About the project «Success Builder»
How do you find your place in life? How do you find something to do that both comes naturally to you and makes you happy? The answer is that you have to apply the knowledge you’ve gained from university and from life itself correctly. The Success Builder Project features graduates from the Higher School of Economics who have discovered themselves through an interesting business or an unexpected profession. The protagonists share their experiences, and talk about the big shots they’ve schmoozed and how they’ve made the most of the opportunities they were given.
Making money of insecurity is not actually a shameful endeavour, particularly if your business has an honourable mission. HSE alumnus Andrey Ruban, a psychologist and trainer, tells Success Builder how to gain entrepreneurial experience at the university, why creativity serves as the foundation of life, how word of mouth is becoming a marketing strategy, and what to do after you achieve personal happiness.
In order to carry out trainings, why was it important for you to graduate from HSE and not, say, the Russian Academy of Theatre Arts?
I won't talk about the professional knowledge you gain at HSE – that's obvious. The university is not the only thing that defines you as a professional, though the school does play a major role, especially in the case of HSE. There’s a good word used nowadays called networking. Tons of people I work with and meet from various companies have degrees from HSE. This is because HSE, again, is about connections. This concerns not only knowledge, but also a brand that people know well. The university impacts the type of people who surround you, as well as the quality of thinking you develop while at the university. It also has an effect on the atmosphere you absorb. HSE is largely a free university, unlike some of the older universities in Russia and around the world, where everything has long been bureaucratized. If you want to do something not only new for yourself, but for the university as well, then you can at HSE. It’s also a place where people don’t look at innovation like it’s something from outer space. HSE inspired me like nothing else to found the Training School student organization together with my classmates. And it started when I transferred from one faculty to another.
How and why did this occur?
I was horrible at economics and understood that it's not for me. This is why I wanted to transfer from management to the Faculty of Psychology my first year. So a big thank you to Alla Bolotova, the Head of the Psychology Faculty, for letting me in. I was saved and ended up being the only psychology student who knew economics and Latin instead of biology. I had to make up for the knowledge I had missed. When everyone else went to return their textbooks to the library, I swooped in and took them home. I didn’t have a summer, but I ended up passing all my exams in the fall. For me, this re-education of sorts was a breath of fresh air.
If you add up all the money I've earned, 95% of it can be attributed to word of mouth.
I used to think I was interested in money, but really, I’m intrigued by the people capable of creating it. This is why I went to the organizational psychology division. I don’t regret it, and now I’m even delving into the world of personality psychology. It’s impossible to plan your trajectory perfectly, but I can say one thing for sure – if you got into HSE, you have practically zero chance of failing in life. HSE isn’t about whether you’ll be successful or not; it’s about when and by how much. The main thing is to work hard and not turn away projects that fall right into your hands.
What about acting and stage fright? It seems that only knowing about psychology would not be enough to convince uncertain people.
Ever since I was a child I have always been good with people. It's in my nature. But if you set the bar high when working towards your dream – for example, speaking in front of 5,000 people instead of 10 – you might get a few grey hairs and break. I did this gradually and was internally ready when I spoke in front of 5,000 people at Luzhniki Stadium a year ago. You can read and read about how to run a marathon, but nothing will happen until you actually do it. Life experiences make a person, and when I hire someone, it’s important for me that they know what it’s like to fail. They have to know how to get through it themselves without just sitting behind their desk and reading lecture notes.
And what failures did you overcome when starting your career?
I created the Training School with my classmates. Its purpose was to give psychology students real practice starting in their second year before they graduated. I went to the dean and said: ‘We want to work with people.’ And though the answer was ‘you’re still too young,’ which was the honest truth, the Training School was nonetheless created that very day, but as a university-wide group and not part of the Faculty of Psychology. Now the psychology students and students from other faculties pass everything down, and the school is developing in its own way without us, though may of the initiatives we started are still supported to this day.
Do you still have a connection to HSE?
I left the university without finishing a master's. I had to make a difficult choice between academics and business trips. After two years, we met with Tatiana Zakharova, who you can think of as the fairy godmother for all HSE student organizations. She suggested that I think about creating a university training centre. This was an organic development stemming from the idea of the student organization. After just four days, the Training Centre division was created at the HSE, and I was in charge of it for two whole years. This is where all of the main training programmes that I use in my practice come from. For me, HSE is a diving board for business and experience because student activities largely serve as an entrepreneurial prototype. A lot of my HSE friends who went through the student organization school are now doing exactly the same thing, just now it’s outside of the university.
Say someone has a diploma, knowledge, and a nice suit. How can they really sell themselves to people?
I only need five minutes to sell myself. In my case, this concerns negotiations. When a client has a request, they put it together with what they see and feel. That is, with me. Of course I have experience under my belt, and I tell the client this right off the bat. The client is interested in my ability to understand a problem, diagnose, and select the necessary tools to work with the problem. The main thing is letting them know this quickly. This is the same principle as with PR – know your product and know yourself. This shows the need to acquire it. It’s also important to observe and make adjustments, reading the client like a scanner.
What's the most important tool for success after self-confidence?
The second element to success is word of mouth. This is a tool for total trust. You can't force people to lie on such a scale. Only when they get what they want are people willing to share their happiness with others. This is the exact same in my case. You don’t have to explain to a Russian the marketing use of word of mouth. And by virtue of its spontaneity, it is not included in marketing practices and professionals are afraid of it. But I take a very simple approach towards this practice – grateful people are the best advertisement available. If you add up all the money I've earned, 95% of it can be attributed to word of mouth. People sell people. This archaic system will always be used.
