Leyla Tavernaro Haidarian brings new ideas on the evolution of collaboration from her workplace in t

The ebbf audience is active in very diverse workplaces. Today we interview Leyla Tavernaro Haidarian from South Africa, offering innovative points of view on the shift towards collaboration she is witnessing in her own area of work: the film and TV industry. She is also one of the speakers at the next ebbf international learning event “co-creating the NEW enterprise, the shift from competition to collaboration

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ebbf question: Since your youth you seem to have had an interest in communication, film and journalism – why? Since childhood I have very much felt drawn to the media environment, performing arts and film. I love communicating, it energises me. Either one on one with an individual or in a hall with a large group and connecting with people in that way. I see media and communication as a social glue that connects us, allows new ideas to be presented and has us explore things together.

You have an interesting concept of communication that moves away from a communication and a listener, could you share it with us?

Even though we associate communication with a one-way flow where one person does the “talking” and the other listens, communication is really a multi-facetted process. The responsibility for communication is for the person speaking and the person hearing. What you may hear may not even be what the person intended to say. There is a constant meaning-making process on the part of the listener, which is as active as the speaker component and we should never forget that.

Another thing I love is how media, arts, film have the power to show alternative realities and suspend our critical faculty. The filmic medium may seem like a one-way process; you sit and watch what is coming out of the screen but instead there is an act of meaning-making taking place on the part of the viewer.

For the duration of the film, even though we know people can’t fly or don’t have super powers, we are prepared to buy into that reality and explore possibilities which in “real life” would have seemed unthinkable. As a viewer I put myself in a space that is “outside the box”; actively participating in exploration and what ifs: What if I could fly? What if reality were different? And this new way of seeing possibilities beyond our current model of the world allows us to explore alternative paradigms in the very world we live in. We learn to suspend our current beliefs and try on new ones to see if they could serve us better.

One of my favourite quotes, which has taken on new meanings as I evolve throughout my life is:”Do not be satisfied with the stories that come before you. Unfold your own myth” (Ruhi)

some movie glamour leyla tavernaro haidarian with actor terrence howard


Reality is a story, we are the authors of that story and we determine how the story unfolds -whether we are seemingly watching things happen or participating in their creation, we are actively shaping reality by giving meaning to events, focusing on some parts of ‘reality’ and ignoring others.

We’ve bought into this notion that we are playing out what has always been playing out or that we are not capable to change the grand story, yet neurological science has proven to us that we can. Neurological science is showing us that perception is projection. We are in essence projecting and creating the grand story and are very much in control of it. Of the billions bits of data coming to our 5 senses every second, we are constantly deleting, distorting and generalizing information in order to be able to process it. We are consciously left with a tiny fraction of ‘what is’ based on our inner filtering. Our perception of the world is based on our inner realities, of what we perceive – we are determining what reality is and we are creating it by ‘watching’ it. We are active creators of the story and if we don’t like the one we’ve found ourselves in, we can change it.

The theme of the next ebbf event and something you will cover in your keynote is the shift from competition to collaboration, how do you see collaboration?

There’s a scene in Disney Pixar’s “Ratatouille”, where the rat, Remy, is discussing life with his father. In one heated scene his father says “you can’t change nature!” and Remy responds, “change IS nature!”

I believe change IS nature and collaboration is nature. There is nothing more natural to the planet than change (evolution) and collaboration.

Everything (literally everything) is a collaborative process: we just need to raise awareness of this constant collaboration happening around us. For example a journalist writing a story derives his or her article from the environment around them. From the very moment that person is putting down their ideas they are choosing to highlight specific aspects of reality and choosing to delete, distort and generalize others.

We are always shaping reality from all the millions of bits of information that are out there. We decide to focus on a very specific portion of what we are surrounded with based on our  unconscious beliefs, values and views of the world and then we  project that reality as we choose to, highlighting some or another part of the story. I think no matter what we engage in, we know that collaboration is a part of it.


leyla haidarian tavernaro filming


In my own profession, the work performed on a film-set is a prime example of a grand collaboration where the whole is so much bigger than the sum of its parts.

