Foundations for research leadership

Woman speaking to a table of people on left hand side and a green block of text "leadership foundation"PhD blog leadership foundations for leadership


The journey from an early career researcher to a future research leader is a transformative one. Research leadership requires deep technical expertise, and also a range of what are often called “soft skills”. I prefer to call these shift skills. These represent your know-how in creating transformation and being in control of the environments in which you find yourself. Importantly they help you interact effectively with others. The basis for developing a great set of Shift Skills is a deep understanding of yourself.  

This blog explores the foundations for future leaders in a research environment, and how these are covered in the Katalytik workshop. 

In the 21st century, the emphasis is on research that addresses the UN Sustainable Development Goals and inclusive work practices to build high-performing teams. Being aware of these as your professional research career develops means when you start looking for your next career step you will be able to present as an engaging and knowledgeable individual.  

Here are six steps in which you can deepen the learning during your research. These are covered during Katalytik Phd professional skills workshops.

Six steps to develop as a research leader


1.    Self-awareness

The first step towards effective leadership is self-awareness. By understanding your unique strengths, you can unlock your potential and perform to the best of your ability. Over the last 15 years we’ve found CliftonStrengths, (an online assessment), to give a useable, research-based language, that informs Indvidual’s with how they think, feel, get things done, and energize others. This vocabulary has resonated deeply with the post-doc and doctoral researchers we have worked with at various universities. It allows researchers to articulate their passions and motivations, setting the stage for personal growth and development.  

We use this tool in energising and fun-filled workshops to have conversations around supervisors, well-being, conflict, and understanding what leadership is about.  


2.    Managing your supervisor

Navigating the dynamics with your supervisor is a crucial aspect of your research journey. The Katalytik workshop provides strategies to build partnerships and manage relationships effectively. It emphasizes the importance of open communication and conflict resolution, enabling researchers to address individual challenges they face. And through a CliftonStrengths lens learn how to be a motivated and responsive researcher. 


3.    Communication and conflict appreciation

Effective communication is key to any successful research career. And knowing when communication has occurred will set you up to be a great colleague, manager, and leader. The workshop focuses on strengthening listening skills, an often-overlooked aspect of communication. Building stronger relationships through trust and active listening, researchers can foster a positive research culture. Creating more opportunities to effective partnerships and collaboration


4.   Proactive research leadership

The workshop introduces participants to proactive research leadership. It encourages researchers to take initiative and responsibility for their actions. This approach empowers researchers to set goals, overcome blocks, and manage their wellbeing, all of which are essential for a successful research career. 


5.    Building positive research cultures 

A positive research culture is the bedrock of collaborative and productive research. The workshop emphasizes the importance of confidence, credibility, and collaboration in building such a culture. It provides strategies for researchers to contribute positively to their research environments. Becoming familiar with the Johari Window and using it to deepen trust with colleagues, we find, is the essence of a high-performing team


6.   Inclusive research leadership 

Inclusive leadership is a critical aspect of research leadership. An inclusive leader values diverse perspectives and experiences, creating an environment of psychological safety where everyone feels valued and heard. This inclusivity leads to richer ideas, more robust research, and a more harmonious team dynamic. The workshop underscores the importance of inclusivity in research leadership, providing strategies for researchers to cultivate inclusivity in their research environments. Importantly, when trust deepens, a team can begin to have healthy conflict and robust discussions in safety. 



By the end of the workshop, participants will not only be buzzing with ideas and positivity, but they will also have a personal action plan with goals to guide their way. They will gain a greater understanding of their motivations and learn strategies to build partnerships. Most importantly, they will be equipped with the skills to manage their well-being, a critical aspect often overlooked in the pursuit of research excellence. 

In conclusion, this workshop provides a comprehensive foundation for early career researchers aspiring to become future research leaders. It goes beyond technical skills, focusing on personal development and soft skills that are crucial for leadership. With these tools, researchers will be well on their way to leading successful research careers. 

A one-day workshop, facilitated by Jan Peters, a certified CliftonStrengths coach, equips PhD and early career researchers with the foundation they need to succeed in research careers. This one-day is part of a series of professional development sessions offered across a PhD. 

