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!

#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.


#10 Letter of Inspiration - Loneliness

It has probably been a long time since there has been so much discussion about feeling lonely as there has been in recent months. Can enduring this void even be something positive that strengthens our characters? Find my thoughts on the topic of loneliness in this 10th issue of my Letter of Inspiration, along with a freshly published article in the Handelszeitung as well a podcast interview about intuition and leadership. Enjoy!


Being alone is not something that comes naturally to us. This is no empty phrase, as anyone who has ever dared to go on vacation or to a restaurant alone will know. The first moment feels strange, unfamiliar, maybe even unnecessary and wrong. I get that. But didn’t sitting on a bike for the first time, and riding off without training wheels, having your Dad running alongside then slowly letting go, feel strange too? The moment of “flying” alone is what scares us, but at the same time it opens up a new world. Suddenly we are - in the cycling analogy - more independent, more flexible, and we get from A to B faster.

The moment of overcoming uncertainty or fear is like a software update. The only difference is that to reach the next level, we have to make a conscious decision to move rather than just press a button. Our development does not just happen, we are forced to make an active decision. And then, of course, there are distractions: life, whether pleasant or not, but certainly familiar, with friends, colleagues, family, shared jokes, and fun in the routine of social obligations and pleasures. There is something seductively distracting about pleasure, consumption and community.

Very much like the next iOS update, being alone (personal development) never fits into the daily routine. There is no time for a back-up or we don’t have the PIN at hand. There are countless reasons to click "remind me later". However, the real driver may be an avoidance of that brief moment of void (uncertainty/not knowing what is happening) that occurs when we do something outside of our routine.

When you think about the moments that shaped you, experiences always come to mind - at least for me - of times when I also dared to do something. Walking into a meeting where I already know the outcome or going on the annual family vacation in Italy doesn’t especially add to my development scale. The belief that we are not alone when we are with others is a fallacy we like to tell ourselves. The fact is that we make decisions alone, over and over again. We also bear their consequences or fruits alone - e.g. getting from A to B faster.

Distraction and perseverance

Being alone is not something that comes naturally to us. This is no empty phrase, as anyone who has ever dared to go on vacation or to a restaurant alone will know. The first moment feels strange, unfamiliar, maybe even unnecessary and wrong. I get that. But didn’t sitting on a bike for the first time, and riding off without training wheels, having your Dad running alongside then slowly letting go, feel strange too? The moment of “flying” alone is what scares us, but at the same time it opens up a new world. Suddenly we are - in the cycling analogy - more independent, more flexible, and we get from A to B faster.

The moment of overcoming uncertainty or fear is like a software update. The only difference is that to reach the next level, we have to make a conscious decision to move rather than just press a button. Our development does not just happen, we are forced to make an active decision. And then, of course, there are distractions: life, whether pleasant or not, but certainly familiar, with friends, colleagues, family, shared jokes, and fun in the routine of social obligations and pleasures. There is something seductively distracting about pleasure, consumption and community.

Very much like the next iOS update, being alone (personal development) never fits into the daily routine. There is no time for a back-up or we don’t have the PIN at hand. There are countless reasons to click "remind me later". However, the real driver may be an avoidance of that brief moment of void (uncertainty/not knowing what is happening) that occurs when we do something outside of our routine.

When you think about the moments that shaped you, experiences always come to mind - at least for me - of times when I also dared to do something. Walking into a meeting where I already know the outcome or going on the annual family vacation in Italy doesn’t especially add to my development scale. The belief that we are not alone when we are with others is a fallacy we like to tell ourselves. The fact is that we make decisions alone, over and over again. We also bear their consequences or fruits alone - e.g. getting from A to B faster.

What has inspired me recently?

Gerhard Richter - Landscapes.

Richter is considered one of the most important living artists. His current exhibition Landscapes at the Kunsthaus Zurich features works from 1963 to 2018. There is so much that you can learn about your daily existence and work from this exceptional artist. Richter thinks that we have an overly perfect image of nature. It is far more than what the camera shows, it is more than what we choose and want to show. It goes beyondthe pure, artificially chosen detail. Just like our lives. It is more complex than some may see or show. The creation process for the expression of its reality works in the interplay: How much is just right? When is it too much? We are always searching for the right balance. How strong can an abstraction of a landscape be while still allowing it to be perceived as a landscape? Which elements of a cityscape are crucial in order for the city to still be recognizable as such?