When I’m on a film set I’m humbled by the way everyone, ‘big’ or ‘small’, has a vital role to play. I see the crew coming together to do their job; the actors, the make-up artists, the wardrobe team. They all influence the story and contribute to its creation. The original story was perceived by someone who documented their model of the world and then that product was perceived by a director and producer; rewrites were done, a million voices flowed into the story and so many people co-create as the production work unfolds. And finally you have the audience that watches and sees through the filters of their own world-views and reads and co-creates new meanings and realities from that which sprung from one person’s mind (which was never really one person’s mind but rather a co-creation of his or her environment).

A film is just as alive as a person – we tend to nominalize both. A nominalization is when you take something that is really a process, such as a ‘film’ or a ‘person’, and create a static noun from that process.  But people, art, everything really – is a constant process.

We watch a film when it was originally made and it has certain meanings for us and we watch it 50 years later and it has completely different meanings for us. It’s the same film but it’s perceived differently. An example is the Tom & Jerry Series. The newest DVD releases from the 1950s episodes screen a disclaimer apologizing for the racist depictions of black people that were common at the time and that may seem offensive today. We are a process and so is everything we interact with. We constantly shape-shift and so does our world. But we are intertwined in this process.

This oneness, interdependence, this collaboration is the essence of reality.  Any divisions we create to understand that reality are a product of our own limitations and come out of a need to dissect and understand the world. But they are not real. We must be careful not to buy into divisions. They’re an illusion.

What did you aim to achieve through these means? What do you most enjoy / find useful to convey?

My aim is always to capture people’s imagination. Creating an entertaining experience is fundamental to producing any sort of ‘media’ and that’s what is so beautiful.


leyla haidarian tavernaro using film to stimulate new opportunities


By stimulating our imagination we get to tap into the possibilities and infinite potentialities we have as human beings. The issues we face today and the problems we see in all areas of our reality (the environment, politics, religion, culture, society etc) exist because of the unconscious beliefs we’ve bought into and the boundaries and limitations we have accepted for ourselves and for our world. Artistic media like film have the power to lift us out of those limitations and help us look at things in a new way; help us look for solutions and possibilities outside of that usual mental framework that is producing our current results.

I find it so very important to step out of the limitations we impose on ourselves, to be able to question our realities and start asking ourselves: what is NOT the problem? – rather than what is the problem?

By asking this seemingly puzzling question we are blowing up the boundaries of the framework that has produced the problem and stepping outside of it to see what else there is.

That is a very valuable if not essential process that media can help make happen. To give an example, people often say “it’s human nature to be selfish”. By buying into that limitation you essentially imprison yourself and your world into a reality where all systems will constantly produce corruption and eliminate diversity. Your reality will have no choice but to manifest results within that framework.

If you chose to believe that humanity is at least equally capable of selflessness and cooperation you are blowing up those previous boundaries and stepping into a space of far greater potentiality.

What could be the outcome of political processes if we are capable of cooperation and selflessness? How could these processes look? Instantly our mind is thinking in new ways and exploring uncharted territory.

It’s brave to think like that. It’s convenient and lazy to stay within the limitations of disempowerment.

From a quantum physics perspective our inner world and neurology contain an  infinite, staggering number of combinations folded inside of us.

By creating neurological connections, and creating new ways of thinking we therefore allow infinite possibilities to arise and help us move out of the boxes and limitations. We start looking at the world from the outside, unfolding our own universe that is not limited by those frameworks. “Dost thou consider thyself only a puny form, when within thee the universe is folded?” Baha’u’llah

The questions to ask ourselves at any given time are: “Let’s just assume we could! What would happen if we did?” When we are asking those questions we access that infinite potential within us to create anything we want.

The possibility of ‘possibility’ is what excites me.

How does media today achieve or not this unfolding of possibilities, is there evidence there of positive collaborative models emerging?

The first few things that pop into my mind are examples of the old competitive model we’ve bought into: Reality shows with singers lined up, needing to perform for only a few minutes and then being judged by three individuals who will decide if they can or cannot go to the next level – and ultimately get that record deal to make it as a singer with fame and wealth.

That is the ultimate dream and life aspiration we’re sold to believe is important.

