learning skills. However, universities themselves have succumbed to the idea of building people for work-life rather than building better people to explore ideas. If I hire graduate students, I do not care whether they know neuroscience. I care about them being creative and adaptive. Universities will need to change themselves. But the bottom two-thirds will need to disappear as our AI has identified these as negative predictors. The top one-third will need to restructure. Let us discuss how to create interdisciplinary curricula instead of trapping people into degrees. How do we retrain people, how do we build resilience and growth mindset, and creative thinking? Let us invent something that will make the world better together. And I will not lead the project, being a scientific expert, but rather the students themselves will lead the experiments. How does that sound?

Immediately after the interview I downloaded the application Muse Dr. Ming developed. It is designed for parents to develop their children by spending quality time with them while enhancing children’s learning with fun daily activities. Based on your answers describing your child’s character and behavior, you start receiving tips for activities, so eventually your kid can become “a creative, adaptive problem solver”,as this is the only robot-proof category for the future. It proves that when the government is failing, businesses and start-ups can lead the way. And that was my positive take away from the two-day conference as a whole.

The interview was published in Czech & Slovak Leaders magazine.

Pherooz Karani: Children are universal

Born in India, Pherooz was raised in Boston, Massachusetts, where she attended a Montessori school – founded and owned by her mother – from two months to twelve years old. She has spent her entire career in Montessori education, eventually moving from teaching to administration. In addition to her Bachelor’s degree in Education, she holds Association Montessori Internationale diplomas for every age level, from Infant and Toddler (London), Primary (New York) to Elementary (Prague) and an American Montessori Society diploma in School Administration. Currently, she is completing a Master’s of Education program at Endicott College in Massachusetts with a specialization in Integrative Montessori Leadership.

Pherooz Karani, Head of School at International Montessori School of Prague

Pherooz, what brought you from sunny Florida to the country suffering from long, grey winters?

The answer to this question is two-fold. My partner is Czech, so I was actively looking to move to Europe and ideally, Prague. At the same time, I was in contact with Katka Bečková, the Executive Director of IMSP, who had offered me a teaching position a few years prior. This time she was looking for a new Head of School just as I finished a previous contract and things fell into place very quickly. Now I’ve been happily settled in Prague for more than six years, and married to my partner for over four.

Apart from winters, what was the most challenging to adapt to?

Well, although I had lived in Florida for the two years prior to coming to Prague, I spent most of my life in Boston, which gets significantly colder than Prague, so the winters were not an issue! Instead, I found it surprisingly dificult at first to navigate the cultural differences. Czech people tend to be much more reserved and private than the average American; they are much less likely to put on a cheerful or enthusiastic persona. However, I quickly learnt that Czechs are just as warm and welcoming as Americans, they just show it in different ways.

What was most surprising?

The religious underpinnings of Czech culture. As a Christian who nonetheless firmly believes in separation of Church and State, in America I was always very mindful of not mixing religion in my professional life (for example, avoiding religious carols in the Winter Concert). Here, instead, I encountered many people participating in, and enjoying, Christian customs and traditions without necessarily connecting them to the religion itself, such as the baby Jesus or St. Nicholas bringing presents to children.

Have you learned Czech?

No, much to my mother-in-law’s disappointment. Working in an international environment has made it more challenging to learn an already dificult language. I keep trying though and have gotten fairly decent at ordering a meal!

An international career offers many opportunities to travel. Which countries have you visited and what have you learned?

My career has taken me to the United Kingdom and across several states in the United States before Prague. The work is the same anywhere you go, it’s just communication with parents and team members that changes based on their cultural experiences and expectations. In my personal life, I’ve travelled across Europe, North America and South Asia, and enjoyed all of it; I’ve found common humanity through a wide variety of local cultures, environments and places, each with their unique beauty. Somehow many Montessorians I know are avid travelers, fulfilling Montessori’s concept of global citizenship, and that’s certainly how I feel and how I encourage students to see themselves.

Can we say that children are the same anywhere in the world or can you see differences between different places? What are the differences between Czech and American children?

Children are definitely universal. I believe their development and human tendencies are exactly the same the world over, in mansions and huts alike. Of course, the local culture plays a role but less than you might think. I think you can start seeing cultural differences in the Elementary age, when children begin mirroring social mores in their communities, but still their needs and tendencies are universal, for example – at this age – the need for acceptance and understanding your place in the world. Montessori definitely saw this and wrote about it at length. This is why her method is so successful around the entire world – because it’s not based on local cultural or historical tradition, but on studying the children themselves.

You studied theatre and you like to attend theatre performances in your free time. How do you find Prague’s theatre scene? What are your tips?

Naturally, I miss lot of Prague’s theatre life as I don’t speak Czech! The English scene is quite small, of course, but very enthusiastic, and growing rapidly, especially in the past years. Fringe Fest – a weeklong festival of English-language theatre, is one of my favourite times of the year and we always attend multiple performances on each of its days; it’s a great way to find new performers and make connections. The Cimrman English Theatre is doing fantastic work and I’ve loved being introduced to those iconic Czech pieces in my language! And finally, I saw several stand-out performances through the Prague Shakespeare Company and Divadlo Na Prádle. There’s also several smaller companies doing excellent work.

What are your next plans?

For now, I am committed to stay at IMSP at least through June 2019. I love Prague and I can imagine living here for many years and starting a family here. Career wise, after I complete my MEd, I’m looking forward to embarking on the Montessori teacher training for Secondary Schools. Once I complete that training, I will be Montessori certified from birth to age 18, a rare achievement in the Montessori world. I also enjoy consulting with other schools so look forward to continuing this important work as well.

What are your tips for expats in Prague?

Marry a Czech, it makes life so much easier! But on a serious note, get connected. There are so many wonderful events and groups, centered around interests, hobbies, skills, family, study, and much more. The expat community in Prague is very dynamic and I believe anyone can find company and camaraderie in it. A good way to start is to monitor the Prague Expat Facebook groups – Crowd Sauce is one I’ve found terribly helpful.


The interview was published in Czech & Slovak Leaders magazine.

6th run of ATAIRU Authentic Leadership Program Odyssey for talented women just started

Happy to start another leadership journey with 40 talented and inspiring women from companies such as Adexpres, Airbank, Bistro Agency, Česká spořitelna, Direct Pojišťovna, Google, Heineken, Innogy, McKinsey, & Company, Microsoft, NMDS, NN, PPF, Pwc, Raiffeisenbank, Tesco, Triad, Unipetrol and WeDigital.

Thanks for inspiring ideas and thoughts on leadership and technologies from Lenka Čábelová, Communications and Philanthropies Lead at Microsoft Czech Republic.

Special thanks to Visual Coach for visualizing the evening

Petra Manhartová (Unipetrol) and Lenka Čábelová (Microsoft) in inspirational discussion on their leadership approach

Josef Simpartl from ATAIRU team

Lenka Čábelová, Communications and Philanthropies Lead at Microsoft Czech Republic on storytelling and technology development

Lenka Čábelová, Communications and Philanthropies Lead at Microsoft Czech Republic on storytelling and technology development

Radka Dohnalová zahajuje další ročník Odyssey Leadership programu

Special thanks to Apolena Kalinová for pictures!

Martin Margala: How do you perceive today’s world?

Dr. Martin Margala is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts and a Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Electrical Engineering. He was born in Bratislava where he also completed his first university degree in engineering.

After the Velvet Revolution, he earned his PhD at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, where later he became a professor. After living in Canada for about ten years, he moved to the Unites States. Since 2006, he has been living in Massachusetts, fulfilling his dream to live in a state where education is the main “industry” and focus.

Professor Martin Margala, UMass Lowell, source: Czech & Slovak Leaders

I met with Martin and his wife Miriam two years ago. Our meeting immediately confirmed the saying that great minds and kindred souls think alike. Right away, we started to discuss how to change the approach towards education in the Czech Republic.

Out first meeting took place at the US Embassy, where Martin was chairing a panel on innovation and entrepreneurship with other three leading education specialists from the US. I was the only panel participant representing the Czech side. While the event attracted a lot of attention from the private sphere, academics, NGO representatives, and officials from the public sphere were missing. There is still a lot to be done! I admire Martin’s experience, drive and his ability to connect the Old and the New world. Having grown up in Europe and becoming very familiar with the “old continent’s” attitudes does not prevent him from challenging the status quo and bringing fresh and innovative ideas. And he definitely wants to see results sooner rather than later.

So, how do you perceive today’s world?

I am a great optimist. Even though today’s world might be perceived by some people as too challenging and some may even have a rather defeatist attitude, I see it as a world full of new opportunities. In fact, to me, these are exciting times to be living in. The advancements of technology are penetrating all areas of our society and will help increase markedly the standard of living everywhere. New significant discoveries will become more and more frequent. Major diseases will be eliminated, many discoveries will help fight poverty and close the inequality gap in the world. It may sound too idealistic – but there is so much happening, so many people do work with one large goal – to make a difference and make life better. If you work in research and education, if you are surrounded by people with a positive mind set – preferably in a very international and global context – then I think you can only be optimistic and driven to work every day on positive things.

How do you perceive today’s Czech and Slovak Republics?

Both countries are still very young. I see both countries undergoing a generational shift. You can observe a push and pull dynamic between the old thinking and the new thinking; the past and the future. Young men and women that were either children or not even born at the time of the Velvet Revolution are becoming more involved, more interested in what’s going on around them and more liberated from old traditions. Again – I can only repeat myself, I am an optimist. I do see exciting times ahead – but it is a long process; it is not easy and not at all smooth. There are and will be many challenges, many failures – but I do believe that in both countries, there are people who are able and ready to take risks and contribute to positive changes. In my work, especially through my international collaborations, I interact a lot with young people from both countries – there are many dedicated, excited, hard working young people and every day, their goal is to move ahead, whatever challenges they have to face.

When we come to the topic of the US-EU scientific co-operation and its potential, is the glass half empty or half full?

It is definitely half empty. I am not turning into a pessimist here – but the status quo is really not suited and efficient for today’s global world. The funding systems setup in the US and in Europe have always been inward looking. There has been a very limited support for truly international collaborations in research and education and virtually no funding mechanism that would connect willing global partners. However, many national governments have recently started to realize that there is an untapped potential with many benefits for all involved partners. These efforts are growing and new programs are being set up. It is important that people interested in true international collaborations and global partnerships do not give up and simply charge ahead. From my own experience, I have to say that it has been frequently an uphill battle but a battle that one can – and should – fight because the results are really worth it. One has to be very vocal – I have been talking incessantly for very many years to anybody who would listen: researchers from universities all around the world, funding institutions/managers, government representatives, diplomats, attaches, ambassadors – any opportunity, I just take it and use it. Of course, you actually have to show results – once you have concrete examples of successful collaborations, it becomes easier. There are many exciting opportunities and I have been fortunate to be part of, or in charge of, many endeavors. The Czech and Slovak Republics have been trying to launch such efforts – and again, they have to persevere. Just because there will be ideas that may fail does not mean they should give up. Any failure or mistake is a learning opportunity – and will help you to fine tune your efforts, formulate better plans and forge better, successful collaborations.

You have been very active in the sphere of higher education, bridging various spheres together – municipalities, corporations, NGOs and universities. While such approach is common in the US, the Czech Republic still has a long way to go. What do you suggest to start with to bring about a change?

As I mentioned previously, it is the drive of likeminded people that get behind a mutual goal: setup a new program, new activity, new project, whatever it is, and go after it until you see results. The problem in the Czech Republic and Slovakia is that the societies have been built as sets of silos, a sum of entities that co-exist, but were never built to network/interact with each other. What I mean by that is a local municipality was never setup to collaborate on new innovations with the local university or high school to solve everyday problems and improve services for its citizens. No programs exist that would support such collaborations and if they do, nobody knows about them or how to go about taking advantage of them. Another example is that there is no mechanism where municipalities – large and small, NGOs, companies and the education sector can interact to bring new innovation ideas to practical implementation.

To bring about a change in such a system, one has to work from bottom-up and seek supporters/likeminded men and women to get behind one project at a time and use any medium possible to publicize all the sucess stories that there are. We have been cooperating on the new project of Youth Startup Festival in May 2018 in Brno.

Can you tell us more about this unique and truly revolutionary project?

The Youth Startup Festival aims to combine several elements that I mentioned previously. It links innovative ideas and projects with the next generation of young men and women, the millennials, and will try to demonstrate how to become a transformative individual in the modern society. There are many programs around the globe that try to invest in the education at the elementary, middle and high school level to teach young students to become comfortable expressing new ideas that support innovation and change, especially ideas that are high risk/ high reward so that young people become comfortable with and learn from failures. Plus, this festival will be located in Brno for a good reason. This region has been at the forefront of the innovation revolution and is an example from which many other regions are trying to learn how to navigate the world of innovation, research and collaboration in a silo-based society and how to find an effective way to implement changes and innovation; bring innovations to practice as fast as possible.

Your final words and a New Year’s wish or message for Czech and Slovak Leaders Magazine readers?

Let the year 2018 be even better than 2017.


The interview was published in Czech & Slovak Leaders magazine.

Andrea Vadkerti: My life-long talk show

I have a lot in common with my friend and colleague Andrea: coaching and writing, interviews with wellknown personalities and the desire to support women in their careers. Andrea herself has presented not just many hundreds of Slovak news reports, but also major interviews, including with such personalities as Placido Domingo and Niki Lauda. She left television suddenly in order to prioritise her marriage. She left not just her job, but also her native Slovakia, following her husband to France. She currently lives and works in Singapore. She has moved from the highest levels of journalism to the highest levels of business. As Executive Coach, she focuses on neurobehavioral modelling and accessing the emerging business development.

Does this all sound like a story from a pulp author? Well you shouldn’t be surprised, as all famous writers agree that the best plots arise from life itself.

Andrea Vadkerti: When ego shuts down to silence, your heart starts singing. Source: archive

Some may remember Andrea Vadkerti as a presenter on Markíza Television, which she joined in 1995 after winning an audition of over 5000 candidates. During her television career, she also managed to study International Finance and European Law at Faculty of Management Comenius University in Bratislava. She presented the main news on Markíza until 2000. Despite her heavy workload, she missed the opportunity to be creative in her role as presenter, and so in addition to the news she also presented a radio talk show. She left Markíza in 2000 when her then-fiancé was starting the rival TA3 television station. She helped him to create this new television channel, which was described as Central Europe’s CNN, but did not join the channel because she could not imagine working for her partner and for her boss and manager in one person. She then penetrated the world of business, taking on the post of Head of Communications and PR in Slavia Capital between 2000 and 2003. She penetrated the world of mergers, acquisitions and trading while also meeting her current husband.

In 2003, she accepted an offer to return to the television studio, this time for Slovak public television RTVS. This marked the start of the risky, but she says most interesting, “Vadkerti talk show” format, in which RTL journalists were also involved. She broadcast her final talk show during her eighth month of pregnancy, something which involved an in-depth interview with three female murderers and an 80-member audience made up of other prisoners. The fact that Andrea does everything to the full also applied for her career break, when she focused on her children and family, with her son Raphael joining her daughter Sophie within 13 months. Again, she was missing creativity and continued writing scripts. In 2007, she returned to the media, with another offer from Slovak Television. Once again, just one career was not enough and at this time Andrea began to work in coaching, receiving her first international certification. In 2010, she returned to TA3 to launch her new interview show, Portret. She received the Journalism Prize for Best Interview in Electronic Media two years in a row for her in-depth interviews with the rescuer of Jewish children, Sir Nicholas Winton, and legendary CNN host, Larry King. Next year, French television channel Arte will be broadcasting her interview with Pierre Richard as part of a jubilee documentary on this unforgettable comic.

2018 marks not just 100 years since the founding of Czechoslovakia, but also 25 years since the dissolution of the Czechoslovak Republic.  Andrea, you were born in Czechoslovakia, and then you became a citizen of the Slovak Republic, you’ve lived in France and now you work in Singapore. What is your identity? Czechoslovak, Slovak, European, or do you see yourself as a citizen of the world?

As Adriana Sklenaříková has said, I was born in a country which no longer exists. In a Hungarian family in the south of Slovakia. My mother tongue is Hungarian, and I was taught Slovak at school. English has become my language at work, and French is a language I have worked on through my heart and life in Nice. I am a citizen of the world with the blood of old Europe coursing through my veins.

Imagine looking at your biography in the introduction as a journalist. What would the first question you ask be? And what would your response be?

I would probably be interested in each new beginning. What it’s like to keep pulling the rug out from under yourself and try to do something you’ve never done before. The first commercial television news, the first daytime talk show, the first non-dubbed interview with a foreign figure, the first neurobehavioral modelling coaching in a land which does not even have a professional term for this speciality. And the response? It is incredibly exciting to be an experimenter and adventurer in your profession. To believe in something and go for it. Your belief drives you, you play your cards on luck and talent. There’s no waiting, only doing and success is not guaranteed.

Okay so now to my questions. While they say cherchez la femme, from your experience up to now, it seems that you have often instead responded to your partners’ situations. At the same time, you have managed to keep your own identity. What has been your underlying mission?

I’ve never lost my head because of my career or relationship. Whether I’m doing something or believe in something, I go for it. But not to extremes. When one thing got the better of me I have moved on to something else. And that has always helped me stay unsinkable.

I get the impression you have missed the space for creativity in the roles you have held, whether as a presenter or even mother. What brought you from writing to coaching?

Coaching and presenting have a lot in common. You pose open questions, you seek various perspectives. You are driven by curiosity and you are constantly finding out more. Except that coaching takes place in complete intimacy; in a television interview you try to induce intimacy, but the whole world is watching you. Writing is a highly intimate affair. For me, when I’m in complete concentration it has always been a kind of meditation. Creativity is my escape from everyday reality.

How do you see yourself as a coach?

I see myself as a consultant who knows when to call upon coaching as the best tool to achieve an objective. With my client, we might be focused pragmatically, dealing with a problem resourcefully. Complexity and finding a solution is our platform. As I’m coming from background in neuropsychology, this is an opportunity for me to literally change the client’s paradigm of thinking. To open up new worlds to them. I am witnessing my clients becoming more humans every single day.

How do your clients describe you?

An open minded, pragmatic, someone who can hit the nail on the head, unravel a problem. Holistic, disciplined, understanding. These are the kind of characteristics I see most in my reviews.

They say the media is addictive. Do you miss the shine and fame of the television studio?

I don’t miss the television studio so much as the opportunity to spread valuable ideas through the media. Many times I come across someone and I tell myself what a great interview we could do, how many people could get a really meaningful message …

In your experience, is a double-career marriage possible?

Yes, but both of you have to be willing to sometimes sacrifice your career for the good of others. Your career is not a dictator.

Three years ago, you moved from France to Singapore. What other chapters in your life are you planning to write?

I’m literally writing one now. I’m writing a book on the power of the ego and how to live with it. It is a compilation of my own true stories and those of my clients and neuroscience. In Singapore, I have everything I need to complete it. My ten-month old third child Philip is slowing me down a little right now. I’m trying to enjoy all the times I have with him. We’ve also begun Atairu leadership training for women and the Odyssey mentoring programme.

Your final message for Czech and Slovak Leaders readers?

When ego shuts down to silence, your heart starts singing.


The interview was published in Czech & Slovak Leaders magazine.

BOOK REVIEW: The Organized Mind

Do you sometimes feel braindead or simply mentally overloaded? The book The Organized Mind by Daniel J. Levitin gave me some very interesting and practical tips how to deal with it. And also how to convince my family that order is really great for us.

source: ffbsccn.wordpress.com

Here are 6 key thoughts:

1. The brain can only focus on a limited number of stimuli at a time.

Have you ever told yourself that you’d like to “get organized?” It’s an easy promise to make, but difficult to put into action. So where can you get started?

