This profile is dedicated to the memory of late Bohuslav Blazek. It was prepared when Bohuslav was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1995. Bohuslav Blazek a psychologist in the Czech Republic, is facilitating community development by increasing ordinary Czechs' ability to think creatively and participate in group discussion. His primary tools are "soft games," which he has developed to change social behaviors.
Bohuslav Blazek is seizing a moment when the people of the Czech Republic, and generally in the Central European region, are committed to reform and change. In order for them to reinvigorate their communities, especially in the villages beyond cosmopolitan Prague, it is necessary for people to come together and work out common goals. But Czechs have little or no experience with positive, nonauthoritarian communication and group organization: historically, local creative solutions to community problems have been discouraged by dominant political systems. This phenomenon goes beyond the communist era. Over centuries "solutions" have been imposed on Czech communities, whether from the Central Committee in Moscow or the Habsburg monarchy in Vienna. Bohuslav addresses this Central European context and history with his expertise for triggering free communication and teamwork. He has developed distinctive techniques, entirely without the input of Western literature, that he calls "soft games." Unlike others who use games in their work, Bohuslav's games offer solutions to very concrete problems with which groups, organizations and communities are struggling to cope. The use of games in this fashion is particularly helpful because it is a subtle and relatively easy way to change attitudes and stimulate creativity. Bohuslav's work has drawn the attention of President Havel, who asked Bohuslav to facilitate a meeting where residents of Prague gathered to discuss restoration of their city.
During the Communist era, creativity and communication among groups were actively discouraged. The regime believed that such activities would lead to a dangerous growth in subversive anti-government activity. The educational system promoted rote memorization and adherence to ideology and stifled creativity and independent thinking. The totalitarian nature of the regime and the educational system fostered a sense of isolation and cynicism in two generations of Czechs that the euphoria of the 1989 revolution has been unable to overcome.
All organizational structures mimicked the hierarchical structure of the Communist Party, which was controlled by a very small elite who looked for no feedback or suggestions from others within the organization. This stifling atmosphere is in stark contrast to the Western style of organizational management that for more than 30 years has been based upon the principles of open communication between members and teamwork.
With the fall of the communist system, there has been a growth in citizens' groups and organizations that are striving to change and improve the Czech Republic. However, even many of these organizations have retained the communist model for organizational structure and are led in a very hierarchical, authoritative fashion. As a result, creativity and innovation are often stifled and many people quickly become discouraged and leave the organizations before they have achieved their goals. Moreover, similar groups and organizations often fail to communicate or cooperate on projects or goals. This leads to duplication and inefficiency in the distribution of scarce resources.
To spread his ideas and techniques, Bohuslav founded EcoTerra, his organizational base. Through EcoTerra, Bohuslav trains other "games experts," who in turn train leaders of organizations and groups interested in restructuring or improving their organization. The trainers conduct on-site seminars on management and organizational communication. During these seminars the participants are presented with "soft games"-such as complex problems that cannot be solved without the help of others. For example, in one game the participants may be divided into several groups and each group is presented with one part of a riddle. They cannot solve the riddle without the information from the other groups. Such exercises are designed to help people grasp the value of cooperation and quality communication. In addition, these exercises are designed to facilitate personal examination. Bohuslav believes that such examination and self-understanding are essential components to effective interaction with others; such introspection skills are generally undeveloped in the Czech culture.
Bohuslav believes that cooperation among regional groups and organizations working on such complex regional problems as the environment is a critical component to long-term success. He has begun to approach organizations outside the Czech Republic and hopes to help them develop regional cooperative projects and exchanges of information. He is planning to organize a special set of games for interaction between Czech and Slovak Ashoka Fellows.
Bohuslav studied philosophy and psychology at Charles University and the arts at the Czech Academy of Arts. Since his years as a student, he has been fascinated by management and how to foster new perspectives and better communication among individuals. One of his early chances to explore the possibilities of games arose with his own children; he saw that games could swiftly bring about changes in behavior where logical explanations did not. He began to work on his current approach at the former Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. However, he left the Academy when funding for his project was terminated because of the fear it generated among the former communist government. Since the revolution, Bohuslav's work has gained the attention and interest of many civic leaders.