A nice example for a briefing or meeting: How much should I prescribe so as not to be confronted with the demand of my own perfection at the end, and how much should I say in order to give a framework for development, i.e. independent work, at the end? An example from Richter's exhibition is attached.

Gerhard Richter, Stadtbild F, 1968

On my own behalf…

The topics of loneliness and attitude have not only been guardrails of my thoughts in this Letter of Inspiration, but are also reflected in my recent article in Handelszeitung.

And last but not least, I recommend this podcast interview (in German) for your next car or train ride. Jonathan Sierck, initiator of vonMorgen, asked me a few good questions about intuition and what it has to do with leadership. On Spotify or Apple Podcast

Here an excerpt:

Here an excerpt:
"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

With this, my Letter of Inspiration comes to an end… Thank you for joining me on the way to more clarity. If you like this episode, please feel free to share it with like-minded colleagues and friends, encouraging them to subscribe!

#9 Letter of Inspiration - Breaking out of standardization

In this letter you find impulses on the magical endurance of uncertainty, on how to use cultivated intuition to make clear decisions, and on what inspired me recently on the subject of 'sustainability'. Last but not least: you can find the essential thoughts from my speech titled "From Rational to Emotional Thinking", which I gave to 250 managers in Zurich (in German).

Romanticism Today

So 2021 is going to be pink and cheesy? Not really, because the original meaning of romanticism has nothing to do with big red hearts and public marriage proposals. In the 19th century, Romanticism was an artistic outcry to break out from the chains of standardization. This was manifested above all by the desire for individuality, as a reaction to the industrialization of the time. This movement became palpable through abundant drama. In the visual arts, the eerie, the subconscious, the fantastic, the passionate, the individual, the emotional and the adventurous established themselves as central motifs, which were intended to break and expand the boundaries of the intellect and were directed against mere utilitarian thinking as well as industrialization. The intensive use of color is a salient feature of the romantic painters, seen for example in intense and dramatic sunrises, almost too beautiful to be true, or in one of the most famous paintings of this era: "The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog". This was how Caspar David Friedrichs represented the situation of the artist - the tormented genius, standing on the mountaintop and, at the same time, on the edge of existence, symbolized here by an abyss. Although a thick fog blocks the view, there is a suggestion of ultimate hope. This era created motifs that still awaken longings to this day. After a special year like 2020, which raised fundamental issues and made us question the status quo, certain voices of longing also become louder. One suddenly longs for the beautiful, the real, as well as for more profundity, and for that which gives one support and stability.

The “self” becomes important

An increased search for meaning has been observed as a trend for some time, and not just among the younger generation. At job interviews, applicants ask about the company's values and show interest in its social and societal responsibility. After all, today there is much more to a job than the accompanying title or the role it requires you to fulfil. It's about having a clear attitude, and that attitude has to match your own convictions. To start with, this requires clarity about oneself. In the medium term, it also leads to demarcation effects, in the professional and private environments. Living out one's character excludes some people, but also creates a stronger bond of attraction between like-minded people.

The inner call to do something meaningful is also reflected in the continuously increasing number of start-ups: +5.3% in Switzerland from 2019 to 2020, with 2019 already considered a record year. A mentality of creating can be observed. Indeed, these values show a clear trend towards "owning". We can only hypothesize about whether this is because companies may not have the right answers to the question of meaning or whether it is because the desire to break out of the classic career path is becoming greater. What is certain is that in recent years, a high value has been placed on standardization in many areas, because everything that is standardized brings scalability. Oh yes, that wonderful word! Scalability. The ability of the system or company to grow. That a certain parallel to the Romantic era - described above - can be seen here is, I think, an exciting insight. Thus, the increase in the number of new companies is not surprising. But what else could this mean? Three theses:

1. Expression of one's own individuality

The drive to break away from existing thought patterns is also driven by the uncertainty that lies ahead. The question of how my work can make a difference, and for whom, displaces the question of growth and more money. Focusing on your own values also makes you more frugal, because it answers the question of what you really need very honestly. One can observe a peeling off of one's own character, as evidenced by the shrinking closet, or the decluttering of an office or living room: We make ourselves lighter, or we gain profile.

2. Era of the artists

We have lost the ability to deal with uncertainty in our everyday business life. Our last years were more or less plannable, because the really big changes had perhaps been foreshadowed but had not (yet) shown themselves. It still worked out somehow. Now, many industries and thus also many jobs are uncertain, some may disappear and some may never even return. In conversations with artist friends, I often hear, almost jokingly, "That's nothing new for us". Artists are used to coping with uncertainty, and sometimes this feeling can even be a driver of creativity. This attitude prepares us for 2021.