Well, before we even approach this challenge, we must first understand in greater detail the way our mind works, more specifically, our attentional system. This is the way our brain handles and categorizes information. The times we live in pose a great challenge to this system, because our brains aren’t equipped to cope with the flood of new facts and sights that we face everyday. Instead, brains work best when concentrating on one thing at a time.

This was vital for our ancestors, who hunted successfully by staying highly focused. Their thoughts would only be disrupted by important events, such as an approaching predator.

Nowadays, we’re constantly attempting to do many things at once. Driving a car, listening to the radio, thinking about an upcoming business meeting – it’s not unusual that all these things happen simultaneously. This is something that our brain has not evolved to do successfully, which means that multitasking comes at a price.
When we switch our attention between different activities, our brain is unable to function effectively. This in turn causes us to make thoughtless mistakes, or forget and misplace things.

In order to better understand our attentional system, we also need to consider how our brain decides how to divide its attention. It’s all to do with the brain’s remarkable ability to detect changes.

Our brains are more likely to pay attention to changes than constants. For example, imagine you’re driving your car. You suddenly notice that the road feels bumpy. Prior to this, you didn’t even consider how even the street was, simply because this was not useful information.

But that realization could be vital, because it alerts you to a treacherous change in surface or a problem with your car.
Changing circumstances can pose a threat to our survival.

2. Because we’re surrounded by more and more information, we’re forced to make more and more decisions.

Decisions are part of everyday life: Should we opt for the cheaper internet plan, or pay more and get unlimited data? Should we respond to this email now, or read these texts first? We confront decisions like these nearly every minute. But how can our brain cope with this non-stop flow of decisions when it originally evolved to process one idea at a time?

It’s simple: we can manage the flood of information by focusing our attention. But how, exactly?

As we learned previously, our brain instinctively concentrates on the information that is most important for us.
Here’s an example: imagine you’re on a busy street, desperately looking for your lost dog. You automatically fade out all unnecessary details like the people, cars and buses, and only focus on things that are the same size and color as your dog. So unless there are a lot of other things on this street that are about knee-height, fluffy and brown, your brain immediately makes it easier to find your beloved pet.

This automatic process of honing our focus down to what’s necessary should also be reflected in our decision making. In other words, you shouldn’t spend too much time on less important everyday choices. Instead, find shortcuts and ways to simplify your decision making.

For example, one type of decision we often need to make is about purchasing products or services that can make our lives easier. A good way to analyze these decisions is by thinking about the monetary value of our own time, because it allows us to compare it to the benefit the product promises.

Let’s say you’re thinking about hiring someone to clean your home instead of doing it yourself. Just ask yourself: Would you be willing to pay $50 for two extra hours of free time? If the answer is yes, then go for it without deliberating any further!

Now that we’ve learned how to streamline our decision making, the following will show us how to organize more aspects of our lives in the most effective way.

3. Find a designated place for every single object.

When was the last time you lost your keys, phone or glasses? It seems ridiculous that the objects we need with us all the time are also the ones that seem to go wandering most often. The reason is straightforward: we lose these objects because we carry them around with us. Objects that we only use in one place, like our toothbrush, seldom get lost at all.

There is, in fact, a special part of our brain dedicated specifically to remembering the location of things. It’s called the hippocampus, and it was crucial for our ancestors who needed to know where a watering hole was, or the areas where predators might pounce.

In order to learn more about our hippocampi, researchers studied the brains of London taxi drivers, as they are required to commit the city’s street plan to memory. The tests revealed that the hippocampi of the drivers were larger than hippocampi in other people of similar education and age. These larger hippocampi were attributed to the need to recall many locations in detail.

However, the hippocampus can only provide us with information about objects whose location doesn’t change. This isn’t a problem for a taxi driver trying to remember how to get to a particular building, but is a constant problem for us when we try to remember where our frustratingly mobile keys are.

To ensure that you don’t always have to seek out these essential items, simply find a designated place for them. A special bowl next to the door for your keys always does the trick!

If you can’t set aside a certain place for an object, then it may also help to purchase duplicates. For example, if you need reading glasses, having a single location for them might prove frustrating as you may need them in different places. Instead, you could purchase a pair for your bedroom for nighttime reading, while another pair remains at work.

4. Give your brain a break – move your organizational processes outside your head.

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by all the different ideas and thoughts floating around inside your head? The best way to ensure you can keep track of them is to organize them outside your head.

A time-tested trick to unburden your brain is to write things down. Good old-fashioned flash cards are an easy and effective way to record and organize ideas as soon as you think of them.

For example, you might be on the bus and suddenly remember that you still have to buy a birthday present for your aunt. Don’t stress, just write it down and you’ll no longer have the burden of trying to remember it all day!
On the other hand, if you think of something that you could do right away – such as calling your aunt to say happy birthday – then don’t think twice, do it immediately. Think of it in terms of the two-minute rule: if the task takes longer than two minutes to complete, then write it down. Otherwise, do it straight away.

Another effective approach is to organize your written thoughts into categories. This mirrors the way our brains are constantly categorizing new stimuli and helps simplify our thinking, thus saving time and increasing our attention capacity.

For example, if we see a flying object with feathers, our brain recognizes it as part of the category “bird.” Though this bird might be a hawk or an eagle, it’s easier to place it in this broader category rather than identify it specifically.
The same goes for our flash cards – collect them together and sort them into different groups according to the topics they relate to. These could be categories such as “Personal Life,” “Work” or “Kids.”

This way you’ll be able to keep your thoughts and ideas organized and accessible.

5. Set aside time to refuel so you can increase your productivity later

Everyone knows that you tend to be far more productive after a good night’s sleep. And yet, we’re often tempted to skip a few hours of kip in order to work just a little bit more.

This, however, is a mistake. Our brain works incredibly hard while we sleep, processing new information from the day and integrating it into our existing knowledge. Memories, problems and ideas often appear in our dreams and we may find ourselves better positioned to solve a problem after “sleeping on it.”

This phenomenon is backed up by studies. Researchers found that students attempting to solve a problem performed better following a night of sleep than they did working on it for the same length of waking time.

Ultimately, you’re twice as likely to solve a problem after you’ve slept on it. This shows that sleep is essential, and attempting to work when you’re tired is counterproductive.

Sleep isn’t the only way that we can refuel our minds. Many companies have discovered the benefits of decreasing employee work time and providing facilities and opportunities for rest.

For example, at Microsoft, employees are welcome to use the in-house spa to relax and recharge. This is not only great for employees, but, as studies have shown that productivity increases when working hours drop, the use of downtime in facilities such as these may well be a driving force behind increased productivity.

Accounting firm Ernst & Young has also improved worker performance by allowing additional vacation time. In fact, for every additional ten vacation hours taken by employees, the employees’ performance rating increased by eight percent.

6. We can’t know the answer to every question, but we can know where and how to find it!

Today, we lead very different lives to our grandparents. One of the greatest changes is the way we can easily access vast amounts of information in no time at all. Googling something takes less than a minute! Nevertheless, there’s one important question we should continually ask ourselves: Is this information reliable?

Many of us have used Wikipedia before. The information it can provide us on a wide range of topics is hugely helpful, but is subject to a major drawback. Anyone is able to edit the information on a Wikipedia page, so we can never immediately be sure whether it is reliable. This means we should take the time to verify the information.

In order to evaluate whether a website is a valuable source or not, we can first investigate whether any reliable websites, such as established news services or government websites link to the website. If so, the site itself is likely to be reliable, and information can also be verified by cross-checking it with the content on several other websites.

However, not every problem can be solved by checking online. In complex dilemmas, particularly in the workplace, you’ll need to think for yourself in order to find solutions. Inventive and innovative thinking is something you just can’t google for! In such cases, the ability to reason, estimate and develop hypothetical assumptions is vital. 

For example, in Google’s own job interviews, potential candidates are confronted with a question that has no correct answer. Here’s one for you to try on for size: “How much does the Empire State Building weigh?” Google was interested in whether the candidate could use their logical skills to work through a problem on their own, for example, by calculating the approximate size and weight of the concrete used for the building.

Daniel Levitin on 3 big ideas: multitasking, brain extenders and decision making in the age of information overload in Talks at Google


Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World? The book UnSelfie by Dr. Michele Borba offers a 9-step program to help parents cultivate empathy in children, from birth to young adulthood—and explains why developing a healthy sense of empathy is a key predictor of which kids will thrive and succeed in the future. Radka Dohnalová, ATAIRU Founder and Managing Partner reviewed this book in context of topics Future of Education and Leadership.

Children today live in a self-absorbed culture that makes them ill-equipped to understand the emotions of others. When researching the key skills we will need for the future, empathy plays a critical role, not just for children but also in leadership. I loved this book because it shows how parents and teachers can help children learn to feel greater empathy by teaching them about emotions and showing them how their actions affect others. It can be also a great spurce of inspiration for leadership. Here are some of the key thoughts.
Evidence shows that empathy is decreasing among young people, while narcissism is on the rise.
Did you know that “selfie” was voted word of the year in 2014 by Oxford Dictionaries? The decision was made following a 17,000 percent increase in the word’s usage over the previous year.
This obsession with photos of ourselves is symptomatic of an all-about-me society that’s ruled by ego, in which everybody wants to be the center of attention. Psychologists are even in agreement that empathy is on the decline, while narcissism among young adults is steadily rising.
Just take psychologist Sarah Konrath, whose University of Michigan, Ann Arbor team considered 72 behavioral studies among college students over the last three decades. Their results, which were published in Personality and Sociology Review, paint a disturbing picture.
They found that students today are 40 percent less empathetic than their predecessors were 30 years ago. In addition, rates of narcissistic behavior, including selfishness, an inflated sense of self-importance and a tremendous need for admiration, have soared by a whopping 58 percent!
Or consider a Gallup poll that found that while only 12 percent of teenagers in the 1950s agreed with the statement “I am very important,” that figure has hovered around 80 percent since the late 1980s.
The drop in empathy is also made abundantly clear by the rise in bullying among school children. After all, children who bully others do so by dehumanizing their victims and failing to see life from their perspective, which is why soaring rates of bullying are a strong indicator of decreasing empathy.
And although children have always been mean to one another, recent studies have found that bullying has reached an all-time high in recent years. One study showed a 52-percent increase over a mere four years. Another study determined that children as young as three years old were engaging in bullying behavior.
But what’s perhaps most disturbing is that one out of every five middle schoolers reports considering suicide because of peer cruelty.
We can thus see that children today are much more self-absorbed than previous generations were at the same age – but that doesn’t mean that they have to stay this way.
Adults can help kids develop emotional literacy.
Just as they’re not born being able to change their own diapers, kids don’t come out of the womb knowing how to understand and act with empathy. Even especially bright kids need years of experience before they can read body language and facial cues with fluency.
That being said, you can coach your children through this process.
First, you can use face-to-face contact to teach kids to read emotional signals. This is crucial, since children and teens are especially prone to misreading such gestures, which causes them – and, potentially, those around them – lots of unnecessary suffering. To lend them a hand, pay special attention to your own body language and be ready to explain things like, “don’t worry, I’m not angry. I’m just tired. If I rub my eyes you’ll know I’m tired.” You can also do some casual people watching with your child. During a trip to the mall, you might ask, “who looks angry, tired or bored?”
Second, you can use books and films to teach kids about emotions. To do so, you might watch a few minutes of a TV soap opera together with the sound on mute and make a game of guessing how the actors feel. This kind of exercise is a useful way to teach children about body language. Books are also great for this. If the main character in a story expresses an emotion, ask your children, “how can we tell he’s scared?” or “have you ever felt like that?” Doing so will give your kids an opportunity to understand an emotion from the inside out. And finally, give your kids an emotional vocabulary. After all, you can’t talk about something without the appropriate language to express it, and that’s especially the case when it comes to emotions. So, expose your children to words like “eager,” “confident” or “dismayed” that go beyond the simple emotions of “happy” and “sad.” To make sure you’re using emotional words when speaking with your children, you can make a point of talking about your own feelings. Be especially sure to use lots of emotional words when playing with boys, as they tend to hear less of this language in their daily lives.

source: Twitter @micheleborba

Teach kids empathy by asking them to walk in another person’s shoes.
What do you need to do to make sure your child thrives? Well, it’s essential for her to be able to advocate for her own interests – but that’s not enough.
To be happy and successful, kids also need empathy. In fact, children who understand the perspectives of others have more friends and stronger, closer relationships than self-absorbed children. Not only that, but empathetic children are happier, better adjusted and more likely to resolve conflicts or stand up for victims.
Such positive traits are known as the Empathy Advantage and they’re linked to more favorable life outcomes, including better job prospects, higher salaries and even greater educational attainment.
Luckily, any child can develop the Empathy Advantage through a few careful exercises, and the first of these is to reverse sides in an argument.
Say your two children come running to you, each begging for you to take their side in a disagreement. Instead of doing so, ask each child what he or she thinks the other child will say about the situation. By grappling with this question, both children will learn to see the situation through the other child’s eyes.
Another way you can develop your children’s empathy is through the use of props and role play. This kind of strategy will help your child step outside of her own world and into that of another. For instance, you can put on a tiara, an army boot or a sari, then ask your child who they think the wearer of these objects is and what they think about life. What are that person’s fears, hopes and dreams?

This is also a good approach if your child bullies someone. While young children might not understand questions like “how would you like it if Bobby did that to you?”, props can help them empathize. So, if you instead say “here’s Bobby’s hat. You be Bobby and I’ll be you,” and then act out a scene in which you’re mean to Bobby, most children will come away from the experience understanding how painful it is to be bullied.

BOOK REVIEW: Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education


Are you thinking about the future of education and what are the 8 competencies we should be teaching our children?

I have just read a book Creative Schools by Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica and here are the 6 key thoughts:



  1. Formal education is shaped by the needs of industry.

Do you ever wonder how modern schools were first developed? Well, they certainly didn’t originate as a means to foster the unique personality, creativity and talents of individual students. Rather, conventional education was a result of the need to deliver highly standardized knowledge to young people so they could work in factories.
Modern schools arose over the course of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Before this period in history, only the privileged received any formal education. But this changed as new industries emerged, requiring workers to have some basic skills like the ability to read, do simple math and understand technical information.

So, Western governments began organizing mass education with one main purpose – to produce useful labor for factories. And, since industrial production relies on conformity, compliance and linear processes, education was based on these needs too. In fact, schools themselves were designed more or less like factories.

Jump forward to the present day and this tradition is alive and well with the standards movement, which endeavors to make the nation’s workforce internationally competitive by holding education to firm guidelines and standards. At the same time, STEM or science, technology, engineering and math subjects are given preference, regardless of a student’s strengths and interests.

from cover of the book Creative Schools

But where did the standards movement originate?

It had already begun in the 1980s, but gained prominence in the year 2000, when several Western countries like the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany performed poorly in the first PISA or Program for International Student Assessment test.

Shocked by their poor results, the countries searched for ways to enhance the performance of their students. But, instead of catering to the needs of individual students, they once again planned education like an efficient factory, setting out exactly what students of a particular grade should learn and how they should learn it – all the while assessing their progress through testing.

This meant that by ninth grade, for example, all students might need to know basic algebra and be made to prove their ability by taking a nationwide test.


  1. An overly standardized education is highly problematic.

If you gave a brand new, unknown digital device to several different friends, you’d find that each of them approached the object a little differently. Some of them would start by reading the manual, while others would search the internet for information and still others would simply turn it on and play with it. The point is, as much as our schools might think otherwise, humans can’t be standardized – and education shouldn’t be either.

After all, from this little thought experiment it’s clear that your friends don’t learn the same way, and neither do schoolchildren. Yet, schools treat them as if they do. For instance, they are all expected to learn by sitting in class and listening to teachers explain things, even though this may not fit their personal learning styles.
Not just that, but not all students learn at the same level in all subjects at the same age. Some first graders might be advanced in math, but still struggle with reading, while others are exactly the opposite. Nonetheless, all these students are grouped by their age, not their skill levels.

Given this reality, it’s not surprising that the standards movement has failed to improve educational outcomes. After all, an education based almost entirely on exercises and tests will destroy a student’s creativity and lead them to disengage. And disengaged students do not learn well.

In 2012, 17 percent of US high school graduates couldn’t read or write fluently, and 21 percent of everyone between 18 and 24 couldn’t even point out the Pacific Ocean on a map!

But beyond that, students with skills outside of the prescribed academic areas, like those who are great with their hands or are superb singers, might also become discouraged by the incessant assessments demanded by the standards movement.

As a result, they may end up jobless, in prison or alienated from society. Worse still, students from underprivileged backgrounds are even more likely to fail in the modern education system. And even if they do succeed, these days a college degree is no guarantee of a job.

So, clearly, something has got to change.


  1. Organic farming is based on four principles that easily apply to education.

It’s easy to think about our education system as a factory and just as easy to see it as a factory pig farm – all about outputs. As long as the pigs grow fast enough, factory farmers don’t care if the animals are sick or the farm is harming the environment.

And while today’s students aren’t being fattened up, mass education is all about yields. It’s overly focused on test results and the number of graduates produced.

We already saw how this system is failing but is there a better one?

Well, maybe we can get some inspiration from organic farming, which is based on four principles: Health, Ecology, Fairness and Care.
For instance, a system based on health, ecology, fairness and care is designed to improve the lives of everyone involved, including the pigs, workers and consumers. But it’s also based on ecological systems and works in harmony with them. That means plants are grown using natural biological cycles.

And, since organic farming is founded on fairness and care, it strives to provide good living conditions for both present and future generations.

When applied to education, these principles work seamlessly. That’s because, while conventional schools focus primarily on achievements, whether they be in academics or sports, organic schools care about the development of the whole student into a physically, emotionally and intellectually healthy person.

But that’s not all – organic education also relies on the ecological system of the school community to foster every student’s abilities. Grange Primary School in Nottingham is run like a town by its students. It has a council, a newspaper and even a food market. As students work at the school and interact with one another, they learn a wide range of abilities from social skills to arithmetic.

Furthermore, organic education is fair because it appreciates all students, not just those with academic gifts. And finally, teachers and mentors treat students compassionately to provide the best conditions for their development. In other words, they treat them with care.

But what if you’re a teacher at a school that’s not yet so creatively organic? What can every teacher do to ensure their students learn while remaining curious and growing their creativity?

from cover of the book Creative Schools


  1. Children are natural learners and a teacher’s role is to guide them.

If you walked into an average classroom, you’d see students who are bored silly by just about everything that’s presented to them. While this sight might seem normal, it shouldn’t be. After all, kids are natural born learners.
Babies are so eager to explore the world that they grab any new thing they can reach. They also soak up language, often becoming fluent by the time they’re two or three.

And this type of hunger for learning goes well beyond childhood. This was illustrated by Sugata Mitra, professor of educational technology at Newcastle University in 1999, when he installed a computer in the wall of an Indian slum and observed children’s reactions to it. The interface was only displayed in English, which none of them knew, but within just a few hours the kids figured out how to use the console to play games and record music.

So, kids are inherently curious and it’s up to teachers to foster this curiosity, not kill it. Here it helps to think of the teacher as a gardener. He can’t force the children to develop, but he can nurture their natural inclination toward growth.

Here’s how. First, he should get the students to engage by leveraging their natural curiosity, creativity and eagerness to master new skills. One way a teacher can do this is by addressing students’ interests. For example, someone who’s obsessed with baseball will appreciate physics if she can use it to calculate the best way to hit a curveball.

