#11 Letter of Inspiration - The Escape to Safety

In this Letter of Inspiration, I would like to share my thesis of why the post-pandemic has left us feeling lethargic and how this connects with how we humans prefer to take the easy way. Besides thoughts on the escape to safety, I write about my new insight into how depth dissolves context. Enjoy!

The Escape to Safety

The post-pandemic reactions are different than expected. In almost every conversation, I hear about resignation, motivational difficulties, and signs of exhaustion. Not just in the big consultancies, where hires and fires are common, but everywhere. It doesn’t seem as if everyone was waiting for things to get going again. Instead, drive is restrained. In fact, I even observe a tendency to escape, to flee from the known. This is most likely because we have been through a time in which parameters, both private and professional, have been challenged, thus also calling into question the status quo. Now you might think: a good thing that it has! After all, so much passed us by too carelessly – climate change, digitalization, AI, and so on. It seems as though everything happened at the same time, giving us almost no chance to think about these topics, let alone develop a clear position on them.

The changing frameworks of the last months have offered an opportunity to reflect on the big questions of life. One might assume that the increased fluctuation rates are an indication that people are (finally) pursuing their needs, desires and – yes – perhaps their dreams. There was a moment of enlightenment, and thus clarity, about what we actually want.

But instead of the pursuit of ideals, I hear rather the opposite in conversations – very few are following their true calling. Instead, they are taking the path of safety. The personable waiter becomes a call center agent, the former architect looks for a job in administration, while the entrepreneur again chooses the apparent security offered by a corporate job.

What surprises me about this is that I don‘t believe that this step is the result of honest self-reflection, but rather the most obvious, simple or logical solution for something that, if dealt with further, would only become exhausting. This, in turn, makes me critically question how sustainable these newly chosen paths are. Will a second wave follow in a year’s time – not a wave of the coronavirus, but one that raises the question of meaning again?

Step in front of the mirror

As humans, we are hardwired to take the easiest way. This is why, in the supermarket, we usually wait in the longest line, because who knows, something could be wrong with the other ones. A queue of several people already waiting seems to be right – they couldn’t all be wrong, could they? This pattern can also be seen in parks, where paths emerge over time as people repeatedly take the same shortcuts. It seems logical to follow the way that others have already marked out, so that we don’t have to do any extra thinking or walking. My fear, however, is that we may be transferring this pattern to our life choices.

After all, wouldn’t it be worth taking a few extra steps or engaging in deeper thoughts, especially when it comes to one’s future? Albeit grappling with the question of “what you really want” is not easy, I am nevertheless convinced it is one worth asking. Especially in times of uncertainty, that which seems logical is not necessarily the right thing to do. We must not lose the bigger vision now, but should instead take the time to reflect and create within this change. New thoughts, an adapted lifestyle, a new job – yes to all of that! But please: make sure it is based on your own wishes and needs, and not driven by a hope of finding security. If this pandemic has shown us anything, it is that nothing is certain. However, if we can summon up confidence in ourselves, that will be our most important tool for the coming months and years.

For more on how to use and develop this skill, Zero Senses will be offering the “Cultivating Presence” retreat from October 21st–23rd of this year. If you are currently looking for new impulses and inspiration, reserve your spot now:

What has inspired me recently? Depth dissolves context.

I recently found myself in an environment that I never would have chosen for myself: crumbling walls, a bed that was just a mattress on the floor, and a level of cleanliness well below Swiss standards. And yet, the week I spent there was one of the best I’ve had in a long time. Why was that so?

The artist James Turrell once said in an interview, “home is where my community is”. For this space and light artist, home has no meaning in the geographical sense; it can be wherever he feels a deep connection with his surroundings. This became very clear to me in my example. The group of people and the depth of the connections between them render the context irrelevant. My thesis is that the stronger the relationship, the less context matters.

On a personal note...

Recently, an article of mine was published in the SMAC Magazine on "The Good Life" – a topic quite fitting for this Letter of Inspiration.