3. The desire for enchantment

We have lost the magic in our interactions. I speak of magic deliberately, because what standardization has also brought is dry and relentless transparency. So much is predictable, and thus we have lost the magic. The gift of creating a magical moment is one that we just had the chance to experience at Christmas through the eyes of children, seeing their irrepressible anticipation of what Santa will bring. How can we manage to rekindle this glow in our eyes as well? This question will be homework for all of us in 2021.

What can these theses mean for the individual?

create and celebrate individual thoughts;
learn to think independently, outside of existing frameworks; and
cultivate the art of creating a context.

How does this work? With self-awareness, in the most literal sense.

What inspired me recently: the power of breaks

The biography of Irvin D. Yalom (arguably one of the most successful psychoanalysts of our time, as well as the author of bestsellers such as "When Nietzsche Wept") never ceased to amaze me as I read it. I found one recurring observation in it particularly intriguing. Yalom - who is 89 years old, married, the father of four adult children, and used to be a professor at Stanford University - would take breaks of up to six months from his daily life each time he devoted himself to a new topic, such as his textbook on group therapy, existential psychotherapy, or one of his many novels. During these breaks, Yalom would travel with his wife Marilyn, who was a professor of French literature. He emphasized several times in his biography how important this change of scenery was in broadening his perspective. There is certainly much to learn from Yalom, but this deceptively simple point can be adopted directly. Creation needs space and time - not only for artists, but also for scientists and entrepreneurs.

On my own behalf…

I am very happy to announce that Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZamSonntag) recently 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.

Thank you for joining me for this episode of the Letter of Inspiration! Feel free to share this letter with colleagues and friends.

#8 Letter of Inspiration - Development in times of crisis

In this Letter of Inspiration, you will find thoughts on strategic development in times of crisis, on what lies behind the superficial meaning of beauty, and a radical view in which I describe art as a by-product of personal development. Enjoy!

A fundamental human competence

Many (business) models are based on that which is already known, and use the past as a point of reference in order to assess risk, to make analyses or budget plans for the next year. However, the limits of proven strategies become apparent as soon as unforeseen or first-time events (such as a pandemic) occur. What is needed then is not only the advice of experts, but, even more importantly, one's own intuition, as entrepreneurs reorient and translate an existing company into a new environment.

"Intuition is a fundamental human competence and therefore may well be a component of professional risk management.

And intuition presents another advantage: Creating new thoughts, ideas and visions from within yourself makes you independent, as inner reflection is autonomous from external influences such as the analyses, habits and assessments of others. Of course it is pleasant to be protected or supported by others or outside factors, but the apparent security they offer is often fleeting and ephemeral. A good example of this is the current pandemic: unforeseeable, but fundamentally impacting all of our (business) lives. A conscious intuition is like a strong core, it gives stability yet freedom to move - hugely important in times of high-risk and change.

Artists, in their creative processes, rely on this inner voice: the intuition. Günther Uecker, a member of the ZERO art movement dedicated to a new beginning for art after the Second World War, described it as follows:

"There is something, and it is not yet expressed in my works, but I know that it is (...). Sometimes I have the feeling that I am close to it, but I do not know what it is (...)."
As Dr. Nikolaus von Bomhard, former Chairman of the Board of Management of Munich Re, once said in a worthwhile FAZ article.

The creative process, whether in art or in business, is not easy. To dare to create something new requires courage, independent thought, and space. In this process, restrictions, predetermined paths and old knowledge act largely as weights chained to your ankle that prevent you from advancing. To free yourself from this ballast - to let go - is the real challenge, but also an opportunity.

A blank canvas

Why should a path that offers neither ease nor a guarantee of success be desirable? The security we find in something familiar is based on the concept of hope. Once the surface of this illusion is broken, it becomes clear that the strategy of hope is neither secure nor sustainable. Isn't the feeling of security rather a superficial cloak that lets one radiate self-confidence and even attraction (that is, beauty) to the outside world? However, even the most beautiful things eventually lose their sheen; specifically, when they touch the ground of reality.

