Influencer Steven Coutinho

Interview September 10, 2018

Steven, we have read your book ‘Breaking Rank, how to lead change when yesterday’s stories limit today’s choices’. Parts of this book were autobiographic and we appreciated your vulnerability as it was expressed in the book because whenever you were challenged you transformed that challenge into big steps forward. You the latest step, walking away as Regional Managing Director of Royal Bank of Canada was a really BIG one. So, we got this information on whom you are as Steven Coutinho, the person behind the author.

• You are an Internationalist. You decided to live in Curacao in 2012 when you joined RBC Royal Bank;
• You are married and father of three children;
• You were born in Holland from Surinam parents and lived quite some years in Australia when growing up;
• You have studied in Groningen and you have lived in 34 different places working either as a consultant or bank executive;
• You hold a master’s in Medical Physics from the University of Groningen, and hold an MBA from the Wharton School;
• You have worked as the regional managing director of Royal Bank of Canada in the Caribbean;
• You are the CEO of Xpand.

Steven, are we missing something?
Steven: “It is way too much you have mentioned, maybe you should shorten it.“

Steven starts our interview, trying to stay humble. So this also typifies Steven. Well, we considered shortening his CV, but we found it too relevant and kept it like that, because of the consistency that Steven has shown over the years to have a major impact in the world. A friend of him that we talked to, told us that Steven at an early age (in his late teens and early twenties), was always talking about transforming governments and countries and he is still consistently looking for ways and means to do this.

Steven: “It has been quite a journey though, because I was always trying to find a way to explain why people behaved like they did in the countries I worked and lived in, that is: “ineffective behavioral patterns.” Until last year, after going to a 10 days Vipassana retreat here in Curaçao in July 2017. This changed my life completely.”
The friend we talked with told us he attended a birthday party of my younger brother at my home when in the same week, he finished the retreat he told me: “I am going to quit my job as executive of RBC. I am going to dedicate the rest of my life empowering postcolonial mindsets.”

We asked Steven if he would describe himself in one word or one sentence what would that sentence be?
Steven answered: “Obsessively driven by change”. I am not an emotional person, certainly not across the board because I understand from an evolutionary perspective where emotions come from. So, I am less emotional than some people would like to see me to be – it often gets me into trouble. But I am emotional in some ways, depending on the situation, for example if it is something regarding the safety of my children, my primitive mind will be on alert.”

How important is your family for you?
“My biggest goal is to enable especially my children to grow up with a certain consciousness of whom they are and what they can achieve. And I sincerely wish this was possible for all children now growing up in the world. I don’t want them to grow up in a straight jacket, but want them to make their own choices, but then again this is also a challenge: if one of my children for example would always be given the freedom to decide on what they want to do, and they continuously would decide to watch TV, I would consider it necessary to intervene in this challenging dilemma. So, there is no clear-cut yes or no in all circumstances.”

What would you want your Loved Ones, family, friends and others say about you let’s say 10 to 15 years from now?

“That I am passionate and always willing to help the world to be a better place, always willing to enable people to get a certain awareness that would benefit them. That I was also very much aware that in my journey, I made mistakes. Mistakes that became lessons learned to make them part of a more heightened awareness”.

What are your future plans?
Steven: “I stopped at RBC-bank at the end of May and have since met lots of people that want to collaborate with my company, Xpand. That is nice to know, and lots of them are like-minded people with their own unique approach and perspective. I am now focusing on my company and marketing my book Breaking Rank especially via social media. But, as we speak in September 2018, I am also learning to become an entrepreneur and I am going through the usual challenges that this brings with it. But my mindset is still to stay my course that I have set for myself. That goal is to get the message out in the world that: “It is not about color, not about being black, brown or whatever color of your skin. This all is based on how we are programmed, and this explains our ineffective behavioral patterns. As a writer, I have come to learn from my father, who was also a writer that: “If you want to have an impact in the world you need write books.
So, I am following his advice and by now have three other books in the pipeline with the following titles:
– The illusion of reality;
– Why do we women wear lipstick;
– The non-sense of insecurity.
This is what I consider my purpose in life. My father is now 88 years old and he has been an author, but also an Economics Professor at Erasmus University and the Universities of Suriname, Costa Rica and Barbados. This was an important lesson he taught me.”

Check also this TEDx presentation of Steven Coutinho.

We consider you a big Influencer and at the launching of your book at Mensing’s Caminada in June/July 2018 you mentioned that you will start an after school education initiative, based on Ricardo Sempler’s approach and his Lumiar’s initiative. This after school initiative would offer a different curriculum than the usual one. How is that developing up to now?
Steven: “I am experiencing slow progress up to now, because everyone is head down and focused on their own thing. It’s a phenomenon that is not only local by the way, it’s also international. Everybody is so busy with their own mind. What is more: education is a very sensitive topic. Look for example in Curaçao: our system – that is very traditional and in some cases obedience oriented – goes back hundreds of years. Every change goes slowly, but my mindset is to be patient, persistent and I am convinced that in the end we will be successful”.

What is your BIG WHY or driving motivation to be whom you are right now? Where does that come from?