But that’s not all that matters. A teacher’s expectations and relationships with the students are also key. That’s because a student will work much harder if her beloved teacher expects her to.

Beyond that, great teachers also understand that different students require different kinds of teaching methods. For example, a basketball coach might realize that one student needs her to demonstrate a shot rather than just describe it.

And finally, teachers need to empower their students to believe in themselves by showing them that they can deal with difficult and uncertain situations as long as they remain calm, confident and creative.

  1. Schools should give students eight core competencies, starting with curiosity, creativity and criticism.

When approaching education, it’s important for us to consider what exactly we want our kids to learn. Up until now, we’ve answered this question with a never-ending list of subjects from French to algebra. But to guide students in later life, we need to teach them competencies, not subjects.

That’s because the future is uncertain and there’s no way to know if the subjects we teach students today will help them in the real world tomorrow. So, a better strategy is to teach skills that will enable them to learn what they need while dealing with whatever social or economic situations they might encounter.

This is simple and just requires schools to teach students eight core competencies, also known as the eight Cs. The first is curiosity, which we already know kids have a lot of. Here the school’s job is to develop the natural inquisitiveness of children by encouraging them to pay attention to the world and ask questions about what they find.
It’s also necessary for schools to foster creativity, or the ability to form new ideas and put them into practice. After all, from the invention of written language to the rise of the internet, creativity has been central to all cultural progress. And, going forward, it’s only going to become more important when the students of today face ever more complex problems that they’ll only be able to solve creatively.

The third competency relates to the ubiquitous information overload we face today, which demands the ability to discern facts from opinions and relevant information from irrelevant noise. So, it’s essential to teach students criticism, or the desire to question the data they observe and draw their own conclusions.


  1. The final five competencies help students become better team members and citizens.

We expect and deserve a great deal from our schools. So, how can we ensure we get it? Well, education serves four main functions.

First, it’s supposed to benefit students personally by helping them build on their individual talents. Second, it’s meant to boost the economy by generating a stream of innovative, well-qualified new workers. Third, it should help young people understand their culture and appreciate those of others. And finally, schools are also tasked with producing politically engaged and compassionate citizens.

But our students won’t be able to fulfill these functions without further competencies. So, here’s where the ability to communicate comes into play. After all, the ability to express oneself is key and it goes far beyond writing skills. It also includes the ability to speak clearly and confidently in public and convey information through things like art and music.
Beyond that, students also need the ability to collaborate, not simply compete. That’s why good schools have students work on team projects where they learn to organize, compromise and resolve conflicts as a group.

Another essential competency to teach students is compassion, or the ability to feel empathy for the feelings of others. That’s because an empathetic child won’t bully others since he knows how terrible it is to be bullied and wouldn’t want to feel that pain himself.

It’s also important to teach children composure through meditation and other mindfulness practices that help them connect with their feelings while developing inner balance.

And finally, while conventional schools might teach the theoretical aspects of politics, like how elections work, what’s really essential is to teach citizenship. Doing so will help students oppose injustice and use politics to benefit their communities. That’s exactly the idea at Grange Primary School, where the students run their own town council.

Kateřina Bečková: I wanted to secure the best possible education for my children

The story of the International Montessori School of Prague brings together a number of fascinating worldwide trends. The first of these trends is glocalisation – a combination of globalisation and localisation, with the American Montessori Society global accreditation creating a framework, while the school is also adjusted to the Czech environment and conditions. Kateřina Bečková, founder and executive director says: “We have to, and we want to, meet not just the American accreditation standards, but also take into account the Czech environment and its distinctiveness. Children from 27 different nationalities attend IMSP, but half of our children are from the Czech Republic. As such, our curriculum must not just accommodate the European metric system, but also the method of teaching mathematics, for example the method of multiplication and division which is specific to us.”

The second trend I would like to note is that Kateřina is an example of what one could term a “self-made female entrepreneur”. Female entrepreneurs offer something specific. In contrast to men, who focus on doing business in fields which are perceived as economically beneficial such as construction, electronics and IT, women more frequently focus on doing business in social services or small retail. This female type of enterprise is often at a disadvantage in terms of access to funding and technologies, while it is also highly regulated by complex laws.

A third major trend is the issue of leadership and education. At the start of the new school year, the Czech Management Association published a report stating that the Czech Republic could become more competitive if it had more self-confident leaders. The standard Czech education system does not consider working with leaders, despite research which suggests that the key characteristics of future leaders can be developed mainly up until a child’s 10th birthday!

Kateřina Bečková founded the private International Montessori School of Prague in 2002. The spark for doing so was an endeavour to secure high quality education for her own three children. Over 15 years, IMSP has become one of the best schools in the Czech Republic with places for 110 pupils aged from 15 months to 13 years. Today, the school employs 16 full-time teachers and 4 part-time teachers. As well as preschool and school education, IMSP also provides after school play and other clubs. The teaching staff includes specialists in art, Spanish, drama, music, physical education and library science amongst other fields.

Kateřina put her energy, vision and herself into building the school. When you meet her, you would hardly believe that this naturally shy woman is the director of a major educational institution and her mission is to bring an integrated and holistic approach to education to prepare children for the future. Kateřina is one of the greatest Czech experts in education and the Montessori method, having achieved the necessary training while running the school. She originally studied economics, and subsequently completed a master’s degree in Special Education. She has completed the Montessori Leadership programme and continues to learn about leadership in the Czech Republic and abroad.


Kateřina, IMSP celebrated its 15th birthday in spring 2017. How do you look back on this time?

I take stock. As you noted, my kids were my main drive for founding the school. But they’ve already finished school and I am pleased that they are so well prepared for further studies and for life in general. I still love working with kids, which gives me great satisfaction and I am proud of our school and the stable and professional team I have managed to build up. I think we have achieved the optimum in terms of size and operation. I don’t plan to expand the school with additional branches, nor do I want to increase the number of pupils in our classes, or increase the number of classes. I think we have gone through the difficult phase of building up the school, and we have constructed a solid foundation. Now, we want to focus on further increasing quality. We enjoy continuing to work on communication, focusing on increased effectiveness, and achieving sustainable results. I think that this kind of work is a great reward for me. Most recently, we have been focusing on defining a new mission, the values linked with that mission, and how to put them into practice.

What are you most proud of in relation with IMSP?

Of all the accreditations we have achieved, because we are the only American Montessori Society fully accredited school in Europe. Our most recent accreditations, both American and Czech, gave us top marks. The fact we are full to capacity demonstrates our quality and popularity. I couldn’t achieve that alone; I rely on a stable, professional team of accredited colleagues. I am also proud of our premises; our school has a large garden over 4000 m2 in size next to a wood. We have an aviary in the garden, fruit bushes and trees and a vegetable patch, and looking after our plants and animals is an integral part of our teaching. Last but not least, we are successfully building a community of parents and school advocates who are spreading Montessori education principles further throughout Czech society.

There remains great interest in Montessori in the Czech Republic. The method is suitable not just for children, but also for older people. In July this year, Prague hosted the International Montessori Congress. For those who didn’t take part, it was a prestigious event which takes place once every four years, with 2000 participants and more than 100 experts from around the world visiting the Prague congress. What makes Montessori different?

It’s important to realise that the Montessori method is not just about tools, but above all about the approach. One pitfall here is the fact that the Montessori method is not a copyrighted patent so, often, schools purchase the tools and immediately put “Montessori method” into their name. The Montessori method is about the philosophy and putting it into practice, about the ability of the teacher to manage to work with both the whole class and with individuals and about seeing the unique potential of each child. The tools themselves are secondary. Another challenge is the fact that many Czechs advocate traditional educational methods and it is difficult for them to entirely trust a new approach based on free choice. There is a general prejudice that the Montessori method means chaos, but actually the opposite is true. We have to work to balance the expectations and boundaries while offering free choice.

IMSP is a leader in bringing new trends to education. Which trends do you think are fundamental?

I think there are three fundamental trends: recognising your own unique talent, the ability to cooperate and a love for education. When interacting with children, we focus on holistic child development, helping them to grasp and also express their uniqueness. We teach children not just to solve problems, but also to cooperate effectively. Today, individual development and assertion is often stressed, but without interaction and effective cooperation with other individuals you cannot do anything on your own in society. Montessori is based on the principle of “help me to do it myself” from an early age. Even the youngest children take part in cleaning and tidying and the preparation of snacks; they are much more independent in communication, and also hygiene habits and the ability to look after themselves compared to their peers. We focus on the different components of intelligence – social intelligence, emotional intelligence, bodily/kinaesthetic intelligence and moral intelligence. We work with four key values – respect, consideration, responsibility and kindness, and we place great stress on overall integrity. Last but not least, we make appropriate use of technology which is going to play an even greater role in education.

How do you see yourself as a leader?

We use the Talent Dynamic profile tests at school, meaning we build on the natural talent of individuals, not on acquired skills. Using this approach, my profile is “Trader,” and my leadership is based on long-term relationships, care for others and building a community. My approach is to undertake individual actions together with a team. People can rely on me; my door is always open both to my team and to parents. And now I’m learning to delegate more; I want to focus more on strategic decisions and spend less time on day-to-day operations. As I said, I’m looking forward to sharing everything we have managed to build with the wider community which we are helping to build.

What advice do you have for parents of school children in relation to the start of the new school year?

I’m an advocate of good routines which can save time and energy. Take enough time to sleep and then for your morning, your breakfast, journey, so you aren’t stressed every morning. Trust your school and children and make enough time for them. Especially at the beginning, don’t just speak to your children, but also the teachers and school management. You are our partners and we are here for you.

What are your plans and vision for the future?

My mission is to bring a holistic approach to education in which every child can express their uniqueness. Specifically, I am trying to bring the above discussed Montessori methods of education to our country so that we can truly activate the uniqueness of each one of us. I have already spoken about the community of parents and advocates we are building, and we are preparing a series of educational workshops for them. We want to focus more on working with our youngest children, where we see the greatest potential. We want to provide parents with a detailed guide for creating a Montessori home environment. And, of course, we will continue to evaluate and improve all our approaches within our holistic approach to education. One of the problems of Czech education is not just its focus on knowledge, but also how rigid it is.


The interview was published in Czech & Slovak magazine.

Kateřina Vacková: Our doctors are on a par with our Harvard colleagues

Although she officially received her MUDr title at her graduation ceremony in Karolinum’s ancient Great Hall in July, Kateřina can boast of having saved 36 lives – cancer was discovered in 34 people in time through Loono’s preventive programmes, and two more people recognised they had serious heart problems on the basis of Loono’s new campaign.

Kateřina founded Loono three years ago in order to promote the importance of self-examination, and awareness of and responsibility for your own health amongst the general public. She founded Loono based on her own experience as a patient, when at 22 years of age she was given that dreaded diagnosis: cancer.

Kateřina set out to combat not just the disease, but also the low level of public awareness, particularly amongst the young. In 2016, Forbes nominated her amongst the “30 most talented Czechs under the age of 30”.

Loono and its witty information campaign which does not frighten, but rather informs of the necessity to self-examine your breasts and testicles, drew the attention not just of young people, but also the general media. Over the whole time Kateřina was studying hard at the medical faculty, she had two jobs, one paid as a project manager and the other in Loono, unpaid until this August. During her studies, she undertook specialist placements in Austria and Portugal.

Loono today comprises over 70 volunteers – educators and the main organising team made up of 10 collaborators.

This year, besides completing her studies at Charles University’s First Faculty of Medicine, Kateřina also completed a placement at Harvard, undertook an inspiring trip to San Francisco and launched another campaign with the Loono team, this time focused on prevention of cardiovascular diseases.

Kateřina Vacková is an example of young social entrepreneur who is our first recipient of ATAIRU Authentic Leadership scholarship for young leaders and we`re proud to be guides on her journey.

MUDr. Kateřina Vacková, Loono. Photo by: Martin Faltejsek

Each meeting I have with Kateřina is incredible inspiring. I admire how much energy this beautiful and petite young lady has in her, I listen with wonder of her vision and plans and I cross my fingers for her. Kateřina calls herself a citizen of the world, and her desire to change the world is not just a proclamation, but something she is demonstrating in real life every day and in every step she takes.

I first met Kateřina at a talk for Oxford and Cambridge university alumni. Speakers are often nervous in front of an audience used to high-level debate, but Kateřina didn’t show it. She began her talk with the firmly posed questions: “When did you last have a preventive examination at the doctor’s? Do you know what examinations you are entitled to? And when did you last undertake a self-examination?”

One might be so bold as to claim that Kateřina looks after fitness within her own team. As the organisation name, Loono, is not subject to declension as standard Czech words are, anyone from the internal team who says it incorrectly has to do three push-ups. Luckily this only happened to me once during the interview…

Kateřina, in July you got your MUDr title. What has changed since your graduation?

I’ll begin with the graduation. I was at the graduation ceremony, a wonderful occasion, with my whole family; it was moving and my parents were proud. Personally, I had been wondering for a while whether to do clinical practice after graduation or whether to concentrate on Loono. I think I would have felt bad not focusing on Loono. So I started in August, becoming the first person working there on a full-time basis, and now I’m enjoying spending every day dedicated to the organisation, and even in the first 14 days we have made incredible progress. We have expanded our team, we’re still recruiting, we have successfully applied for a grant and we’ve gained another sponsor.
Sponsors are really important for us right now; I’d like to be able to employ more people full-time and I would also like to expand the scope of our education, to focus not just on the general public but also to have the opportunity to educate medicine students who will then educate others. I don’t want them to have to take up part-time work in fast-food joints, but rather that they have the opportunity to acquire practice in the field they are going to be working in, while also receiving a certain remuneration to help them, e.g., in financing their student dormitories. Over the past two years when I have had the opportunity to work with medics, I have observed what experience they have gained and how this has subsequently helped them in their medical profession.

You yourself represent the emerging generation of doctors, and you have also had the opportunity during your placement to work in the hospital at Harvard University. What insights have you taken from the USA?

Positive ones. I believe in us, the new generation of doctors, but I also greatly appreciate the previous generation. Healthcare is at a great standard in the Czech Republic, well organised, compared to abroad we have markedly shorter waiting times both for examinations and operations. Since healthcare here is paid for from the public health insurance system, a comparison with the USA or the UK is not always appropriate, but even compared to countries with the same funding system we come out very well. Our doctors are skilled. I would advise the upcoming generation to support two areas in particular: interest in innovation, and also communication with patients. At Harvard I saw that although our American colleagues have better equipment

and a different style of work, our qualitative medical education and approach to patients are entirely on a par.

You didn’t want to stay in the USA; you returned to complete your studies and focus fully on Loono. In the meantime, however, you also stayed in San Francisco. What did you bring back for Loono from there?

I went to San Francisco on holiday to relax and practise yoga. I enjoyed the coffee bars and galleries. Naturally, I had loads of discussions about preventive healthcare in the USA, and I visited Silicon Valley in order to find out more about the latest projects and start-ups in the healthcare field. I received great feedback on our work and the results we have achieved despite our limited funding. Everyone around me supported my belief that we should expand Loono and its activities into other countries. I also had the opportunity to meet with Czechs working in Silicon Valley in some great companies or start-ups. The stories of people who have decided to set out and take up work in a foreign country for large projects are always a great inspiration for me. I myself have had this experience during my placements in Austria and Portugal.

What are you most proud of about Loono?

Definitely the 34 lives saved through prevention, and also my whole team. When I was beginning, I was worried whether someone would join me, would believe in my idea and spread it to the world with me. People want to co-operate with us; Loono is now perceived as a brand others want to work for, and we are given as an example of good practice in non-profit organisation communication. I’m blushing, but I’m glad we can inspire others in how to spread your own mission effectively.

Regarding prevention, do Czechs value their health?

I wouldn’t want to relate this question to Czechs alone. In general I think the situation is improving. People are seeking out health information on their own, are more open to changing their habits in regards to a healthy lifestyle, very often on the basis of a personal meeting. After my stay in the USA, I consider myself a citizen of the world, so I think everyone on this planet, regardless of race, gender and nationality, deserve high quality accessible information on preventive care. And this is the mission I’m now setting out into the world for.

Loono is a leader in terms of non-profit organisation communication, this interview is for Leaders magazine; how do you see yourself as a leader?

I personally still see myself as a junior leader. I’ve been leading Loono for under three years and I learn something new every day. Every bit of feedback I get from the team or people I work with through Loono also moves me forward. I also ask a lot of questions of older and more experienced businesspeople and mentors.

Leadership as such, for me, is about kindness and an individual approach. Only in this way can you support and motivate your team at the same time. A strong vision is also important, and your management and actions must follow this vision, both in your working and personal life. It would be very difficult for Loono to serve as an example of a healthy positive lifestyle if I myself didn’t exercise five times a week, didn’t meditate or didn’t eat healthily.

Let’s discuss your vision more; what will Loono look like in the coming years?

It will certainly become a global organisation, though I can’t give you a precise timescale. I myself want to find out more about other countries and their cultures, and I also want to help develop people. I think everyone needs to know about prevention, regardless of their country of origin. We can open this up anywhere where there is a medical faculty, and hopefully we will then be able to even in areas without one. And there’s more! Imagine some kind of Erasmus work programme being established in Loono for students who want to try working not just in another country, but also with other specialists from other fields to aid them in preparing for their careers. Loono is not just about medics; our team includes specialists in communication, PR, marketing, social media, HR and more. Team members can enrich each other. I want to help everyone equally, and I have great plans and also great self-confidence.

A final word?

Look after yourself in time, be active for the good of your body and for life in general. If my story and Loono’s message has touched you, then support us!


The interview was published in Czech & Slovak magazine.

Jiří Kůs: Nanotechnology represents a promising industry

Jiří Kůs, Chairman of the Czech Association of Nanotechnology Industry, Photo: Archive


You are the Chairman of the Czech Association of Nanotechnology Industry and also an evangelist of the 3rd Industrial Revolution concept.  After completing university studies in industrial technology, you also studied sociology and psychology.  Having the background in all the above mentioned disciplines, how do you perceive the today’s world and society?

It is clear that we are on the verge of many great changes.  As these are linked to technologies, we can label them as the 3rd Industrial Revolution.   At the same time, such a change will influence the social system, politics and eventually each and every aspect of a human life on the planet.  On one side of the imaginary chessboard we will find technological miracles in the form of the nano-thin invisible layer bringing about energies at no cost.  The price of solar panels has been declining exponentially.  In Australia, there is already technology that enables industrial printing of solar panels on a pliant sheet/ bendable foil.  Each device and each object, including our clothing, will be possible to manufacture own energy.  Energy will be derived from the sun, from the movement and from the interaction of advanced biomaterials.

The other side of the chessboard is the global digital network.  The number of internet users has been skyrocketing.  Each object will have not only its physical shape, but also a digital shape.  At the same time, life will become more local, given the possibilities of 3D or 4D printing, as we will be able to print objects needed for our daily life; food production will also become more local, as well as energy production.   Political discussions will not revolve around the right vs. left but rather centralization vs. decentralization, control and censorship of data vs. freedom.


Nanotechnologies represent a fast growing industry that covers areas from energy, textiles, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and many others…What else will be nano?

In 1949, the prestigious magazine Popular Mechanics forecast that in the future computers might weight less than 1,5 tons.  Well, they were wrong and nowadays we might consider it a good joke.  However, we need to realize that some key technologies which will significantly impact people’s lives in the next 20 years, so rather near future, have not yet been discovered.  Nowadays, there already exist certain outcomes of research with all possible consequence so hard to imagine when put in practice.  Just to name one example.  What about discovering that the substance bringing energy to cells of a human body can be also used to supply energy to the next generation of supercomputers. Will we have living biological supercomputers with no need of an external energy supply like batteries or electrical network?  Recently, there was a certain technology developed that can detect a DNA molecule with the help of a mobile and a small module with a nanochip.  Does it sound like an episode from Startrek series?