Article: SMAC Magazine - A Good Life

In the past, life was considered good if you could afford everything. Everything usually meant at least one summer and winter holiday a year, two cars, a house, maybe even one or two weekend houses in the countryside or somewhere near the beach. New generations neither have a driver's license, nor do they learn to ski in school anymore. Intercontinental flights are also being questioned in the times of Greta, COVID, and the climate change discussions. What about going out for dinner? Yes, but vegan please, preferably with local ingredients. A good life: what does it mean today?


"The end of consumption leads to a reorientation of luxury. Reducing, leading a minimalist lifestyle, seems to be the consequence of prosperity."

- Tanja Schug

Goodbye luxury, goodbye consumption
With consumption it is similar, as with the monthly salary: up to a certain level, we are still happy about a promotion, until the marginal utility of any further increase becomes zero. After this point we do not care anymore because the next promotion would have to be immense to fundamentally change our lifestyle. In the Western world, the last 40 years have been good years. What do I mean by that? We have lacked nothing, everything has been available and if then we have rather asked ourselves the questions about the more, but never about the whether it's necessary. However, constant availability simply leads to turning away, because it becomes boring. Something similar happens with consumption. As it has become vulgar, as a response, we don't want to test the next Michelin Star restaurant, or buy another car, nor do we need a new house in Spain - the children don't fly anymore anyway, to keep their carbon footprint as low as possible. The end of consumption leads to a redefinition of luxury. A minimalist lifestyle seems to be the natural consequence of prosperity.

A simple lifestyle
Luxury has always had a demarcation benefit, represented by the limited availability or high price. Now, platform models such as booking.com or UBER, as well as providers such as easyJet, are trivialising a commodity long reserved for those with the 'good life'. Today everyone has access to a top deal in a 5* hotel, and your chauffeur (UBER) picks you up from the airport, while your flight costs only 39.00 CHF. When the status of luxury is suddenly democratized, this triggers a turning point. Add to that the new ways of communication, which are more visual than verbal. The perfect Instagram image replaces the postcard from the vacation and WhatsApp allows us to be constantly connected with our friends despite thousands of kilometers of distance. In the end, we are longing for a break: break from the availability, to find that imperfect moment that we remember because it doesn't look like it was photographed from an ad of a lifestyle magazine.

A distinct character
Allowing for the imperfect takes courage. We have been trained for decades on what a good life should look like and now we are supposed to just forget about it? Difficult, and yet it opens up a new path. I date to say that the new luxury is strongly linked to the personalty and the stronger we build our character, the stronger our "new luxury perception" will be. The path to the good life heralds the era of artists. Individual and with a clear attitude.

Column: #2 Departure

Departure into a new age - light luggage is recommended

As a columnist Tanja Schug writes articles for the Zukunftsbeweger magazine on a regular base. The magazine is a wonderful product of Globalance Bank for their customers and partners.

Podcast: Interview about Intuition & Leadership

The responsibility to create space for creativity - a conversation with Tanja Schug

Listen to the podcast interview

Episode #38

"It is important that we do not decide things from external influences, but rely more on ourselves again, and thus can also make more agile decisions that are not dependent, but strongly driven from ourselves." - Tanja Schug, in conversation on VonMorgen Podcast - Episode 38

Article: NZZamSonntag - Breaking out of the hamster wheel

The year of the pandemic has raised the question of the meaning of work in our lives. With one very clear insight: we should rely on intuition, and not imitate machines, finds Tanja Schug

I am very happy that NZZamSonntag ran an article by me about the meaning of work. If you missed it, you can find it online or text me to get a copy.

Column: #1 Disruption

Disruption - How can we satisfy our customer needs?

As a columnist Tanja Schug writes articles for the Zukunftsbeweger magazine on a regular base. The magazine is a wonderful product of Globalance Bank for their customers and partners.

Article: Die Welt - The Genuine is the new luxury

"The meaning of work is about to change."

Work is now no longer the most important value by which individuals define themselves, says author and CEO Tanja Schug. She observes how a "totalitarian system" is beginning to crumble.

