Interview Iman Stratenus, founder at Crowd Foundation
At 45, Iman Stratenus works on his own, or rather, in networks. He believes this is the future. His own experience in large companies made him realise he no longer wanted to face the pressure, the politics, and the lack of flexibility he found there.
A dreamer ? He doesn’t think so. But his belief in the importance of creativity and relationships has definitely taken him a long way from his law degree.
Now based in Portugal with his wife and their five children, the Dutch citizen has launched a new phase in his career, and wishes to share his vision of our society.
So you now call yourself a coach and advisor ?
Iman Stratenus: "Yes. I work with leaders on their personal and their organisation’s tranformation, often inside large companies. My work is in unraveling and redesigning large-scale systems. I am inspired by the concept of synchronisation : when you get trust in an organisation, things start to move in a flow. I think working in networks is the future : people connect with one another on certain projects and concepts."
And your new book explains all of this ?
"It’s called Crowdocracy, and I wrote it together with Alan Watkins. It’s about reinventing the way we govern our society. I believe in the wisdom of crowds : that’s what I discovered when I worked in China. We built a strategy from there : Crowdocracy is a large-scale version of that. It’s a systemic way of putting governance in the hands of all of us. That has to come with a lot of trust in each other, but also in ourselves."
Is the Crowd Foundation a natural follow-up to the book ?
"When we started to interview various people for the book, some said « show us how to do Crowdocracy. » I feel there is a desire to change among some leaders. But how you do it, is for many people still a question. The Crowd Foundation, as a non-profit organisation, will try to show the way. It is in its construction phase at the moment."
What helped you move in that direction ?
"I took a coaching training program. It has taught me a lot about how we connect to our emotions, to our soul. This has profoundly changed my view of the world, and it came about the right time in my life, when I was reinventing myself. I wish I had discovered that much earlier. But at least I feel blessed that I have now."
Do you enjoy working on your own ?
"It is what suits me best. I think one person can play different roles in different domains. Being tied to one organisation, where you have to fit in and do your task, this is going to disappear fairly soon, given the increasing complexity of the world. I heard that millenials intend to stay in a job for about two years. I am not surprised : you take on a task, you do it for a while, you learn from it and you contribute, but then you go and do something else. Working in networks allows you to do that almost constantly on two or three different networks. I would be very hesitant to go back to a large, formal structure."
Has it changed your relationship to work ?
"Yes, it has become healthier. If you work inside large organisations, you get a sense of entitlement : because of your hard work, you deserve things to be paid for you. When you work for yourself, for clients, you get a return, but they don’t owe you anything. It has definitely made me humbler, more dedicated."
Has there been a shift in your approach towards your career ?
"Earlier in my career I felt that I needed to do important things and have a major impact. My sense of vision and responsibility appeared at a very young age. But the change that came later is that although I am still convinced that I have a role to play, I now know that it’s not about me. If the book I just wrote has its direction and meaning, fantastic. But I don’t need to become famous. Therefore it’s much easier for me to say I have a one-man company, I collaborate with others, I do what I think is important and meaningful."
You worked in Asia for TNT, as Vietnam’s Country General Manager, and then in China, first as Marketing & Sales Director and then as Managing Director for Greater China. What did you learn there ?
"Asia certainly gets you out of your comfort zone. Everything you thought you could solve with your rational, linear thinking, gets challenged. I learnt about relationships, how you connect with people, particularly if they come from a different culture, a different set of values. You have to find out how to create a connection, otherwise you don’t get much done. You’ve got to admit that you have to change. I inherited companies, both in Vietnam and later in China, that were in very poor condition. I realised I would have to do something completely different."
What was so special about your approach then ?
"My idea is that the more people collaborate within the company, the better the results. And it’s a lot more fun to work in a company where people trust each other. I was born and raised in the Netherlands in the 70s, a very high-trust environment. That’s why trust is in my DNA. Of course, most managers believe they need to control the situation. This new kind of leadership is more about letting go than controlling. The challenge, for the leaders, is that if results are disappointing at first, they shouldn’t immediately go into "control mode", but stay the course."
Why leave TNT for International SOS in Beijing ?
"If you work for a big stock-listed company, everything is fine if you have a certain freedom. I had started to experiment with decentralisation and empowerment within my own division, but the move above me was towards more centralisation. So I got tired. I felt squeezed in the middle and I wasn’t enjoying this anymore. I moved on."
What happened with International SOS ?
"Businesswise, I had the same approch towards people: empowering them. Doctors and nurses disovered the strength of working in a strong network. But I stayed for a year only, because of the pollution in Beijing ! It really had an impact on my family."
What attracted you to Geneva, for the World Business Council for Sustainable Development ?
"TNT had a background in trying to do something about climate change. And I left China because of pollution. So it made sense to go and work with this NGO. I thought it was going to be inspiring and meaningful. Then I discovered people were far more interested in themselves, their personal power, status and prestige than in getting things done. The NGO had become a vehicle for their personal fame. I was really disappointed."
What advice do you have for the younger generation ?
"Get very clear on what your purpose is. But do revisit that regularly. Don’t take it as « When I was 18, I set my goals, this is my vision and I have to stick to it ». It is fine to grow, develop, and change your vision. Your life will have far more meaning if you know what your contribution is. And it’s much easier to make choices against a vision that you formulated, than by just responding to the needs of the world around you."