INTERVIEW WITH ARETE INSTITUTE DIRECTOR, Douglas Pressman, Ph.D.
One of our guiding beliefs in establishing Arete
Institute is that useful and credible answers exist which
can help individuals better understand and deal with the stresses
and opportunities of modernity. We aim to be an innovative forum
for sharing these answers, and through the most powerful and satisfying
means of communication available to human beings - face-to-face
In modern society, the vast majority of one's life is carefully
directed and strictly planned. This is truest for high achievers
- those who attain leadership and professional roles. Most professionals
and managers are monitored and rigidly scheduled throughout their
working lives, which means 40 years of stress with minimal opportunity
for self-reflection and creative expression. Considering how school
is a rigorous and regimented socialization process, and that there
is almost no formal teaching of
life skills, it is hardly a wonder that professional life
- in many respects a continuation of school - turns out to be,
for many, a dissatisfying gauntlet. It is also not surprising
that corporations are spending billions on what amounts to remedial
training - albeit often without squarely addressing the core issue
of what makes for creative excellence and good character.
Few people get exposure to leading-edge
research about creativity, wellness or happiness through our
existing institutions. In general, schools tend to be rather conservative.
I'll give an illustration. The "Personal Creativity in Business"
course at Stanford, which I mentioned earlier, has a 20-year track
record - numerous business leaders and entrepreneurs claim that
the course was the jewel in the crown of their MBA studies. Nevertheless,
I know of no other major business school that takes cultivating
creativity seriously. This indicates how tradition overrules effectiveness
even in an educational sector that prides itself on practicality.
Another reason for founding Arete
Institute is that even though mass media and the internet
are making information available with unprecedented ease, contexts
for people to share and discuss ideas are disappearing The past
century and a half has transformed not only our material conditions
but our way of relating to each other: After tens of thousands
of years of taking guidance from each other and from nature, our
species suddenly inhabits an electronic, "virtual" environment.
It is hardly surprising that many people today feel isolated,
as if they were spectators rather than participants in their own
lives. One of the primary aims of Arete Institute is to offset
the resultant social vacuum by promoting the sharing of ideas
in the way human beings were designed for, i.e., in person.
It's the culmination of a long process.
Ever since I started college teaching in the late 80s I have felt
that educational institutions are failing to contribute all they
might. Higher education nowadays promotes intense specialization,
divides reality into academic fiefdoms, and basically does a poor
job of helping us fit all the pieces together - which is what
human beings need. Education also tends to stop at a point in
the life cycle when people could really begin to use it, i.e.,
adulthood. We tend to overlook that very few people have sorted
their life out by age 25, and fewer yet have gotten useful advice
by that juncture about how to lead an excellent life. There are
of course so many exceptional high achievers who succeed despite
all handicaps that we tend to overlook that many people are capable
During the 1980s I was an international banker, working in
San Francisco and Bangkok. I had always wanted to teach,
so I eventually went back to get my doctorate at Brown. I found
that most of my students were searching for more than they were
getting out of the university's curriculum, despite Brown's being
overall a wonderful place to study. This put the seed in my mind
that genuine learning, or at least learning how to be a human
being, requires more than abstract intellectual exercises and
the apparatus of credits and grade points. From that point onward
I have integrated a bit of self-exploration into all my university
courses. Via my teaching at Brown, Holy Cross, and other universities
I have also observed that the students who are most willing to
undergo self-exploration almost inevitably become leaders - whether
as charter school principals, by writing path-breaking poetry,
or as public servants.
In 1997 I got the opportunity to come to Prague to take up
a professorship teaching MBA students and leading executive education
seminars. Owing to the dislocations in the post-communist economies,
I found myself teaching the cream of Eastern Europe's young professionals
- physicians, scientists, engineers, lawyers and public officials.
As at Brown, I found that many of them were looking for more than
they were finding in an academic curriculum. Many of my students
dreaded working for large organizations upon graduation and sought
my help identifying entrepreneurial outlets for their personal
interests. It became increasingly clear to me that there was room
for new kinds of synthetic learning experiences which address
people's needs in respect to creating meaningful and maximally
productive lives. This started me on a search which eventually
took me to the Stanford Business School.
Around the time I went to Stanford at the invitation of Professor
Ray to observe his Personal Creativity in Business course, one
of my former MBA students, Richard
Furych, persuaded me to co-found with him Arete Institute.
Richard had already had some high-powered corporate experience
behind him and wanted a more creative and personally fulfilling
arena. Two years later, after a lot of hard work, here we are.
Arete Institute - seminars and sabbaticals focusing on creativity, leadership, and personal growth.