An interview with Corina Enache: How U.Lab influences her work and her business on a very practical level
Written by: Elena Gramatikovska
As I am writing this I find it hard to believe that we are coming out on the other side of the U after another cycle of ULab.
For 8 weeks every Thursday almost 40,000 people around the globe were involved in a similar activity: showing up with a will to go deeper and deeper into the understanding of self and others. A will to stop pointing fingers of blame and turn the camera inwards in order to see what can I do with what I have and where I am.
Once again the ripple effect of the ULab is extraordinary. Not only did so many initiatives come out of the 8 weeks but so many connections, groups of people coming together to think why we are collectively creating results no one wants. The apparently calm surface of our relatively undisturbed living was stirred by connecting with a deeper sense of responsibility to contribute positively to the fast changing world.
In the light of the refugees crises, the attacks in Paris, thousands of people were meditating and sending intentions and messages of peace. Internal peace. In the words of Otto: ‘energy follows attention’. We have to create balance, an undisturbed peace within us individually, in our families, work spaces, neighborhoods so that we can spread that peace around the world. There is no magic wand that can solve the issues that we have been creating with decades if not centuries. There is only the willingness to ask difficult questions, to consciously choose to show up with an open heart, open mind and open will and to listen. Listen to the social field and emerging future. To allow the needs in the world to be the leaders and not our egos or individual desires.
The last couple of weeks of the ULab were dedicated to prototyping. Manifesting the desires of the heart connected with the needs in the world. Some wonderful initiatives were starting to form and it was really inspiring to see people coming together to help and support each other and their prototypes.
I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to interview one of the ULab participants Corina Enache. Corina has been connected to the Impact Hub for years in different places of the world and is now a member of the Impact Hub Amsterdam. She had some remarkable insights to offer about how the ULab influences her work and her business on a very practical level. It was very inspiring and moving to hear someone’s story through the ‘U’ lens, reflecting and going back to recognize the golden thread we all follow in life. I am sharing Corina’s story with you:
Tell me your story, who is Corina? Where do you come from?
I am originally Romanian but have been out of my country now for ten years. I’ve lived in so many different cultures that ‘where do you come from’ is a complicated question for me. I’ve lived mostly in Europe: France, Germany, UK and Austria and then I lived in Brazil before coming to Amsterdam.
So I am somehow a citizen of the world with some sort of European cultural roots. That’s how I would define myself.\
How did you make the decisions of where to go?
I come from a very small city in Eastern Europe, almost like a village with everything that that means, a lot of social pressure, controlled environment. I was always interested in exploring other places. I loved to read, I remember that when I was very little probably around 13, during the summer holiday I read the Shogun a novel by Jason Clavell about the discovery of Japan. It is a travel book that talks about the discovery and colonization of Japan by the Catholic church. In the book there are two chapters about the clashes of the two cultures as well as about the Japanese sexuality and the geisha culture. I was too young to understand a lot from the book but I was fascinated by the clash of cultures and how you could go into a different world through books. When we went back to school the teacher asked what we have read over the summer and I told about the Shogun. She was shocked. She called my father and told me that I am perverted, saying that my parents are not educating me properly,why would I read such a book when kids my age should read more Romanian/Communist literature (propaganda). That was a very strong moment for me when I realized how constricted I was by the environment to not discover the things that I wanted to discover. When my thirst for discovery appeared I found a way to satisfy it through books. Through reading I became fascinated by multiculturalism. So, the first chance I got to get out of my country I did it.
What is your education background?
The profession that I chose- marketing and branding and understanding behavior was largely influenced by my immediate environment. Growing up in a European Communist country I was not guided towards a more social field. My generation was pushed towards economics. I wanted to be a psychologist and study the human mind in its purest form because I also loved mathematics and statistics and the purity of science that comes from them. So I was very drawn to understanding how the human mind works. But then of course you come from a small town, middle class income family. Also, due to the whole state system, the environment in which I was growing up best understood human behavior through marketing so that is an obvious choice to be made. When curiosities like the ones I had arise they need a nurturing environment so that they can grow and develop properly.
how do I bring in my values, my ways of seeing and understanding the world into my product?
I was first actually studying diplomacy. I entered diplomacy with all my beliefs and vision for the world but I quickly became disenchanted by the way politics understood behavior at least in that time in Eastern Europe. People that are driven by passion and curiosity are disenchanted quickly because that’s the fuel that guides them. When that fuel stops they move away. I was disillusioned by diplomacy and that’s when I switched to marketing. Marketing was purely operational in Romania. There was very little understanding of behavior and applying of the discoveries. I had assignments in Paris and London but they were short term. The first country were I moved to was Austria and that’s where I got in contact with the Impact Hub literally just as it was forming. It was a small group of very passionate people and there was also a strong Romanian community around the Hub. I loved the spirit and what they were doing there but at that time I didn’t know exactly what it means to me personally. I was still growing in the corporate career and I still wanted to achieve success in that world. I liked the environment of the Impact Hub but I was still a foreign element with the way I talked, the way I behaved.