A striking feature of the current pandemic situation is its ability to strip away masks and illusions. Superficial beauty vanishes, leaving us with two options: to try to keep up appearances for a while, or to allow them to dissolve and search instead for the truly “beautiful”. The latter approach begins with a search for characteristics that deviate from the shiny and immaculate surface. Often this leads back to the origin, where everything has started. The driver that made a company, an entrepreneur or concept successful.

What I mean by that? When you try to orient yourself in a city, you do not attempt to memorize seemingly identical asphalt streets. Instead, you identify striking reference points: an unusual house, a lone tree, a special store or a prominent sign. This is exactly what we ought to seek when we are fed up with superficial beauty. In order to break out from habitual patterns and to find your own clearly defined path to success, you have to look for what sets you apart. Rather than being an interchangeable asphalt street, you become an individual - “You start building your own statue". In art, one would say that the artist develops his own style; in the business world, I call this composure. Composure adds an important part to “the core”, which gives stability in high-risk times.

In this podcast interview, I develop further the idea of how to strengthen the gut feeling, as well as how this leads to finding composure and enhancing business development (in German).

What inspired me recently: The Art Of Letting Go

I have recently been thinking about the end product of artistic creation: the artwork itself. I realized that often, what we admire as art is something that no longer has any meaning for the artist himself. The visible art piece is an expression of a moment of creation that emerged from a development process. Once you begin to flow with this rhythm, you do not stop to appreciate the beautiful end product, you continue to grow. Radically formulated, art can be considered a by-product of emotional and personal development. While we are still admiring and appreciating the “skin” he has shed, the artist is already one step ahead.

In the business world, it is often the other way round: letting go is difficult. Once you have “created” something, you want to preserve it. You know all too well how much energy has gone into the company, the product or the team you have developed or created.

Here you can look to the art world for inspiration: The white canvas - the emptiness that represents a new beginning - can also be seen as the space of potential. The moment to dare to try something new is the white canvas and the first step, like the first brush stroke, is the most difficult of all.Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor at Stanford University, once said in a lecture:

"Sometimes you have to kill your darlings"

Some situations require the art of letting go, and Brynjolfsson believes that it is only then that truly great things come into being. This is not meant to be an invitation to let go of everything that is dear to you, but encouragement to consider what you may be compulsively holding on to and what may be keeping you from making the first brushstroke on the next white canvas. Just ask yourself: What is the worst that can happen when you start a new brushstroke? Nothing really bad, you might think. Well, why not try then?

Thank you for joining me for this episode of the Letter of Inspiration! Feel free to share this letter with colleagues and friends.

#7 Letter of Inspiration - Standstill

In this episode of my Letter of Inspiration, I talk about the current cocktail of tiredness and fear that is accompanying us, about the role played by the right impulses in getting us moving again, and how refreshingly flexible thinking can be. Enjoy!

If you’re standing still, you aren’t moving.

The summer has shown itself once again in all its glory. Besides abundant joy, it also brought complaints: just as summer vacations are drawing to a close, the hustle and bustle here in Zurich is beginning to pick up speed and intensity again. Meanwhile, the warm weather has a paralyzing effect and makes us lethargic. Thinking becomes more difficult and the call of Lake Zurich for a cooling dip becomes louder. On one hand, we are tired because of the heat, and on the other hand, we are afraid of the insecurity of a second wave—a combination that probably would have been called "dangerous" in a history book. If the forecasts are right, we in the business world are heading for something that would be optimistically described as a major change, and in ordinary speech as a crisis. So how do we change history and float out of the vortex of paralyzing fatigue and fear of the future?

"In a ship in stormy seas, he who stands still and does not move falls over."

Ludwig Börne, German writer

What has announced itself the last decades, is in no small measure the consequence of unlimited availability, which has led to excessive consumption, much like a child left in a candy store unattended. In the post-war period this was legitimate: people enjoyed access to that which harsh circumstances had denied them. Enjoyment and wastefulness both contribute to economic growth. But do we still appreciate this luxury today, and are we indeed entitled to it?

Read my published article on the topic: "Luxury as a Discontinued Model"

This article was published in Spring 2020 in the Member Magazine of the St. Moritz Automobile Club (SMAC).

We have grown up surrounded by luxury goods, and it has become infinitely accessible through digitalization and groundbreaking inventions like smartphones. When something is constantly available, it is only human to eventually take it for granted. However, months in isolation make me wonder whether it is still appropriate to take the time to indulge in luxury. Not because it is no longer attractive, but rather because it does not help. Nothing can develop when we remain static. To trigger a reaction, movement is needed—as you already know from Physics 101. And that is also what we need now: movement.

