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Senior Lecture Laszlo Szemelyi: “I use cultural studies to improve the company I work for, while it’s way better teaching theories using real life examples”

Laszlo Szemelyi
Senior Lecturer Organizational Culture and Management at Károli Gáspár University in Budapest, Hungary
Program Manager at Surf Studio, K&H Group
Former Head of Apollo Team, K&H Group

What is innovation for you?
I like to believe that innovation is a collaborative process which is creating thoughts and solutions building on what we already knew and had. In that sense, using the expression of Steven Johnson, it is realizing the adjacent possible. Consequently, it is not useful by itself: we have to make use of innovation by applications that benefit people and organizations.

You are as a Senior Lecturer at Károli Gáspár University in Budapest, How are you keeping up to date with the state-of-the-art and all the information now is available on the internet?
That’s not easy but you can get used to it. I made a habit to every day read posts on LinkedIn, articles from selected portals I sometimes visit and also attend some diverse conferences. Also, my colleagues and partners share with me stuff as they know I like to be inspired 🙂 I try not to fall in the trap though that I feel well informed. In any case, a lot can happen out in the world and a realistic goal would be not to miss trends having a major impact on our life. But be open and never stop looking!

How do you make decisions on what would be part of the future? How did you watch trends?
I think it’s not my decision. People decide what to use and the only thing you should do is watching people changing their life. Maybe a small tip: don’t watch the early adopters too much. As they try almost everything, a lot what they try will not go mainstream later. But when you see a new tool praised by any average person, that’s when it’s time to say goodbye to the old one!

How did you look at the start-up and research landscape for your teaching and your business role?
Start-ups are everywhere, actually, it’s very easy to start one now and get accelerated. But most of R&D (e.g. if you look at patents) happens in big centres, mostly cooperated by midsize or large companies and universities. If I were a marketeer I would look for ways to crash startups with these centres, like you crash particles in an accelerator and see what new stuff is created. But I’m rather a person who builds culture and information hubs. So for me established organizations are in the focus.

How are you managing your two roles as a Senior Lecturer at Károli Gáspár University and Program manager at Surf Studio at K&H Bank Group?
It’s a perfect puzzle: I use cultural studies to improve the company I work for, while it’s way better teaching theories using real-life examples.

How are you combining your two points of view academic and industry in class? Are you bringing companies as a case study at your classes?
Yes, I do. When we talk about organizational forms, when we discuss cultural dimensions, when talking about managing a project or team versus a functional line, I turn to global companies like GE, Apple, Microsoft or the companies I worked for, and explain how they illustrate something written in quite artificial and boring terms in social science books.

You are teaching organizational culture and management. What are the best practises to create an innovative culture in a company? Or how to create a fast adapting change mindset within a company?
You have a bunch of books teaching about that. I advise to examine several practices and focus on the similarities and differences comparing the companies used as examples in the books and the organization you want to transform: there is no magic solution. Maybe one general advice: don’t stop at creating a separate innovation lab or a regular hackathon. To integrate new products to the organizations at a fast pace, you have to change the mindset and develop skills of BAU units too.

What is your favorite place for holidays?
Mountains and water. Best when combined 🙂

How do your mornings look like?
When I get up I make tea, eat some fruit and a small sandwich and browse through the day’s calendar and think of what are the most important things to do. If the kids get up equally early we have it together. Then I put myself in shape and head for the commute. But the regular order of this helps me to gain energy for what I plan to do.

What are you doing in your spare time?
A lot of different things: read (fiction, science, training and LinkedIn too), play with the kids, listen to music, go to a concert or theatre, take a ride with my bike, do something in the garden… Varietas delectat as the Latins said!

Book recommended by Professor Laszlo Szemelyi:
Most important: read a lot of different genre and theme. That helps you connect the dots in your work as well as your life.