Let’s talk about: story-driven change with Lukáš Sedláček
„It’s about stories. We’ve been telling each other stories for tens of thousands of years. A story gives you meaning, it drives you forward, a story helps you navigate the world to figure out what is good, what is bad, a story can give you momentum to achieve and help you aim for higher goals.“
Michael: Lukáš Sedláček is a man, who wants to follow his dreams. A visionary, who understands that we are just here temporarily and the uniqueness of our lives. He is the founder of the European Leadership and Academic Institute, ELAI, which he founded in 2010- an institution that wants to support education, creativity, entrepreneurship, start-ups and innovation. Indeed, Lukáš, you say on your website that you want to motivate the whole of society to new and higher aims. Now, you may have success in motivating an individual, a group, a team, even a company, but to motivate an entire society is a fantastic goal. How do you aim to achieve this? What story you will get people behind?
Lukáš: Of course, it’s very hard to do on your own, even with an institute, even with your partners but it’s something that I think is very important, especially for the Czech Republic. I have traveled quite a lot to different countries. I also had an opportunity to study abroad, in New Zealand or in the UK, and having grown up in Scandinavia- Finland and Denmark, I can see that we’re doing quite okay in the Czech Republic and as individuals, but could do much better in terms of motivation when it comes to us performing better, as individuals and as a country. In other words, we could aim higher than we are aiming. The idea was to create a platform and different projects whereby we could motivate Czech people to work more on themselves and try to be better as individuals and perform better as a country in the long term.
ML: In the history of human kind, to achieve such cooperation, a society needs certain goals and certain aims. These are often put into a single book. Take religion, for example, the Bible, the Torah or others… a single book which gives the rules and regulations. There’s an idea, there’s a story around which a society can come together and go together toward a joint goal or aim. In your world, what is that story?
LS: That’s a great point. It’s about stories. We’ve been telling each other stories for tens of thousands of years. A story gives you meaning, it drives you forward, a story helps you navigate the world to figure out what is good, what is bad, a story can give you momentum to achieve and help you aim for higher goals. If you look at societies that have a story, or individuals or families or stories of nations, versus people who don’t have stories, you can see different development. For example, if we look at the US. They had a story right from the beginning about who they are, what they want to achieve, how special they are. And if you look at the European Union or the Czech Republic, we tend to lack a common story to associate ourselves with and that makes it difficult to aim for something.
ML: I completely agree with your thesis here. Often, successful nations have that collective identity- an idea, a goal, a story which they go for. You mentioned America, which is very successful… and as you pointed out, perhaps European countries, our own country here in the Czech Republic, are we missing this? And should this new identity be linked to… what? Should it be linked to science, technology? Should it be linked to something a bit more abstract?
LS: I think the first step is to realize that one needs a story and the second one is to realize that the story can either be given from above, or it can be told and created from below. In other words, we can either listen to the stories of politicians, different political parties or different famous individuals, who tell us what the story should be for us and for the Czech Republic, or we can be the ones that actually create the story for ourselves.
ML: I agree with you and I think that we’re going through a period where we, as a global society, are getting closer. Technology is driving this. The internet, transportation, all the technological advances we’re making, are leading us toward a more intertwined, global society. I think that’s following the path of science and technology as the story. At the same time, we have old stories which are dividing nations, religions, cultures, etc. And I think we find ourselves at an impasse now, where there are groups of people who can go with the flow, are able to keep up with science and technology, aren’t scared of innovation, feel that they can express themselves in that world and they’re going with it. They’re reaping the benefits. Their standard of living is going up. However, there’s another group, possibly slightly larger than this one, which feels as if they’ve missed that train, that they’re not up to speed, that they’re a little bit worried about that because maybe they don’t understand it as much. They’re looking back at previous stories- religious stories or political stories which come from a previous time. So I fear that we’re at an impasse, where we’re almost going toward a diversification of our species. Those who are following one story, who are more up to speed and those who may feel as though they’re lagging behind. I am interested in activities which engage that, which approach that and try to do something about it. What are the activities you believe make a difference? You mentioned briefly education, what are the things we can do as a society to lower that barrier for people to come and see the story of science as their story too?