Tanja Schug is exploring the meaning of work. She says entrepreneurs need to act more like artists and train their gut feeling. She also reveals how this can be done.

A conversation with ...

“It is always about atmosphere."

— Yusuf Sert

The Tour of Inspiration Idea

The Tour of Inspiration is a walk combined with curated experiences. This tour is intended to open up one's perspective and, by setting curated impulses, to strengthen strategic business decisions and promote personal development. A physical tour guarantees the best results, however impulses can also be shared throughout a conversation within the Zero Senses Method as a companion. What is valuable is the active exchange that arises during this tour, which includes encounters with artists (broadly defined) and their stories. In the following interview with Yusuf Sert, an interior designer from Zurich, you will gain insights about what such an impulse can look like. Translating the newly gained insights into one's own business life is the artisan work, while Zero Senses offers a methodology.

A Conversation with Yusuf Sert - Interior Atelier, Zurich

Yusuf, tell us, how did this beautiful interior design atelier in the middle of Zurich's old town come into being? I took over this atelier four years ago. After almost a lifetime as an employee, that was when I decided to become an entrepreneur.

Would you mind sharing a bit more about your story? I have to go back a little further here... When I was very young, my father was convinced that the future would be about electronics. He was not completely wrong, because we are talking about the 90s, when we were experiencing the rise of technology companies and computers, like Apple with its Macintosh, etc. I followed the advice of my dad, but even while I was still an electrical engineer, I knew it wasn’t for me. On construction sites, I was fascinated by the plans instead of concentrating on electronics and my master’s degree. Something creative, working in design – that was what I wanted to do. So my next step brought me to lighting design.

How did you get from there to the showroom of a luxury furniture store? The creative side was always deeply rooted within me. Everything that had to do with interior design caught my interest. At the age of 16, I was already building my own lighting fixtures. Everything in my room I’d built myself. So I tried to get into the furniture and interior design business, but they weren’t interested in me and as I wasn’t admitted to the vocational school, I had to find another way to pursue my quest.

What was it like for you to know where you wanted to go, but to feel that the "normal" way was a dead end? I knew I had to get there somehow. I applied to a certain furniture store over and over again, but was rejected again and again due to my lack of experience. One day I discovered an advertisement from one of the furniture stores in Zurich. The unconventional boss – an American – invited me to an interview along with eight other applicants. Miraculously, a short time later I was hired, and that was how I got into the industry.

So you started working in one of the top furniture stores in Zurich without any experience. How did that go? I've never learned so much in my life. There are various things that contribute to how something comes about – I call it fate. In this case, I was alone in the furniture store after three months: everyone had quit. This was certainly the beginning of the end for the store, but for me it was probably the beginning of my most intense phase of learning. The furniture industry is a small one, and suddenly I was in direct contact with all the important actors in it, some of whom became contacts that have remained with me to this day. And in the end, I had the opportunity to follow through the entire liquidation process of the company. I can tell you how this kind of sale has to work. While liquidation is a field of its own, I can still apply this knowledge today. From then on I was firmly anchored in the industry.

What happened then? I used my network to find a new job. From that point on, I never applied for a job again. I gained self-confidence and learned to apply my knowledge in new situations, sometimes without being asked. My new employer was about to create a new lighting concept, and I was of course able to bring in my experience in lighting design. I "worked my way up" relatively quickly, and stayed with this shop for 13 years.

In the midst of all this success, how did you get the urge to do something of your own? I was living a double life. Whenever I went to furniture fairs, I shopped for the store, but also for myself in my mind. I kept a mental file of the pieces I would have liked to buy for myself, albeit still at the imaginary level. I knew that at some point in my life I would have my own shop. I always carried this idea in me.

Now here we are, sitting in your shop. What was the path that led you from your dream job back then to becoming an entrepreneur? The furniture business is a small world – I knew where I wanted to go and where I didn't want to go. For me, still today, it’s very important to know what you don’t want. And I’d peaked within the industry. There was nothing new that interested me anymore. I’d reached a turning point.