What is the accelerator of our time?

A still incalculable risk hovers over our near future. Coupled with fatigue and fear, this results in a cocktail that would make even James Bond falter. After the Second World War, the ZERO art movement broke through the canvas as an artistic expression of a new beginning, a physical act that released new energy for creation. However, movement does not always have to be physical. Emotions are often described as "I am moved by something". Is it possible to break through the apparent dreariness of exhaustion and anxiety by acting on one's emotions, and what can that look like?

Discovering your own passion

Passion is more than just a job description, it can be found in living according to your values and moral convictions. In addition, what you enjoy doing is not perceived as "work". The popular German philosopher, Markus Gabriel, writes in his current book about "moral progress in dark times" about his insights on a new form of cooperation, one which Gabriel claims is already noticeable in some areas of society, and that he believes will continue to grow. What can this look like?

A few years ago, the term "gig economy" was coined. Young talents who were clearly aware of their skills would immerse themselves in start-ups or companies for short-term contracts to contribute their knowledge over a period of 6 to 12 months. What is now emerging is a wave of freelancers who, like the gig workers, are very clear about what they have to offer. When I hear Markus Gabriel talking about new cooperations, I have a bigger picture in mind of something that will dissolve existing hierarchical company structures and lead to something new on a project-based, talent-oriented and independent basis. Breaking down the big picture into small parts makes it possible to move with more agility and, above all, to correct shortcomings at their source more quickly and with more control over their effects. For managers this means several things: How do I enable my employees to recognize their own strengths? How can I enable personal responsibility? And how can I stand back and let my team create something new? How can I be happy about failures and not judge them? How do I create an environment that allows my employees freedom within the organization?

"It is not the strongest species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one that is most likely to adapt to change.”

-Charles Darwin, British naturalist.

If stagnation is not an option, then we must allow for and encourage movement. One way is to seek out new impulses and perspectives that open your eyes to new ways and ideas. These can be found in the stories of the people around you: all it takes is your active listening. I had the privilege to hear such a “behind-the-scenes” story the other day, and have written it down for you: that of a man who trusts in his path and says that he has never felt better since the moment he followed his intuition.

What has inspired me recently?

In order to avoid the notorious second wave, many concert promoters have decided to cancel summer festivals. In Switzerland, health regulations are too restrictive to allow for the usual festival scene. But who says that there has to be a usual one? In this special situation, we need to be flexible in our thinking. It's not a matter of keeping everything the same, but of how you can unfold in a new setting.

One example that is very close to my own heart is the Festival da Jazz in St. Moritz, which this summer reluctantly had to give up its main stage, the legendary Dracula Club. The main aspect of this place is proximity between audience and performers, since it has no stage. So a new main venue had to be found, and together with the unique Grand Hotels onsite and their magnificent ballrooms, new venues were created that met the standards of the health authorities.

It may seem like a lone standout, like the small Gaulish village of Asterix and Obelix. However, it is not about rebelling, but rather about preserving a cultural asset while at the same time allowing for new thinking. This requires courage and openness to leave the familiar behind and yes, probably a few Gauls with a similar mindset. What has just happened in St. Moritz on a small scale can be a model for many entrepreneurs who find themselves in a situation where "the old way doesn’t work anymore". The good news is: it does, just differently.

On my own behalf...

If you enjoyed reading this, make sure to pick up a copy of Die Welt on Monday, August 31! There will be a big interview with me about the future of society and the business world. If you missed to get your copy, you can find the interview online.

Thank you for joining me for this episode of the Letter of Inspiration. Feel free to share this letter with colleagues and friends.

#6 Letter of Inspiration - What now? Action?

In Switzerland, slowly we are awakening from a state of hibernation. In this issue of my Letter of Inspiration you will find thoughts on how to use the void between stillness and re-start, why the medieval poet Dante plays a role in this, and what Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, has to do with the term "New Humility". Enjoy reading.

What now - Action?

The lockdown put basically the world in a kind of "hibernation". This with the only difference that we were fully awake with a clear mind during this hibernation. If one observed the reactions in society, two groups surfaced: the activists and the paralyzed. Even though we are not trained for an exceptional situation like this, the one part tried to continue its great drive for action, the other part was paralyzed by the wave of uncertainty.

We cannot yet fully imagine the economic damage caused by this pandemic. What is visible, however, are the health consequences. The virus claims victims, but the so-called lockdown also has a major impact on the mental health and well-being of many individuals.