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    Exploring the blindspots of CliftonStrength Adaptabiity

    a white jigsaw puzzle with two pieces in yellow with process and procedufre wrtten on tehm.
    Do you have a name for that innate part of your character that enables you to live in the moment, respond to change, or simply be there for your friends when they need you? Have you ever thought about what frustrates you? And how can you take ownership of this and leverage to be your best?


    CliftonStrengths is a powerful tool for individuals seeking to understand and leverage their unique talents. Adaptability®, one of the 34 strengths identified by the Gallup organization, brings numerous positive characteristics to the table. These ‘live in the moment’ traits are vital in an ever changing world. It also comes with its own set of blindspots that individuals must navigate to maximize its potential.


    Understanding Adaptability®

    Adaptability® is characterized by a flexible mindset and the ability to thrive in dynamic environments. Individuals strong in Adaptability® excel at adjusting to unforeseen circumstances, embracing change, and improvising when faced with challenges. They are often seen as calm under pressure and adept at navigating uncertainty. However, like any strength, Adaptability® has its limitations, which can hinder personal and professional growth if left unaddressed.

    How may others perceive you?

    Flexible and adaptive: Others may see you as someone who easily adapts to changes in plans, priorities, or circumstances. They may admire your ability to remain calm and composed, even in the face of uncertainty or unexpected challenges. 

    Resourceful problem-solver: Your adaptability may be viewed as a valuable asset in problem-solving situations. Others may appreciate your creative approach to finding solutions and your willingness to explore alternative paths or perspectives.

    Open-minded and willing to learn: Your openness to new ideas and experiences may be evident to others. They may see you as someone who embraces learning opportunities and is receptive to feedback, suggestions, and diverse viewpoints.

    Team player: Your adaptability can contribute to a positive team dynamic by fostering collaboration and cooperation. Others may perceive you as someone who is easy to work with, adaptable to different working styles, and willing to pitch in wherever needed.

    Effective in change management: In organizational settings, your adaptability may be recognized as a valuable asset in navigating change. Others may look to you for guidance or support during transitions, knowing that you can help them navigate uncertainty and embrace new ways of working.

    Resilient and versatile: Your ability to bounce back from setbacks and adjust to new circumstances may be seen as a sign of resilience. Others may admire your versatility and your capacity to thrive in diverse environments or situations.

    Balanced approach: While adaptability is your strength, others may also appreciate your ability to maintain a balance between flexibility and stability. They may see you as someone who knows when to adapt and when to hold firm, depending on the context or the importance of the situation.

    If you have an upcoming review, new role, or job to apply for,

    consider how you can demonstrate these characteristics from your past experiences.


    Adapability’s blindspots



    Blindspot 1: Resistance to structure

    One common blindspot associated with Adaptability® is a resistance to structure. While being flexible and spontaneous is a strength, individuals with high Adaptability® may struggle in highly structured environments where routines and predictability are valued. They may find it challenging to adhere to strict deadlines (not set by themselves!) or follow predefined processes, which can lead to inefficiencies and missed opportunities for growth.

    Blindspot 2: Difficulty with long-term planning

    With Adaptability® you may find you have a tendency to focus on short-term solutions rather than long-term planning. While being agile and responsive to immediate needs is valuable, it’s essential to maintain a strategic outlook and consider the long-term implications of decisions and actions. This struggle with prioritization of long-term goals or difficulty with uncertainty, can feel like a lack of direction or purpose to others.

    Blindspot 3: Overlooking personal boundaries

    Another blindspot associated with Adaptability® is the tendency to overlook personal boundaries in favour of accommodating others’ needs or expectations. It’s likely you may prioritize harmony and flexibility in relationships, sometimes at the expense of your own well-being or values. Depending on your other top CliftonStrengths, you may struggle to assert yourself, or establish clear boundaries, and this may lead to feelings of resentment or burnout over time.

    Navigating your blindspots


    1 Establish clear priorities and boundaries:

    Ø  Define your values: Take the time to identify your core values, priorities, and long-term goals. Understanding what matters most to you provides a foundation for making decisions aligned with your values and aspirations.

