by Tanja Schug

Letter of Inspiration #15 - Happily-ever-after

This Letter of Inspiration will explore what a CEO or HR manager can learn from fairy tales and Buddhist economics.

Happily-ever-after

Have you ever wondered why the happy ending in fairy tales is always the wedding of the main characters? Usually this couple have fought their way through great challenges in order to ultimately be together. In The Beauty and the Beast, a young lady is abducted to live with a beast, a creature that has been bewitched and lost its human form. Of course, only the magic of true love can break this spell. We can all guess what follows: an overjoyed couple who marry and live happily ever after.

This is only one example of many. But what about real life after the big day? The only thing the fairy tale authors tell us about the “after” is that it was always happy. Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin – all these stories stop abruptly after the wedding, at the point of peak infatuation. That’s as far as it goes dramaturgically, with the statement “they lived happily ever after”; not from climax to climax, but in a continuous linear fashion.

What does that look like in reality? Much of the infatuation phase can also be found in customer and business relationships. At the beginning, it's exciting, new, uncertain, interesting, but once the two parties commit, it gets serious. There is hardly any turning back after the “I do” (signing the employment contract, starting a new business relationship, etc.) and expectations are high. How do you manage to fulfill these expectations from the infatuation phase in everyday business life? Can the charm of the unknown also be transferred to this second phase? We find few answers to this in fairy tales. So let's take a look at the real world.

Before getting married, we have to realize that we first have to find the right partner. If you look at the statistics, you can see that 60 to 80% of M&A (mergers & acquisitions) deals fail. Once someone is hired, the turnover rate in Germany in retail, real estate, education and training is currently between 30 and 40 %. This means that just under one in two relationships are dissolved. What are the reasons for this?

The probability of finding and keeping the right (business) partner, customer or employee is therefore a great challenge, perhaps comparable to that in the beginning of a fairy tale: the beast wants to win over the beauty. What is the secret to success in these positive examples? Finding the magic of seduction even in the familiar. In Darwin's second theory of evolution, it is not the adaptor (as in the first theory), but the aesthete who wins.

Under theories of evolutionary aesthetics, the assumption is that the basic aesthetic preferences of Homo sapiens have evolved to improve their successful survival and reproduction. Darwin points to our desire for variety. For me, this is a possible key to a happily-ever-after with highlights and without linearity. The seduction lies in the variety that can also be offered in the familiar.

Whether we are talking about relationships with employees, customers or business partners, sameness and repetition is a killer. Let's get creative and think about what we can do to stand out from the sea of monotony. The key word is individuality. Working models adapted to the individual employee and their starting position. Projects that are tailored to the customer’s needs instead of a copy/paste approach. Genuine inspiration, like that of an artist. And I’m sure that every now and then your wife or husband would also enjoy a change from the standard bouquet of flowers for Valentine's Day.

What has inspired me recently? Buddhist economy.

I stumbled across the term “Buddhist Economics” (drawing on the book Small is Beautiful, by German economist K.F. Schumacher), which emphasizes the well-being of all members and of the environment rather than the pursuit of infinite growth and profit.

Buddhist economics sees the function of work as activating and developing one's abilities, letting go of the ego and the corporation, and creating goods and services for a better (happier) existence. Instead of using consumption as an indicator of standard of living, this form of economics values optimal consumption paired with the least effort, so that our energy can be directed towards other creative endeavors.

To me, this sounds very much like an approach that will appeal to future generations, and one that every HR department and management team will have to address. Examples of implications for companies and entrepreneurs might be:

- Implementing a pay system based on the skills and contributions of each employee
- Promote a corporate culture that encourages employees to see their work as a contribution to the common good rather than just a source of income
- Maintain open and supportive communication where every employee can contribute and where decisions are based on the consensus of those involved
- Invest a portion of profits in social or cultural projects and charitable causes to help improve or educate the community

A Buddhist economy also has similarities with my fairy tale example, above. It is about being actively involved and focusing on the common good, not just on one’s self. What does “it” (the whole) need in order to continue? Where can I make a contribution that goes beyond simply satisfying needs? Some of you may remember the Christmas story of little Lord Fauntleroy: a little boy who unconditionally puts the good of the community at the center of everything he does, and whose infectious joy ends up transforming his old and grumpy grandfather.


