Celebrate and reinforce your positive emotional connections. We are hardwired to focus on negative things for survival. To counter that tendency, it takes a conscious effort to reinforce positive patterns. For example, if you perform an act of kindness for someone, connect with how you feel afterwards. People inherently want to help others, and when we do, we feel better.
As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewingElad Katav & Helaine Fischer.
Elad Katav is the Founder and CEO of Cupixel, Inc, a company that helps anyone and everyone create art like the pros using a tech-savvy app and a premium art kit. Katav has spearheaded partnerships and programs to help people use Cupixel as a wellness activity. He has taken Cupixel to corporations for team bonding experiences, as well as formed a partnership with The Dalai Lama Center at MIT to add Colors of Compassion to its platform — an initiative that allows participants to experience compassion through art.
Prior to forming Cupixel, Katav gained years of executive experience as a software developer, managing positions for sales, consulting and business development. As a COO, Katav experienced first-hand the importance of balancing a rigid work ethic with wellness. He conceptualized Cupixel after a series of serendipitous events that lead him back to his childhood passion.
Helaine Fischer is an entrepreneur, business builder, personal growth facilitator, speaker and founder of several companies including Out of the Crate Inc, PaperClip Software Inc and Clarity Compass. She has successfully built technology companies from ground up to public offering, and advised and coached business executives to do the same. She has invented award winning consumer products (the first ever toothbrush timer for children) and continues to assist people and organizations reach their goals. Since 2002, Helaine has focused on enhancing people’s lives through transformative, holistic health and well being programs within non profit organizations, corporations, “helping fields,’’ schools, colleges, health and wellness facilities. Helaine is a Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence certified counselor and an Internal Family System Model (IFS) practitioner.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
No one can deny that children are creative, and as a child growing up in Tel Aviv, I was one of few little boys that were interested in drawing and painting. With my mother at the helm, my two brothers and I were pushed to do well academically, but I was the lone painter in the household. I also participated in any sport that required you to chase a ball. Both activities gave me a mental and physical release that helped me stay strong and balanced as a child. I didn’t realize the importance of both until I gave up one — art. I was mocked by my peers during the two years I took art classes. It was the age old “you’re a girl” that took its toll on my young, impressionable mind. Demeaning art because it was feminine or a “girl thing” seems so ridiculous now, but at that time I wanted to be a normal middle-class kid in Israel. I stopped my creative growth and used the extra time to keep chasing balls, now with more agility. My mother still has my childhood masterpieces at home that remind me that this was a passion that I would henceforth never give up ever again.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I think I’m one of the many people that didn’t have a straight-line approach in launching my career path. It was not one person or event that led to a eureka moment that took me from software development to Cupixel, but a compilation of arc points that guided me to where I am today.
After years of success in the B2B software industry, I was caught by surprise as a COO of a company that was not meeting its targets. Around the time that my office in the US was being slowly dissolved due to our troubles, I stumbled upon a local artist in London named Scott Gunderson who created these incredible artworks made of corks. I couldn’t afford to purchase one of his pieces, so I went on a mission to replicate what I saw outside of my London hotel. I gathered supplies and watched hours of instructional videos on YouTube and Bob Ross on Netflix. Not only was the end result of my replica a disaster, the process itself was frustrating and stressful. It got me thinking about how art is relegated to a spectator sport for the layman. You can take a photo without being a photographer. You can play soccer without being in the major leagues. But you can’t enjoy painting and drawing without being an artist.
The final arc point that directed my story towards Cupixel was when I saw Sir Ken Robinson discuss the systemic and cultural undoing of creativity in a TED Talk. I thought about how many people like me look back and ask themselves what if? For me, what if I had ignored my peers and continued to incorporate artistic expression in my daily life. Would I have been a better soldier? A better COO? Now looking back, I know key moments in my life would’ve been easier to endure with the help of having art as an outlet to express my emotions. And yes, I even think if I stuck to this, perhaps my talents would’ve evolved enough to end up in a gallery.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
“Being a CEO can be one of the loneliest places in the universe.” Those were the words of Dan Trajman — a venture capitalist, CEO and most important, a self-proclaimed artist. A mutual friend introduced us, and we connected on many levels, but mostly it was his ability to tell me things that other advisors, employees and family members were too reticent to say. When you’re a Founder and CEO of a company, you have a team of people who speak more freely and truthfully by the watercooler than in a board meeting. I think this is what makes the CEO position a lonely place — the isolation from everyone’s thoughts.