How successful is the Czech Republic in the sphere of nanotechnologies compared to the world?

Let me go back in history, to 1963, and ‘I have a dream’ speech by Martin Luther King.  I believe there is synchronicity, since I was born in 1963.  I have my dream just now, in 2017. A dream about a small country in the heart of Europe where I have lived for 50 years.  I am not a politician; I doubt that Czech politicians have ever dreamt or that they even know how to dream.  My dream is to see the small Czech Republic perceived in the world of technologies like a pearl.  Czech is nano is a slogan that each journalist, politician and businessman is familiar with.  Czech nanofibers from Liberec are spread all over the world.  The air on the planet is being cleaned by the Czech discovery of fotocatalyctic nanocoating.  Some developing countries no more suffer from water shortage, since it is provided thanks to unique Czech mobile hydroplants based on solar energy and nano-membrane filtration.  Moreover, it is able to provide clean water free from E.coli bacteria, which is considered close to a miracle.

The Czech Republic has also become a symbol for post-modern eco-urbanism and local energetics of the 21st century.  There is much more to explore than the Prague Castle panorama or the medieval Castle of Karlštejn.  Tourists are looking for a lifestyle inspiration in the Czech Republic, the so-called localization principle.  Each house is capable of generating all energy needed for its own consumption, storage in 3D nanobateries, being the Czech patent are obviously helping.  Each village and each town has community gardens and the principle of localization has been applied with regards to the food.  Try to supply yourself with everything you consume.  We have fewer roads in desperate need to repair and healthier population.  Mobility in cities is provided by autonomous electrocars.  There is a perfect lifestyle.  The world just envies us.

Concerning nanotechnology, in nanofibre technology we are much further than Israel or the US.  We have many patents. And as I travelled all over the world, I was also pleased that most advanced laboratories use the microscopes from Brno!  In addition to several expert laboratories dedicated to the research in nanotechnologies, we have several dozen companies producing nanotechnology-based products.  We have nanofibre filters and membranes, antiallergic beddings, nanocoating cleaning the air, protection of goods and documents thanks to the nanodots, nano water filters, nano structures used in medicine etc.  The Czech Republic proudly holds several patents in the whole industry.  However, these companies lack means for stronger marketing.  Therefore, we have established The Association of Czech Nanotechnology Industry.


But you have already started to fulfil your nano dream…

One should fulfil one’s own dreams.  Some years ago I managed to persuade one of my friends to jointly establish a nano company.  At the beginning there was a vague idea to set up a trading company but at the end by coincidence we became the manufacturer of anti dust-mite beddings with the Czech nanofiber membrane.  After researching the market, we realized that we are the first and only company having such goods in the  market worldwide.  We were happy about our innovative idea and we started developing products, which we finalized in 2015. At the same time we launched sales and marketing campaigns.  The Czech Republic is going to be nano!


Well, having done several interviews with representatives of SMEs, I know the continuation is unlikely to be a bed of roses…

The reality is that there is little awareness on various levels – public, state and investor levels – about nanotechnology.  The same is true about assistance with marketing abroad.  It is important to change that.  I also regard crucial to start with education of pupils and students so we have a new upcoming generation of nanoscientists.  Let us visit schools and show teachers how the latest technologies are working. Let us hold conferences for both experts and the public and launch nanodays in big cities.  Let us live up to the slogan that appeared in the New York Times a couple years ago:  The Czech Republic is NANO!

There is often a mention of projects which should apply to receive either state or EU funding, however, these are not designed for start-ups.  They require at least three years of proven existence.  Therefore, I support the view that such projects rather tend to help bigger, already established companies.  When it comes to banks, the conditions are similar.  By the way, such situation is the same all over Europe.  In the US, there is a much higher availability of joint venture capital or business angels funds which are not afraid to invest in projects that might appear a bit risky in the beginning.  In the Czech Republic, the main interest is to invest into real estate or IT.  Nevertheless, nanotechnology represents a promising industry and it yields high return on investment, but one needs 5-7 years’ horizon.


What are your final words to Czech and Slovak Leaders readers?

Technology revolution is a big chance for small countries that have a bunch of creative people and we should use this opportunity.  My appeal also goes to potential investors – do not be afraid to invest into technological companies.  Material technologies are the key drivers for other industries and you will certainly get your money back, and multiplied.

Last but not least, let us be proud of what we have and what we have achieved in the Czech Republic.  I was a bit sadden to see Czech newspapers speculate immediately with great enthusiasm about a possible Tesla investment in our country but a Czech invention, a unique 3D nanotech battery, has not been interesting enough for them for a very long time.

Let us not only admire things from abroad, and let us not underestimate ourselves.  In the Czech Republic we have so much to be proud of! The Czech Republic is NANO!

Set Yourself F-R-E-E (not only while on vacations)

Lessons Learned While Travelling in the Summer to Make Everyday “Ordinary” Life Extraordinary

Source: Louis Blythe, unsplash.com

I love both summer and travelling.  It’s hard to say what matters more.  But summer and travelling is truly an ideal combination.  After many years, I was fortunate to be able to take three weeks to explore life in the beautiful state of Colorado, USA. I was not completely disconnected from work; I just switched into remote working mode.  During the first week, my children attended a summer camp, so I had a few hours between the drop off and pick up time for myself.  During the second week, we stayed with our friends so we had a busy schedule but we did not get to live a nomadic life on the road.  This came during the last week of our travels, when we stayed in six various places within eight days.

Foto: Linda Štucbartová

Reflecting upon my very intense yet pleasant experience I realized that there are four approaches that could be easily adopted into my everyday life, so I do not have to wait several years to experience the same sense of flow, exploration, amazement, appreciation of being out of my comfort zone and much more…  


I realized that I was much more focused during my vacations than in my working days.  Multitasking was simply not an option during the many challenging or exciting moments such as: driving to our final destination after 28 hours of travel (Prague – London – Charlotte – Denver) in the middle of the night to an unknown place (and being grateful that TomTom got it right this time!).  Likewise, driving a normal rented car on a dirt road for the first time to get to Lake Cataract hiking place required full attention.  This came easy when marveling at the views of various peaks, mountain ranges, continental divide and other natural beauties.


Even though I consider myself a cautious, informed yet flexible traveler, there were moments that I just had to accept force majeure.  Getting stuck at the top of the mountain after the gondola service was interrupted due to lightning and thunderstorm?  No problem! It was a great opportunity to have two glasses of Chardonnay and a nice chat with my friend.  The children exploited the situation well and the amount of money spent on ice-cream would probably cover a babysitter for several days.  However, it was worth it, as two working mothers enjoyed an unforgettable hour of meaningful conversation and a good laugh.  Arriving to the overbooked hotel and not getting the room you booked and paid for?  (yes, you guessed right, it was through booking.com), presented me with an opportunity to negotiate for a complimentary drink and meal and a day later I appreciated the right/upgraded room even more.  Last but not least, my plans to work on a book project got completely set aside.  I did some writing but rather than enjoying the process, I found it very laborious and frustrating. I blamed myself for not proceeding fast enough.  I decided to let it go and enjoy the present moment, going on hikes, exploring nature and doing NOTHING.  I spent one evening with a group of women, preparing a women’s  weekend seminar and sharing life stories.  Besides experiencing the notion of a global sisterhood (a term coined by Annie Lennox), as a side effect, I got some new ideas for the book project, this time in an almost effortless way.


I love Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Being on the road guarantees being out of the comfort zone a lot.  I use the following motto when working with my clients, “uncertainty is the place where miracles happen.”  Walking around the Florissant Fossils Beds during rain, and later, a thunderstorm made all the photos and learning more valuable.  All of us being soaked, we enjoyed our time inside the museum, listening very attentively to a documentary about the area.  Discovering the beginning of the Rim track hike to the top of the hill in Snowmass village on our own was a moment to cherish and to be proud of. It also provided a great joke to share, we had asked a hotel concierge for the direction and we were guided to a local shopping mall as a worthwhile attraction instead.


If I were to choose the most important lesson, I definitely want to keep a more relaxed attitude.  During vacations, I let go of perfectionism and  just try to enjoy whatever it is in the moment.  After buying the perfect hiking shoes, I badly kicked and injured my little toe.  For the rest of the trip, I was mostly hiking like a local, wearing sandals.  When we arrived to a bed and breakfast at the vineyards (this time not via booking.com but recommended accommodation based on a local guide), we found out that the only vineyards were at the sign post.  We simply asked the hosts to arrange an excursion to them and we got it, even after the closing hours.  Further on the road, I declared the 22nd day of our travels as a rest day.  Even though we were in Manitou Springs, a town offering many sights, museums, peaks and activities to explore and discover, we spent the day in a Sun and Water Spa, soaking in cedar barrels in local mineral water.  At the end, the journey is more important than destination, isn’t it?  We did not make it to Pikes Peak, we did not see the Wild West Museum.  I believe that there must be always a reason to return.

My family and I will remember many experiences of being in the present, surrounded by like-minded souls… such as celebrating my birthday surrounded by my family and friends and wearing my “birthday girl hat”.  We sang John Denver’s songs such as “Rocky Mountain High”, “Country Roads” or “Leaving on A Jet Plane” next to the campfire while making special American s’mores  (roasted marshmallows with a chocolate and a biscuit).  I felt proud to share with a group of women the history of our special Czechoslovak-USA relations thanks to our first Czechoslovak president Tomas Garrigue Masaryk and his American wife, Charlotte.

Re-uniting with my high-school classmate Ray, now an evangelical pastor at Grand Junction, and sharing our paths taken close to a quarter of a century ago made us both reflect on our journeys since I was an exchange student in a senior year in Palmer, Alaska in 1993-1994. Enjoying typical US steaks and appreciating the US service when being truly served in a shop or in a restaurant is another item I cannot pack but I will recall often when back in Europe.  Admiring natural sand sculptures at Colorado National Monument, trying out echoes in a canyon or studying fossils at the Florissant River Bed on the other hand made me aware about the fact that the present is only a glimpse between the past and the future.  Let us make sure we live the moment fully.

“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned to as to have the life that is waiting for us.” 

Joseph Campbell

Quoted from the book “Excess Baggage” by my friend Tracey Carisch, to be published in August 2018.  This blog post is dedicated to her and her family. We met in Prague in 2014 and continued our friendship on-line for almost three years. Thanks to her kind hospitality, we were able to explore Colorado with locals as well as on our own.

foto: Simon Matzinger, unsplash.com


Anthony Newstead: From Tel Aviv to Atlanta and Beyond

Creating a Bridge – Developing and Connecting an Entrepreneurial Community with Major Global Markets

In my experience, there are two types of companies with regards to Corporate Social Responsibility. There are the ones who have prepared many presentations on this issue, printed out nice brochures and organize spotlight events. Then there are the ones who walk the talk and act accordingly. Coca-Cola belongs to the latter category. Have you ever listened to a powerful speech in which a company group VP has not mentioned a company product but rather shared a proven concept of social transformation through technology entrepreneurism?

Meet Anthony Newstead, Global Group Director, Emerging Technologies & Strategic Innovation and a co-founder of BridgeCommunity in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Meet the man who is behind the remarkable project that brings together big corporations, start ups and engages them to benefit local communities. Meet the man who thinks that more women should enter technology and coding, so the discipline will cease to be perceived as the male logic oriented field but rather it will present itself as a creative art. Meet the man to whom corporate, start ups and public co-operation comes naturally as he lives it. A career that began in music, took Newstead through a detour into programming, migrated into investment banking. He then progressed into leading large-scale multi-year Business Transformation initiatives within Coca-Cola Bottling, around Western and Eastern Europe, including Vending Operations in the Far East.

After taking up an engagement leading business development in a UK financial startup he made a return to Coca-Cola in Interactive Marketing, leading a cross-functional team in a Pan-European iTunes and Coca-Cola collaboration.

Currently based in Atlanta, Newstead is focused on leading an IT Innovation Pipeline powered by the creation and co- founding of “The Bridge”, a commercialization program for startups that was initially piloted in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Newstead led the creation and co- founding of the North American spin-off, BridgeCommunity, in collaboration with a number of large locally-based organizations. The BridgeComunity is a unique program that grows the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Atlanta through startup engagement, partnerships, a powerful corporate member-to-member network and a local community initiative to help raise the technical skill level from high school onwards.


Dear Anthony, we met at the Global Female Summit in Berlin, which prides to be the economic forum that hosts 300 plus female executives. Even though Coca-Cola prides itself for gender diversity and inclusion, in what aspects did you find your speaking experience to almost exclusively female executive large audience unique?

It was an absolute honor to be invited to speak at the Global Female Summit. The breadth of experience and intellectual power at the event was an impressive experience. From my perspective, the passion each person applied to their roles, their desire to learn, query and absorb new ways of addressing key business problems was absolutely energizing. I’d also say the sense of belonging, a feeling of a collective will to share and support each other in their respective business fields is a unique aspect of this network.


You shared the example of BridgeCommunity in Atlanta, where Coca-Cola and other corporations partner with the community of startups in order to help the local communities. What was the reason to launch the cooperation of various entities that could be represented by opposites “Davids” and “Goliaths” together?

The prime objective of BridgeCommunity is to connect with software technology startups that have products and services with the potential to address the key business challenges we face. We took the decision to reach out to fellow corporates with an equal interest in engaging with startups for a number of reasons. This ensures that each corporate member only needs to make a modest financial contribution, which collectively provides the program with sufficient funds to proceed. It also relieves the pressure of engagement on each commercial brand. When a corporation makes the decision to run an equivalent program run on their own, there is an implicit pressure to provide opportunities for each and every startup that is brought in. If a startup exits the program without any tangible opportunity the danger is they will spread the word in the local community that brand ‘x’ are not to be trusted. In effect, each startup in the program is a brand ambassador for the underlying corporate and needs to be treated as such, which can be di cult to sustain on an ongoing basis for one corporate. In the case of the Atlanta BridgeCommunity, the program can bring in 20+ startups each year with each corporate focusing only on the ones most relevant to themselves, safe in the knowledge that the other corporate members are doing the same, with the net result that all startups find opportunities. By joining forces with other large, locally-based organizations we amplify the attractiveness of the program to prospective startups and enhance significantly the training we provide them, with the addition of a diverse range of business expertise from our corporate members.


However, your project did not start in Atlanta, but in Tel Aviv…

Yes, we launched a program called The Bridge in Tel Aviv, back in 2014, with a core focus on collaborating with early stage startups to access new consumer technologies, in return for which we provide the opportunity to leverage our marketing expertise. Since launching we have welcomed Turner Broadcasting and recently Mercedes Benz to join us in Tel Aviv. We’re now in our fourth cohort cycle (one per year) and have had a number of successful startup engagements, including for example “Bringg”, who have created an “Uber” for the enterprise platform to support delivery of products and services on demand. In parallel, back in 2015 we took the decision to spin-out a new venture called BridgeCommunity, that took the core startup engagement methodology established in Tel Aviv, with a more holistic focus on expanding developing startup communities in collaboration with local corporations and with a strong community focus. The pilot for this community model was launched in Atlanta in 2016 with IHG, The Weather Company, Cox Enterprises and Capgemini. This year we have been delighted to welcome Porsche Financial Services and SunTrust Bank as new Corporate Members and have also joined forces with the Atlanta Hawks Basketball Team, providing access to Philips Arena – the 4th busiest arena in North America – as an engagement lab for testing out products and services from BridgeCommunity startups. Atlanta was a deliberate choice for the launch location, it has a growing startup community, great transport connections, strong university foundations, a passionate local authority support, it has more fortune 500 companies headquartered in the city than in Silicon Valley and of course it is the home of Coca-Cola. We have a deep connection to the city and BridgeCommunity was the perfect vehicle to support the local community while at the same time bringing value to our company and our corporate members.


Have you envisaged spreading your concept to other regions, such as Central and Eastern Europe?

The BridgeCommunity model is not simply an Atlanta model, it is instead a model structured to expand and amplify developing startup communities, with Atlanta as our pilot, founding location. The vision of the program is that there is hidden talent out there, in places of the world that tend to be over-looked in favor of more established locations.


During our conversation, you mentioned your passion for students not to become just “coders” but rather “technological developers” and you outlined the need to support creative arts…

I believe passionately that we should be developing creative individuals grounded in technology, creative technologists, rather than pure coders. I want them to not just code but to understand and intuitively feel the beauty in the code. It’s that creative thought, that intuitive leap that helps to generate amazing, innovative ideas. Ultimately I’d like to re-position coding as an art instead of a science. In my opinion you can either pick up a paintbrush, a pen, a chisel or a keyboard; all are tools to ‘create’. All of this helps to address the supply-side of any startup community.


I liked your parallel that start ups are the new punk rockers. Given the statistics, many millennials do not find big corporations attractive anymore… Can corporations become punk rockers and if so, how?

The challenge for enterprises is to find a way to harness this creative, innovative force to re-energize their own business. Interestingly, as much as growing startups are trying to act and become ‘big’, enterprises are equally keen to act and become ‘small’– the intersection of those two paths is where programs like BridgeCommunity can really help. Engaging with startups can act as shot of adrenaline into a large enterprise that has the potential to not only bring short-term value through the provision of products and services, but can also help to generate an entrepreneurial mindset within the workforce. It is indeed possible for enterprises to re-discover their maverick, innovative roots, but it does require senior executive commitment for change. The trick is to treat the expansion of an innovation strategy that includes startup engagement as ultimately a cultural change initiative across the organization. Question everything, challenge your teams to improve their respective areas, encourage rapid experimentation, give permission to innovate and partner with startups.


Next months, you are starting the project with public schools. So far, students from less fortunate backgrounds were given laptops to start to learn coding. At the same time, you engaged their parents to use the laptops themselves, through adult training classes, to help ensure the parents gain value as well. So far, you have been engaged in start ups and in educational communities…Are there any limits for public-private engagement?

Fundamentally, the aim of the BridgeCommunity program is to provide opportunities: Opportunities for corporations to share knowledge and learn from each other, opportunities for startups rapidly accelerate their route to market through tactical training and exposure to relevant corporations and opportunities for students to become the next set of future software technology entrepreneurs where such options are limited. In doing all this the Community benefits through an in flux of entrepreneurial talent, the Corporations benefit through access to talented interns and innovation startup solutions and young adults benefit through a tangible chance to transform their lives. This can only be done effectively through close private-public partnership and I am extremely grateful for the local authority and local non-profits support and goodwill we have received, together with the amazing support and commitment from our corporate members that has collectively helped us progress this program to where it is today. It is not the sole mechanism to drive value, but as we move forwards, where we see value creation opportunites for our corporate members that also can tangibly benefit the local community in some form a public- private model may well be the solution.


Your final words to Czech and Slovak Leaders readers…

I would just like to stress that BridgeCommunity itself is a startup, we are learning as we go along, with the twin desire to do good in the community while also bringing tangible value to our company and our corporate members. In addition I believe it’s also a testament to the open innovation spirit within Coca-Cola that has provided myself the internal support to get this initiative off the ground. It’s that willingness to take a risk, to provide an employee the support necessary to realize a dream that can transform organizations from within and is I believe a powerful first step for an enterprise to take on their innovation journey. Embracing the startup community can be hugely rewarding, but looking within first, providing the tools, the streamlined processes and the entrepreneurial mindset culture internally before you engage will help ensure all sides benefit.