Letter of Inspiration #14 - Trust

I'm excited to take you on a journey about trust today. In addition, you find my current thoughts on the topic of luxury, developed in preparation for a keynote in Hanover this week. Have fun diving in.

A higher good: trust.

An ordinary Monday morning: I'm going through my emails and stumble across the automatically generated LinkedIn job recommendations that have suddenly raised my interest. Not because I'm looking for a job, but rather because the jobs posted remind me of Black Mirror – a Netflix series that depicts future scenarios, sometimes very dramatically.

The job titles I see are completely new to me – “Culture and Well-being Manager”, “Community and Relations Specialist”, and “Head of Customer Engagement” – and I was curious to read up on their meaning and function. They seem to point to a new attempt to focus on people, i.e. employees and customers. What’s exciting here is that the job offers didn’t come from major tech companies like Google or Apple, players where one expects the employee will play a central role. No, I'm talking about long-established corporations, international consultancies and SMEs (small and mid-sized companies). What’s happening? Are turnover rates out of control? Have people realized how essential employees are for the success of a company, or how difficult it is to find new ones?

The current job market is a reaction to what has become apparent in companies, especially during the pandemic. Relationships need focus and ongoing care. If your husband/wife received a newsletter once a year with the latest update, your relationship would probably be somewhere else today. Attention, personal words – something real: that’s what people (including employees and customers) are looking for. As we can learn from partnerships, building and maintaining a relationship is an ongoing process, it cannot be achieved by making a few isolated gestures.

Two years of pandemic have left their mark. During this time, we all not only hoped that normal would return, but also questioned our “normal”. Any (customer or employee) relationships that were not strong enough broke down because of this very questioning. The task these new managers now have is an almost impossible discipline as they battle fundamental doubts about existing concepts. Culture managers and customer engagement managers are being asked to rebuild trust where it has been lost, or never existed. Regaining trust or laying the foundation for it – something else we know from personal experience – is a process that takes time.

A Management Matter

Loyalty, self-responsibility, active thinking and thus creating added value for the company all form the basis of an entrepreneur’s trust in his employees. A culture manager alone cannot achieve this; it must be viewed more holistically. The necessary framework can only come from the entrepreneur or CEO himself. The well-intentioned new hires need clarity about the entrepreneur's attitude in order to function. A clear attitude is one that describes the entrepreneurial spirit in its depth, it is the unconscious feeling that guides an entrepreneur, and this is precisely what needs to be put into words.

With this in mind, the idea for Zero Senses was born four years ago. We work with entrepreneurs and leaders to verbalize their attitude and accompany them in creating ways and structures to express this approach. How can intuitive entrepreneurship be verbalized and thus shared with partners, customers and employees? This will be the basic prerequisite for the aforementioned new hires.

It is obvious that the entrepreneurial attitude cannot be identified overnight and implemented internally. Short-term solutions don’t work – this is about depth. Style cannot be developed overnight. A stylish home doesn’t look like something in a furniture catalog. Pieces of furniture need history and not just the same purchase date. Style is developed over time, just like a clear attitude.

What has inspired me recently? Exaggeration.

People like to talk about material and immaterial luxury. The former is understood as loud status luxury, which immediately triggers images of fast cars, luxury yachts and other consumer goods outside the normal standard of living. This luxury is clearly associated with exaggeration. The quiet - immaterial - luxury, on the other hand, is associated with tranquility, self-determination and reduction. One might think is the very opposite of luxury. However, in extreme cases, exaggeration can also be found in this type of luxury, such as when a multimillionaire “brags” about being such a minimalist as to possess only 64 things, or the essence of a lavishly laid dessert buffet is suddenly found in foams and essences in the dessert bowl of a Michelin-starred restaurant. That being said, we also find exaggerations in immaterial luxury, namely in that of compulsive minimalism. For me, this results in a new definition: luxury means exaggeration (in whatever form). And exactly this triggered my thoughts for a new form of luxury. To be continued.