The isolation is slowly being lifted, but everyday life suddenly seems like a visit to the zoo: Normally thick glass screens or fences protects us from the wild animals - now it is gloves, masks and a minimum safety distance of 2 meters which is supposed to protect us from an invisible danger.

Loss of Closeness

Can business relationships be maintained remotely or is there a risk of developing a similar relationship with our partners as with the animals in the zoo (i.e. none)? Distance cannot simply be resolved digitally. It makes "survival" easier for us, but life in digitality has its limits. Especially when it comes to the human factor. Through the forced reduction of our sensory perception in those digital interactions we are currently losing something that is essential: our intuition.

Rethinking the Existing

Of course, the current situation makes me wonder whether, with all these serious events, and times of lockdown and despair allow us to address intuition and the sharpening of perception. I believe that right now the subject of intuition is more important than ever. Not only does the lockdown confront almost all of us with an increased awareness about (the changes in) ourselves, our lives, our fears, nature, the world around us and our interactions. Fortunately there are people who are not in poor health or seriously affected economically. Doers who are used to acting, they too are caught in this empty state between stagnation and progress and have a right to speak and receive positive thoughts.

I would place these people in a third group, alongside the activists and the paralyzed: the considered. They use the void moment, between stagnation and progress, and reflect. It wouldn't surprise me if insights were to emerge in the process that question the unstoppable hunger for continuous growth, for consumption of goods, but also I believe the relationships and communication between fellow human-beings will be questioned. Do you really have to attend every meeting in person? Or to every company apéro or summit? And does it need the new "whatever"? Reflection increases the awareness of scarcity of our time and how to make the best use of it. Suddenly it is all about powerful conversations which stimulate and activate you. Rather less, but a valuable exchange. Not just any conversation, but one that matters for you or triggers something in you.

Rest, Reflection, New Beginning.

So, we have rested, gathered our thoughts and are ready to start again. What should we look forward to? Developing together will be essential in the phase to come because if times of crisis are good for anything, it's for reflecting about our own strengths. And this also shows where we need trustworthy supporters.

Existing concepts for success must now likely be reconsidered for most of us and translated into the new context in which we are finding ourselves. However, new thoughts do not emerge in familiar surroundings or in one's own comfort zone, but rather in a controversial exchange with people from other disciplines and idustriers. If you open your eyes, inspiration from other industries can reach you. Whether it is in the creative process of designers who process the current situation in their product variations, or the creativity with which restaurants have reacted to the lockdown. These impulses can be inspiration for you or translated into your own business.

It is no coincidence that the medieval poet Dante Alighieri was accompanied by a trusted friend on his way from “hell to paradise”. In Dante's case this was Virgil. Virgil was a faithful companion, who listened to Dante and guided him. Virgil symbolizes Dante's "intuition". This pandemic was unforeseeable and its size and consequences are still uncertain. That we feel uncertainty is okay, but you don't have to go through it alone. Whereas we are all in the same situation, it is possible to let go of the ego-centeredness and allow others to be involved. That was the moment when Dante met Virgil; an interlocutor who listened, who together with Dante found deep clarity on the core issues, sharpened Dante’s intuition and pointed out paths of action to master the way from "hell to paradise". Virgil - the intuition - is an underestimated weapon in the moments of crisis, which is worth (re-)activating.

The good news is that intuition can be developed and strengthened. We have already begun the journey from hell to paradise. We will only take this demanding and unknown path by opening our own perspective and give space to new thoughts. One carries the thought buds for this within oneself; to let them blossom, one needs the right impulses. The curating of such impulses is my core business and can be seen in events like the Zero Senses Retreat or in individual accompaniment. In 2 ½ days, the retreat format offers natural leaders a firework of impulses from other areas and creates a bridge to application in their own everyday work. The next event will take place in autumn and you can register here for further details.

