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 conversation.

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 of more.

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.

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