    Ø  Set boundaries: Establish clear boundaries to protect your time, energy, and well-being. Don’t be afraid to be clear about, and communicate your boundaries assertively and respectfully, in both personal and professional settings. Recognize that saying “no” when necessary is essential for maintaining balance and preventing burnout.

    2 Develop strategic planning skills:

    Ø  Balance flexibility with structure: Embrace a strategic approach that combines adaptability with long-term planning. Dedicating time to set achievable goals, identify potential obstacles, and develop actionable plans, using your CliftonStrengths, a strengths goal setting worksheet, and also habit stacking (Read Atomic Habits) to build new habits. Strive to strike a balance between being responsive to immediate needs and maintaining focus on your own overarching objectives.

    Ø  Anticipate change: Cultivate a proactive mindset by anticipating potential changes and preparing contingency plans. Stay informed about industry trends, market shifts, and emerging opportunities to adapt swiftly and capitalize on new possibilities.

    3 Get to know who you are:

    Ø  Reflect regularly: Take time for self-reflection (look up the Gibbs self-reflection model) to gain insight into your patterns of behaviour, responses to change, and areas for growth. Reflecting on past experiences can help you identify recurring blindspots and develop strategies to address them effectively.

    Ø  Practice mindfulness: Cultivate mindfulness practices to stay present and grounded amidst uncertainty. Mindfulness techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, and journaling can help you manage stress, enhance self-awareness, and make conscious choices aligned with your values and goals. Whether these practices work for you will depend to some extent on your other Strengths and mindset.

    Ø  Learn to be more curious: Develop empathy and emotional intelligence to understand the perspectives and needs of those around you. Strengthening your interpersonal skills allows you to navigate diverse personalities, collaborate effectively, and build mutually supportive relationships.

    By implementing these strategies, you can begin to be more aware of your blindspots, notice when they pop up and interfere with your productivity and happiness.

    a white jigsaw puzzle with two pieces in yellow with process and procedufre wrtten on them. 

    Summary actions

    These strategies are essential tools for leveraging Adaptability® effectively and achieving sustainable success in a rapidly changing world. The end result is to benefit from establishing a balance between flexibility and structure.

    Additionally, seeking feedback from others who excel in structured environments can help identify areas for improvement and provide valuable insights into effective strategies for navigating them.

    Setting aside regular intervals to reflect on overarching goals, identify potential obstacles, and develop actionable plans can help maintain focus and direction amidst uncertainty. Collaborating with others who excel in strategic planning can also provide valuable perspective and support in navigating long-term challenges.

    Finally, developing your self-awareness perhaps through using the Johari window, alongside taking time to identify your personal values, priorities, and boundaries can provide clarity and confidence in asserting yourself in various situations.

    Finding other strengths to partner with

    Strategic®: find a partner with a natural ability to anticipate future trends, identify patterns, and develop long-term plans. Partnering with someone strong in Strategic® can provide you with valuable insights and direction, helping you channel your adaptability towards achieving strategic goals more effectively.

    Positivity®: Positivity® brings optimism, enthusiasm, and resilience to challenging situations. Collaborating with individuals strong in Positivity® can uplift your spirits during times of change and uncertainty, fostering a more positive and supportive work environment.

    Achiever®: identify a partner who thrives on setting and accomplishing goals. Pairing your Adaptability® with the drive and determination of someone strong in Achiever® can help you stay focused and motivated, ensuring that you translate your Adaptability® into tangible results and accomplishments.

    Communication®: Strong communication skills are essential for conveying ideas, building relationships, and navigating change effectively. Partnering with individuals strong in Communication® can enhance your ability to articulate your thoughts, influence others, and foster collaboration amidst uncertainty.

    Analytical®: finding a partner who excels at gathering and interpreting data to make informed decisions gives you facts and evidence. Collaborating with someone strong in Analytical® can provide you with valuable insights and evidence-based reasoning to support your adaptable approach, ensuring that your decisions are well-informed and grounded in data.

    Learner®: Learners have a thirst for knowledge and continuous growth. Partnering with individuals strong in Learner® can inspire you to embrace change as an opportunity for personal and professional development, encouraging you to adapt and evolve in response to new challenges and opportunities.

    Empathy®: Empathy® fosters understanding, compassion, and connection with others. Cultivating empathy can enhance your interpersonal skills, enabling you to navigate change with sensitivity and consideration for the needs and feelings of those around you.