“I can’t explain it, maybe it’s Karma, but I feel my goal is to help others liberate their minds from the stories that have been wrapped around their minds. I can’t explain it other than that. When I was in Australia, I saw aboriginals sniffing gas at gas stations and I couldn’t explain their behaviors. When traveling across the world I saw other marginalized people showing behaviors and making choices that kept them poor. I believe I can now explain this. That’s why I wrote Breaking Rank.”

In “Breaking rank” Steven sums up 6 ineffective behaviors patterns, that he has identified in all post colonized countries.
Pattern 1: Better safe than sorry (Low risk tolerance);
Pattern 2: It’s not my decision to make (Helplessness, deference & victimization);
Pattern 3: Power benefits the few at the cost of the many (Low altruism);
Pattern 4: I’m focusing on Me, Myself & I (Demotivation & disengagement);
Pattern 5: Someone’s always out to get me (Low trust);
Pattern 6: Live for today, mañana may never come (short term focus).

In his book Steven mentions an interesting fact and that is: 84 % of the world has been colonized by European countries, only parts of South East Asia and Thailand were never colonized and a lot of those countries that were colonized still show certain choice patterns even in their postcolonial phase.

Steven explains: “For example, in many postcolonial societies bureaucracy was fear based and structured to keep control of society. In many countries today this influence can still be seen: bureaucracies – and often other organizations – are still very punitive, fear based, control oriented instead of facilitating, stimulating and opportunity seeking. People who work in such environments are often those who have sought job safety – exactly the type of people that will not see opportunities, but rather threat. They go ‘by the book’ and this then stifles innovation. Just look at how government handled the winery project at Hato and the free-range eggs (scharreleieren) project. Those who want to bring change start to look at the actions of government, give up on their efforts and walk away.” Take a different way of looking at the world for example in the US: government is less heavy-handed, red tape is nowhere to be found, private initiative is encouraged. The mindset is ‘yes we can’ instead of ‘no we can’t’. When I lived there, it became obvious that rules were seen as guidelines, and not some hard and fast path that could not be deviated from. They ask: how can we? instead of you must walk a certain path or walk no path at all. Let me be clear though: this mindset has nothing to do with race or culture. It is one that comes from fear. A fear that has been deposited into our minds by a history whose effects we have never fully appreciated. A history that has shaped our minds to accept our world and ourselves as being the way things are. Breaking Rank breaks those myths and shows who we are NOT.“

What can be done to empower these post-colonial mindsets?
“You know, when I started meditating, I got these epiphanies. Either when I am in meditation, in those moments when I am in stillness or just after having finished my meditations. People also would just come by and walk into my office, triggering epiphanies. It is like being in the Zone and I know that when I don’t meditate the “fearful me part” gets the upper hand again. It is like waves that go up and down depending on my meditation exercises, and I consider it important that one stays in a rhythm and through meditation enables being in the Zone.”

Quote from his book: Mindfulness techniques can neurologically change people’s perceptions of their control, how to regulate their emotions and how it can allow them to awaken from the stories wrapped around in their minds.

“Because not everyone will become a meditator, I developed a Breaking Rank framework. First it enables you to understand WHO you are and what your place is in the world; next it helps you to give people choice and broaden their perception as to WHAT they can do; finally it supports you to break down your world into pieces, see the relationships between the pieces and rearrange them to build a new world. That is when people understand HOW to adapt to the world.”

On what projects do you think you need to collaborate in Curaçao to get value created and empower postcolonial minds?
“In Curaçao, I believe the Whole Island Leadership Expedition (W.I.L.) is the most unique platform to bring along the desired changes.”
W.I.L. is a platform in its incubator phase where different Influencers on the Island are connecting dots and aligning efforts, collaboratively creating value for the whole of the society, aimed at bringing about transformational changes in Curaçao. More of this will be published soon. Share2Uplift is one of the participants in this platform.

What are the 5 books that have influenced you the most?

1. Black skin, white masks, by Frantz Fanon
2. The alchemist, by Paulo Coelho;
3. Pedagogy of the oppressed, by Paulo Frere
4. The Lucifer effect, by Philip Zimbardo
5. The wisdom of insecurity, by Alan Watts.

To finalize this interview based on the six ineffective behavioral patterns you mentioned in your book, where would you rank yourself if you would use this as a self-assessment tool on a scale from 1 to 10?
Risk avoidance or your tendency to seek risks: 8
Responsibility: 9
Altruism: 6
Motivation: 9
Trust: 8
Short term thinking: 7

To sum up: We were pleasantly surprised by the depth and familiarity of the content of Breaking Rank based on our own experiences in Curaçao, which resonated a lot with us. Steven has observed similar patterns not only in other Caribbean Islands but elsewhere in countries where he has worked and lived with a colonial history. That was one of our biggest take aways. We consider Steven to be one of the 250 ethical leaders on the island that is connecting and aligning efforts to collaboratively create value for the whole of the society. For those who read this blog, the book ‘Breaking Rank‘ is a MUST read, to get a deeper understanding of certain dysfunctional behavioral patterns that are so pervasive on our island and also some recommended paths, to rid ourselves from them.

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