The thread to follow
There was another aspect of living in a different country. I was doing my cultural deprogramming at the time. I was busy trying to understand what it means to be a citizen of the world and not of Romania. I was still heavily at that time inside my Romanian culture because that was everything I’ve ever known. Even though I’ve studied other cultures a lot it is very different to embody that knowledge. So that year for me was a year where I had to learn so much and make sense of this new me that was emerging. Who is that person?
I always wanted to go into the headquarters of Beiersdorf in Germany. That for me was the place where all the research and innovation happens. But also, there is something in Romania about the pursuit of power. You know when you grow up in a country that has been colonized and always under the power of someone else there is always this desire to be the one that has the power, that is sitting on the top. This desire is of course coming from not wanting to be suppressed. To be your own boss. And being your own boss in that culture means entering a corporation and climbing to the top. That desire for me was going to the headquarters. I hadn’t created deep roots in Vienna so when I was offered the job to go to Germany it was not a difficult decision to make.
There was no IH in Hamburg so it really was just me and my job and I started to get disenchanted about the high level corporate world. I was losing steam and didn’t feel passionate about the work. I knew I had to change but I didn’t know how. I knew I didn’t like my work but I didn’t know what else I could do. At that time I was doing a lot of spiritual work, I started studying Buddhism,I did a Vipasana course. I also met my boyfriend who lived in Brazil and we started a long distance relationship. So, after a year I realized that I don’t really have anything to pursue professionally so I decided to focus on the personal and spiritual aspect. That is how I decided to move to Brazil and leave my job.
I found a really god job in Brazil in a company that was much more sustainable, interested not only looking at their customer through the profit lens. I was thinking that things are great, I have found a great job, this company is different, my personal life is great and everything will be amazing. Then, I moved to Brazil and it was not so amazing. I think I was very much still anchored in the definition of success that is a Romanian definition. I was still looking for power. I was operating from an old model and trying to remain passionate about it. I was trying out different things but still operating from the old model. In Brazil I had a complete breakdown. I was promoted and was almost below Director level. I was making a lot of money and I was satisfying all of the aspects of the definition for women in power. But I still felt miserable and I was crying a lot. In Romania it is easier to force yourself to do something you don’t necessarily enjoy because you learn how to suppress your emotions. But in Brazil, the Latin American culture is so connected to the feelings and their expression. The emotions are the vehicle for everything in Brazil. What happened with me was that when I started my new job I got a really bad review and that had never happened to me before. They told me: ‘you have a lot of knowledge, you have a lot of passion but you are very cold, you don’t share, you don’t care for people. You need to learn how to work in a team. You need to learn to be on the same level with everybody else and you need to run at the speed the team runs. Not to leave people behind you.’
This was an extremely collaborative company where feedback was given by everyone in the team. The collective decides if you are one of them or not. No matter what your position is if the collective doesn’t accept you they won’t work with you. They have a very strong collective culture.
That is when I started therapy and realized how much I was suppressing my emotions due to my understanding of success and what it means to have a fulfilled life and a sense of purpose. Once you allow yourself to feel that process of self awareness, the process just accelerates itself. Once I got in touch with my emotions and learned to express them better everything moved so fast. I decided to quit my job and come to Amsterdam to study anthropology. I realized I want to understand human behavior and apply it in my work.
During my MA in anthropology I reverted to a way of thinking you have when you are a student. What is next? Where should I apply the things that I am discovering and how? It is an environment of reflection. I realized during the year long research that the only reason why marketing and branding was bad for me was because of the old framework that I was operating from, the frame of mind that you can and should influence people. I learned how different my experience in this field was when I incorporated a dialogue with the consumer and a balanced relationship of shared power.
How emerging economics two can work together and not fight against each other.
This was the time when I also decided to come back to the Impact Hub. I thought that there must be something there that touches me otherwise I wouldn’t have felt drawn to it. During my research in Nieuwemarkt I entered a shop where Rima who used to be a facilitator in the IH was working. I wanted to interview the people who were working there and as we were talking I started giving them advice about the business and the future. Rima saw something in me during that interaction and told me that I need to do the Business model Challenge (BMC) at the Hub. I started the Challenge and it was in that time that I thought it might be nice for me to start my own company, helping start ups and teaching them about branding and marketing. Doing it in a different way than the way it’s done in the corporates. More anchored in human understanding. During the BMC I decided that I want to model my services together with the other participants. I was not a consultant coming from a big corporate agency offering ‘the truth’. I wanted to see how I can connect with them differently, blending in all of my insights from anthropology with a totally different business framework and see what value I can offer. It was not just about starting my own thing, I didn’t want to operate without knowing if this different way of looking at the world applied to business really works. I got 4 businesses to work with.