    Arranger®: Arrangers excel at orchestrating complex tasks and resources to achieve desired outcomes. Collaborating with individuals strong in Arranger® can help you manage change more effectively by organizing resources, delegating responsibilities, and adapting plans as needed to navigate unforeseen challenges.

    And finally

    Overall, how others see your Adaptability® strength will likely be influenced by their own perspectives, experiences, and interactions with you. Your deepened awareness of  how Adaptability both helps and hinders you means you are more in control of influencing how others perceive and appreciate your contribution through this valuable strength.

    Revisit your CliftonStrengths Top 5 (go to and login in) . The new report launched in 2024 helps you think through how your top strengths influence each other. 


    Adaptabiity® is a registered mark of Gallup. This link takes you to a series of podcasts on the theme. 

    The views, interpretations, and thoughts expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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    Navigating Strengths: Unveiling Blindspots in CliftonStrengths, exploring Activator

    An orange and turquoise swing seats. with text - to help out the Activator Talent


    In the world of personal development and self-discovery, the CliftonStrengths assessment has become a powerful tool for individuals seeking to understand and leverage their unique talents. Activator, one of the 34 strengths identified by the Gallup organization, is characterized by a keen ability to turn thoughts into action. However, like any strength, Activator® comes with its own set of blindspots that individuals should be aware of to maximize its benefits.

    With Activator® at Number 4, I am only too aware of times when it has not served me well. 

    Understanding Activator

    Before delving into the blindspots, let’s first explore what Activator® brings to the table. Individuals with high Activator® often possess a natural inclination to initiate, propel ideas into motion, and catalyze change. They thrive in environments where quick decisions and immediate action are required. Activators® are the driving force behind many successful projects, as they are adept at pushing through inertia and transforming ideas into reality.


    Activator’s Blindspots


    Blindspot 1: Impulsivity Over Deliberation

    While the ability to act swiftly is a valuable trait, Activators® may fall prey to their impulsivity. The eagerness to jump into action without thorough consideration can lead to hasty decisions that may not be well thought out. It’s crucial for individuals with high Activator® to recognize the importance of balance, ensuring that they allow adequate time for careful deliberation, especially in situations where a more measured approach is required.

    Blindspot 2: Insensitivity to Others’ Pacing

    The sense of urgency and desire for immediate action that comes with Activator® can inadvertently overshadow the pacing preferences of others. Colleagues or team members who value a more deliberate and contemplative approach may feel overwhelmed or dismissed by the Activator’s rapid pace. It’s essential for individuals with Activator® to cultivate an awareness of varying work styles and learn to adapt their pace to accommodate collaborative efforts.

    Blindspot 3: Neglecting Long-Term Strategy

    Activators® excel in initiating tasks and projects, but their blindspot may lie in neglecting the long-term strategic perspective. The focus on immediate action may lead to a lack of planning for sustained success. To overcome this blindspot, Activators® should consciously set aside time for strategic thinking and consider the broader implications of their actions on future endeavours.

    Blindspot 4: Burnout Due to Continuous Action

    The perpetual need for action can lead Activators® down a path of constant busyness, potentially resulting in burnout. It’s essential for individuals with high Activator® to recognize the importance of self-care and balance their intense drive with periods of rest and rejuvenation. Incorporating moments of reflection and relaxation into their routines can help prevent burnout and ensure long-term well-being. From a recent workshop discussion, I was sharing a story about my new garden swing seat and how I’ve discovered that the motion of the swing stills my brain. There were 3 other high Activator® people present and they laughed loudly, sharing their same experience!

    Blindspot 5: Resistance to Change

    Paradoxically, Activators, despite being catalysts for change, may develop a blindspot when it comes to adapting to change themselves. The constant need for action can create resistance to altering their own established routines or processes. To overcome this blindspot, Activators® should actively embrace change and view it as an opportunity for growth rather than a disruption to their preferred pace.

