From left to right, ALBA Dean Nikolaos Travlos, ACG Events Officer Natassa Exarchou, DEREE Provost Dr. Thimios Zaharopoulos, ACG Events Officer Eirini Labropoulou,Vassia Comis, Executive Director, College Events, OPA’s Dr. Alex Pattakos, OPA’s Ms. Elaine Dundon, and DEREE Ambassador Dimitris Asproulis
DEREE was proud to host the two best-selling authors of the The OPA! Way: Finding Joy & Meaning in Everyday Life & Work, as well as founders of the Global Meaning Institute, Dr. Alex Pattakos and Ms. Elaine Dundon, who were on campus Friday, July 17, for a lecture on “Living, Leading & Innovating with Meaning, The OPA! Way.”
Students, faculty and staff enjoyed the illuminating lecture held at DEREE’s 7th Level Auditorium, including American College of Greece President Dr. David G. Horner and DEREE Provost Thimios Zaharopoulos, who introduced the team, saying what an “honor” it was for DEREE to host them and learn from their quest for meaning.
Alex Pattakos, Ph.D., and Elaine Dundon, MBA, described how they developed The OPA! Way and its main tenants, which they described as:
O (Others) — Connect Meaningfully with Others
P (Purpose) — Engage with Deeper Purpose, and
A (Attitude) — Embrace Life with Attitude. O+P+A=OPA!
Dr. Pattakos and Ms. Dundon based their philosophy for living, working, and leading by combining the wisdom of the ancient Greeks, which they have studied extensively, the wisdom they discovered in traditional Greek villages – to which they have traveled extensively – and their own work on innovation and meaning.
Throughout their lecture at DEREE, Alex Pattakos and Elaine Dundon shared stories from their inspirational lives, as well as their quest for meaning, and discussed the wide appeal of The OPA! Way throughout the world.
Following is an interview with The OPA! Way Team on the day of their campus lecture.
Have you been surprised by the great wave of enthusiasm regarding The OPA! Way – winning accolades and awards across the world?
Alex Pattakos, Now, yes. If we go back, though…we have to look at this as a seven-year journey. This was really our Odyssey. As we say in the book, it was a long and winding road. One of the journalists here in town who is a friend of ours, who loves The OPA! Way, sent us an email saying that as Greeks, we’ve lost a lot of the humanistic approach to life and appreciation of the Greek culture, and he said that he sees The OPA! Way as our return to Ithaca. Even though we didn’t necessarily put it that way, it really is our Odyssey when we look at it.
The surprise is really because over the years, especially early on, we even had Greeks telling us “don’t use the word ‘OPA!’” The reason some of the Greeks didn’t like it when we first started using the word “OPA!” was because they were really trying to impress the Germans, the other Europeans, and they were afraid that the word “OPA!” sounded too much as if Greeks didn’t do anything but dance, drink…
Alex Pattakos: Yes, personally this is where I would disagree with some of the things I’ve seen on the web and some of the comments made by some other people who are trying to advance the Greek cause. We should be proud of Zorba and we should be proud of all the things that we talk about in this book. Some of them are very, very serious and very deep, and some of the other things are more lighthearted. When we talk about the word “OPA!”, which we explain in great detail, it really means something that has a much more significant part in our lives and we actually are proposing that it be a mantra for living and working.
You mean OPA spelled with an omega in Greek, and the other OPA, spelled with an omikron…
Alex Pattakos: Yes, the ancient Greek definitions of the word are based on different spellings: OPA! spelled with an omicron refers to the enthusiastic celebration of life, while OPA! spelled with an omega in Greek refers to being aware of dangers and opportunities along our path.
So “OPA!” is the Greek version of the Chinese yin and yang. There are two sides to everything.
Elaine Dundon: On a societal level, we’re going so far into technology, into business, into the financial side of life, and are losing touch with the human side of life. When we look at trends, we need to ask, what does the world really need? Yes, maybe we can get a little stronger on the financial side, but what about understanding the humanity, understanding the human side of work, the human side of our neighborhood, and so forth? And these are areas in which the Greeks excel. So, to not appreciate “OPA!” is putting a lid on what really Greece can offer the world.
Were there some cultures, some countries around the world where you lectured that you were surprised that they got it too?
Elaine Dundon: It’s really interesting… we went to Hong Kong, where a lot of the Chinese really are so, so interested in Greek culture. I think we’re going to see more and more Chinese tourists coming to Greece… Alex is also lecturing in Latin America, in Bogotá, Columbia – nicknamed the “Athens of South America” – in a few months and they love The OPA! Way, and they want to know more about it. All over South America!
We’re seeing it, and I think we’re ahead of the trend in our topic of meaning, that is bringing more meaning to our personal life and our work life. Also, the Greeks can lead the way in reintroducing a lot of the lessons about the meaning of life – some of which are from 2,500 years ago – and we’ve forgotten them.