All of my feelings of isolation are diminished after a call with Dan. Without fail, How’s the family? is the first question he will ask. Then he asks me about my health, if I’m eating well, and if I’m winning my tennis matches. This is his way of prioritizing the conversation by recognizing the most important elements of my life in the outset. It’s almost like starting the day with a gratitude journal. I have to say my wife and kids are good, I’m healthy and thriving, before we delve into work stuff. This is effective in disarming me somewhat before discussing tough financial matters and professional challenges. He creates a framework for managing stress that alleviates feelings of isolation. After a call with him, I feel like I am not alone and that every task has a solution. This doesn’t mean we always agree. Oftentimes Dan and I don’t see eye to eye, but it’s good for me to be challenged to either defend my position or see things from a different perspective and redirect. Everyone needs this person in their life that can be supportive and humbling. This helps you create a work environment where people feel free to express themselves and their thoughts so those feelings of isolation begin to diminish.
After we talk about personal and professional matters, we bookend the discussion with a long talk about art. We talk about everything from brushes to new techniques. Then we brainstorm on how to bring these experiences to the masses without having them spend a lot of money or time. In essence we both use art as a way to decompress and tap into our creative side and want to make the activity accessible to everyone.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
I can think of two key mistakes made during the manufacturing process of the Cupixel art box, both yielding valuable lessons. First lesson is that some mistakes create solutions and the second is that bigger is not always better.
Our first product was made of special canvases made of small interlocking squares that come together to make one artwork. The front of each cube is the canvas and the back is the mechanism to connect them. For some inexplicable reason, during the manufacturing process the canvas would come out with noticeable burn marks when filtered through the molding machine to fuse the two pieces. If we couldn’t correct this flaw, the company was done. My partners, the manufacturers and I spent hours upon hours trying to figure out how to fix this critical problem. As we went down the list of new ideas, we would throw out the samples in a pile. In that pile of mistakes was a pristine square! We asked the technician what he did to mold this one perfect canvas. Not realizing that we were not berating him, he apologized for making a mistake by inadvertently flipped the canvas over. That surface didn’t have the same chemical composition and therefore didn’t produce the same burn marks. It made me see that the mistake can reveal the solution and upside down can really be right side up! And most important you have to allow for the mistakes to find the solution. They are important.
After we solved that problem, we needed to decide on the size of the first Cupixel product. We consulted with a few people and it was unanimous — bigger was better! But as a sample of customers began trying it out, they were overwhelmed by the size and most had little interest in creating large artworks. We were so far into the process it was a shift, but I realized that at every stage you need to be open to change. It was the right move. There’s no better gratification than looking at a finished product. We needed to make the end game accessible to ensure that the process aligned with the mission to give everyone the opportunity to experience art without the stress.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
Build your resilience because the path towards success is a windy road. But a road that zig zags will keep your eyes open. I know some people call them “obstacles,” but if you’re on a straight path, you’re not alert. To endure the twists and turns, you’ve got to build your resilience. Imagine if you lost yards in a football game and decided to call the game. That would seem silly. You’ve got to continually push the ball forward and if a play doesn’t go your way, keep playing until you reach that touchdown.
My military days trained me to push forward, but in the real world I had to learn another element of resilience — awareness. When things don’t go the way you planned, you need to be able to look at the internal and external factors with clarity to determine how to move forward. To make a clear assessment of why things happen, you need to be in the right headspace. You can’t blame others or yourself. Pushing forward on the same path will give you the same result. That’s why it’s so important to establish a framework to be resilient. It takes practice, but it’s well worth the effort.
This is something I was learning through experience, but didn’t know how to put into words until I brought in Helaine Fischer to the Cupixel team. I feel I need to give her credit for this.
Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Any of Sir Ken Robinson’s many Ted Talks are vital to understanding the process in which we relinquish our inner creativity. Many people demoted their passions — acting, painting, drawing, singing, music, etc. — to weekend hobbies, or worse yet, just gave them up completely. As Sir Ken Robinson explains, it’s usually because these seem like pipe dreams or non lucrative career paths. When I first started revisiting art in my adult years, I first tried to paint a self-portrait. The experience was stressful and produced an embarrassing finished product. I discovered Robinson’s Ted Talk and began to see the importance of pushing forward and seeing my creativity as something that’s always there. I just had to keep tapping into that inner element of myself and pull it out of suppression. Extracurricular activities can lead to your future career path. Right now, I think many people are at a crossroads. Many were laid off, furloughed or had to take a pay cut. It’s a great time to do some soul searching and see if this is a good time to redirect like I did when I left the enterprise-software world to create Cupixel.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” — Pablo Picasso
Being an artist is a state of mind. Picasso recognized that people that lose the perspective of an artist are closed off to an entire realm of possibility. There are so many outside influences that steer us away from creativity. When I reintroduced art into my life, I became better at everything. I was more open to changing my mind, exploring the depths of my imagination and finding happiness in a childhood hobby. I think one of my missions is connecting art and creativity with modern day trends like wellness and the need for at-home activities.