    Navigating your blindspots

    An orange and turquoise swing seats. with text - to help out the Activator Talent

    Navigating the blindspots associated with Activator® requires a thoughtful and intentional approach. Here are three key strategies to help you navigate your Activator® blindspots effectively:

    1.    Cultivate Mindful Decision-Making:

    Pause and Reflect: Recognize the value of taking a moment to pause and reflect before jumping into action. Embrace a conscious decision-making process that involves considering the potential consequences and implications of your actions. This practice allows you to harness the power of Activator® while avoiding impulsive decisions that may lead to unintended outcomes.

    Consult Others: Seek input from colleagues, friends, or mentors before making significant decisions. This collaborative approach not only provides diverse perspectives but also ensures that you take into account the preferences and concerns of others. By involving others in the decision-making process, you mitigate the risk of overlooking crucial details and enhance the overall quality of your choices.

    2.    Embrace Strategic Planning:

    Allocate Time for Strategy: Intentionally set aside dedicated time for strategic thinking and planning. Create a balance between your natural inclination for immediate action and the long-term vision of your goals. Establish a routine that includes regular moments for evaluating the broader implications of your actions, identifying potential challenges, and crafting strategic plans to navigate them effectively.

    Prioritize and Sequence Tasks: Recognize that not every task requires immediate attention. Develop the ability to prioritize tasks based on their significance and urgency. By sequencing your actions strategically, you ensure that your energy is directed towards tasks that align with your long-term objectives, reducing the likelihood of burnout and enhancing overall productivity.

    3.    Build Adaptive Communication Skills:

    Understand Others’ Pacing: Develop a heightened awareness of the varied work styles and pacing preferences of your team members or collaborators. Tailor your communication and approach to accommodate different perspectives. This adaptability fosters a more inclusive and harmonious working environment, preventing potential tension caused by an overly assertive or rapid approach.

    Communicate Change Effectively: Actively work on embracing change and communicate your enthusiasm for it. Clearly articulate the benefits of the proposed changes and address concerns that others may have. This proactive communication style helps build trust and collaboration, mitigating resistance to change and ensuring a smoother transition for everyone involved.

    By incorporating these strategies into your daily routine and mindset, you can navigate the blindspots associated with Activator® more effectively. Cultivating mindfulness, embracing strategic planning, and developing adaptive communication skills will not only enhance the positive impact of your Activator® strength but also contribute to your overall success and well-being.


    Activator® is a powerful strength that propels individuals into action and drives results. However, like all strengths, it comes with its own set of blindspots that individuals must navigate to harness its full potential. By cultivating self-awareness, embracing balance, and recognizing the impact of their actions on both themselves and others, individuals with high Activator® can transform their blindspots into opportunities for continued growth and success in their personal and professional lives.

    And finally, revisit your CliftonStrengths Top 5 (go to and login in) . The new report launched in 2024 helps you think through how your top strengths influence each other. 




    Activator® is a registered mark of Gallup. This link takes you to a series of podcasts on the theme. 

    The views, interpretations, and thoughts expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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    How can your team perform better?

    High perforning team. images illustrating communication, shared goals and trust

    Three areas and one tool to focus on

    What is a high performing team?

    A high-performing team (HPT) is often described as a group of individuals who work together efficiently, effectively, and cohesively, towards a common goal. This type of team is characterized by mutual respect, trust, and an unwavering commitment to success.

    While research shows that a team with a diversity of thought leads to greater innovation and creativity, it can also raise conflict and friction. I wanted to dive into this a bit deeper and explore the characteristics of high-performing teams and how they can be cultivated.

    While much has been written, it seems there are three core areas to focus attention on to raise performance: clear communication, shared vision and alignment around goals, and trust.

    1. Clear Communication

    High performing teams are made up of individuals able to communicate clearly and effectively with one another. They listen actively, ask questions, and provide constructive feedback. As a team lead you could start by establishing (and role modelling) clear communication norms and protocols within the team, so team members are able to communicate their thoughts and ideas in a safe and supportive environment. To work this needs self-awareness as well as an awareness of others.  A two-pronged approach, we use CliftonStrengths, and explore cultural awareness using a cultural orientation framework, (see The Culture Map by Erin Meyer, or Coaching Across Cultures: New Tools for Leveraging National, Corporate and Professional Differences by Phillipe Rosinski) being careful to flag up the dangers of cultural stereotyping.