Alex Pattakos: A lot of people refer to the influence of positive psychology on what’s going on today, and it’s very trendy now to see books on happiness and such…but Elaine and I have been doing a lot of research, writing, and talks telling people it’s not about the search for happiness; it’s about the search for meaning.
That’s really what’s most important. And, when we look at that, and we start to see where we find the greatest receptivity of The OPA! Way, it’s really starting in places where they already have a deeper appreciation of, if not understanding, and resonance with humanizing their existence.
That’s why we see places like Canada that are ahead of the trend and more receptive than the US, because the US still has the dog-eat-dog, competitive, materialistic kind of prospective. Happiness in the US is more stuff, and based on the law of attraction: I can attract a bigger house, bigger car, etc. That’s not what we are talking about.
That’s why I think Latin America is much more receptive, because they’re very humanistic about how they see family, how they see community, and so forth. In the US, one of the biggest supporters have been the Native Americans, because the indigenous population in every culture is much more in line with what we’re talking about here.
Going back to the accolades and the awards that the book is getting now, we were surprised, because as soon as it came out, all of a sudden we found out it’s a finalist, then the next thing we find out we won an award, then we found out we won another award.
But we are getting some support in the US. Somebody’s out there in Beverly Hills, California, or Wisconsin or Minnesota, saying that “this is the self-help book of the year; this is the kind of stuff we need to share.” That’s the part that was surprising, particularly in light of the early days when people said you can’t use the word “OPA!” or said “can you not put too much Greek in it, as how can Greece be an inspiration for other people because of the crisis?”
Greece does seem to lack vision and a lot of people have been trying to present a vision. It’s interesting that you can turn this crisis on its head and present this kind of OPA! vision that people can get on board with.
Can you tell us about your services that you offer people, building on the Global Meaning Institute, which you cofounded? You have an impressive client list. Can you tell us about the meaning lab, and the retreats you offer?
Elaine Dundon: The Global Meaning Institute builds on Alex’s background and my background.
My background includes working in brand management and marketing for Procter & Gamble, Nestle, and Kraft Foods. Then I founded The Innovation Group Consulting Inc. and taught Innovation Management at the University of Toronto. From here, I shifted my consulting focus to Innovating with Meaning, and the Human Side of Innovation.
Alex’s background is in political science, psychology, and innovation. He has worked with many organizations and leaders to bring more meaning into their work and personal lives. So, we brought our backgrounds together to form the Global Meaning Institute.
There are different ways that our clients bring us in; some bring us in for leadership training, where we discuss meaning-centered leadership, starting from your core of meaning and understanding what’s meaningful and significant for you–yourself as an individual and then looking at leading others to meaning. Then sometimes they call us in to do strategy work for them. Let’s say a vision for a society or community or an organization, looking for what’s meaningful. So many people are disillusioned because they don’t know where the organization is going…so many people are disconnected from the neighborhood or society, so we help on the strategy side, and then we bring the meaning message in, of course, integrating Greek philosophy, mythology, and culture. So, we enter organizations in different ways, but we end up in the same area, essentially addressing the crisis of meaning.
Alex Pattakos Sometimes it’s training and development oriented. Sometimes it’s mentoring.
We have mentoring clients we’re working with from our bases in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA, and in Toronto, Canada. Our clients are from many different countries, as far away as Tasmania!
The idea is the message of meaning. The book has only been out now five months, but the message behind The OPA! Way is something that we’ve been advocating and espousing for at least the last five years, and we’ve been bringing that message to different places – which is a nice test as to how people are responding to it – and, as Elaine said, there’s a crisis of meaning.
People want to know how to find more meaning. Even the companies we work with or the governments we work with, we want to make sure they’re focused on meaning.
So, let’s say they’re a consumer products company, and they’re destroying the health of their customers. They’re not advocating having products that actually support health and wellness. We’re not helping diabetes, we’re not helping obesity. We don’t want to work with them, unless they want to do something that’s meaningful, and if they’re focused on meaning or they’re dealing with world hunger.
We have many organizations that we walk into and we see something like a scene from the movie, The Sixth Sense, we “see dead people” and we realize: How do we inspire them? And that’s what a large part of The OPA! Way does. It’s really an inspirational paradigm. It’s very meaning-focused.
We introduce people to concepts that many Greeks don’t even know anymore it seems, like philotimo, like evdemonia. There are a lot of things that we have built into this concept, this paradigm, to help people see that they can have the keys of their own meaningful existence in their own pocket and use them.
Can you tell us about the OPA! Foundation, where a portion of all proceeds of your products, services and related work are used to support causes “in the spirit and context of love of humanity and philanthropy” as you put it on your site?
Alex Pattakos: That’s still evolving because of a couple of things. Now, we’ve converged our work into this Global Meaning Institute concept, because we really want it to go global and want it to go beyond. We’re also integrating the work that we’ve done in innovation, because Elaine wrote a best- selling book called The Seeds of Innovation, and we’re really now focused on innovating with meaning. We want to help governments and companies innovate, including in Greece.