The interview was published in Czech & Slovak Leaders Magazine.

Future of Education

Radka has been researching the future of education in this world. She has summarized her findings based on Peter Diamondis` summit Abundance 360 in the article below. She is also a parent of three children.

Education, alongside health care and travel, is one of the areas anticipating a radical change in the near future. The basic tenets and principles of contemporary education were set more than two centuries ago with a focus on standardization and conformity. However, the context and demands of the world of today are far different, and our goal is to prepare children not only for their future employment, but for life itself. We need to change our outlook, our lifestyle and our education accordingly.

5 Greatest Problem of the Current Educational System

I have selected five problems that concern me the most in this context:

1. Children are not learning relevant skills to prepare them for real life

When I compare what I learned at school to what I actually use in my life, the overlap is minimal. Aside from traditional subjects such as mathematics, physics, languages and history, there’s a real need for skills that are applicable for anyone, regardless of their future profession. These include team work, conflict resolution, critical thinking and applying one’s own creativity or enterpreneurship.

2. Uniform approach to each child

One set of information is taught by one teacher, at one speed, in one age group. This approach leads to some children falling behind and others being bored, in result destroying the motivation of them both. We’re not talking about teaching mathematics to some children and not to others, but about individualizing its instruction – adjusting the tempo and content to the child’s individual level and using practice exercises that interest the child. Each child has their own unique natural talents and passions, which may never be discovered and developed in a uniform environment.

3. Everything is set with minimal room for imagination and creativity

Forced busyness and memorization are two main influences that diminish and destroy our creativity in school. Every day is scheduled and portioned out into clearly differentiated lessons and activities. Because of the focus on learning “word by word” and filling every available minute, we lose the ability to create and make connections between topics and areas. Creativity is critically important because it allows us to link ideas, make discoveries, approach problems from different perspectives and thus solve them.

4. There is too much emphasis on results, losing the love of learning for its own sake

The current system places the greatest emphasis on test results, fulfilling the requirements and getting our grades and degrees. We see results as the key to a better future, and allow them to overshadow the learning process itself. This destroys the whole purpose of education. Instead, it‘s crucial to stimulate children’s curiosity, love of learning and inner motivation, which are key for lifelong learning.

5. Grades demotivate

The grading system is built on an „A“ as the highest prize, with each mistake diminishing and bringing down the perfect score. This can lead to demotivation or fear of bad grades. Instead, we could take inspiration from gaming scores, where each partial success increases the score, and therefore positively encourages effort.

8 Areas Which Will Transform Education in the 21st Century

1. Discovery and development of individual talents and passions

Each one of us has the potential to excel in something. We can identify this potential through our natural talents and passions, giving us the chance to truly excel and to continuously achieve, with ease and joy. One of the main tasks of education should be to help children find their potential and fulfill it.

2. Communication and cooperation

No matter what we do in life, it is important for us to be able to communicate and cooperate with others. To do so, we need to develop our emotional intelligence, empathy and storytelling skills. Thanks to the ability to understand others and communicate our ideas clearly, we can excite others, create teams and realize great visions.

3. Basic life skills

In essence, everyone wants to be happy and healthy. However, current education focuses chiefly on skills required for work, such as reading comprehension, language abilities, and foundations of logic, mathematics and geometry. Topics relating to health and happiness used to be an integral part of education in both classical antiquity and during the Renaissance, and we should once again pay them the attention they deserve.

4. Creativity and flexibility

The fast-paced present time requires an ever greater ability to think creatively and quickly react to change. We must help children to consciously develop their creativity, whether through mathematics, sciences, music or technology… We can also help children practice and develop the ability to improvise and be open to change through games or improvisational theatre, which is built on contextual changes.

5. Stimulation of curiosity, experimentation and decision making

Curiosity is the drive behind most scientific and industrial discovery. It is the desire of an individual to find out how things work and how can they progress. It leads to the process of questioning, formulating hypotheses, designing, testing, and experimentation and decision making based on the acquired information.

6. Enterpreneurship and the ability to start new things

How to make a lot from a little? How to handle limited resources? How to solve a complex and confusing situation? To lead children to enterpreneurship means to stimulate their inventiveness. In practice, they will need the ability to search, connect and take advantage of limited resources, and also salesmanship and financial skills.

7. Technology and critical thinking

Virtual reality, 3D printing and other modern technologies are the tools of tomorrow, and therefore our children need to experience and experiment with them now. Coding is one of the new skills which will join mathematics and language in elementary curricula. And to orient ourselves in the amount of information, we will need critical skills more than ever before.

8. Sustainability and ethics in a global context

The world of today is faster, more connected and diverse than ever before. However, the passion for progress and technology should always go hand in hand with sustainability and ethical guidelines. It’s important to discuss the questions and dilemmas of today’s society in schools, allowing children to refine their moral compass and develop their own opinions.

Luděk Sekyra: On Values, Both Material and Spiritual Ones

I met Mr. Sekyra for the first time at the colloquia dedicated to John Rawls, the most influential political philosopher of the 20th century, however little known and appreciated in the Czech environment. The Sekyra Group that supports the Centre for Political Philosophy, Ethics and Religion (CPPER) has also supported organising the colloquia. Despite the fact that Mr. Sekyra is still actively involved in his property development company, he presented a paper discussing Rawls’s principles of justice and their relationship towards reciprocity and altruism. The extent and the quality of Mr. Sekyra’s paper received appreciation from theoretical scientists and inspired a stimulating discussion. Mr. Sekyra is also working on a book addressing this theme and later this year, he is planning to present his research at the Conference at the Harvard University. Mr. Sekyra is concerned about the polarization of liberal societies and he sees the need to formulate moral and political principles that would strengthen the cohesion of plural and multicultural public space.

One week later, I came to interview Mr. Sekyra at his office at the Sun Tower building in Prague. I had a chance to admire not only a beautiful view but also visualization of future development projects, also in the surrounding neighbourhood of Rohan City. Mr. Sekyra apologized for being late due to a teleconference held with the representatives of New York Times, as he is busy preparing a panel for the prestige global conference, the Athens Democratic Forum. The panel will be dedicated to problems democracy is facing in Central Europe, threats of populism and xenophobia nationalism. The aim is to present a fact that such tendencies threatening the concept of open liberal democracy do not represent a regional issue, but truly the global one. 

Our third (unplanned) meeting took place at the launch of the book published by the Centre of Independent Journalism, also supported by Mr. Sekyra. I could see that Mr. Sekyra fully lives his life purpose that not only buildings, but also thoughts, should be left as a legacy. And it is such purpose that we discussed during the interview, together with philosophy and thinking, however the business world was not left aside, as it often intersected our conversation.

Mr. Sekyra, you being part of two worlds – academic and entrepreneurial – is quite rare for the Czech environment, contrary to the world where such interconnection happens more often. How do you manage bridging the two spheres? And how were you received by the academics?

You are right, the intersection of both worlds is more frequent there and it brings various benefits to both sides. Someone who comes from the entrepreneurial world transfers a wide range of empirical experience which can be subsequently generalised upon. And such generalization then allows to present a universal dimension that is possible to address in theoretical discussion, in theory. As far as me being accepted by scientists, on one hand they consider me to a certain extent a visitor in their environment, on the other hand the most respected specialist in the fields of political or moral philosophy are very helpful and support my work on my upcoming book. I have the feeling that they enjoy debating with me and they consider it beneficial with regards to my specific experience and point of view. I studied philosophy of law and I have been actively involved in this field. I am engaged not only with the Czech environment, but also at Oxford and Harvard. I also recommend such open attitude to Czech universities. Being open to thoughts of people outside the academic sphere, who combine certain theoretic knowledge with empirical experience, is stimulating for the academic debate.

What is the reaction of your colleague entrepreneurs and competitors with regards to your academic activities? Are they looking forward to you leaving the real estate business? Or are they supportive and appreciative of your activities? 

Well, I am definitely not leaving the real estate business. Sekyra Groups is currently preparing projects in the total amount of 1 000 000 square kilometres, consisting of office, commercial and residential properties. We are currently developing four projects in the larger centre of Prague where new quarters will be built. At Smíchov, Žižkov, Rohan Island and in Dejvice, we are going to build modern and green Prague centres which will represent a true alternative to the historical part of the metropolis. There will be parks, schools and public buildings. As it was mentioned, I dedicate considerable amount of time to philosophy and studying in libraries, but managing the Group still takes the largest portion of my management time.  I concentrate on new opportunities, growing efficiency of existing projects and on co-operation with new clients. Some colleagues and even business partners still consider my passion a bit strange but as someone enjoys golf, yachts, or airplanes, I enjoy philosophical books. I believe that not only should we leave buildings as a legacy, but also thoughts. Particularly ideas, if they are original enough, might have longer life span when compared to buildings.

We have met at the colloquia dedicated to John Rawls who is not well known in the Czech Republic. What particularly do you find inspiring?

I am interested in the relationship between morale and politics. The notion of justice and interpretation of justice represents the central theme of political philosophy. I personally believe that it is important to interpret justice as reciprocity. I consider the notion of reciprocity as the most relevant one. In order to be able to fulfil the key criteria of the cohesion principle or homogeneity that a society needs to survive, we need, in addition to the principle of justice (as John Rawls addressed), two other principles: reciprocity and altruism. Only the combination of the three normative principles paves way to creating a cohesive society. I am a supporter of moral universalism and so I tend to believe that the majority of the society should identify with such principles, in order to create an environment where we would feel freedom and which will offer what Aristoteles used to call a good life. The fact that this is not happening nowadays and therefore we see populism spread not only across Europe but also in the US. Societies are ethnocentrically shutting down, they are being integrated by negative rather than positive factors, the most visible being xenophobic nationalism. I consider such development truly alarming.

For John Rawls, the biggest political thinker of the 20th century, the key principle was justice in the sense of fairness in public space. Justice should not be understood as a mere decision of an authority in power, but I maintain that justice should be a reciprocal relationship between people themselves as well as between citizens and an authority. Only such approach can guarantee harmonic development of a liberal society. Rawls also tended to place a big emphasis on the principle of freedom equality and on equal access to rights that are linked to freedom. Rawls maintained that if inequality was to happen, then it should be in favour of those who are the least advantaged, so in favour of those reaching the so-called bottom.

Current period is often characterized as an era suffering from the lack of leaders. How do you perceive it? 

Many politicians perceive politics as power and deeds, in terms of gaining and holding on to power. Recently, I have read an interview with Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Mr. Kaczynski revealed that he admires Carl Schmitt and his realism, Mr. Schmitt was an influential German political philosopher in 1930s and also a main critic of liberal democracy. The very fact that Schmitt’s realism is mentioned as “exemplary” politics is very disconcerting to me. I consider the main deficit the fact that morals and its principles have fallen out of the perception of politics as such. Without the transfer of moral principles into political principles politics becomes empty and only a fight for power. If the public sees that many politicians make their own personal interest instead of public interest a priority, then they tend to lose faith in politics. Let us not forget that the representation of public interest is the main task of politics and politicians.

It seems to me that such thoughts used to be openly presented by Václav Havel…

Yes, under the influence of philosophers of Patočka and Levinas…Nowadays, we are experiencing something that I would characterise “an ordinary democratic day” or being tired of normal democratic politics that does not represent any larger vision or values but only concentrates on specific voting or budgetary priorities. People are lacking any cross-over and if politics is lacking a cross-over than it ceases to be something to believe in. This can be seen on the European Union project where it is much more difficult to identify with the European idea. The United States is much more successful, as “the American idea” is not only much more appealing but also more tangible. An idea is, given its very own notion, a transcendental issue; it surpasses the ordinary politics and has the ability to inspire, but when it is missing, disillusion is inevitable. I do not wish politics to be reduced to power and deeds as such notion is narrowly a pragmatic one. The task of political philosophy is to stress and formulate principles allowing to introduce both content as well as cross-over. I have a more and more intensive feeling that modern, particularly continental philosophy of the 20th century, suffers from deficit of ethical thinking, because the most important representatives such as Heidegger or Wittgenstein in fact had pushed ethics out of philosophy. We need to foster authentic ethical theories based on universal principles, and that is what I call reciprocity ethics in my texts.

As we are discussing difficult moments, which difficult moments do you consider formative ones for yourself?

Real estate business is a cyclical business and so in 2007 we experienced one of the deepest financial and real estate crises in modern history. We benefitted from a quality management team and from quality risk management. We witnessed some of our big competitors not being able to make it. Today, we pay more attention than in the past not only to the return of invested capital but also to risk profile of every project. The second lesson learned thanks to the crisis was the finding that there are additional values side by side to the material ones. It was the very philosophy that brought a cross-over and authenticity to my life and that is why I dedicate more time to it than in the past.

What are your future visions?

I wish to dedicate energy to both my life priorities and to big development projects that will change the way Prague looks. I personally very much care about the best notion of architecture. At Smíchov, we have launched a big architectonic competition for the first time in Prague and involved more than 10 international architects. The new quarter should be a pride of the 21st century Prague. The second challenge is thinking about philosophy and working on my book that should be a result of my reflections. I hope to publish it within the next two years.

Luděk Sekyra is a leading Czech businessman. He has been working with Oxford University for many years. He is a Foundation Fellow and a member of the Board of Regents of Harris Manchester College. He is also a member of the Vice Chancellor Circle. Luděk Sekyra is also a member of the American Political Science Association (APSA).

In 2014, he opened the Sekyra House student center and the Tomáš Halík Room lecture hall at Oxford University. The same year, he supported the installation of Havel’s Place in Oxford University park. Together with Tomáš Halík, he initiated the creation of the Center for the Study of Political Philosophy, Ethics and Religion at the Faculty of Arts of the Charles University, where he is the Chairman of the Academic Council. He actively supports the collaboration of the Center with the Department of Politics and International Relations at Oxford University and the Center for European Studies at Harvard University.

Sekyra has been interested in the field of political and moral philosophy for a long time. He is a frequently published author and is currently working on a book about reciprocal fairness. He also significantly supports interfaith dialogues at the academic level (for example the Public Sphere, Ethics and Religious Diversity global conference that will take place in 2017), as well as practical projects in leading European cities (for example the Foyer youth center in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels www.foyer.be).

Arnie Bieber: To Succeed in the 21st Century We Need To Learn, Unlearn and Re-learn

Imagine the atmosphere of a school where there is a palpable sense of creative thinking, where one can see the arts, choirs, music and film production, and at the same time a clear focus on scientific experimentation. Imagine life as a student being able to experiment, design and then print out your blueprint on a 3D printer or a laser cutter as part of the school curriculum. Imagine that a student can take part in an international robotics competition hosted at his school by day and being on stage singing blues in a Cabaret performance involving students, staff, parents and friends of the school by night.

I was not touring a school in Finland or Singapore, the two countries currently recognized as having the world’s the best educational systems. These were, rather, my immediate impressions after visiting the International School of Prague, which overlooks the Prague Šárka valley nature reserve.

Linda Štucbartová, managing partner in ATAIRU and Head Interviewer for Czech & Slovak Leaders magazine with Arnie Bieber, Director of the International School of Prague, credit: www.czechleaders.com

Interviewing Dr. Arnie Bieber, ISP Director, turned from a traditional question and answer format into a lively discussion.

As Arnie truly lives and breathes the ISP mission “Inspiring Learners for Life”, I could sense his passion for an inspiring, engaging and empowering education organically engrained into every activity, including proud presentation of the school to visitors, talking about current and potential partnerships as well as embedding school activities within the local community. The last element is very important for ISP, as both private and international schools are often judged as being too distant and dislocated from the local environment.

Arnie, today’s world is changing rapidly. In fact, uncertainty is perhaps the only certain element. How do you prepare students for the future to succeed in professions and disciplines that might not even exist today? 

We truly regard ourselves as a future-focused school, and we aim to be preparing future citizens of the world. If you look at our mission, which you can see all around the school, you will notice three key elements: Inspire, Engage and Empower. Our core purpose is to “Inspire learners to lead healthy, fulfilling and purposeful lives” and we know that we are successful when our graduates live their lives in this manner.

The element of our mission linked to facing an uncertain future is addressed in the second part of the mission, “preparing students to adapt and contribute responsibly to our changing world”. However, the ability to change and to adapt is not enough without a moral compass. The world may have very many smart people but do they have integrity and act ethically? No learning institution should stress one while neglecting the other. The ISP experience revolves around “engaging our diverse community in authentic global education within a nurturing student-centred environment”. Diversity is very important. Our student body, comprised of 60 different nationalities, brings a multitude of different religions and cultures to our campus. To interact and learn with such diversity is very powerful because it allows for an appreciation of our differences. Future successful leaders need to understand and respect differences, such as those based on gender, sexual orientation, religion, belief or culture.

What would your argument be for the adults who went to traditional schools in the Czech Republic who cannot imagine a serious and enjoyable education at the same time?

The distinction between something being relevant and something being rigorous or challenging is a false one. We believe that the best path to learning which is not superficial and meaningful is often through relevance. We can all remember our high school algebra, trigonometry and advanced calculus, but did what we learn have relevance to our lives? How much do we even actually remember? It is not that these subjects are not important, but they should be taught so that students understand how it is personally relevant to them. Otherwise, you only play the game of school. The rules go like this – you memorize all you can, you pass a test and then you go on and often forget most of what you had to memorize. Such an approach does not support learning of relevant skills for the future.

So let us be more specific, what are the competencies that future citizens should have? 

They are addressed in our mission as well. They include the ability to: Think Critically and Creatively, Work Cooperatively and Independently and Listen and Communicate Effectively. Notice the element of effective listening, not only speaking, as is often stressed. When it comes to our central values, notice the verb to act. At ISP, the expectation is that we act with compassion, integrity, respect and intercultural understanding in school and throughout our lives. To sum up all that we have discussed so far, we care deeply about the foundational literacies such as reading, writing, arithmetic etc. However if this is primarily what a student has attained, we have failed as a school in this day and age. Students need so much more to succeed, problem solving skills, critical thinking skills and well as collaborating well with others. Furthermore, as a school, staying current with how the world is changing is more important than ever. If you look at successful companies, they are changing all the time, they expect innovation but in the school environment, such an approach is not always considered important.

We discussed skills. However, the newest approach to adult learning is focused more on talents. So should we develop what we are not good at to become mediocre, or rather concentrate on what goes easy for us to become excellent?

I do not think the debate should be either talent or skills. Being an effective listener is not necessarily a talent. If you are not an effective listener, should you be one? And how can you become one? Perhaps you do not work well with other people. Well, you can work alone but you cannot be very successful unless you learn to work with others. But the answer to your question lies in personalized learning. Education should not be one size fits all. We are all unique human beings with unique talents. The best schools help students to follow both their talents and their passions. Sometimes your passions do not necessarily need to be your talents. The idea is for each learner to discover who they are and for to help them to discover that and develop further. That is why we talk about being purposeful, since you cannot be fulfilled in your life without being purposeful, and you cannot be purposeful unless you are self-aware of your abilities.

Following on the importance of science, there is currently a heated debate in the Czech Republic without giving priority to mathematics and technical subjects to the detriment of humanities, arts not being even mentioned a relevant part of the curriculum. What is your view?

