No organization or company survives 19 years by accident. Goran Mrvoš opens up about how being in nature helps him nurture his own, and his company’s, emotional intelligence, grit, and enthusiasm for experimentation.
“Being young in your soul is not a matter of age, but of mindset.”
Goran: You can be sad about some things, but you should fast adapt to the new situation. And because being just sad is not helpful. But of course, if…. you should have emotion and express your emotion, not just keep them locked in yourself. But after that, you can say… okay, I can do it. Let’s go.
Brian: Hey, y’all I’m Brian Pagán. Welcome to episode 8 of Mindfolk: Human Creativity and Mindful Innovation, in a podcast. In this episode, I’m speaking with Goran Mrvoš, a nature lover, tech-guru, and warm-hearted friend of mine. In 2002, he founded Infosit, a software development agency in the UK and Croatia. In this conversation, Goran and I talk about the healing power of nature, why empathy is crucial for software development, how he fosters a healthy company culture and what civilization could look like if we turned it on its head. We begin with Goran outlining his company strategies for remote working. Enjoy!
Goran: One-fourth or one-third of people are in office someday (on a particular day) , but formally we have two shifts. Every two weeks, the shifts change. So people from other shifts can arrive to the office next, but also from this part of the shift, there is a lot of people that do not need to go to the office and choose to stay at home and work from home. For us, this is okay because we saw the opportunities for this, why this is good in the (current) health situation worldwide.
And on another side we are realizing that it’s not okay for keeping the culture/ company culture because people from different teams are not communicating informally, you know… in the kitchen, near the coffee and outside. So now I’m learning about how to manage these kind of things, to fulfill this gap of informal gathering of people when they are in the office. There is some theory, some practical things that people are doing around the world. And I think we will also try some of them.
Brian: Could you give me an example?
Goran: So one of the changes that we are just starting to do is to formally tell people to form “Unformal teams”. So… because in situation or in paper, (people) want to go out to do air or just to light some cigarettes or drink coffee. This is something that they do not plan. And in that moment, they find someone from (a) different team in the kitchen or outside the building or somewhere, and they start to talk and the information starts to be exchanged between them.
Even this, this information can be private things, general things around the world. They influence the culture and the acknowledgement between those two people or three of them… how many of them are there. The trust between people also is built in this informal talks and now we try to motivate people to organize this informal teams. So we will see how we will be successful in that or not. And then we’ll learn, every new day is a whole opportunity to be better.
Brian: I love this experimental mindset. It feels very agile… very lean startup… like learn, build, measure.
Goran: Sure. Yeah. I think this is the crucial thing in today’s world… fast-changing world when we should adapt fast to all things like this health crisis that we have.
You can be sad about somethings, but you should fast adapt to the new situation. And because being just sad is not helpful. But of course, you should have emotion and express your emotion, not just to keep them a blocked in yourself. But after that, you can say, okay, I can do it. Let’s go, let’s be different.
Brian: Yes… yes.. (emphasis) we need to feel our emotions without letting them paralyze us. It sounds to me a bit like a healthy combination of emotion and intellect, which kind of reminds me of conversations you and I have had about designers and developers working together.
Goran: I think that that if you look at the designers and developers, there’s also different kinds of people in those two groups. And most of them… I can say all of them are very very smart people. Then we came to the emotional intelligence as something that can help those groups to be more connected, to understand each other and make better solutions. Because if we do not feel the real need of the project… for example, if we just heard the wish of the investor or a stakeholder, but we do not deeply understand it and see it maybe we can miss all things. Even if you designers create great visual things, maybe developers block the architecture and some way that will not be helpful to adaptivity on the side where the project would go into the future. So I think that these deep understanding, even if I can say that designers and developers should help the investors, to tell them how they feel….. which are the real goals of the project and what things are around that.
And even to have courage to say, I understand what you want, but this is not (a) good way if you want to reach this and we think that we should go in that way. And this frankness between them is the fundament for the long-term relationship and a successful project.
Brian: I agree completely. Emotional intelligence, as you point out really helps people reach that deeper understanding. Do you have an example of this in your work?
Goran: Yes, we have a lot of this examples. One of them is from yesterday’s call for example. I got a call from the client that we worked (for) in 2006. More than 10 years ago. This is some custom development project and we helped them to solve the problem. Working on this project, the main goal was okay. We want to have billing on the IP phone system divided to each person so we know that the exact expense of each person in company, who spends how much money on the phone calls. This is kind of controlling application. And when you take a look at that, you say okay… it’s not so let’s say sexy. It is much like the stick, not the carrot. We like to motivate people on the carrot way, not the stick way. We said… but how (can) we really engage people to use this application, to keep this application updated. How (can) we motivate people to in real life, use this solution. And then you realize that if you want to reach the goal that they have, we should have (the) company organizational structure. We should have all people’s names and telephone numbers. And at the end, we will finally have a fully updated company phone book. Because in many companies, the phone-books became obsolete the day after, because when someone puts on new things (people/ department) HR put new people, new forms… after a few days, people change the departments and change the phone numbers maybe. Okay, but what is the reason why the people will update this information? How? The department will get the bill for the old people in the department. If the names are not exact, they will update the information. So they will be motivated to update this information.