Definition Luxus
Exaggeration

Loss of high standards

Letter of Inspiration #13 - Loss of high standards

Holidays in general, and especially those at the end of the year, invite us to look back. In addition to thoughts on the highlights and the not-so-good moments, I asked myself at the end of 2021 what impact the new normal has had on our habits.

Loss of high standards

Our everyday life has changed dramatically. We are once again encouraged to work from home, and anything involving in-person interactions requires the constant monitoring of possible changes to the current situation. In addition, long-planned events or meetings may end up being cancelled or adjusted at the last second, making our improvisation skills more in demand than ever. Only those who stay permanently in motion manage not to get lost in memories of the good old days of a pandemic-free world.

All this effort seems to take away our energy for aspirations and kindness. Emails are getting shorter and responses take longer, while both salutations and greetings in messages are disappearing. Suddenly you see men who used to walk across Zurich’s Paradeplatz in elegant suits in sporting jeans and turtlenecks. Restaurants in the Old Town, where you used have to fight for a seat at lunch, now have free tables even on the same day. And everyone has redefined their dress code – as evidenced by the revival of jogging suits.

Meanwhile, the construction industry is enjoying a surge in demand. If you spend your days at home online and in Zoom meetings, you at least want to feel comfortable in your own bubble. Our move into the digital world makes us forget our standards from the (old) reality. Christmas cards that used to be signed by hand were sent via WhatsApp this year, if at all. It seems as if many are asking themselves: what’s the point? Has the pandemic helped usher in a new age with new rules of style and decorum? Have we become kinder to ourselves and forgiven ourselves for no longer following the yoga or workout app every morning? Have we learned that it’s nice to spend time with the people who are close to us instead of travelling the world to pursue others or grandiose goals? And has this led us to start redefining success? The ideals of “faster, higher, stronger” seems to matter less to us – and they are also less tangible online. But what then is important to us in this new phase?

People are always looking for what they cannot have. The spontaneity now frequently imposed on us may lead us to desire permanence: this can be in the form of a place to live, familiar products or stability in our personal environment (work, family, partner, and friends).

The question we should address now at the beginning of 2022 is: how can entrepreneurs give their employees and customers this consistency?

What has (not) inspired me recently? Boredom.

People who used to be able to tell stories about their latest trips or business meetings now talk about the baker who makes the best sourdough bread or the latest Netflix series. Conversations have become boring, because nothing happens anymore. As we have become poorer in experiences, our lives have lost a bit of their meaning.

“In a society that is used to making such comparisons, success that is visible to all becomes the basis of prestige and an end in itself. One demonstrates one’s own achievement in order to gain prestige and escape contempt.” (Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class).

After two years of the pandemic, we have lost our habits of having social interactions and conversations, which, according to Thorstein Veblen, a 19th century economist who was one of the first to reflect on consumerism, leads to the conclusion that we are losing our social status. The only consolation is that if everyone feels this way, our status symbols may soon be redefined.

Loss of high standards

Letter of Inspiration #12 - Clarity

In this Letter of Inspiration, I use Milan Kundera's work "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" to illustrate the difficulty of making clear decisions. In addition, I was inspired by the view of viticulture. —an industry which can be a true role model when it comes to the topic of patience, as it must work within the limits imposed by nature.

Clarity in business decisions

One of the main characters in Kundera’s famous book is Tereza, a woman marked by self-doubt who describes in a dream her fear of not being enough. She dreams that her husband, Tomas, a philosopher who enjoys life, sends her to Petřín Hill in Prague, where a man with a gun is helping three suicides kill themselves. When the armed gentleman turns to her, she cries out, “It was not my choice!” and is granted permission to leave. Only at the moment when it is literally a matter of life and death does Tereza take responsibility for herself and make a decision. Why is it so difficult to make clear decisions?
It starts with the sheer volume of possibilities we are offered. The routine walk to the café around the corner in the morning becomes an interrogation game: Flat white? Small or large? What kind of milk? Cash or card? This drags on into the meetings that follow, where future investment decisions, hiring or corporate strategies are discussed. There is no shortage of options or opinions; in fact, there are too many. The trick is to figure out how you like your coffee—what you actually want.

