Skip to content

Need a (keynote) speaker for your next event?

Book Marko for your keynote (Demo Reel)

Bitesize Snapshot Marko van Gaans

Book Marko van Gaans for a workshop or keynote speech
| Upcoming workshop/event: 2-Day Business Toolkit Workshop, 21-22 July 2023 in Vientiane, Laos | ⤿ Learn more ⤾ |


The romanticized version of a Philosopher-in-Residence must be one of the most appealing careers possible: reading great thinkers, thinking deep thoughts, and whiling away the days in a beautiful office, surrounded by books, a hot mug of coffee, and perhaps some inspiring jazz in the background. This is why I decided to assign myself as the Philosopher-in-Residence at Wu-Wei XP, to put a bit of depth behind the coaching and training.

Of course this romanticized version is far from true, but what is truth anyway? As a philosophical anthropologist and human geographer by passion and training, I observe how we spend our lives perpetually building in what should be empty spaces, reflect on the effects that art, literature and urban living have on the Soul and the City, and investigate the philosophical merit the ancient Chinese concept of wu wei (无为) might bring to this.

So what does this have to do with coaching or training, you may wonder. Well, as an Executive Coach, Staff Trainer and Workshop Facilitator, I don’t think it is my role to tell people what to do or how to do it. Instead, I see myself more as a Socratic gadfly continually posing novel, thought provoking and potentially upsetting questions. My aim is for my trainees to dig deep and discover their own ideas, goals and objectives. Once those have been identified, my role will be to help you nurture and grow them into fruition. And when my work is done, you’ll find yourself exclaiming, “Amazing: I did it, all by myself!” (Daodejing Chapter 17)

An effective coaching session or in-house training should act as a catalyst for change, and that happens to be something I’m genuinely passionate about. Whether you’re looking for a facilitator for corporate workshops, a dynamic keynote speaker for a corporate event or just a creative mind to lead a small (even one-on-one) executive strategy session, I guarantee that my philosophical perspective and entrepreneurial mindset will inspire (positive) disruptive thinking and business transformation within your organization.


Like you, ontological leadership expert, philosopher and teacher Marko van Gaans has always wondered about the definition of the word leadership. Is it a noun or a verb? Is it about charisma and decisive action? Pinstripe suits and power ties? Is it just meant for the happy few, or is there a whole different narrative?

Having spent eight years as a Non-Commissioned Officer in the Royal Netherlands Army, been an educator for over two decades and, most importantly, with  half a century of in-the-trenches life experience, Marko’s views are radically different. He appreciates, and shares with you, that leadership really is a state of being and not about the title or position. Leadership is for everyone, every day; it’s how we should live our lives.

A quixotic polemicist - Marko van Gaans

A quixotic polemicist by nature, Marko is renowned for his practical, street-savvy presentation style. Through a fusion of real-life stories and engaging conversational techniques, he connects with you at an intimate, intense and individual level.

Presently, Marko serves as Philosopher-in-Residence, Executive Coach and Workshop Facilitator at Wu-Wei XP, a Singapore-based boutique consultancy firm which focuses on helping managers and entrepreneurs to stop being busy doing nothing through executive coaching, in-house staff training and public workshops.

Prior to this current position, Marko, a philosopher and human geographer by education and passion, trained senior NATO officers in computer simulated war games, middle and senior managers throughout the Asia-Pacific region in the “Art” of staff motivation and taught, among many others, government officials in Laos.




About a century and a half ago, the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard theorized that life is divided into three phases of being: the aesthetic, the ethical and the religious. When I studied this topic for my philosophy degree, I didn’t think much of it, a bunch of existential angst written by a lonely man suffering from winter depression. However now, as my own life is progressing, I find he might have had a point after all.

I definitely used to live my life along the lines of Kierkegaard’s aesthetics, which meant a continuous search for adventure and excitement while avoiding any kind of unnecessary responsibility or serious commitment. I found the perfect line of attack for this lifestyle by — after wasting three years at a business college — joining the Royal Netherlands Army. During my eight years there, I satisfied my aesthetic needs by learning how to drive an armoured personnel carrier, blow up things, climb mountains all over Europe, skydive in Thailand, scuba-dive in Mexico and generally travel to foreign countries as often as possible.

After leaving the army in January 2001, a trip around the world, and short stint at an airline operating in Spain, I felt bored and decided that I needed a new challenge and should move to a place I knew nothing about, couldn’t speak the language and wasn’t even able to read the script: the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Settling as an EFL teacher in Vientiane at the end of 2002, I continued my life of uncommitted pleasure seeking and it seemed this would be everlasting.

Then in the summer of 2007, while sitting on top of a mountain in Kenya, I realized I had had enough. I didn’t enjoy travelling just for the sake of travelling anymore and had grown tired of forgetful meaningless relationships. To cut a long story short, I got married, got a more meaningful job and, in December 2009, my son was born. At this point, I understood that my life had gradually moved into Kierkegaard’s ethical phase. In other words, my focus in life had shifted from caring primarily about myself to caring predominantly about others and taking on more serious responsibilities.

Actually, if there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the past half century, it is that life isn’t about running around like a headless chicken, just trying to tick off another “Have you ever…” box. Instead it’s all about exploring, finding depth and connecting experiences while gradually moving along. To end with the words of Kierkegaard: “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”

Signature Marko van Gaans


In the Moment - Audiobiography

44 highly entertaining tales about eight years as a non-commissioned officer in the Royal Netherlands Army; travels through Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas; and 15 years of life as an expat in Laos.

Back To Top