But what we get in this product is a news product of the application, but the one that is used for all people around the company, and this is central Google like search phone- book. And not just phone-book because it can (have) contacts for whole company because they have not just phone number, but also email number (adress) , the department name, and even they start to use tags. For example, in enterprise, I need the IT guy to help me (with) something and they get contact (details) of IT guys who they can reach. So they get here (to the application) , get some kind of search engine (functionality) for contacts in the company. And I’m happy for this project because yesterday, so many years after that (project) , I get the call from this company. And they asked me to help in some other things. I asked them, how is this application (doing, that we had developed) ? Oh, great, it works all these years. It’s fulfilled the function,.people are using it. People get the formal things, but it’s also kind of directory that all (new) people when they arrive to the company started to use in the first place to research who is who in the company and everything.
So this is a way I think how we can help the customers to create the better solution for the same sub-set of information and give the motivation for the users to use applications and get the carrots, not just the stick and to be (satisfied) users of this solution.
Brian: Oh, what a great story. I love that it starts with your team’s empathy for your client’s employees, which gave y’all insights into their needs as humans, because you focus the product on those needs, it opened the door for serendipity, and it allows people to use it in their own way.
Goran: Yes. In many cases, we realize that people use our solution even in a better way than we imagined that they will use it. They should have (a) manual (on) how to use it, but they have quicker way to do the same things.
Brian: Cow- paths… (laughing) I imagine that it’s no accident that Infosit people have enough emotional intelligence and empathy to work this way. You spoke earlier about how you prompt your people to intentionally create informal interactions with each other. But I’ve also seen some amazing photos of your team building events. Would you tell me a little bit about that?
Goran: The latest thing really was right after the lockdown in (the) spring. So we saw the window of opportunity after the first wave to gather people in one place and to just talk about how it was during this lockdown. Of course we have technology to discuss the things online about tasks, topics, and projects. But people are community beings, so without the community, without team and without interactions with other people, you (miss the oppurtunity to bond together on your shared) topics, but not the business topics. We have a few people who are running marathon. So they are not the same team, but have the ability to exchange information. How was your training, for example.
During this lockdown we got this opportunity to (bring together) people and to ourselves as the company to understand how things are going. If somebody needs some kind of help that company can provide, how they’re seeing the future. What we as a company think about future, because it’s also important that people get this psychological safety regarding what are the plans of the company in this crisis and how the company deals with this crisis.
And during the crisis, we had every Friday info meeting about what is the situation, how things are going, how we are struggling with it, to what we are doing. And people had opportunity to say, how it was on their side, what problems they have. So we had this online communication (meeting) each week. Now we kept just every second week because we think (that the) situation is more normal as we adapt all together and adapt to the new way of living.
Brian: Was it in person?
Goran: Yes. Team building was in person and we often have some kind of a mixture. We all like to eat organic food and these kind of things and we are preparing together one big bowl of the… we call it Sugo… So it’s a goulash Manchestra. This is the name of the food (dish) . So you put all the vegetables that you can and you cook it… I don’t know… three hours maybe. And then you can discuss around the fire and share experiences and learn from each other. Get again connected after these three months of not being in physical touch. So I think that the team building is very important for the people and of course this has impact to (on) the company. If the building is not something that people from company need or want, or is organized without getting the feedback from the people, what they expect from these kind of events, then this could be just one event, nothing more. But I think it’s important that after each team building people feel that they get something for themselves, some security, some new findings.. More trust in some people in the company and the team, and even the trust to the company, of course,
That’s fantastic. This is something that we all like. This is something that connects all of us in the company. We like being outside, outdoor and enjoy nature. So yeah, this is the point that connects all of us.
Brian: Besides those team building events, what rituals or habits do y’all use to foster your company’s culture?
Goran: We talk with people on (in) different ways, different levels. Just before the COVID crisis, during the winter we start to have kind of… we call it EMC…. Every Minute Counts. So not on on counting side, but on the last opportunity that each mentor and mentee have the dedicated time in two weeks period to discuss about what was in the period before and what they are expecting in the next period.
And then in those meetings, also people have opportunity to say their expectations, their wishes and everything that they want to ask the mentor. And of course, we also have opportunity, every employee has opportunity to reach me as the director directly. So to skip the manager or mentor if they want. So if they want to say to me something directly. This is also used as the method of improving the people who are managing other people as the way that we can see better some other views on the organization is very helpful. This is why we all also understand that we should more motivate giving the feedback and accepting the feedback.
And now even this remote work, we start to use one app that allow us to do this remotely. So we can anonymously give the feedback or get the feedback from colleagues around us and get up to ourselves and to others to be better people.
Brian: Cool. Is it online? Where can I find it?
Brian: Nice. How did you decide to build appraisly?
Goran: It’s interesting. This is kind of start-up project. We found that it would be to be helpful for us. Now we are in this period of accommodating ourselves to use it the way that we want to,
Brian: I guess that’s the perks of running a software development agency. If you need something, you can just build it. I imagine carpenters do the same just with wood.