Well, there has been a distinction made between ‘STEM’ and ‘STEAM’ subjects (‘STEAM’ stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) while ‘STEM’ is missing the arts. We are more inline with the ‘STEAM’ approach. As a school we of course offer the traditional sciences such as physics, chemistry, biology and environmental science as well as design thinking, and extensive technology such as programing, computer science and robotics. In fact we have just hosted an international robotics competition where students from around the world have competed in designing, creating, programming and running their own robots. These are the 21st century skills and I would argue that the arts play as an important role as the “hard sciences.” Whether or not you become an artist, the arts, visual arts, drama or music will afford you many skills and understandings that will serve you well in life. Acting, improvising, making music etc – these skills do not take away from the sciences, they enhance them. We want our students to be whole human beings, not partial human beings and so the education is based on an holistic approach.

How do the two major opposing trends – globalization and localization – translate into education?

There is a famous quote by Comenius, which is cherished and displayed at the entrance to ISP, which says: “We are all citizens of the world. To dislike a man because he was born in another country, because he speaks a different language or because he takes a different view on this subject or that, is a great folly. Let us have but one end in view, welfare of humanity.”

So we celebrate our diversity and take advantage of the fact that we are in the heart of Europe in the Czech Republic and in Prague, surrounded by a rich and vibrant culture. It is very important to be part of that culture. We study both the Velvet Revolution and the Holocaust, we take advantage of the beautiful surrounding countryside as an amazing resource for all subject areas. Children study and meet artists and experts in the city and much more. “The curator project” for the middle school is run in co-operation with the Lobkowicz family and students learn, discover and present their research of artefacts from the Lobkowicz Museum’s rich collections. As you can see, the local and global elements are intertwined. We are very much of the opinion that “local is global and global is local.” As for the Czech educational community, we are always looking for partnering opportunities with Czech educators and Czech schools. Given our strong technological background for example, we annually host a conference for Czech educators addressing the issue of how to best to utilise technology in teaching. Furthermore ISP students have many opportunities to interact with students from local schools as well as their peers from sister schools from around the world.

What are your final words for Czech and Slovak Leaders readers?

I would say that leaders should always value and yes, embrace diversity. The tapestry of cultures and backgrounds we have at ISP is undoubtedly a key strength of our school. I firmly believe that the case for diversity is also the case for business. Diversity allows for fresh and varied perspectives in any organization, and is certainly a crucial ingredient to preparing children for their futures in a diverse and globalized world.


Interview was written for Czech & Slovak Leaders magazine and with their courtesy published on our blog.

Japanese inspiration on authentic leadership: KINTSUKUROI

Striving for perfection vs authenticity?

Most of us are consciously or unconsciously striving for perfection. Everyone in different areas and in different way.

When we don’t meet expectations (set by ourselves or others) or when we make a mistake, we tend to be ashamed. And we are often not keen on sharing it or showing it to others.

We were inspired by Japanese craftsmen who use a technique called KINTSUKUROI which is the art of “repairing with gold.” When a pot breaks, instead of throwing it away, craftsmen repair it with a gold lacquer that celebrates its flaws. In doing so, the pot becomes more valuable than when it was perfect.

What consciously or unconsciously keeps us in striving for perfection are our fears. We have different fears. Fear of not being good enough, not competent enough or fear that we will disappoint someone or fail.

However failure is not our enemy but our greatest asset as everyone is uniquely imperfect. It is exactly our failures which shape us. As it is the flaws that tell the pot`s story, it is our failures and lessons learnt that tell ours. So let`s not only embrace our failures but celebrate them. Because we are more valuable for having them.

Japanese inspiration on authentic leadership: IKIGAI

When was the last time you sat down, or took a walk, to think about what makes this one life you have meaningful — what makes it worth living?

We would like to introduce you IKIGAI – a Japanese concept meaning “a reason for being”. As we work worldwide, we see how important this is regardless the geographic location or culture.

The concept of authentic leadership is aligned. In our programs we start with each participant (re)discovering his or her talents, passions and creating his or her purpose. One of the reasons people don`t find their ikigai is due to our fears and ego which don`t allow the self’s possibilities to blossom. The integrating long term success and satisfaction in leadership is not only possible but actually critical to sustain high performance.

As psychiatrist Kobayashi Tsukasa, author of ikigai, says: “People can feel real ikigai only when, on the basis of personal maturity, the satisfaction of various desires, love and happiness, encounters with others, and a sense of the value of life, they proceed toward self-realization.”

So what is your ikigai and ikigai of people in your organization and personal life?

Key learnings from Abundance 360

Convergence Catalyzer

  • We choose the context from which we relate to the future, It can be from the context of fear or context of abundance
  • There is significant evidence that the state of the world is better than ever
  • As many things are going to change dramatically over the next 25 years, there are things which will not change. Those things are related to Human Nature
  • Tony Robbins shared 6 human needs (need for certainty, variety, significance, love&connection, contribution a need to overcome our fears of not feeling enough and not being loved)

We tried different technologies. I was completely amazed by trying Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality and how it can enhance learning. It was such immersive, engaging and fun experience. Clearly, this will be the key technology in the future of education.

Leadership in exponential times

  • Education and healthcare will be the two most distracted industries
  • Education will have two components: Learning and Socializing. Learning part will be heavily affected by technology. Examples could be customized 1 to 1 tutoring my AI personalized to the child´s level, speed, and other preferences. Socializing will focus on developing human interactions.
  • Leadership development education will be also heavily transformed. With about trillion sensors there will be radical transparency on almost everything and with all data available there will be much more of evidence-based decision making. The question of ethics will be more important than ever especially thinking about the implications and consequences of our decisions on other people and rest of the world. This is where the role AI will be to serve leaders as their companions to 1st run simulations with 3rd and 4th order of consequences 2nd to catch our cognitive biases which affect our decision making
  • One of the key thing in both education and Leadership development will be shift from learning information to ability to ask questions
  • The section on leading in exponential times with Arianna Huffington was among other things about our wellbeing and performance and our relationship with technology. Arianna spoke about irrational beliefs we have about how we achieve performance.
  • Some tips: have leadership meetings device free, declare artificial end of day when you put your technology to bed and asking your people for feedback – tell me one thing I don’t want to hear
  • The final section was with Alex Kipman on mixed/augmented reality. The examples of how this affects education were mindblowing. Videos will follow.

With Arianna Huffington

With Alex Kipman

With Peter Diamandis

Abundance 360 Summit

Abundance 360 Summit is the conference focusing on exponential technology and leadership in exponential time. As the main claim of the summit says: We live in the world of abundance is one thing. Creating it is another. The Summit is taking place 29-31 January 2017 in LA hosted by entrepreneur Peter Diamandis. My purpose of coming is about exploring the future of education. I believe that the way we (not just our children) learn is going to fundamentally transform over the next decade.


Future of Education

I am so excited to be part of Abundance 360 Summit in LA with Peter Diamandis. My purpose of coming is about exploring the future of education. I believe that the way we (not just our children) learn is going to fundamentally transform over the next decade.

The top 5 technologies that will reshape the future of education:

1. Virtual Reality which can make learning truly immersive

2. 3D printing will allow students to bring their ideas to life

3. Machine Learning will make learning adaptive and personalized

4. Artificial Intelligence or “An AI Teaching Companion will personalize the lesson for the specific student and his needs

5. Sensors & Networks are going to connect everyone, making access to rich video available at all times

5 guiding principles for future of education: 

Given that in a relative near-term future robotics and artificial intelligence will allow any of us, from age 8 to 108, to easily and quickly find answers, create products or accomplish tasks, all simply by expressing our desires. In this future, what attributes will be most critical for our children to learn to become successful in their adult life? What’s most important for educating our children today?

For me it’s about passion, curiosity, imagination, critical thinking and grit.

1. Passion: You’d be amazed at how many people don’t have a mission in life… A calling… something to jolt them out of bed every morning. The most valuable resource for humanity is the persistent and passionate human mind, so creating a future of passionate kids is so very important.

2. Curiosity: Curiosity is something innate in kids, yet something lost by most adults during the course of their life. Why? In a world of Google, robots and AI, raising a kid that is constantly asking questions and running “what if” experiments can be extremely valuable. In an age of machine learning, massive data and a trillion sensors, it will be the quality of your questions that will be most important.

3. Imagination: Entrepreneurs and visionaries imagine the world (and the future) they want to live in, and then they create it. Kids happen to be some of the most imaginative humans around… it’s critical that they know how important and liberating imagination can be.

4. Critical Thinking: In a world flooded with often-conflicting ideas, baseless claims, misleading headlines, negative news and misinformation, learning the skill of critical thinking helps find the signal in the noise. This principle is perhaps the most difficult to teach kids.

5. Grit/Persistence: Grit is defined as “passion and perseverance in pursuit of long-term goals,” and it has recently been widely acknowledged as one of the most important predictors of and contributors to success.


Module 1: Storytelling/Communications

Module 2: Passions

Module 3: Curiosity & Experimentation

Module 4: Persistence/Grit

Module 5: Technology Exposure

Module 6: Empathy

Module 7: Ethics/Moral Dilemmas

Module 8: Creative Expression & Improvisation

Module 9: Coding

Module 10: Entrepreneurship & Sales

Module 11: Language

Mindsets for the 21st century:

One of the reasons I really like Peter is because he is also talking about the importance of mindsets, and not just the abundance and exponential mindset for entrepreneurs and CEOs.

Many “mindsets” are important to promote. Here are a couple to consider:

Nurturing Optimism & An Abundance Mindset:

We live in a competitive world, and kids experience a significant amount of pressure to perform. When they fall short, they feel deflated. We all fail at times — that’s part of life. If we want to raise “can-do” kids who can work through failure and come out stronger for it, it’s wise to nurture optimism. Optimistic kids are more willing to take healthy risks, are better problem-solvers and experience positive relationships. Finally, helping students understand (through data and graphs) that the world is in fact getting better will help them counter the continuous flow of negative news flowing through our news media.

When kids feel confident in their abilities and excited about the world, they are willing to work harder and be more creative.

Tolerance for Failure:

Tolerating failure is a difficult lesson to learn and a difficult lesson to teach. But it is critically important to succeeding in life. This should be reproduced in the classroom: kids should try to be critical of their best ideas (learn critical thinking), then they should be celebrated for ‘successfully failing’ — perhaps with cake or balloons.

Our 3 biggest learnings about collaboration in 2016

The ability to lead yourself and knowing who you are allow you to better approach collaborating with others, producing better results and long-term satisfaction. Authentic leadership changes people’s lifes and also the way companies work. Competition is replaced with collaboration. The latter was a prominent topic for us at ATAIRU too, on several levels.

No rocket science, but …

Thinking back about the lessons we learnt in 2016, we surprisingly found ourselves thinking: „Well, but this is nothing new, is it?“ We were thus reminded of the fact that it is one thing to know something, and quite anohter to have experienced it in everyday situations.

Lesson no. 1: Collaborating on a diverse team hurts. Still, when all the team members care about the common goal, the result is worth it and the team grows stronger.

Our strategic team meeting: As the first point on the agenda, we wanted to unveil our newly defined mission and get everyone aligned on it. All of us had been involved in the early phases, but only some of us had gone the whole way. Having accounted for everyone’s input, we were really proud to show the end product to the world. No big debate expected. Quite the opposite was true. All of a sudden, we found ourselves in the midst of a heated discussion most of us don’t particularly enjoy. Anger was the first instinctive reaction. We may know, rationally, that we are not being personally criticized, but the emotions like to have their say. Going to the bathroom or just taking a quick stroll around the office is a simple way to calm down, open to other people’s opinions and start listening, and it worked for us too. Needless to say, the team discussion which ensued proved to be very useful.

In such discussions, we follow three rules:

  1. We keep reminding ourselves of our long-term goal – we remain clear about why we are doing what we are doing.
  2. We create an environment where anyone can speak up their mind in an open, safe, and straightforward manner.
  3. We learn to listen to each other and provide feedback with respect. When criticism is due, we make sure to separate people from the problem.

By the end of the day, we were on our last legs, emotionally speaking, but we knew rationally that we had done a good job, also thanks to the unpleasant exchange. And one last thing: with hindsight, we can tell each other how upset we were, appreciate and praise each other, and have a good laugh.

Other vantage points, backgrounds, and ingrained cultural patterns on our team serve as a key to unlock rich and deep discussions and better – more thought-through, consistent and long-lasting – decision-making.

Lesson no. 2: The more people are involved, the higher the need for clear rules. Standardizing processes in the growth phase frees up your hands and time.

In the fall, we attended Roger Hamilton’s conference in London, worked for Microsoft in Moscow, and launched the first ATAIRU program for Japanese female managers in Tokyo. Our team grew. We had more presence both at events and in the media. We made Leadership Games, and published an e-book (only in Czech). All in all, we had our plates full, and the old way we worked stopped working. Not for external audiences, but surely for us inside.

Because when your company starts growing, time is the first thing you lose. You can win more time by either growing your team or by improving your product and process standards. Or by doing both simultaneously.

We knew we needed a seamless team. For a long time I have believed that clearly stipulated borders (roles and responsibilities) and direction (where we are going to) will give us freedom and flexibility.

Our international experience confirms we have a great product. Authentic leadership works even in dramatically different cultures. This fueled our belief in the purpose and benefits of what we do. But there was a BUT. Taking a lesson from manufacturing, there is a difference between making 50 or 500,000 chairs. Similarly, we needed to simplify workshop preparation and systemize communication. It all starts with small things, such as presentations and workbooks.

Rules and a system are a good foundation and free up your hands. Things may change again in a year’s time; it all depends on where we’ll be then, it all depends on context.

Lesson no. 3: Sometimes, saying „no“ to something is more important than what you say „yes“ to.

It all started with my enthusiasm and passion for making videos. We put together the concept with Yemi, and got off to a good start. Then came post-production – editing and shortening the raw material. Engrossed in it, we forgot about the follow-up campaign. We learnt that our original intention to place the videos on our web was not an option: it wasn’t designed for it. So, we found an agency and started to build a new one. This surfaced more imperfections. And so, eventually, we ended up redoing our branding and visual style. Then, finally, we designed the campaign and launched Leadership Games.

Would it not have been better to start at the other end? You bet! We got carried away, fueled by passion, and the time pressure did not help either. While each phase mattered, a reversed sequence would have worked better. We would have achieved the same result much more easily.

Saying “no” doesn’t have to be a hard denial, as in “No, never.” Instead, it can be about making a responsible decision: “Not now, but in three months.” Or “Not until we finish this.” It can be about thinking through the time and logical sequence, and waiting for the right moment. It will save you time, money and energy.

Another notch higher this year

We want to keep growing also this year. But we’ll take the challenge from a different angle. We want to better prioritize, focus on fewer things with more impact, and on internal processes. And we want to make mistakes. Only different ones. Ones that will move us forward. Another notch higher.

Dominika Kolowrat – Krakowská: On the origins and traditions, duties and pleasures

Your life story is really interesting. You graduated from a Law University, became an advocate and then got engaged in fashion business. You met Tomáš Kolowrat and after he died, you turned to asset management. I wonder to what extent it was your choice and how big the influence of your call of duty, and the responsibility toward family traditions and your origins, were. I know that life is not an “if game”; however, if you had got the chance, would you have decided differently? 


JUDr. Dominika Kolowrat-Krakowská

You are absolutely correct, life does not play “if game” and I approach all the obstacles that destiny puts across my way as challenges which I have to humbly accept and try to deal with as best as I can, so that “at the end of the day” I can stop, look behind and tell myself: you did the best you could.

Some events really were not my choice. I am not the type who cries over her destiny adversity. I am rather grateful for the fact that nothing is decided in advance and all unexpected occasions taught me something new. I would have never imagined that one day I would be dealing with a forest business plan, beaver protection, asset management or palace insurance, and a number of charity projects. And this is just a little part of the real scope of my activities.

So, the saying “noblesse oblige” or origins obliges is still valid in the 21st century? How do you fulfil this obligation? 

Let me amend that saying a bit to “promise obliges”. I promised to my life partner, František Tomáš Kolowrat-Krakowský, on his last day that I would take care of everything: of our under-aged children, family assets, restitution claims, charity, there were many things to deal with. And I kept that promise and believe that Tomáš is satisfied…

I often notice that nothing stands nowadays; a word given has no value. I personally strive to meet all my obligations, to behave so that I fully meet the trust bestowed on me by Tomáš and our children. I would be really glad if such terms like “honour” and “decency” which are perceived rather as a weakness than a strength or natural trait would rehabilitate again.

Traditional noble families, besides bringing innovations, paid attention to asset management and its aggrandizing like good economists, put in today’s terms. How do you personally perceive this life mission and overall social context and conditions under which you fulfil the task? 

I perceive this tradition mainly as a responsibility to my ancestors, to the “roots”, my children, and society in which I live and act. Tradition is not an obsolete thing at all, it is not fossilised and dysfunctional. On the contrary, after all these years I have been managing family assets, I again experience concluding agreements by a “handshake”.

This is truly the right tradition showing not being ashamed of my behaviour, enjoying trust from people around me and prospering as well as increasing wealth under these conditions. Not by deception, by making quick profit at the cost of disappointing a business partner because I have, simply put, “fleeced him out of his money”. If this model was adopted by the majority in our society, our little country would enjoy really good times.

Let’s move from the profit-making activities to the sponsoring ones. The list of your charity projects is unbelievably long and almost took me back to medieval times when aristocracy supported art, music, and theatre. In your case, it is the support of artists through the project Young Czechoslovak Artists, support of a theatre and cooperation with the Prague Shakespeare Company, support of children and disadvantaged people through the Endowment Fund Kolowrátek, a horse riding project… How do you select the projects and is there a new one you would like to include? 

I was always interested in the lives of concrete people; we have never contributed – no, it is not plural majestatis and I am speaking about “our” Endowment Fund Kolowrátek – in a blanket manner, without a concrete “receiver”. Gradually (besides the partners who have been supported by Kolowrat-Krakowská family already for hundreds of years, like the National Theatre) we have focused on young people, partly those who are disadvantaged at the starting line, especially disabled children from socially disadvantaged families, and partly those who on the contrary received a lot, they are exceptionally gifted, but they do not have means to be able to develop their talents appropriately.

I perceive you as a very brave woman with a great inner strength. Taking over the asset management after your partner’s death, bringing up two little children. Where did your inner strength come from?

My children and mum were the biggest help. They, as well as my friends and colleagues, were giving me energy. I am a life optimist and of course I also believe that Tomáš is still with me and keeps his fingers crossed…

Endowment Fund Kolowrátek

Endowment Fund Kolowrátek

How do you generally perceive the situation of women and widowed women at present?

First of all, it is of paramount importance at what age or what life situation a woman becomes a widow or what the reasons for her living without a partner are. However, I generally believe in the saying “He who does not strive after his happiness shall have none”. So, if I have healthy hands and head, I can manage practically anything. I always find amusing to hear some women, or rather their self-proclaimed speakers from the political field, crying: we want more rights, more possibilities, more leading positions and chairs on the boards. But this is not the case. On the other hand, I would be offended if I received – by strange quotas – some advantage or priority at the expense of somebody who is more capable than me. Yes, the Bible has always emphasised protection of orphans and widows because they had no support at all. But fortunately, it is not this way anymore. Life simply goes on and I can’t freeze in the moment when I (and my children) lost the closest person 12 years ago…

What makes you happy and what are you looking forward to? 

I have reasons to be happy every day and I am looking forward to every new positive challenge. It is very important to find something nice every day, be it just the smallest thing which somebody else wouldn’t think it’s even worth mentioning…

Photo By Michal Linhart

The interview was published in Czech & Slovak Leaders magazine.