The OPA! Foundation is really something that we’ve been focusing on in terms of looking at what are the organizations or causes that are actual manifestations or illustrations of The OPA! Way. For example, Lucia Rikaki was a well-known documentary filmmaker and author, and started the Film Festival in Rhodes, then she also started the International Health Film Festival Ippokratis on Kos. We became one of the sponsors of this film festival, because Lucia was bringing people together who were doing films that were actually advocating health and wellness, everything from teen pregnancy to diabetes to cancer. She lived and worked The OPA! Way. Lucia unfortunately, recently passed away–It’s really tragic and ironic that she passed away so young.
The Festival is on hold at the moment?
Elaine Dundon: It’s on hold. It’s an amazing idea, and we’ve been trying to get some folks we know in the US and in Canada to do a health film festival, because to me it seems so logical that people would be interested in a lot of documentaries about good food, about what’s happening with our farms, in agriculture, in GMOs, in diabetes, and so forth; it just seemed so logical.
Alex Pattakos: The other thing we’ve been doing is being advocates for mental health, because that’s part of my background. We really want to help people. When you read our book, it really helps people deal with things like stress management in both their personal life and their work life. Stress is such a major factor related to mental health… We thought if we could find the right auspices… that’s part of what we’ve been doing this year. We’re still working on it.
The idea is to get this OPA! message out in the world. This is such an inspirational, aspirational message of meaning, based on the philosophical influence of Ancient Greece, the wisdom of the traditional villagers, the contemporary Greek culture, and importantly, the resilience of the Greek people when faced with crisis.
Can you both tell us about your roots? Where your family hails from?
Alex Pattakos: It’s very important – the family background – for me personally because the writing of this book and developing this model of living, working, leading, and innovating is really also a part of my quest for meaning, and it allowed me to reconnect with my Greek heritage.
Having a family who came from Crete originally and immigrated to the States, and wanting their kids to be Americans – it was a long period of time where it was probably not as acceptable or tolerated if you had an ethnic name, and your house smelled differently, and the food was different, and your celebrations of Christmas and Easter were different. It was an odd thing to be [of Greek roots], whereas today there’s much more tolerance of that, because there’s much more multicultural diversity that’s appreciated.
So, a big part of my journey these past seven years has been really to reconnect with my ancestors and the culture and the language and so forth. Also, as my father passed away at a very young age, and a lot of the things I do are honoring his memory, and also advancing the legacy, because I know he would want to be doing this.
My family was originally from the Sfakia region, the village of Imbros, and then the various members of the Pattakos clan dispersed across the Amari Valley in Rethymnon, including the village of Monastiraki from which my pappou (grandfather) emigrated with his family to the US and where he returned before passing.
We always like to say that the Pattakos family’s roots are deeply embedded in the soil and the soul of Crete, because they’re very proud Cretans.
That’s been the primary thing, and, at the same time, I’ve found myself advancing not just the Cretan, but also the Greek cause among Greeks and people of Greek heritage –– it’s a large part of this — even though our primary focus for The OPA! Way is on educating non-Greeks.
When we started doing this, we really wanted it to be about universal values.
We’re in this space of making it universal, but because of the crisis, we also feel it’s really important in Greece too. A Greek language edition of The OPA! Way book will be published soon by Hestia Publishers & Booksellers, the oldest and one of the most respected publishers in Greece. To be sure, this will be a nice way to help inspire Greeks to be proud of their heritage and culture.
Elaine Dundon: I’m not Greek (my background is Irish) but, thelo na eimai (I would like to be)! I’m obviously proud of my Irish background, but I resonate with Greek culture. I came to Greece when I was 18 and my heart always stayed here. Years later, I met Alex and I thought that it was just destiny that I married a Greek!
How did you two meet?
Elaine Dundon: We met at a conference on innovative thinking. Alex is American. I’m Canadian. We just fell in love, connected, with a lot of common interests. I just thought it was interesting that he was Greek, because it was some destiny of mine to learn about the Greek culture. I love Greek philosophy and I love Greek food! It’s an interesting thing. His family has welcomed me with open arms, and the language is coming along siga siga (slowly, slowly). I’m trying.
Did you ever consider having a retreat here in Greece? Or having some sort of base here?
Alex Pattakos: Absolutely! We’re going to live part-time in Rethymnon, Crete.
We want to bring people to Greece. That’s our commitment. It’s part of the reason why we’re so excited about getting a Greek edition of the book. Part of our commitment is about getting Greeks excited about Greece again, as well as getting the world excited about Greece.
The idea is to bring The OPA! Way and the message of meaning to Greece. We’ve had a lot of Greeks say “we have an economic crisis, but we’ve been through worse. My yiayia and pappou have been through worse. And if we got through that, we can get through this.”
Again, coming from a Greek Cretan family, with roots in Sfakia…I know they’re very resilient!
That’s the kind of resilience that we have to bring back. We have to get that spirit back. OPA!