You and your company do team building events in the woods. What about you personally? Do you have any rituals that you use to connect with nature?
Every, every day I get to walk on the coast or in the forest. It’s one hour rule for me. Be one hour outside between the trees, or between the sea and the the trees, somewhere in the nature.
Wow. Great rule. Have you been doing it for long?
Goran: Yes. Before COVID also, but I can say that after COVID, I do this more regularly and more mindfully because this is the time for myself. And I use it to have digital detox. So without mobile phone and without connecting. You know, my job is always being connected and this is one hour of being disconnected, (to) be connected with myself. So I think this is a… I will say one hour of big importance for me.
Brian: Yes. Digital detox. Somehow, imagining you walking around in nature, like this reminds me of the neighborhood bartering program you told me about once, would you say something about that?
Goran: Yes. There is a movement that was initiated by some of the intentions that European Union has as the goal is to organize more local resources and to consume local food and to avoid a lot of logistic transport around the globe. So this is many years ago, even so before this crisis, which shows us even better, how is this important?
And those movements exist in many countries and also in Croatia. And it comes out that people are producing the food, the consumers are also the producers of something. So you don’t, you, sometimes you can exchange your service or your product with the product from some others . It’s a kind of un-monetized transaction. For example I helped one woman regarding their problems with the mobile phone. And she gave me some potatoes from their garden. So we can have this kind of things. Of course, it’s not my job to do these kind of things. This is my private time, but this is the product and sellers that I have. I do not have big gardens, so I cannot exchange other things. So, but people are like exchanging product (and) services. And even this community sometimes finance the producers with money for the seed or for watering the complex. And because it’s without interest credit. And then, the producers are delivering the goods to the communities.
So yeah, this is, I think this is great way. I was thinking about this kind of local monat (unclear) that can exist. This is kind of favor. So but it needs more resources and organization that I can deliver.
But I think this is, this is going in that way. I know that it’s a really primitive way of world because it was the way how we worked a hundred years ago, but maybe it can help us also to appreciate more people around us and help people around us. Not be just the neighbor with.. I don’t know.. name of, or just the neighbor who has this car and knowing nothing more about it (him/her) .
Brian: Incredible, it’s like a self-contained circular economy, like not only do people exchange value in goods and services, but there’s also a synergistic cue and value exchange there as well. Just like you mentioned people getting to know more about each other and interacting with each other.
Goran: Yeah. I, I think that we lost the villages as organization units. So anthropology says that 150 people is something that we can manage socially from a day-to-day basis. And in the past times we start -to have mega cities and people from villages start to go away. And now even if we have villages that are not so self-sustained villages.
So there is a group of people with which I am discussing about how we, as the new technology generation can revive this village realization type as 150 people to be sustainable using new technologies. And helping people to be healthier and more connected, more organized.
Brian: Yeah, that kind of reminds me of the Game B movement. They also talk about a civilization built out of village units of 150, around 150 people. I’m intrigued about yours though. Where can I learn more?
When we create
Goran: the first manifest, I will share this with you.
Brian: Thanks. I look forward to it. Before we wrap up, I’d like to ask you something I’ve wondered about for years now. How did you start Infosit?
Goran: So my first job was working for automotive industry and then I realized that working in automotive industry as IT professional… it’s not something that (will get me) prosperity because it’s just a support role in the whole industry. And then I said, let’s try to work directly in IT company. And then I became (an) employee in this…. this is (somewhere around) 1998. I started to work in an startup that creates internet pages for hospitality industry. Then we worked and then we create one great portal, which even exists today. But it’s sold in 2002 and in 2002 I organized my company with a partner and we started to work with the vision that we should create web-based solution for companies.
If you rewind in (to) the past, you will understand that (at that) moment, the desktop application was always on all PCs. So this concept of web application in 2002 was totally different. But we managed to make the point and show the companies that it’s better to use web concepts, even on enterprise internal application. And of course on internet then to stick with this old fashioned desktop way of developing. But as you see today we are, is something different new technologies.
One thing that I learned from the beginning of my path is that you should always learn and see around you, take the vision in the future, think about what you can do to change yourselves. To adopt to this future better and faster. And I like to say that in Infosit we want to accept people that are young in their souls, which means that they want to learn. And they are really kind of … they’re like children that want to play with something new.
And and this is for me is important because doesn’t matter how many years you have, you can be young in your soul. One of my friends and consultant, the guy who is from (the) US and lives here in retirement, he’s young in his soul and younger than many young people that unfortunately I see on the streets.
So being young in your soul is not (a) matter of the years, how many years you have, but how your mindset is set-up.
Brian: Wow. I’m speechless. Thank you so much Goran.
Goran: Okay. Thank you Brian.
Brian: Here’s to staying young and playful at heart. Go on. Thank you again for your wisdom and stories, but what about you, dear listener?
How do you stay young at heart? Leave me a voice message through our website at mindfolkpod.com or get in touch on Twitter and Instagram at @mindfolkpod. Special thanks to Zubin Nayak for the transcription. Keep choosing love, dear one.