I believe in bringing creativity to the forefront of our consciousness so strongly that our augmented reality technology that allows users to draw and paint above their skill level is available free of cost via the Cupixel app. I know especially right now, people are experiencing financial setbacks and it seems the things that can help them get into an abundant mindset are inaccessible due to cost. With that in mind, everyone can experience Cupixel just by downloading our app and getting some paper and pencil.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Helaine and I have been working on a partnership with the Dalai Lama Center for Transformative Values and Ethics at MIT to expand its Spark Change initiative with Colors of Compassion. Here, we are bringing concepts such as compassion, kindness, gratitude and fearlessness to the masses, through our in app experience. This is a free initiative open to schools and businesses alike, where people can artistically connect with their emotions, experience art and share these guiding principles with others.
Especially in this time of isolation and disconnection, I think this is a healthy activity that will give you a chance to understand how feeling compassion towards yourself and others is necessary for a healthy state of mind. Besides engaging in a gratifying and creative art project for a day, there’s also something intrinsically therapeutic about drawing, painting and connecting with yourself.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers a bit about why you are an authority about Emotional Intelligence?
My background is military, software and art. I am an enthusiastic student of Emotional Intelligence. As I saw the benefits of Emotional Intelligence in my own life, I wanted to bring it to the Cupixel community. I recruited a resource, Helaine Fischer who is well versed in EI among other things. She oversees all of our Programs, Partners and Experiences, including our exciting collaboration with MIT. I’m going to include her from here so she can share her expertise. Helaine, what sparked your interest in Emotional Intelligence?
It was 1995 and the computer software company I had founded five years earlier went public. I took a small break from my career to focus on my family and ponder some big questions such as what’s next for me? Should I go back to work full time or stay home with my kids? If I don’t go back immediately, would I be welcomed back when I am ready? In my stressful work mode would I be able to take care of my own health and well-being while I juggled so many things? And mostly, was I alone in my thoughts or were other people wondering the same thing? I wanted to get some answers to these questions because I had a spark of an idea in the back of my mind.
I asked a respected psychologist, Dr. Goldye Meyer, to help me. We invited 10 diverse, complete strangers to my home for some good food and conversation. We explored questions close to all of our hearts: how do we maintain a sense of well-being inside and out? How do we ensure that we are living the life we desire?
Dr. Meyer provided us with some very useful insight concerning work and family balance, relieving stress and time management. She shared these “knowledge nuggets” in a practical way that we could understand and use. We laughed and shared our perspectives and experiences. What struck me the most was the way the participants, who didn’t know each other or me, were able to connect so quickly and freely. Their own strategies, stories and contributions were incredibly profound. I learned as much from them as I did Dr. Meyer! I sat there and thought, “Can we replicate this?” How do you take “expert” information and package it in a way that’s available to people everywhere? How do you create an environment where people are inspired to learn and grow from and with others, and do it over and over again? And how could we help people put what they learned into action?
I didn’t have the answer immediately, but the questions never left me. My hiatus ended and I did return to the technology world for six more years. This was an exciting time. New innovations were being spearheaded by talented entrepreneurs on a daily basis, and I was in the middle of it. I loved assisting people as they turned their dreams into reality…and realized that all people whether top executives, students or stay at home moms could benefit from insight and connection to emotional, social and physical wellbeing.
In 2002, I took the leap and along with Dr Meyer, gathered a team of psychologists, business and communication experts and answered those questions from 1995. We DID find our breakthrough. We created a formula for people to personally connect with evidence based, expert information and bring it into their lives. The system, the program, the materials and the facilitation style we developed have helped thousands of leading corporations, colleges, high schools, non profits and individuals reach their personal and professional goals. One important fundamental that underpins our program is cultivating and activating Emotional Intelligence.