One day, the owner of the shop that we’re sitting in today called me and asked if we could meet. He came right out and asked me if I want to buy his shop, and we wrote the contract straight away on a napkin. There were of course other interested parties, but he seemed to have the best connection with me. He was about to retire, and I offered him the opportunity to keep a desk in the shop as long as he wanted.

How did it feel to suddenly have your own shop? I was a new person. I’m an entrepreneur, not a manager.

What is the difference in thinking like an entrepreneur and like a manager? I once said to a manager, "You always make me feel like I'm doing everything wrong." Managers have to be guided by facts. Everything needs a report, every decision has to be justified, preferably with market analyses, while feelings are completely irrelevant in the decision making process. That's not how I work.

An entrepreneur is not only concerned with the best margin. I can't just buy the top selling stock. I have to pick things that suit me. What fits my DNA? What doesn’t? Are there things that make me wince a bit when I order them? This is the exciting part. We have to show the customer what they might want. This can mean going a bit outside the DNA in order to be one step ahead, but always keeping the spirit of the times in mind. That's our job.

And how do you "manage" today? Everything goes a hundred times faster. For example, when I buy something new, I’m never sure if the product will work. I can make spontaneous decisions; I might decide while I’m unpacking it whether to keep it or use it differently than originally planned. My work is all about split-second decisions based on gut feelings – not on major market analyses.

Is using this gut feeling something that can be learned? Yes, you have to learn to choose from your gut and decide from your head. It’s a combination.

Where do you get your inspiration from? It's the combination that matters, that's very important. German, Italian, French and English magazines have always been a source of inspiration for me. But not only that: I always ask my friends to bring home magazines when they go on holiday. Each country has a different approach or mentality. You can even see the difference between the French-speaking part of Switzerland and how we do things here in Zurich. And I put a lot of thought into the issue of beauty. What does aesthetics mean, what’s behind a customer’s "I like it" or "I don't like it"? Also, I’m a bit of fan of Oliver Jan and AD Germany.

Is there a person who has particularly shaped or inspired you? There are many. In general, I've noticed the greater of an expert someone is, the less likely they will say, "this isn’t possible". Confident “amateurs” are the ones who judge immediately. But true experts allow for a diversity of approaches. They’re open to other perspectives and give them a chance. This is how good concepts are created. I think that almost nothing is ugly. Our task is to create the right context.

Just to illustrate that, here’s an example: In our industry, 85% find minimalist tables with thin legs aesthetically appealing, but in America, only 1% of people would say that’s beautiful. The world is so different, and our design world is so small. We have to be open and listen to what the customer wants. In Mexico, our atelier would look like the entrance to a prison, because there the driving aesthetic is opulence, not simplicity.

Does your inspiration fit into any geographical categories? The Italians were the first to conquer the design market, but the "new" Scandinavians offer incredible spectacular works. They're a bit ruthless, but they do strike a chord. Otherwise I look to Switzerland for precise design, to England for anything with a Heritage resonance and to France for a Bohemian touch.

Where is the design market heading? Towards a warm minimalism.

Have you ever regretted any step you made? My father was right, all my colleagues from back then have made careers in technology companies. But I have to tell you, I've never felt better: I feel young and completely in my element.


Yusuf Sert, interior and lighting designer, has his studio on Oberdorfstrasse in Zurich. He is known for the unique atmospheres that he creates for his private and corporate clients, using his own designs and those of prominent manufacturers.

Podcast: Heidi Hauer with Tanja Schug

Intuition as a success factor for management issues.

Listen to the podcast interview

Episode #12

Tanja Schug explains why it is important to learn to verbalize intuition, why intuition cannot simply be switched on and off like logic, but needs impulses. Rationality paired with gut feeling leads to more clarity, security and independence in decision-making processes.