    Central to communication are mature listening skills. And tuning into your own internal Listening Villain, and your own need for detail, and whether you like to think aloud or quietly for example, can affect how you are perceived and come across within your team. For example, some people learn by asking questions and it is their capacity to formulate questions to gather and process information that is their greatest strength. Yet in some places, this can be perceived as the questioner not understanding the issue at hand. In some cultures, students grow up having been taught not to challenge, or question, someone in a more senior position.  And so may remain silent when they don’t understand. Another’s silence might be because they are in deep reflection, examining contributions from others in minute detail. But this might be perceived as being disinterested in the problem, or even not understanding. When the fact is, they are totally engaged and absorbed.

    Growing a team that can use coaching style questions, and develop a coaching habit, can facilitate deeper listening. And oftentimes, that means simply being quiet yourself.

    2. Trust

    Trust is the bedrock of any high performing team. Without trust, individuals are unable to work together effectively, take risks, or innovate. Trust is built over time through consistent behaviours and actions. Leaders can foster trust by creating a psychologically safe space and mutual understanding of what each person brings, but also needs to be their best. Much is written about trust and leadership (see Gallup’s Strengths-based leadership). One of the frameworks we like, and use is Lencioni who expressed trust in the form of this equation:

    Trustworthiness = (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy) ÷ Self-Orientation.

    Credibility is related to what people say: the extent to which they demonstrate knowledge and understanding about their subject, speak with conviction and make us feel confident that they are in command of their subject matter and competent in applying their expertise.

    Reliability is related to what people do: the extent to which they follow through on promises, meet deadlines, deliver against targets, achieve agreed quality standards and go the extra mile to ensure that they have completed their undertakings.

    Intimacy is related to the safety and security we feel in a relationship: the extent to which confidentiality is maintained, the confidence we have in opening up more personal aspects of ourselves and our emotional concerns and the belief that our values will be respected.

    These are explained as additive factors, that can all be torpedoed by the denominator, Self-orientation.

    Self-orientation refers to a person’s focus. In particular, whether the other person’s focus is primarily on themselves or others. 

    Facilitated discussions – either face to face or online – can help teams come to understand each others’ orientations and be aware of what is driving apparent self-interest. Again, CliftonStrengths can help with this dialogue.


    “Trust is the bedrock of any high performing team. Without trust, individuals are unable to work together effectively, take risks, or innovate.” – Lencioni

    3. Shared Vision and alignment around shared Goals

    High performing teams are characterized by a shared sense of purpose. Each person on the team understands how their role contributes to the broader mission. Clarity around goals and objectives, and personal alignment with these goals helps create a sense of accountability and motivation to achieve success as a team. Having space, and a language, that enables each person to interrogate the vison and goals from their own perspective adds creativity and deepens the understanding of how they can contribute to meeting the goal.

    Again, CliftonStrengths, a deep understanding of all the 34 themes, helps us appreciate how we each need the others to meet these shared goals. Equally, knowing areas of the team where there may be gaps, helps focus attention on possible blind spots.

    “High-performing teams are made up of individuals who are not just committed to their own success, but to the success of their teammates as well.”

    – Simon Sinek

    CliftonStrengths - the number one tool to choose?

    So where to start? We always start with Clifton Strengths. One of the challenges all teams face is people’s past experiences where blame and suspicion, perhaps with justification, have been the default positions for many who feel let down by organisations and people in whom they have invested their trust. For some people once trust is violated it can never be reinstated. While for others, understanding more about the incident that broke our trust or caused hurt. can help heal burning resentment and fury. Using CliftonStrengths alongside other tools and insights gained through facilitated deeper discussions and analysis promotesbetter conversations that helps grow personal alignment to goals and deepening trust.

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    Group Coaching – The Benefits

    group coaching

    Finding a coach is one of those things that seems to be reserved for high achievers. We often don’t feel worthy of investing the time, or money, in ourselves. Increasingly I’ve noticed that universities are offering coaching as part of their staff development programme. …

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    Wellbeing and Researchers


    Is research bad for your health? And what can we do to mitigate it?  Wellbeing has sprung to the forefront of our minds following a stressful three years, and never more so than for PhD students, recent doctoral graduates, and early career researchers. It’s…

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