Now, at Cupixel, this knowledge is part of every program we develop, one example is our Spark Change collaboration with The Dalai Lama Center at MIT.
For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?
Many of us learn to disconnect from our emotions early in life. We hide, mask or ignore emotions to gain acceptance or please our family, friends, teachers, bosses. This can make an impact on our actions and decisions. In Elad’s case, he was ridiculed by his peers for taking art lessons, so unfortunately he stopped.
How we perceive or interpret situations impacts our emotions. Our strong perceptions turn into our beliefs about how the world should operate. If our emotions don’t match the rule, we mask them. Our emotions don’t go away — -they are buried but present.
I like to think of Emotional Intelligence as an important ingredient to being connected inside and out. EI helps us understand our emotions and the interplay between our thoughts, actions, patterns and choices. Once we understand our internal system, we are more equipped to recognize the systems at play in others, opening the door to compassion and empathy.
How is Emotional Intelligence different from what we normally refer to as intelligence?
Basically, EI can enhance our decision making and allow us to see our options with clarity. When we are in a state of emotional overload or stress, we are cut off from the decision-making part of our brain. We may respond or react without thinking. We each have ways of dealing with stress or trauma, and Emotional Intelligence gives us the time and space to access our “thinking brain.” Decisions are best made when we are in a place of calm and confidence.
Secondly, emotional intelligence helps us understand and empathize with others and see beyond the surface. This deeper level understanding broadens our perspective encouraging more “intelligent” options and choices in difficult situations. Successful conversations, discussions and negotiations hinge on the ability to understand opposing perspectives, and Emotional Intelligence can be a wonderful tool.
Can you help explain a few reasons why Emotional Intelligence is such an important characteristic? Can you share a story or give some examples?
People who have developed EI create an environment around themselves that is safe, open and caring. This follows them wherever they go. At work it translates to company culture. At home it sets the stage for open communication and connection within a family.
Risk taking at work requires the culture that mistakes are OK. Speaking up is welcomed. It also requires people to step out of their comfort zone, sometimes overcome fear etc.
As an example, I’ll share a story that’s really emotional for me. It occurred when I was a very young Major in the IDF. One of my soldiers approached me and asked for a private meeting. He entered the room and said nervously “I want to come clean. I want to confess. I am gay and you are one of the first to know.” I saw a broken man in front of me that was very emotional and, in a way, lost. I decided to be authentic, direct and honest. I simply told him that his sexual preference was irrelevant to me and didn’t mean anything in terms of his role as soldier. I reassured him that he was an amazing soldier, who was passionate and smart. Seeing how draining this was for him, I told him to take a day off and come back tomorrow. Before he left, I told him if he needed anything upon his return that I was here to listen. I remember he was stunned, but for me, that was that. His name was Nir Katz. Years later, I found out the enormous impact this meeting had on him.
Would you feel comfortable sharing a story or anecdote about how Emotional Intelligence has helped you in your life? We would love to hear about it.
Years after that private meeting that Nir Katz revealed his sexuality to me, he was murdered by a masked gunman, one of the few hate crimes in Israel. He was only 26 years old. I am still in touch with his family and his amazing mother who is the epitome of emotional intelligence. She retells the story of “his commander and direct report” that really helped him go through the difficult task of coming out of the closet. She stresses the importance of supporting people in need and being there for them — making this approach the norm.
There are multiple examples of emotional intelligence in this story, but I think Nir’s lovely mother deserves the spotlight. When she shares our story, she shares hope despite the tragedy. It’s the ultimate display of emotional intelligence.
Can you share some specific examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help a person become more successful in the business world?
Emotional Intelligence is a super power, which can be developed and enhanced. EI helps us connect with our authentic selves with clarity, allowing us to see our options and make smart, satisfying decisions.
It enables us to be curious instead of critical when interacting with others. Since people need to feel heard, we can strengthen any business relationship when we are authentic in our listening. Our perspectives may shift, opening the door for better communication. When people feel less judged, they are freer to take risks and contribute with confidence. It also comes in handy when we hit a roadblock and need to reinvent, pivot or call on our support network.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have better relationships?
Emotional Intelligence helps break down the us versus them or me versus you mindset. It allows us to be open and curious to other people’s points of view, leading to respect, feeling heard and valued by others. With a foundation of respect and trust, people can take risks, communicate better, resolve conflict and grow together.
EI helps us to approach other people with the understanding that each of us have complex conscious and unconscious perceptions, thoughts, feelings and behaviors. With this awareness, we tend to be open, compassionate and empathetic to other people and can develop deeper connections.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health?