Stefan Ries: Prague Is A Success Story For SAP

Stefan Ries, Chief Human Resources Officer, SAP

Visits of Board Members of Global Corporations to headquarters can be compared to visits of state level representatives. While certain meet Prime Ministers, demand red carpet protocol and expect all the flashlights shining on them, others come to listen, acknowledge and shine the light on others. Stefan Ries belongs to the second category. Came on time, perfectly prepared, smiling and shared his views not only on SAP’s purpose, but also on trends and the latest developments in HR and technology business. Moreover, he was genuinely appreciative of all the achievements and growth SAP has achieved in the Czech Republic.

It was a very special day for SAP, as they were officially opening a new office centre at the Metronom Building in Prague 5. The offices were designed according to the latest trends “Future at Work” reflecting global 24/7 connectivity, enabled by cloud and complex infrastructure. For Stefan, the notion of work-life balance is outdated, as there is truly life balance in reality.

To me, he represents a living symbol of an authentic leader of the 21st century, winning both minds and hearts of all people around. Stefan Ries, Chief Human Resources Officer and Labour Relations Director, is also a member of the Executive Board of SAP with global responsibility for Human Resources. He was appointed to the Executive Board of SAP in April 2016. He was born in Bavaria, and is currently based in Walldorf, Germany. His career path has taken him through various functions at IT companies such as Microsoft, Compaq and SAP and he also spent four years at Egon Zehnder International as a member of High Technologies/Information Technologies Practice Group. His passion themes include diversity, innovation, talent management and sustainable workforce.


Mr. Ries, it is a true privilege to interview you, as we both share passion for many HR issues. As Chief Human Resources Officer and a Member of the Executive Board, which global HR strategies do you find the most relevant for 2017?

First of all, let me thank you for the opportunity to meet and I am especially glad to be here in Prague as Prague, and the Czech Republic in general, represent a very special place for SAP. We, as a company, find ourselves in a very fortunate situation as the company is growing. Our growth is fast not only thanks to the growth of the industry in general, but we in SAP have managed to outperform that. All the subjects that have been already covered by my colleagues in previous interviews, such as cloud computing, big data, smart data, artificial intelligence – these are the key relevant topics for us from the business perspective. However, moving to the cloud has to be reflected also from the HR strategy point of view. The cloud strategy is important, because customers see the benefits of faster implementation cycles, robust best in cloud solutions can be implemented very easily and software development having much faster cycle time. Now, let me address the HR perspective. The first key topic for us, but also for many our customers is linked to business transformation and how we can support that while keeping a motivated and excited workforce. The second topic is linked to the talent and how to make sure that we are continuously seen as the employer of choice and how we can retain talent. Leadership development comes as the third topic; in terms of SAP environment, we currently have 85,000 employees worldwide and 7,500 managers and leaders who are the key drivers of the business transformation. Learning comes next, as during the business transformation we need to make sure the organisation as well as the individuals continuously learn. Last year, we spent 100 mil EUR on learning exclusively and this year we are planning to spend 140 mil EUR and the trend will continue. It is a large sum but we see this investment as necessary. Last but not least comes the issue of sustainability of people , comprising of all activities associated with diversity and inclusion. I am happy to share with you later more about latest initiative, Business Beyond Bias. We combine the latest technology and machine learning to select the best talents for your organisation in order to reduce unconscious bias when looking at CVs and much more…


Let us now move from the global perspective to the special position of the Czech Republic…

I remember that in 2004, which is only 12 years ago, I was sitting just on the opposite side of the street, having the pleasure to open our shared service centre that had 25 employees! Today, I am back to open a new building for 1,700 employees. That is an incredible success story. Not only from the HR perspective as we are proud to find excellent talent that we are employing both in the Czech Republic as well as abroad, but also from the business perspective. In Prague we have a human resources shared centre. Last year, we decided to have a small special team to help with on-boarding all new hires across the world. At the beginning, almost everybody thought that this was complete madness to try to ensure that everybody has a good on-boarding experience all the way from Tokyo, Japan to Sao Leopoldo, Brazil. But today, we see that it works. We have very positive employee feedback and customer satisfaction rates and both speak a lot not only about the quality of the work but about the contribution of the Czech Republic for SAP world. And we look forward to further supporting the unbelievable success of the last decade.


Thank you for your words of appreciation, it all sounds very nice. However, Prague is a place for many subsidiaries and from my own experience the relationships between headquarters and a subsidiary can sometimes have rather challenging nature, perhaps resembling a mother-daughter relationship during the time of adolescence…

I have been involved in the HR for 26 years, so I truly know what you are talking about. We tend to see that the headquarters have a gravity around the location and as a subsidiary you might feel either detached or attached. In our case, it is different. Out of 85,000 employees, only 17,500 are based in Germany, the rest is abroad. There is no gravity around Walldorf as being the heart of SAP. We have so many hearts around the world and we love to support the distributive “power”, in the absence of a better word, for all of our organisations. I have already mentioned the example of Prague and on-boarding processes, which in fact has become a headquarter itself since it has the expertise and accountability to drive certain processes.

I myself experienced the stereotypical challenging relationship headquarters vs. subsidiary when working for American companies, but it is not the case in SAP.

I think the issue at stake is the identity. Prague for us has a huge identity. We stand not only for shared services but also consultative services, such as on-boarding but also payroll. Again, it is our team in Prague that runs payroll for the rest of the world, and the same is true for data management and many other functions.


We are meeting at the occasion of opening new premises at Metronom building that reflect the trends associated with the theme Future of Work. What are some specific elements linked to this notion?

We like to share our best practices with others and that is also the reason why we have invested a lot of money and space into a new building that will allow us to accommodate, in addition to employees, both guests and customers. I have never heard anyone leaving Prague without being amazed by its success story. We therefore leverage our experience when we talk about our HR software, called SAP SuccessFactors, since customers can touch, look and feel people but also system solutions in one place. Trust is the essential component, I call it the ultimate currency, to the Future at Work concept. It is important to establish the business environment that gives a person complete trust with regards to tasks and responsibilities. That is why we do not see much sense in introducing any time keeping record system. Is that easy to introduce something within a company having 85,000 workforce members? No, you still need some hierarchy to make sure that the strategy will be linked to individuals’ tasks and responsibilities. Given the latest technology, we can perform our roles and tasks anytime, anywhere. You are just given a task and trust. The rest is up to you. However, when you look around these nice and modern premises, we also consider important coming to work to connect and network. You cannot create only in isolation and continuously work from home. As an organisation, you are only as smart as the collective wisdom of the individuals together. I am a strong believer in the future of the work consisting of new usage of technology, working from various places, including abroad, independent work but also team collaboration. Therefore, offices where people come, meet and connect together, will be still needed. But with technology and connectivity comes also a need and responsibility to recharge the batteries. We could easily come and work 24/7 but that is not the right balance. I do not believe in work-life balance, as I think it is the life balance that is desirable. The key element is to educate leaders and managers to have a dialogue with employees as to have the clear understanding of the expectations from one another. Receiving an email during the weekend from an executive does not mean answering it during the weekend because there is a need to recharge the batteries, spend time with family. I really try hard to keep my weekends free for the family, unless there is a case of emergency. I am also trying to find some time during the weekdays, be it either in the morning or evening to make sure I also recharge my battery.

I am not a fan when the government tries to get involved and set conditions. I have recently met with the German Minister of Labour about the need for a mechanism that would switch off the devices by 7 or 8 pm. And my reply was simple: Excuse me, but in which world are you living? Look at the youngest generations, being born and raised with social media. Do you really believe that they will join our company if they know that by beginning of the evening their devices will be switched off ? And as we are connected around the world that will never happen.


We are both passionate about diversity and inclusion. You have just launched Business Beyond Bias program. What results are you expecting?

Over the last couple of years, SAP was very successful in diversity and inclusion. We also received the Economic Dividends for Gender Equality (EDGE) certificate in March 2016. Being a leader, many companies look at us and ask why we are doing that. And the answer is simple. We have such a wonderful experience with diverse workforce and we know that such diverse workforce also represents our customer base. Our customers cannot be treated as a one-size-fits-all organisation, they are super diverse themselves and that is what we need to reflect. We think in terms of a number of locations where we are based, how many nations we address and referring back to our debate on headquarters, there are more than 85 nationalities in Germany alone. This is something special. In the past and particularly in Europe, diversity has been a lot associated with gender diversity. We have managed to overcome that notion. We have a great initiative that hires people with autism, currently we employ more than 150 of them around the world. Last year, during the refugee crisis, when thousands of people were coming to Germany, we used the welcoming DNA we have and now we work with more than 150 students and interns working.

Business Beyond Bias is a programme that allows to overcome personal bias during the recruitment process. To be more specific, just imagine that you have got several CVs in front of you and there is a candidate who got a degree at the same university as you had. Well, most probably, based on your bias, this person will make it to the next round of the selection process. Because just by the definition that you come from the same university, you have a bias. The second example will be about a job description. Think about a nurse. Is it written for a women-nurse or a male-nurse? So, again there is a gender bias because we prefer nurse with female gender.

Now, using the latest software technology called machine learning in combination with HR software, called SAP SuccessFactors, you can eliminate the bias. How is it possible? The machine software will propose the first round of candidates for the interview. The person will still have to make the decision but based on the computer pre-selection, you will look at a completely different set of candidates. We have tested it ourselves with literally millions of data sets and it works. It helps you improve the process and not to disregard a certain part of the talent pool that was not considered before. Therefore, I do not agree with the complaints on war of talent or tiny talent pools. For me, this is not the case. The talent is there and we need to learn to look at them differently.


Speaking at the beginning of the advent period, what are your expectations and wishes for 2017?

SAP’s purpose is to improve people’s lives. That is our role within our broader ecosystem on this planet. We do not want to see people dying from diseases. Here, we can help with our technology: for example, with our technology SAP HANA we have connected all global cancer treatment centres around the world, so they have information about patients available. A doctor in Tokyo can, in real time and within seconds, consult and compare the symptoms to another patient, for example from Brazil. Just think about the massive power of data available and I hope that our technology will continue to help the people to improve their lives and ultimately to make a difference. Our employees are proud of that fact. Now we have five generations at the workplace, and particularly our youngest generation, the digital natives, want to contribute to the success of the company with an impact to the role and purpose in their lives.

For myself, I am looking forward to spending time with my family, recharging batteries and dealing with stress effectively. However, visiting all our locations around the world is extremely rewarding and energising for me, I love looking into SAP people’s eyes and seeing them proud and fulfilled.

Photo By Vladimír Weiss

This article was published in Czech&Slovak Leaders Magazine.

My Journey to Moscow or How I tried to Be (Un)authentically Perfect…

I`ve been recently invited to deliver a Talent and Flow workshop for a group of women managers in Moscow…Wow…What a great opportunity! Not only for me personally, since supporting women (and not only them) in the corporate environment has been my work and passion in the last three years, but also for ATAIRU company, as after we established ourselves on the Czech market, we embarked on the journey of internalization. Radka Dohnalova, the founder of ATAIRU, went to launch ATAIRU program to Tokyo in September, Moscow was my turn in November…

I was aware of the fact that the timing of the workshop was a bit of stretch. I was already booked the day before for a full day workshop after which I would have to fly to Moscow, arrive at midnight, deliver the workshop the next day and come back the day after. Since there was no possibility to change it. I accepted it. Sales people are not only ones to have the “harvest season” during the last quarter of the year. To speed up travel, I decided to fly with hand luggage only.

The training outline was ready, the materials printed, I had several preparatory calls to make t find out all the necessary details, but I still kept wondering what else I could do… This feeling just perfectly corresponds to the challenge I often address when working with my clients: we women are not satisfied with 100%, we tend to outperform and get at least 120 %.


I was thinking about the Russian mentality about how we get even closer and more “attuned” to the audience…and suddenly, I remembered that Russian women are always immaculately dressed, groomed, with an impeccable makeup… in Russian term, “bezupračnyje”.

Well, would at least a nail polish do? Suffering from the lack of colours and daylight, I chose coral red. It looked good and after I put it on, I realised that only it made me feel more self-confident but also energised. Thy only thing that kept worrying me was that it might get scratched during the flight and handling the luggage. No problem, reapplying it would fix the issue, but as I was travelling with a hand luggage only, a nail polish remover had to stay on my bathroom counter.

The training in Prague went well and finished on time. Except for the call from school that my son was suffering from stomach-age. Needless to say that I was already leaving a sick daughter at home. I let my husband deal with at this time, only asking myself if this is another law of nature that I missed in science classes that explains the likelihood of children becoming sick more often when a working mother goes on a business trip in comparison to when a father leaves a house.
moscow_linda_blog_04Despite the total chaos in Prague caused by a rupture of some water pipeline right in the city centre, I managed to get to the airport five minutes before the counter opened for check-in. Everything went smoothly, I used the time to call home, talk to my stressed husband and to finish few documents that needed to be sent.

Passing through the security control and taking out the sealed plastic bag with my toiletries made me feel appreciate this provision for the first time. So much in hurry I did not close the foundation properly, so it was all over the bag. Having spent all my spare time at the airport working, I had no time to deal with that now since it was the last call. I just made sure the bag was sealed and boarded the plane.

Working and partly napping, I arrived in the freezing city. After landed, the announcement welcomed us to Moscow, the hero city… The often discussed resurge of Russian patriotism did not escape my ear. Thirty minutes after midnight I was finally at the hotel. With the time change, I was looking for a quick shower and then six hours of sleep! I opened the luggage and found out that it was not only the makeup left open but also nail polish. The combination of these two products made an incredible chemical substance that was soon all over the place and my hands… The bathroom looked like after a rather recent flight. And no polish remover, even at the reception. I believe my quest of it was one of the weirdest questions the night receptionist ever got.

Well, five hours later (it took a while to de-contaminate), I was ready, waiting to be picked up and run the workshop. Nails were fine, most of the coral red gone from my hands, make up on… I felt like I am the queen of the world and I can do anything?…


After getting to the office, meeting the participants, having a last minute discussion and yet another adjustment to the program, I felt like I had a runny nose… I excused myself to quickly run to the bathroom so we could start… However, in the bathroom I realized that it was not a runny nose. This time, dark red from my heavily bleeding nose started to be all over the place. So, even that office bathroom looked “heroic”. What to do? How to calm myself down? Where to find ice when it was -14 degrees outside or even a towel in these modern offices? How to explain to everyone that I am ok except for the bleeding nose? My makeup was a mess and my blouse was stained…Minutes were passing, the nose kept bleeding…

And suddenly I took a deep breath, I told myself that it is ok. That`s life. I am good as I am… I do not need to be perfect. I got some ice and a cooling pack from a freezer… The bleeding stopped and I remembered my favourite song by Freddie Mercury “Show must go on…my makeup may be flaking but my smiles stays on…”

I washed my face, no makeup anymore. I covered the stains with scarf. I smiled at myself, entered the room and started to deliver the workshop. Eight hours later, I was exhausted but fulfilled.  I saw an inspired group of ladies saying how great it felt to decide one day to themselves. They were grateful for the opportunity to tap into their inner talent, motivation and authenticity. We spent an evening on a dinner cruise in freezing Moscow and had fun sharing stories, laughing and relaxing.


I realized I did not need the nails to be done, and did not even need the makeup. My greatest talent as a communicator and inspirer is with me. Actually it us with me every time I tap into it. Next time, I will take it more easily and have rather more sleep than try to “polish” things…



And so should you…

Thank to my great friend Tereza Urbankova, and also a communication professional, for her help with proofreading. It is Tereza`s gift and talent, so she not mind…

Silvia Gavorníková: Authentic leadership has changed my attitude to life

It is a pleasure and privilege to introduce you Mrs. Silvia Gavorníková, who is not only the Head of International Relations Department at Slovak Export Credit Agency EXIMBANKA SR (Export-Import Bank of the Slovak Republic) but also the Chairwoman of the OECD Working Party on Export Credits and Credit Guarantees. In addition, Mrs. Gavorníková finds time for self-development activities dedicated to authentic leadership and last but not least, her passion in horse-riding resulted in organising top-level equestrian events in Slovakia.

Silvia, can you share with our readers more about important milestones on your career journey that took you from Bratislava all the way to Paris?

I have been working in EXIMBANKA SR for 18 years. During this time I have managed to develop knowledge and understanding of the export credit environment and international regulations which are very complex and strict. When Slovakia joined OECD and EU we had to fully comply with these rules, what was sometimes a very challenging process.

On the other hand, this environment is very dynamic as some regulations are being continuously updated and new ones are being adopted. Just like any other international environment, export credits are also about advocating national interests. So I quickly understood that if I wanted to support our national interests, as a national delegate, I needed to speak out, yet our counterparts had to learn to listen to our opinions, i.e. opinions of small countries. To understand national interests correctly, it is very important to communicate effectively, either with my colleagues who are in touch with Slovak businesses or with exporters directly.

The journey took a while as I have been participating at the meeting of the Export Credit Group in Brussels, where only EU Member States are involved, since 2008. During this time I have gained experiences in international negotiating, learned how to support national positions, as mentioned above, national interests, and also our preferences. All international negotiations are based on personal contacts and if you are a respected negotiator, then you can seek support for becoming the Chair. I am very grateful to gain the possibility to run for the Chairman of the Group. I believe that I can be trusted by my colleagues to fulfil the task of the Chairman as an honest broker working to the benefit of the entire Group. Therefore, the EU Council Working Group endorsed me as an EU candidate for the position of the Chairman in OECD as well as a member of the OECD Export Credit Bureau in autumn 2014. I was elected into this position by all Members of the WP ECG during the OECD autumn plenary meeting in November 2014 and re-elected for 2016 in November 2015. On 1st of July 2016, the Slovak Republic took over the first ever Presidency of the Council of the European Union (SK PRES), so I have become also the Chairman of the EU Council Working Group for Export Credits for the 6 months of the Slovak Presidency. The main challenge for Slovakia as part of these important responsibilities and opportunities is to find the way among the Member States to compromise to be able achieve a consensus on difficult issues on the EU agenda and to best represent our country. In this regard we will be hosting a Presidency meeting for all ECG members (EU Member States) in Bratislava in October, so I will be very proud to also welcome my colleagues at the Informal Presidency Meeting in Bratislava, the town where I was born and raised.

Paris, OECD and the world of finances – the three elements evoke the verse “it is a man’s world”. Did you perceive it the same way? Did it feel like you were breaking a glass ceiling or was it more difficult to overcome some stereotypes due to the fact that you were coming from “the East”?

I would say that our Working Group is very well gender balanced thanks to the deep respect for professional qualities of each other and great work of my female colleagues. I definitely was not the first woman to chair the OECD meetings (which started in 1978) or EU; however, it is true that in our OECD working group I am the first representative coming from the former “East block” who was elected to the Export Credit Bureau. I have to admit it would not be feasible without the support of my colleagues from the European Union and other OECD members, and of course my Slovak supporters.

Once I have earned the trust of the group, I am trying to do my job properly and in the most professional way. My main task as the Chair is to move the negotiation process forward. To achieve this I have to listen to the delegations carefully and understand the background very well. One of the most important features of the Chair in such an international environment is being impartial, loyal to the Group and I believe that in this sense my origin is an advantage.

Our interview is for the Leaders magazine. How do you define yourself as a leader and your leadership style?

I heard once, that “leadership” cannot be taught like management, but can be learned and enhanced. I believe that authentic leadership has opened my eyes in the area of self-development and improved the quality of my life not only in my professional career. I became familiar with the Talent Dynamics Profile Test which I find quite useful, because it is based on natural talent and not on skills. My personal talent dynamic profile is “Supporter” and based on this result I realised why I had always needed to work with people and lead them to achieve the best outcome of their work. This has confirmed my role in which I always felt the best – activities relating to people, organising teams, motivating, communicating, people-focused leadership, learning through conversations and teams, communicating through one-to-one discussion. Together with my team we create a great team and our work is very well accepted within our institution as well as in international meetings. My favourite sentence corresponds with my profile: “It wasn’t just me, it was the team”.