Contestants are literally shaking, waiting for the judges to decide their life and we as an audience are drawn into that tension and if the answer is a YES then it is the best moment of their life  and if it’s a NO then their life has ended.

Why would you create and then chose to live by such a limiting reality?

Why would you chose to believe that success is based on winning or losing a competitive game or on making or not making that record deal? Who decided that those are the rules? And why are we okay with them?

Instead let’s think of how much more that person could achieve if they were to tap into and develop their infinite potential.

Who knows what other amazing things that person could achieve if he or she chose to believe that the fulfillment of their own highest potential was guaranteed and did not depend on the downfall of others (but rather on nurturing and developing those around them)?


leyla tavernarno haidarian filming in southern sudan a documentary about education


Who knows what other amazing things that person could achieve if he or she chose to see other people’s success as their own and everything as an opportunity for reaching their own true destiny?

How many people lose out on contributing amazing things to society because they are enslaved by the rules they’ve unconsciously bought into and that are tearing at the very fabric of our existence?

On the other extreme, off the top of my head images of fantasy and science fiction movies come to mind as ways to take us out of the limitations we have set ourselves. In those films anything can happen as we suspend our beliefs.  And it’s those visionary what ifs that have taken humanity forward from age to age. It is thanks to those who dreamt of flying when everyone knew that humans can’t fly that we are now able to go from Johannesburg to London overnight. Throughout history there are those that dream up  new possibilities, and when they start to make them happen the mass of people begin to follow.

Going back to reality shows, there are a few that break with the old model and show us alternatives. I’m thinking of Extreme Makeover Home Edition. In this show people pull together resources in a collaborative and selfless way to do great things: people donate time, energy and resources to build a home for a family that needs it. The show focuses on the collaborative side of human nature, rather than nurturing that selfish impulse. It’s an equally intriguing show and demonstrates how people are capable of deriving great pleasure from uplifting others.

So what do you see the connection between business, entrepreneurship and media? How can media and business enrich each other?

I don’t even like to see it as a link because essentially they are part of a whole. The division is what is unreal.

I’d like to refer to a documentary called Crossroad: Labor Pains of a New Worldview. Here a number of experts from various fields such as science, medicine, education, environment, politics and business etc come together and propose that you cannot have business in isolation from the culture that breeds it etc.

It proposes that the health and functioning of each “aspect” of reality is dependent on the health of the other aspects; that business cannot thrive unless the environment is thriving, unless politics is healthy, unless the justice system is functioning, unless families are growing and so on.

The reality is that everything that happens has an effect on what surrounds it and receives the effect of actions around it. This knowledge only becomes fruitful when we remain conscious of our interconnectedness.

It is then that we can tackle the pressing challenges facing our generation.

In my own work I often have clients who think that they need to make a decision say between career and family, but the truth is that both aspects of our life need to be nurtured and need to nurture each other in order for either to achieve true excellence.

If you are excellent in business but fail in all other aspects of your life then you are not taking into account the wholeness of reality – everything has to succeed and the different parts, in this case the business and the family parts, need to develop together and help each other to grow in order for each to achieve the greatness that might be theirs.

As much as possible we should try to move forward in unity (internally and with other people) – make decisions and move forward congruently as ‘whole’ entities. The divisions and conflicts we have created as a product of our minds are what hold us back and tear us apart.

This is not just an idealistic approach that some tree-huggers are preaching, this is the urgent call that scientists and experts from various professional fields are making.

When a client asks me do I stay with the man I love or do I pursue my career I ask:  what if your career were to be enhanced by having and nurturing family life and what if your family life improves thanks to having a great job? You then need to look at all the possibilities to enhance both.

Ask yourself how is what I am doing in my work-place or the way I am doing it going to create a better life for my kids or create a world that is more family friendly and vice versa. How is what I am living out in my family life going to affect the principles and operations of my professional life?

The final outcome may seem different from your original life objectives but the result will be a more fulfilling one when the wholeness of reality is taken into account. Leaving an ‘either or’ mentality behind for a more inclusive one is always so rewarding for my clients.

What has changed in recent years that makes collaboration more urgent than in the past?