As a foundation for mental well being, our social human needs must be met. We all need to feel like we belong, to be valued and to be respected by others. When we develop emotional intelligence, we understand our subtle and not so subtle cues that indicate when these needs are not being met. Instead of ignoring, numbing or plowing through, EI helps us to reconnect and get back on track. Some other ways we can enhance mental health include physical movement, connecting with trusted friends, meditation, or spending time in a creative-relaxing space. That’s an example of where Cupixel comes in. It’s a new way to calm, center and express yourself. It also allows for sharing and being part of a community.
Ok. Wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you recommend five things that anyone can do to develop a greater degree of Emotional Intelligence? Please share a story or example for each.
- Pay full attention and become an investigator of your internal messages. Can you become more curious, compassionate and open to your strong uncomfortable emotions? Ask yourself, what might these messengers want you to know? Shift from auto pilot to intentional action. For example, next time you are in an uncomfortable situation, take a moment and recognize what’s going on inside. “My stomach feels nervous, my voice is higher, I’m being super critical of myself.” Take a breath and be present to what’s happening. Allow time to access your thinking brain. Now you can decide what action to take.
- Practice being more curious in relationships and interactions. We create patterns in all of our relationships and we often assume we know what others are thinking, feeling, meaning. We can become judgemental or critical. Practice replacing judgement with curiosity. This works with your teenage child, your coworker or the person who snubbed you. With curiosity leading the way, you can shift perspective and compassion and empathy are available to you.
- Embrace activities that help you focus, relax and energize. Keep in mind different activities provide us with different benefits. Once you are more aware of the interplay between emotions, thoughts, patterns etc, you can figure out what works for you in any given situation. Asking yourself, what do I need right now? Will help you create habits that reinforce Emotional Intelligence that you can access in times of stress or disappointment.
4. Celebrate and reinforce your positive emotional connections. We are hardwired to focus on negative things for survival. To counter that tendency, it takes a conscious effort to reinforce positive patterns. For example, if you perform an act of kindness for someone, connect with how you feel afterwards. People inherently want to help others, and when we do, we feel better.
5. Listen to others with your ears, eyes and heart. Use all your senses and be present. When we take a breath and really listen with an open mind and heart we create a deeper connection.
Do you think our educational system can do a better job at cultivating Emotional Intelligence? What specific recommendations would you make for schools to help students cultivate Emotional Intelligence?
The educational system can and does look at ways to expand tools and resources that help students cultivate Emotional Intelligence. With the coronavirus pandemic, I think the need for EI programs has increased and perhaps the educational system could incorporate more activities into their current curriculums like Spark Change. This is a great program for educators to help their students connect with one another and experience compassion, kindness and gratitude. Through this initiative, we see students sharing hope and optimism with the greater community such as seniors, healthcare workers, first responders and families which lifts their spirits.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
That is Cupixel’s mission! We want to help people reconnect with the artist within. Remember when you came home from school with an artwork that your mom loved to display on the refrigerator or living room mantel? There was a time when art was a big part of our lives and we loved to partake in the creation process as well as pass it on to someone else to make their day. Cupixel is the reminder that you have an artist within and tapping into that can do more than just produce an image on canvas. Art is a language and vehicle for expression. Our dream is to enable anyone to speak this language. We hope to help adults connect with the artist they were when they were 4 or 5, and allow young people a vehicle to express their emotions and make their voice heard in their language of art and creativity.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
To sit down with Roger Federer for breakfast would be a dream for me. Beyond his athletic genius on the tennis court, he is also the prime example of how to be competitive, while still being graceful and treating others with kindness and courtesy. It’s rare to see a champion so gracious toward his fans and opponents and so reverent toward his sport.
As someone that plays tennis, I know the strong urge to break your racket when things aren’t going your way. It’s the one sport that feels like you’re always losing points. I think this forces you to think in the moment and know that no matter what you won or last moments ago, it can all change in the present. This is why I’m a fan of Roger — he’s mastered this mindset.
As an added incentive for Roger to have breakfast with me, I would bring a prize worthy portrait of him drawn and painted by yours truly! We could auction it off for a good cause as a way to celebrate emotional intelligence!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
- Follow Cupixel on Instagram.
- Sign up for our e-mail mailing list via our website at www.cupixel.com. We welcome everyone to our community!
- Download the Cupixel app and experience art creation for yourself!
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.