What has inspired me recently: New humility

Sustainability will probably be named as the “non-word of the year” soon. Every entrepreneur, but also almost all friends have the same opinion "Yes, we have to do something...". There are wild ideas on how to implement sustainable aspects in companies and ultimately in our life. One strives for an ISO certification for his company, the other buys only regional products, while another refrains from flying within the EU, but enjoys his avocado toast every morning (by the way, anyone wondered how avocados get from Mexico to Switzerland?). I was lucky enough to experience what sustainability means in holistic terms, when I temporarily lived in the Netherlands a few months ago.
Obviously, the consequences of climate change will directly affect cities like Amsterdam, which lie below sea level. Although I am convinced, that this is not the only reason, this country is closely connected to nature and the fate of the latter. It is apparent in their holistic approach through emobility, the generally healthy lifestyle, and an amazingly high number of impact startups and sustainable food concepts.
Jack Bean, a vegan fast food start-up: One of the founders, a star chef from Rotterdam, wanted to prove the fact that vegan food tastes good, easy to make and sustainable to produce. This young team uses only products grown in the region (i.e., no avocado or quinoa). They have a digital ordering process via tablets and tableware from renewable materials. Their target group are men who want to eat healthily, without giving up on taste. Of course, Jack Bean offers home delivery too, but only by bike or e-scooter and in recyclable boxes. A holistic concept with a great potential.

With this, my Letter of Inspiration comes to an end… Thank you for joining me on the way to more clarity. If you like this episode, please feel free to share it with like-minded colleagues and friends, encouraging them to subscribe!

#5 Letter of Inspiration - Joy vs. Uncertainty

In this episode of the Letter of Inspiration, I share why, after Corona, I suspect uncertainty rather than joy, and why the known will give us orientation. You will also find inspiration in the purity of the artist Vincent Van Gogh and pictures from my 'Tour of Inspiration' through Zurich. Enjoy this sparkle of inspiration besides the current everyday life!

Joy vs. Uncertainty

What happens after the lockdown?

"Invest in talent. In relationships. Invest in yourself, in things you love and that mean something to you." Says Wolf Lotter in his prologue in brand eins magazine 04/2020.

That may sound simple. But when you have just invested all your energy in building up a new business or feel powerless in the face of the economic pressure that is currently weighing on an established company, it is difficult to take such statements to heart. Nevertheless, people get used to new circumstances quickly.

For example, three weeks ago, the idea of being locked down at home for more or less 24 hours, alone or with the family, was unimaginable. Living, working, learning, sporting, cooking and sleeping, all in one place? How is that supposed to work? Today we have to admit: It works, even better than we thought it would. Everyone makes their contribution. Whether it is the Yoga Studio, which now offers online classes, or your favourite restaurant, which gives you a cook-free evening, since it now delivers. The fact is, everyone is trying to support. We have started to get out of our stress bubble and get involved with the needs of others. Stick together, care for each other, be conscious: That's how we manage the 24/7 lockdown.

An outlook into the future. May 2020, the federal government officially declares the lockdown to be over. It is 15.00 o'clock and with the last press conference we got the free ticket 'to the outside world' again. Will we, as predicted by many, break out into a moment of complete ecstasy and a storm of celebration? I do not think so.

Quest for Stability

The first reaction will rather be uncertainty. Can we really leave the house now? Can I go back to the office? Can I meet my friends and does our favorite café has opened again? As a first step, we will only carefully plod back into the world, similar to a baby who begins to walk. A world that suddenly presents itself to us again in its fullness. What was normal before is now unusual. There is no 'Go back to go' card, it just goes on.

Of course we get used to this situation again, but first we look for points of orientation. We look for familiar things that give us security in a world we once knew, which we now need to get use to again. Until a few hours ago, the Federation guided our actions and doings, now we are to take over again. No matter whether it is a question of resuming our own activities, an enforced time-out, or even a new start, what is needed now is one thing: familiarity.

Familiarity gives us security and creates trust. Extensive celebrations with many, once fellow-sufferers who are nevertheless strangers to us, does not. I am convinced that this time after Corona will pay off on what I call a relationship network. Moments with the inner circle, exchange and, above all, a reunion with the personalities who were really missing during the crisis. In the end, you suddenly realize that there weren't so many missing of them. Even more important to make an effort to help the few and thereby begin to rebuild the supporting pillars of your business and private life.

Longing for the Known

We will certainly feel the urge to travel, but only to hotels and places we already know and within our own country. We will have dinner, but without experiments, we will go to our favorite Italian restaurant around the corner. We will do most of our shopping locally and if possible at the regional weekly market. We want to maintain and pass on the cohesion we have experienced over the past weeks. Global is not what we need at the moment. Global is rather what worries us.

What do we miss from the Corona period?