All you have to do is switch on the news and see the problems that arise from our current lack of collaboration and lack of systemic thinking. We are living in a highly interconnected world but playing by the rules of sovereign individuals.


leyla haidarian tavernaro at TEDxVienna


In my TEDxVienna talk I mention the year 1844 as a moment of deep change in the world.

Our technological advances skyrocketed from that year onwards and our world became a village overnight. The last 170 years have accelerated our interconnectedness.

Instead of remaining inward-looking we have become aware of a wider horizon and are now more outward looking.

I’ll give you a concrete example of how even banks are forced to consider context over their own short-term interests.

South African Economist Dr. Iraj Abedian has been developing an initiative called Home Investment Partners. He looked at society in South Africa and asked himself how we could contribute to eradicating the extremes of wealth and poverty and create a more sustainable economy.

His point of departure was that owning a home is an essential part of anyone’s economic health. So he asked himself how we could create a situation where people like nurses, police-men and teachers could afford to buy a home. Currently in South Africa, those essential members of society do not earn enough to get a loan from the banks.

He then designed this system where clusters of homes are built through co-investments by individuals and banks. Instead of giving out loans, the banks are co-investing with individuals to purchase a house. And individuals pay a portion (percentage) of their salary rather than the value of the house towards co-owning this house.

The idea is that statistically people’s incomes increase over time and banks will make their money in the long-run as well as help build a stronger, healthier and happier economy to exist in.

In other words, institutions that are currently operating on old paradigms are – out of need – seeing the necessity for shifting to another paradigm.

We are living in uncomfortable times. This is an age of transition. As with any transition, we hang onto what we know for as long as we can before letting go and moving on. But these are also exciting times as people learn that shifting out of comfort-zones is actually rewarding!

You have lived and worked in different continents and cities, what were the common traits and what were the uniquenesses of working in these different places?

It has been so much fun. I grew up in beautiful Austria, a very rule-oriented law-abiding country where you could be living next to your neighbor for 20 years and still be called out by him or her for parking your car over the designated line.

I then lived in the USA for a few years – specifically in LA. In the US the can-do attitude is amazing. People want to make things happen for you. The answer to everything is “yes sure we’ll find a way”.

I now live in South Africa where I am surrounded by is this beautiful sense of compassion and collaboration in the fabric of society. Reality shows that are based on competition don’t go down well as South African contestants often find themselves supporting each other rather than trying to bring each other down.

I think going forward as a human family, it is important to learn cultural values from one-another.

South Africa could really benefit from the law-abiding culture of Austrians and Austrians could learn from the can-do attitude of Americans, while Americans could learn from the humility of the South African value of ubuntu (I am because we are).

What would you suggest to an entrepreneur or business person who is now convinced and wishes to implement a collaborative environment in their workplace?

For businesses, it’s important to think about whether they believe increasing wholeness is beneficial or not. If it is, and I think that’s where we’re all headed, then we ask ourselves how is the business set-up supporting or sabotaging wholeness? Is the physical work-space set up to increase communication between all elements of the company? Is the set-up inclusive or exclusive? Is it bringing people together or setting them up for division and suspision?

What is great is that businesses nowadays can access consultants to come in and help their staff and management create shifts in thinking that support a more healthy and organic work environment where backbiting and gossip are eliminated and cooperation and mutual support is encouraged.

The next step from there is thinking of how your business interacts with other businessness and with the environment etc. Does it contribute to delivering a better world for future generations?

And if your are not “the boss” but person working in a company with less decision making influence?

if you are an employee – share ideas, be on the lookout for and actively participate in whatever feedback channels are open; you can also consult in your smaller team and start to make a difference at that level.

It’s helpful to always remember that our actions and behaviours also send out very loud messages.

The whole notion that the universe is folded within us, that the universe outside is a reflection of our inner reality and that we should “be the change we want to see in the world” – helps us live out what we want to see.

As individuals in ‘the system’ we are just as important as the system.

As we transform our personal culture from one of win/lose to one of win/win, as we refine our own character and strive to live out excellence through collaboration and by nurturing others, we increase this vibratory state in the world around us and it inevitably mirrors back that change.

Any change you ever have to make to affect the world is right inside you. That’s all the empowerment you’ll ever really need

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