You dedicate quite a lot of time to self-development. What are some key findings you can share and pass forward?

I got in touch with the authentic leadership programme through my great coach Eva Štefanková in spring 2015, with the main aim to prepare for the historically first ever Slovak Presidency in the EU Council.

What I value most out of this self-development approach is the attitude towards myself, ability to look at myself and starting to know myself. This goes hand in hand with the ability to understand my strengths and weaknesses and take all the knowledge to achieve the best performance in my work. I consider myself blessed because I like my work very much; if I should describe my job I would say a “dream job”, so to improve myself in self-development is very natural to me as I want to improve all the time.

Do you see enough leaders able to address the current complex issues, be it on the local, regional and European level? What are the biggest challenges they face?

An authentic leader is in my view a person who makes his/her decision naturally as a free human being with the full responsibility and best intention to achieve his/her goal. In my opinion, these days are very challenging because thanks to social media many “leaders” pop up and quickly disappear. I believe that to become a leader is a sustainable process of learning, listening, communicating and expressing oneself. I think one of the biggest challenges for every leader is to understand where their role is and know well available room for manoeuvre, which can be used effectively to achieve their goals.

Horse-riding is your passion but you do not do it merely to relax but also used this opportunity in the past to promote Slovakia abroad. Besides horse-riding, can you comment on your overall approach to work-life balance, how do you find time and where do you find energy?

I’ve always dreamt about riding horses, and since my parents didn’t like this idea I had to wait till I was 14 to find my way to start riding on my own. After a short adventure in racing stables I found a riding stable of show jumpers, with the No.1 Slovak rider at that time and I’ve been riding show jumpers/hunters ever since. I have competed on the national level and my favourite part is riding young horses at the time when you can teach them how to like to be ridden and influence their personality.

No matter how much I like my work, it is absolutely crucial to have balance in my life. My work includes a lot of traveling, which is time consuming and especially long negotiations could be exhausting, so I need to be focused and concentrate at all times. Horses are the generator of my energy, the moment I sit on a horse back all the problems disappear, the head clears up and I am able to rethink and re-evaluate all I have in my mind.

Looking 20 years ahead, what would you like to see?

I am grateful for all opportunities that I have got in my life and I believe that all this would not be possible without a great support of my family, my husband and my parents.

So even in 20 years from now I would like to be surrounded by people I love, can rely on and trust at the same time and I still would like to work in a position which would also be my hobby and passion.

Your final words…

Authentic leadership has changed my attitude to life, opened my eyes in many ways and made me realise how much my reaction can influence the outcomes which then have the major impact on my decisions. When I look back I understand my reactions in the past much better and I believe that for the future many more circumstances will lead to a different outcome, because of my current knowledge.

I would like to wish your readers successful decisions and satisfaction in their life, which brings all the joy and delight.

This article was published in Czech&Slovak Leaders Magazine.

Rostislav Jirkal: On Beauty and Challenges of SMEs

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are often referred to as the backbone of the European economy, providing a potential source for jobs and economic growth. In fact, they represent 99% of all businesses in the EU. In the Asia-Pacific region, these businesses are the engines for growth and innovation. It is a great opportunity for the Czech and Slovak Leaders magazine to present Mr. Rostislav Jirkal, a former CEO of Servodata, who after 25 years in ICT family business is leaving the company to join another SME, consulting company QED Group. He shares with us his journey, important milestones, experiences gained and difficult moments. What is it like for an owner of an SME to negotiate with a multinational Goliath? And what is he looking forward to in his new consulting career at QED Group?

What does it feel like to hand over originally a small Czech family business to the international consulting group BDO, currently ranking among the top five largest consulting companies?

It feels special. I’d compare it to wearing the same coat for 25 years, then taking it off and being able to wear any style jacket I choose. I realised that after a certain time spent at the top as CEO, more and more tasks and assignments kept piling on, and at the expense of activities I found energising and more fulfilling. So right now, I am looking forward to the new beginning, launching new projects and feeling a renewed sense of excitement, passion and purpose.

Let us now discuss the three phases that each family business has to go through in order to develop and grow successfully, and eventually become a part of the global market. These phases can be divided into: 1) the early phase, dedicated to the development of an enterprise and its brand; 2) the middle phase, devoted to attraction of customers and development of a team; and 3) the final phase, focused on systems, processes and finance in order to prepare for an acquisition. So, let us go back 25 years, just after the Velvet Revolution, when you and your brother founded the Servodata company.

Only a handful of people realise how unprecedented the period of early 1990s was. The market was hungry to get new technologies. But the way to reach the customer was not straightforward. There were many administrative barriers, including an embargo on importing the latest technology from Western countries. We were launching unknown products, trying to explain their benefits to the market. I recall difficult negotiations with the top representatives of the Seagate company who found it hard to believe that someone in Czechoslovakia could be interested in a 20 MB disc! My career was made by my ability to identify new directions and trends and then evangelising them to the often doubtful market to become more receptive. Using some current entrepreneurial language, I was totally “in the flow”; that is, I was doing what came most naturally to me, and that served my company well. And so with our growing reputation, we attracted partnerships with top global brands, such as EMC, Compaq, IBM and many others. Thanks to these powerful partnerships, Servodata’s brand became very strong. The innovation stage came back later when I built a team dedicated to technology training at the Datascript company, and also started to develop the overall market by introducing open source tools.

What did the second phase, which was dedicated to the team development, look like? Servodata was known as a talent incubator for multinational companies, with many of its former employees working nowadays at global companies such as DHL, Avnet, HP and Red Hat, among others.

I believe in the rule saying you should always hire people who are smarter than you. Since the beginning, we created a distinct culture to ensure that all our colleagues, both men and women, could show off their skills, as well as receive the support and encouragement to become better experts than us, the owners. So we applied two trends in practice, succession planning and talent management, which were heavily debated. The challenge was, since we were bringing totally new technologies, that we could not find anyone familiar with these on the market. I remember hiring an academic expert who did not speak English. We provided intensive language training and after three months this guy was ready to pass an extremely demanding certification process in the United States. As we could not compete with multinational companies with respect to salaries and benefits, we instead created a company culture that was open, innovative and creative – an environment very much today sought after by top talent. I was very pleased to hear the reaction of potential candidates during interviews who heard that Servodata was a company where “life is good”.

Let us move to the last phase, where a company prepares to be acquired. This phase is usually unknown and occurs behind scenes. How difficult was it for you to concentrate on processes and systems and also lead negotiations for the hand over? Did you feel like you were a small David facing an international Goliath?

This phase is extremely demanding, but thanks to the fact that we have been a partner to various global companies since the beginning, we had to adjust to their structures and processes. We had at our disposal not only the latest information systems, but also internal communication processes and overall systems of training and development. As far as negotiations with investors were concerned, these were thrilling and full of creative energy. A small Czech company, represented by a small team of three or four individuals, facing a global corporation with a team of thirty people! I had to be familiar with all aspects of negotiations, beginning with financial terms, all the way to final negotiations when we were examining each word in the contract. I’ve always relied on a strong team, this time being composed of external advisors, so we were neither surprised, nor taken advantage of. I am truly proud of the value that we have left to our foreign partners when handing over parts of the company, not only the financial value, but the value in its ability to remain healthy and grow under new conditions. The same was true for the process of acquiring new companies, such as M.S.D. or Abakus Distribution; the value of those companies was later multiplied thanks to successful integration into the structure of Servodata Group.

What is the most profound message you would like to pass on to other owners of SMEs?

As I said, I’ve been able to successfully complete the life cycle of an enterprise: defining a vision, building a structure, building a team, proving a viable concept of a repeatable business model, up until the final phase of monetisation for owners and shareholders. Thanks to being an expert partner in advisory bodies of several global corporations, I was able to become familiar with global organisational structures, including top management, knowing both the pros and cons of how these corporations work on a daily basis. On top of that, as I learned to understand and see the world from an investor’s point of view, I gained valuable experience in both the acquisition and divestments processes. So naturally, I learned to deal with different company cultures. I think there are only a few issues left out there that might surprise me! I want to use this experience and knowledge to help business owners to identify the best development path for a particular defining moment in their development. I am aware of many paths and cul-de-sacs which could lead them astray from their desired end-game, and how to avoid these, saving headaches, and well as time and money, which of course is totally essential for the health of an enterprise itself during this journey.

What are you looking forward to in your future consulting career?

I am looking forward to drawing upon my first hand experience to co-create new visions for inspiring companies, and to help solve situations, from a consultant point of view, which appear unsolvable from the perspective of those involved in it on daily basis. Succession planning in SMEs is an issue that has become very pressing in the Czech Republic. It was not by chance that I was able to successfully complete the enterprise life-cycle with Servodata Group. There is a measurable process and proven methods. That said, anyone trying to solve the puzzle of succession planning should start to think about the team, internally and externally. Despite the so-called war on talent being mentioned in media headlines, I see many talented people around who are not given a chance. The feeling that “I am the only one to be able to solve that” is an illusion and does not serve anyone

And why did you decide to join QED Group?

I perceive QED Group as a company of enthusiastic professionals, led by Radvan Bahbouh, a leading Czech coach, a psychologist, a psychiatrist and also a mathematician, who has unique, proven and long-time expertise in building high performance teams. There is a vast range of products QED Group offers, and I find that all of these reflect the latest scientific work which combines mathematics, psychology and other disciplines. For example, “sociomapping” is one of those unique tools, which became famous also thanks to the MARS 500 project. Unfortunately, there is a myth that only the richest multinational corporations can afford the best products with regards to learning and development. Based on my direct experience, I know that SMEs are vitally dependent on finding maximum efficiency in how they function. And, I should mention again, it is the SMEs who are disrupting current dogmas, and are taking the lead to contribute to the growth of economy and bring innovation. I see my new mission to assist and help them.


Radvan Bahbouh

Nikos Balamotis, a managing partner of QED Group was featured in Leaders in 2014; the interview can be accessed here

Radvan Bahbouh, founder of QED Group on Rostislav Jirkal…

In almost ten years I’ve known and interacted with Rostislav, I’ve never found him in the same place as the previous time. Rostislav has this tendency to put things in motion, and in the midst of all that he is able to discover new roads, while doing it thoughtfully. From my perspective, it seems that he was able to transform his passion for paragliding into his profession. Unlike his untidy office desk, his inner world is very orderly, but not static. I have a feeling he’ll still keep evolving and rearranging it in new ways, and so developing himself and his surroundings in ever more beneficial ways.


This article was published in Czech&Slovak Leaders Magazine.

Stefan Höchbauer: In order to win in the new economy, you must digitize or become irrelevant

Having the opportunity to interview Mr. Stefan Höchbauer gave me not only a positive insight into the situation on digital transformation in the Czech Republic and its neighboring markets in Austria and Germany, but also an impulse to look at the technology from another perspective. More than ever, new technologies are becoming drivers of the business model change. The revolutionary examples of Airbnb and Uber show us how small players can grow into global ones and on the other hand, how the global ones might become smaller ones or disappear completely. In order to succeed, the IT needs to become integral part of the business to profit from the successful and long-term sustainable development.



A Design Methodology

Basically, Design Thinking is a design methodology, which differs from traditional design approaches in specific ways. For example, it is characterised as more creative and user-centered than many traditional design approaches.


A Problem-Solving Approach or Process

Design Thinking can be regarded as a problem-solving method or a process for the resolution of problems. As a solution-based approach to solving problems, Design Thinking is particularly useful for addressing the so-called “wicked” problems. Wicked means that they are ill-defined or tricky. For ill-defined problems, both the problem and the solution are unknown at the outset of the problem-solving process. Even when the general direction of the problem may be clear, considerable time and effort is spent on clarifying the requirements. Thus, in Design Thinking, a large part of the problem-solving activity is comprised of defining and shaping the problem. Much like any other problem solving process, Design Thinking consists of a number of stages or phases, which differ slightly between various Design Thinking proponents.


An Approach to Encourage Creativity

Unlike analytical thinking, which is associated with the “breaking down” of ideas, Design Thinking is a creative process based on the “building up” of ideas. While analytical approaches focus on narrowing the design choices, Design Thinking focuses on going broad, at least during the early stages of the process. In Design Thinking, designers do not make any early judgments about the quality of ideas. As a result, this minimises the fear of failure and maximises input and participation in the ideation (brainstorming) and prototype phases. “Outside the box thinking”, also called “wild ideas”, is encouraged in the earlier process stages, since this style of thinking is believed to lead to creative solutions that would not have emerged otherwise.


A User-Centered Approach That Brings Design into the Business World

Design Thinking is seen as a way to apply design methodologies to any of life situations. It is often used to explore and define business problems and to define products and services. In other words, Design Thinking brings the design approach into the business world. As a style of thinking, it combines empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality and feedback to analyze and fit solutions to the context – All this helps derive a solution that meets user needs and at the same time generates revenue, that is, drives business success.


Mr. Höchbauer, what are the main business model changes and disruption trends that SAP helps its customers to address?

The topic of digital transformation or business transformation as discussed nowadays is driven by three factors. The first one is represented by surprising competitors that have emerged and now are challenging many established players in traditional industries. Several years ago, it would seem odd to consider that BMW or VW would face competition from Google and its autonomous driving, as Google now has all the data relevant and needed. Similar disruptions are happening elsewhere: one of the biggest taxi providers Uber does not own cars, likewise Airbnb achieved its success without owning one single hotel bed. More and more, the traditional companies in traditional industries need to start thinking about new ways how to engage with customers.


The second factor is linked to the Internet of Things – taking into consideration all devices that are connected to the internet and that will be connected to the internet. According to studies, by 2020 there will be about 50 billion devices connected to the internet. We tend to think mainly about mobile phones, but there are many other devices and sensors connected, and generating enormous overall volume of data. Just imagine immense opportunity for businesses arising from combining data from devices together with corporate data, which create the backbone of the enterprise, and then enriched with the data from the social media. Now the next step comes and that is what to do with the data and how to combine them with analytics. We present to our customers the example of Digital Boardroom as the place where all information about different parts of the enterprise is available and so it enables not only access to data in real time but also decision making according to complex evaluation of the current status of an organisation as well as enhancing communication across various departments. Besides effective decision making, this approach also enables many new opportunities how to interact with customers.


The third dimension of disruption trends comes with next generation, the so-called millennials or also internet generation. They have totally different ideas about how to consume goods and services. I always present the example of my 14 year old son. He likes cars, but he has already made up his mind that he does not want to own a car in the future. He wants to have a flexibility and use it according to his needs, so he thinks about sharing cars with friends and changing models as he likes. And now this new approach to consumption is starting to be reflected in the whole automotive industry.


Having heard all this, now I understand that your statement: “In order to win in the new economy, you must digitize or become irrelevant”, should not be considered an overstatement.

To illustrate all of the changes mentioned above on one specific example, I can give you an insight from my recent discussion with a car rental company, an industry that few would consider particularly innovative. Generally, we would think the business is about maximum possible utilisation of the cars, being at the right place at the right time. However, facing the challenges, there is a need to come up with new types of shared and mobile services for their customers. Potentially, SAP as a corporate customer, will not have one company car per employee but rather service level providing a car at disposal according to needs. So from owning or renting a car, we are turning to consuming either miles or hours or any other flexible arrangement.


Individual SAP employee might thus profit from various cars for different occasions. Smaller car easy to park when driving in a city, a family car when going to the seaside for summer vacations or an offroad when going for a skiing weekend. Or perhaps would he or she like to try a convertible throughout summer? Expanding on this mobile cart, let me describe a few services that could be interesting from the user’s point of view. Just by entering the car and connecting to the GPS, there would be a welcome and the navigation system would be automatically selecting the optimal journey to the next meeting. If I go to the petrol station and I refuel, the bill would be automatically added to the right expense company account. No more diffcult and manual handling of receipts and bills into a system. By the way, this is already possible thanks to SAP technology called Concur.


So this was one example that for changing business models you need flexible and reliable, rock solid IT infrastructure with data, applications and solutions and building on these, you come up with new services and ways to engage with your customer to serve their needs better.


Digitalization is truly affecting each and every industry and each and every geography. The adoption might be different if you compare America and Western Europe to Russia and CIS but it is omnipresent. Sometimes, it comes under headline of business transformation but the ultimate aim as to how best adapt for future market is always the same.


For a long time, SAP has been associated primarily with large corporations. In reality, 80% of your customers are SMEs. In Germany, the SMEs have been traditionally considered backbone of economy, but in the Czech Republic, SMEs have been in an inferior position with regards to access to funding and innovation, when compared to multinationals. Has the situation changed?

In SAP we have the same customer base in each country where we operate. What might differ, is the definition of the SME as such, with regards to the revenue or number of employees. But the principle how we engage with SMEs, what products and solutions we offer and how we engage with them, stays the same. As you pointed out, SMEs are also a backbone of business for us. Look at our product and portfolio and you find a range scaling from small to large enterprises. In some areas the offer is the same, in some areas there are special products developed in cooperation with our partners, based on our technology and ready to solve specific solutions in particular segments.


Three particular segments – finance, media and production – have been discussed at SAP Forum held in Prague in June. Finance and production are often discussed, but what was the reason to include media?

As I mentioned, digital and business transformation is relevant for each and every industry. Some of the industries might be more adaptive than others. With media and in particular social media, the question of making use of data available becomes imminent which brings us back to the solutions we offer. This was confirmed in the keynote speech of Mr. Petr Dvořák, CEO of Czech Television, discussing new trends in TV time consumption and the effect on the transforming world of media as such.


SAP is active in both, public sector and private sector. How is the public sector, comparing to the private one, interested in digital transformation? Are there any differences, can you give an example?

It is interesting to note that with regards to the digital transformation, the often mentioned public-private sector divide is not relevant. There might be some slight concerns with regards to cloud solutions, but overall, the solutions and the responses are the same. Let us take the example of growing pressure from citizens with regards to the need of more transparency and budget spending or the pressure to be more flexible in handling administrative agenda filing on the documents and paperwork. The topic of efficient data use and data sharing can be extended to health care where I see a great advantage and potential. The potential of connectivity was demonstrated in one study done by the Heidelberg University Hospital which carried out digitizing cervical cancer screening in Kenya, in a process that helped to prevent data loss and duplication. And one last positive remark regarding adoption and readiness, I am pleased to see that the level of discussion is almost comparable between Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic.


So far, we have talked about transforming businesses and technologies. Now, let us talk about people. What is your view and approach to leadership at SAP in times of transformation?

In SAP, we make sure we have the people at the right positions. We embrace the notion of all inclusive diversity, in terms of gender, age, nationalities and last but not least even different physical abilities. I am so proud not only about my diverse team and particularly about the high number of talented women managers in executive positions throughout the region.


We walk the talk on disruption and so we introduced the methodology called design thinking which is a smart way of brainstorming and engaging with our customers. But we also use it internally. We talk about potential disruptive ideas, topics, trends and influences and how to link them to the opportunities our technology enables. Therefore, the employees need to be open to learning and to adapt fast. We also experienced our transformation from turning from an enterprise resource planning system company into a cloud company based on rock solid technology SAP HANA. This way, we are able to address much bigger market potential, in terms of different industries, lines of business, different buying centers etc. Our experts are trained to be always the most relevant source for their customers as potential consultants on future disruptive trends in a particular industry or business. We invest in training, education, coaching and we are aware that this is an on-going and never ending process.

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