Circle of Inspiration: A Dinner in the Gallery

About the Circle of Inspiration

The Circle of Inspiration, a salon-like event that focuses on good conversations within inspiring venues, took place in February in St.Moritz. A unique visual and culinary tour curated by Zero Senses, it led guests through the three floors of the Hauser & Wirth Gallery and featured inspiring thoughts by the director of the gallery, Stefano Rabolli Pansera, about the “art of creating context”.
A review written by Tanja Schug

How to Curate a Good Conversation?

Let’s be honest: one rarely gets inspired at conferences or even at regular business meetings: these occasions are often mere repetitions of what is already known. I have mostly found inspiration through serendipitous one-on-one conversations with people from outside my professional field. Such meaningful encounters bring new insights. However, good conversations seem to be a rarity nowadays, and when we do chance upon one, it is most likely outside of crowded conference halls.

Is it possible to create an event that is designed to make meaningful conversations happen? I was intrigued by the thought of translating my inspiring moments into a format in which I can share this experience with others. The Circle of Inspiration is a private event, where an intimate group of carefully chosen guests from different fields dive into a given topic and open each other’s perceptions by sharing their perspectives. The Circle always takes place in a unique and inspiring atmosphere that is relevant to the theme of the evening.

The aim of the Circle of Inspiration is to expand existing thought patterns and open up new mind space. Sounds abstract? Ultimately, it is about having a good conversation in an environment that fosters meaningful exchanges.

The Art of Creating Context

The Hauser & Wirth Gallery is one of the world’s best known and highly regarded art galleries. Its director, Stefano Rabolli Pansera, an architect by profession, presented the gallery’s current Charles Gaines exhibition to the guests. As an architect, his strength is certainly not only that he understands the fundamental idea of creation, but also has the skill of creating an impactful and fascinating context around any (art) piece he speaks about. Stefano shared his insights about the much admired (for some, overrated) and yet magical art world:

“The art world is an extraordinary ecosystem, where all actors must play an active role: artists, collectors, galleries, institutions, curators, journalists, and teachers. Art galleries can be interpreted as agents to trigger, construct, enhance and nurture contexts for their artists as well as for their collectors. Art galleries contribute to the creation of a cultural context for artists, revealing the wider cultural horizon where their work is conceived and produced. Art galleries construct an audience of possible collectors enriching the market (the commercial context) for its artists.”

The art world is an extraordinary ecosystem, where all actors must play an active role: artists, collectors, galleries, institutions, curators, journalists, and teachers. Art galleries can be interpreted as agents to trigger, construct, enhance and nurture contexts for their artists as well as for their collectors. Art galleries contribute to the creation of a cultural context for artists, revealing the wider cultural horizon where their work is conceived and produced. Art galleries construct an audience of possible collectors enriching the market (the commercial context) for its artists.”

— Stefano Rabolli Pansera

Bringing back the Magic

For me, the art of creating a context is connected with the need to add a touch of magic to a grey, dull and crowded world. Due to constant availability and connectivity, people have unlearned how to be “enchanted”. We no longer know what it means to wait for something. From one-click buttons to social media and messages, everything is instant. But where is the magic? What triggers our curiosity? And what draws us under its spell? When you ask yourself what enchanted you last time, you will probably have to go back to your childhood. Maybe you remember how your mother or father once told you a fairytale. Most of us remember these simple but magical moments of excitement and suspense when listening to a fairytale which promised a happy end. These are the moments that we need to re-create. I am convinced that if we create magical moments in everything we do, we bring back attraction, curiosity, imagination, and beauty to everyday situations, including business. The art world is a wonderful example of this.

Connecting two Worlds

Zero Senses is deeply connected with arts, as the name of the company, which refers to the post-war ZERO art movement, already expresses. Zero Senses also resonates with the process of artistic creation in the way it helps its clients find inspiration.

The fact that I curate individual Tours of Inspiration for my clients is ultimately a transposition of what an art curator does for galleries, making the Hauser & Wirth Gallery an ideal venue that also embodies the meaning of curated inspiration.

Curating a physical and mental mind space for serendipity and good conversations is what the Circle of Inspiration aims to do. Thank you, Stefano Rabolli Pansera for having given us great insights into the art world!