Initially I thought that I was interested mainly in working with social businesses but I realized that I don’t believe in this division of‘us’ and ‘them’ and that any business can be a social business. One of the reasons that traditional businesses lack a social aspect is because they are so disconnected from their consumers almost in a physical way. It is of course for me easier to work with social businesses because we speak the same language of intentions , values, curiosity and authenticity but the challenge is to bring these frameworks into the environment of corporates who even if they started their business based on values have somehow through the process of growing and expanding disconnected with them. Connect them with questions like how do I bring in my values, my ways of seeing and understanding the world into my product? During and after the BMC I kept thinking how can I make my business connect to my values even deeper? Why should a numeric ambition always be the leader as it is in the classic marketing framework. People have numeric measurement of success. Numbers, a very tangible thing to hold on to. I started thinking what would be the other option, what would be another motivator for and measurement of success. Through this I realized that I need to look for new economic systems that operate from the space of different values.
This is where the ULab happened. What immediately resonated with me is Otto’s approach in merging economics with inner values. How these two can work together and not fight against each other. I could really feel from the way Otto spoke that he envisions a new way of doing business that has exactly this at its core. I realized that spaces which explore new ways of thinking can be the springboard for my work as well. I also loved the international aspect of the course.
The exercises in the ULab like the empathy walk were very similar to my anthropology experiences, looking at the world not just from your own but from the world’s perspective. What I found most inspiring was the coaching circle and the practices around holding space. Anthropology looks at groups and group behaviors through the lens of culture, habits and rituals. In the ‘U’ the life of the group, the energy and space created in the coaching circle is almost spiritual. It was interesting to observe the dynamic especially in the online coaching circle that I joined. We didn’t know each other at all so how can a safe space be created? But the guidelines of the coaching exercise make you withhold judgement and just listen. And that helps the one that speaks to open up and share. The principles of a coaching circle help you hold the space for yourself and everyone in the group. The experiences with the coaching circles made me realize how much people resonate off of each other, something I wasn’t aware of before. The coaching circle made me really aware of how I listen to people and how I respond to them, made me think about my connections with my clients. The U process influenced my business so much because it came into a time when I was starting my business.
I am now working with a coach because I realized that in order for me to guide people through this process I have to be an empty vessel so that the client can deposit themselves fully. When my coach asked me what do I want and why am I there, I said that I want to be an empty vessel but I feel that I am half full and there is no room for my clients. I only realize that I react after it happens and not in the moment. The coach that I am now working with actually came through the ULab. It is a woman who gave me such a profound observation about how I communicate with people and their reaction to it. What fascinated me about it was the courage to offer that observation and the trust that you can actually say it. I found the trust that was established in the ULab fascinating and really refreshing.
Another thing that I found pivotal was when Otto was guiding us to connect with the deeper purpose and what wants to emerge. At that time I was in the process of building a web site, presenting myself to the world. I was building a classic web site with text, the way that I know how to do them. The guided journaling, going deep in the bottom of the U and asking myself what is emerging helped me realize that I want to present myself as I am in the world and not to be afraid of it. I realized that I wasn’t really living the authentic living coming from our values that I am working on with my clients. When you are a consultant, you are what people work with. I don’t have a product that I am offering, I am the product. I need to show myself to the world if that is what I am asking from my clients. So I realized that I don’t want to build a classic website. I will find someone who is not commercial and does documentary movies to film me. To look at my story and to tell that story to the world through my website which is now a video project made by a documentary film maker. My film is made by a student with whom I had a wonderful connection through sharing our passion for similar movies. He was very honest that he doesn’t have any experience and he is unable to show me a portfolio. I realized I didn’t need him to and that I can trust my feeling about it. In the corporate environment we are so fixed in this framework of thinking of CVs and achievements but they are not necessarily always a reflection of who the person is and how good and passionate they are in what they are doing. We need that framework because it gives us some sort of tangible measurement and safety. You get a far clearer picture and vibe about someone by just observing them and listening to their story than asking for their CV or portfolio. The whole U process sensitized me so much to people and how I connect with it them. This shows to be incredibly beneficial.
I realized that all these things that I was interested in provoking in others I was not provoking in myself. And that is what was blocking the emergence of my future self. The whole process of downloading and pressencing really gave me the freedom to open questions and be sensitive to what emerges. I noticed that people around me were able to feel this openness. I was going through a process of ripening certain realizations and that sensitized people around me who were going through a similar process to be a soundboard for it.
I have this mindset of applicability. When I experience and discover something I want to immediately apply it. When through the ULab I discovered the power for connection and transformation that lies in showing up, being open and respectful of the other I just wanted to use it and apply it over and over again. That’s how I realized that setting my business on that foundation is my prototype. The idea of branding being a heart to heart process, the story and the heart of the branding connecting with the story and the heart of the consumer attracted few people to join my prototype. We are now starting a branding circle where we all bring our own ideas and exploring what it is in our work that resonates with us and attracts us to this idea.
What would you say was the most useful learning from the U.Lab for you?
The art of listening and being present for the other. Only then you become aware of your own limitations and where you can work with the other. The co-dependency that you have with the others. If you show up yourself fully, they do the same. The responsibility that comes from the awareness about the kind of energy that you bring into a conversation. I had never thought about that responsibility before.