The goal here is not perfection. We are not machines, nor can a decision be made with the gift of perfection, like that of the master forger Beltracchi. Clarity about what you don’t like is a good first step. “It was not my choice!” cries out Tereza—I don't want to die. Although this was a dream, by taking it a bit further, one can imagine that this decision on Petřín Hill brought further consequences. Because the moment of clarity has an incredibly liberating energy. Most of the time, this clarity has been present in us for a long time, nevertheless we tend to hesitate. There are many reasons for this: not yet being ready for the consequences that come with it, being afraid of change and letting go of the familiar, or (still) lacking the words to express it. One thing you should be aware of is that life is not static, but in a constant state of flux. Whether you decide consciously or choose the strategy of waiting, life keeps flowing. The greatest security is found in trusting continuous movement.

Looking back at the past, none of my decisions have ever brought anything bad. Change, yes, but that’s what happens when you move. The context changes, and a trained intuition is a tool that gives support and clarity in a state of continuous movement. I will be speaking on how this can be trained on October 27 at a lecture at the Senior Management Program of the University of St. Gallen. Details will be available on the website afterwards.

In Globalance Bank’s Zukunftsbeweger magazine, I wrote about stability in motion in my latest column. Click here to read the article.

What has inspired me recently? Patience.

The last vineyards have just been harvested and the main work in the cellar has been completed. Now it is time to wait, because working with nature does not allow for short-term adjustments, nor can the harvest be repeated or mistakes corrected. There is a dependence and with it a hope that nature has been kind to the winegrowers. After all, there will not be another chance until next year. Nature sets the pace and we have to follow.

What this example shows me is not only the dependence on external influencing factors (because they exist everywhere), but also the level of clarity it takes to produce this precious product. For example, do I want an elegant, lean wine with low alcohol that tastes more like dark berries or even tobacco, or something completely different? What framework (cultivation, aging and production) does it take for me to succeed? And even if I can visualize and express all this, I still have to wait to see if my strategy has worked, because the finished result will only be revealed in the bottle.

Patience is a quality that is often lost in the business world, where I have been conditioned to believe that thoughts should be implemented immediately. Silicon Valley tells us we should “fail fast”. But is that the case? Don’t good ideas, just like good wines, need time to mature in order to develop their full potential? This is certainly true in wine, and I think it’s true in business as well.

Summer is now noticeably over and the dark and cool months have begun, ushering in a time for reflection and debate. May this Letter of Inspiration encourage you to do so and initiate new thoughts!


Column: #3 Rethinking

Rethinking: stability in movement

Rethinking: stability in movement

Routines help bring stability into our lives. That morning cup of coffee before we start the day,
the familiar ride to work, meeting a friend for jogging every other day, or the obligatory Sunday
dinner with the family. All this lends stability and structure to a week that would otherwise run
quite haphazardly.

But what happens when these routines suddenly fall apart? Do we lose our footing and drift into a sea of disorientation? There are many triggers for such a collapse: moves, career changes, but a pandemic is certainly a serious one, even more so because it hits everyone at the same time. Thus, an exciting question for the current situation would be: how can I develop stability in the movement?

As the German writer Ludwig Börne once wrote: “In a tottering ship, he who stands still and does not move falls over.” Does that mean we’d better keep moving and boldly forge ahead? But where to? Straight ahead, left or right? No one will be able to answer that question for us.
Only we can make the decision, and choose where we want to go.

This time has forced us to let go of habitual patterns of behavior and identify what we really want. This means trusting ourselves again. Especially in uncertain times, this seems to be a tall order. If you observe children, however, you will notice that they are constantly in such a state of flux. Everything is new and children embrace the new much more courageously than we adults do. Does experience stand in our way, or have we forgotten to follow our own intuition? I believe it is the latter.

Courage to let go and discover something new requires a shift in thinking: seeing possibilities instead of problems. Indeed, like a children taking their first steps or turns on skis, we too will fall down—but that’s not the point. What counts are the times we get up again.

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.


#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.

SMAC-Tanja-Schug

SMAC-Tanja-Schug

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?

Ein-gutes-Leben_Tanja-Schug

"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.