LS: I think the first important thing is for people to realize that they, along with everyone else, can be part of the story. There are divergent stories being told, different groups being formed, and the danger is that if we portray the future as being the ones that understand innovations and have the resources to take advantage of the resources in the future, then we leave out lots of others who might then be inclined to choose other, older stories, leading to miscommunication and disagreements. So, I think what’s important is to provide basic abilities, education, for example, to everyone, so that they can take part in the future. At the same time, to communicate that everyone can be part of the future, in the sense that they can be innovators. Whether they are a genius or… for example, in the next Innovation Week Czech Republic, there will be this twelve year old girl, Anna Du, who created this robot to clean the ocean...
ML: I’m glad you’re coming onto her, because so far, we’ve been talking in a wide context, about societies and even the global society, so I’ll be happy to hear about some individuals. You mentioned in the beginning that the change can only be imparted by individual work. After all, we are only responsible for and capable of our own actions so I’d love to hear some individual stories.
LS: Well, one fascinating story is of this 12 year old girl, Anna Du. She made this new robot to clean the oceans. It’s never been done before. It’s this new, functioning prototype that big companies are looking into. Or there is one scientist, Sabrina Gonzales Pasterski, who at the age of 14 created her own airplane in the garage and flew it. She’s been labeled the new Einstein by Harvard University. So these are some exceptional cases that are good to know about, that there are still really smart people that can invent things, but at the same time, it’s important to realize that one shouldn’t be depressed by these very successful people and cases, but that innovation and creativity is something that is for everyone. That’s why Innovation Week in the Czech Republic is done with as many actors as possible. It’s an event that’s co-organized by dozens of organizations and there are hundreds of events happening. There are embassies, chambers of commerce, NGO’s, companies, everyone is joining in to communicate the message that we have to create the story not only by ourselves but also with as many people as possible. At the same time to highlight the fact that it’s not only about someone being a scientist but it’s about each one of us trying to look at life differently.
ML: So where are we, how well prepared are we and in what form are we here in the Czech Republic to go into this future. From your point of view, what’s lacking, what are we good at, what do we still need to get better at?
LS: We’re good at facts. In education, when you look at different subjects like biology, chemistry, physics and all that, we’re quite good when it comes to remembering things, counting things, the facts. But if you compare the Czech student with a student from the West or some better university, you see a big difference in the ability to actually use the facts to argue, to create some new world with the facts that you have. So in a way, we should be less afraid to play around like small kids, less afraid to think from different angles. For example, when I started writing my essays at Cambridge, I wrote perfect essays that would have gotten an A plus in the Czech Republic. I know it because there were many different references from primary sources… I was writing these essays and I kept getting bad grades. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t getting the high grades and I learned it was because I was focusing too much on the facts. Then I tried to use a different, crazier approach. I used psychology, historical locations, and so on. I learned that their tendency [at Cambridge] is to teach you to think and use creativity, even if it’s kind of stupid at the end. You are rewarded for trying to be creative. I think that creativity is one thing, and another thing that we lack in this country is rewarding people who think, who learn to argue. Business is also about having the right arguments. At the same time, what we lack here is some sort of long-term strategy. We lack strategy looking at areas which are of essence and vital for the Czech Republic in the long term. So, education, support of innovation, science, start-ups… the support that we get is up and down. There is no gradual support; there is no vision or strategy for the future. If you look at some successful countries, such as Sweden, the most innovative country in the world last year… it’s not a coincidence that they became this innovative. They have a strategy that they’ve been pursuing for the past twenty years or more. So that’s one of the other things that I think we lack. One is this creativity, which also means us believing more in ourselves and having confidence, which is not always something that you are born with. Not everyone is born with confidence- it’s something you have to nurture and support. With students, you have to tell them that good work is great work, tell them they did very well, and compliment them, because not everyone is confident just by themselves. And if he or she is, they’re usually not that smart.
ML: Ok, so we have here the ideas, we have the skills, we have the talent, but what we need is to invest into creativity across the range, from education through to the work place and also have a cohesive strategy which is going to look into the long term.
LS: We shouldn’t be learning about Einstein and when he was born, where he lived, when he got married, but we should be learning and teaching kids how to become the new Einstein.