Tell us about how your business was created.
Together with my partner Adel Shadrina, I created a training company. The main thing is to make business cards with TRAINER written in all capitals. [Laughs.] Really, my team’s mission formed rather quickly, and this mission gave me more energy than formal targets or results. The mission is this: we are creating a community of happy people who are doing their life’s work and sharing with each other what they are best at. And this is the only thing we will do so long as we work with people in our project. This is why my job is simple – I am creating a community of happy people. The best-known training programme that I created is called BC Start Point. The programme has already proven itself at HSE as well. First, students and alumni went through the programme, then their friends and relatives, including grandparents and children, and someone even brought their bosses once.
How is your training programme unique and how does it change people's lives?
The idea of BC Start Point came to me in 2009 when I was still at HSE, but now it's an independent project. We carried it out at HSE for free, but it has been a paid-service for several years now. The programme is meant not only for open groups, but also for businesses that train their employees. Everyone desires a simple, yet full, life. But where can you get this kind of lifestyle? Psychology has discredited itself because of the number of dead-end ways it has for a person to torture himself or herself, and people have overall stopped trusting people who are searching for themselves. If you say you went to a psychologist, people give you a weird look; if you say you went to a psychotherapist, people might just walk out. This vulgarization of the field is depressing on the one hand, but when people enter the training hall, and thanks to exercises acquire an understanding of what they previously doubted, this proves scientific truth.
‘People are simply too lazy to think, which is why psychologists will always have work.
At the trainings, we successively work on each of the key areas of life: health, work, education, money, family, love, and creativity. These aspects exist in everyone’s life, and if there is an imbalance in one of them, this might not be the most pleasant thing for a person. But one is not always able to see where the discomfort is coming from. Moreover, there are things that we have simply gotten used to. For example, we need to be healthy in order to have the energy that allows us to feed our ambitions at work and be effective. In order for life not to turn into a swamp, you have to grow, and you do this through education. And when you grow, money grows, and this in turn adds stability to your family. Those who live in a metropolis are typically liberals and maximalists. For them, family and love are what save you from loneliness, and they stop you from compensating through the help of alcohol, drugs, etc. The chain is revealed step-by-step.
People are simply too lazy to think, which is why psychologists will always have work. Throughout the training, we work on something a person needs no more than five minutes a day to do – think about his or her life. Ideally, the training helps us reach a 100% lifestyle. In the training room, people understand that this is not mysticism, but reality. The main thing is to understand how to move forward, and this is what people take away from the training. In reality, we lead the lifestyle we want; we don’t just look at it.
Would it not be easier to use hypnosis or other tricky methods rather than trying to convince someone of something that's not obvious?
Poking someone in the chest and saying ‘you are a leader’ doesn’t work; it’s just manipulation. My method is to pay exclusive attention to an individual. They come to the training already knowing the answers to their questions. They then convincingly pretend that something confused them, they look for an exit, they test themselves, and they admit to themselves what they truly want. When answers come from inside, this is the softest and most harmonious way of healing.
Is anyone ever dissatisfied, and how do you struggle with them?
I don't struggle with them. No one resists at my trainings because I don't attack. People are fragile, and you can affect anyone. In the personal growth trainings, pressure is used as a way to drive all the nonsense out of you. In its own way, it’s Zen when a teacher hits you in the forehead with a stick for giving the wrong answer to a philosophical question. But in psychology, the blow hurts much more and might inflict a deeper trauma. This is why I am gentle with those who are open.
What do people want to improve on more than anything?
Everyone wants money and love. Sometimes health. But the people I work with who are 25-35 are still healthy. In my opinion, the most important, though not obvious, aspect for improvement involves your relationship with yourself, your family, and your interests. I say this based on practice. People come to us for one thing, but they get answers from different areas. As one example, from hobbies people find something that pushes their whole lives, and from familial relationships they get stability. From the relationship you have with yourself, you get a feeling of internal comfort that results in success and love. After two 12-hour days (yes, BC Start Point involves intensive training), they have time to sort this out.
Are there ever fake trainers or disastrous psychological approaches (or a lack of them altogether)?
БIt happens. I recommend that everyone go there as well and see how dangerous and painful it is. And then find the courage to get up and walk out. Fight for yourself and be brave. This is also a wonderful practice – not letting yourself bend.
The West has already begun trusting business psychology. What about us?
people have gone through the BC Start Point training programme since 2009.
I really love crises. I've been through several. They’re a wonderful way of testing the consistency of people’s life philosophy. But many experience a hellish panic. There are two options – ‘Lord, how will I live?’ and ‘Yay, I can finally work on myself.’ This defines who you are. Either you’re successful while everything is good or you’re successful no matter what. Not counting the stable corporate sector, changes give us work. And you mustn’t think that this is some sort of magic or show. Training and coaching are simply methods that work. And if this wasn’t true, they wouldn’t exist and the cost of training services wouldn’t grow every day.
When did you realize you could build a business around this trust and make money off it?
Someone who participated in our training once said, ‘You should do what you’re doing.’ I’m a trainer because I can’t not be a trainer. And the market doesn’t matter here because the money directly follows.
How do you assert yourself outside of work? Mountain climbing, women, cars?
All of us have a way of finding our better half. When this search is over, this is a chance to take a personal leap. My search is over. I’m happy and create tests for myself. I’m planning to climb Mount Elbrus for the third time, but whereas before I did it for myself, now I’m doing it so that people follow me. And I really like this internal change. Next I’m going to run a marathon.