Being able to follow one's interests for weeks on end. Reading, sports, cooking, painting, all these are activities that nourish our creativity and to which we have been able to devote ourselves more and more. The effect I noticed, it is good to have this duality of cognitive (business) and being creative. The two worlds serve each other. Back in everyday life, how do you maintain this balance? Time and space, these are the magic words. The best way to do this is to put our creativity in the context of our business. More stability in any situation is guaranteed by this balance.

What has inspired me recently?

Striving for recognition does not mean living out your talent.

The famous painter Vincent Van Gogh just sold one of his magical paintings during his lifetime. His talent was only recognised after his early death at the age of 37. In a collection of letters Vincent regularly wrote to his younger brother Theo, the genius and myth of the painter Vincent Van Gogh can be traced piece by piece.

Vincent lived in poor circumstances, his brother Theo was his financier and all his money was spent on paper, paints and painting utensils. For himself, he took only the bare essentials. Devotion, diligence and solitude were his companions. He once said that he was ahead of his time. He was, and yet he was not tired of carrying on.

The story of the young Van Gogh is intended to motivate you not to lose faith in your own actions, especially in difficult circumstances, and to indulge your creative powers as entrepreneurs today more than ever. Not for others, but for yourself. If the story alone does not inspire, then it is certainly one of five sunflower pictures Vincent Van Gogh painted. This one hangs in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Last but not least...

The inbox of our email accounts is full of 'inspiration' on all kinds of topics. This is where a mistake lies: Who gets our attention and more importantly, what truly inspires us? Inspiration is a tool I use to change my clients' perspectives, always with the aim of creating added value for clear business decisions. These impulses can show themselves in a 'Tour of Inspiration'. How that looks like is illustrated here.

So much for this special edition of the Letter of Inspiration. Feel free to share this letter with colleagues and friends and encourage them to sign up here!

#4 Letter of Inspiration - A Good Life

A good life was long considered fulfilled when we had an array of material things (including a house, cars, and certain vacation). These goods are now “democratized”: 'a good life' is redefining itself. In an affluent society, a simple lifestyle becomes luxury. The imperfect moment becomes what we are longing for and suddenly the desire to be oneself triggers the courage to indulge one's own character traits again. In a time of unlimited availability, this is a force that makes differentiation possible again, because character traits cannot be authentically imitated. And, when put in the right context, they create relevance for ourselves and our work.

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 a weekend house 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 and 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?

Goodbye luxury, goodbye consumption

Consumption is similar to 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 didn't urgently miss anything, as everything was available. “If” has never been a question; only whether “there's more”. However, constant availability simply leads to boredom. 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 buy a new house in Spain, and our children don't fly anymore anyway, because of their CO2 footprint.

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 always had an exclusive effect, which has been represented by the limited availability or the high price of certain products or services. Now platform models such as booking.com or UBER, but also flight providers such as easyJet, are trivialising a commodity that was reserved for those who had privileged access to a 'good life'. Today everyone has access to a top deal in a 5* hotel, and your private driver (UBER) picks you up from the airport, while your flight costs only 39.00 CHF. The sudden “democratization” of luxury signals a turning point. .

Furthermore, there are brand 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 you will remember because it doesn't look like something from an ad of a lifestyle magazine.

A strong character

It takes courage to admit imperfection. We have been trained for decades on what a good life should look like - and now we are supposed to just forget about it? The admission is difficult and yet opens up a new perspective. I would like to emphasize the thesis that the new luxury is strongly connected to personality and that the more we develop our character, the stronger our 'feeling for a new luxury' will be. The way to a good life in the new 20s year heralds the era of artists.

If you are interested in this thought, you can read my article "The Era of Artists".

What has inspired me recently?

A recipe for success?

My passion is to curate moments of inspiration for natural leaders. This has the wonderful side effect of allowing me to have conversations with many fascinating people. But the real beauty emerges through connecting and condensing my observations to the essence. After a few inspiring meetings recently, I believe I have discovered a “recipe for success”.

Go your own way: I had an inspiring encounter with an antique dealer and restorer in Zurich. He told me about the beginnings of his profession; all his colleagues started to study and he has decided to learn craftsmanship. He was often mocked for choosing this path. Today, he says with pride: "Yes, only very few people can do what I do today. Nowadays, I would say that I am successful." The gentleman I'm talking about is now over 70 years old. He says he is doing very well, especially when he is working, because he does not notice the passing of time or the little pains that come with age.

Experience is crucial: recently, at a dinner with artists who can be considered as “successful”, I was wondering whether they could see a “recipe” for their success in retrospect. Independently of each other, both artists mentioned their decision to go and work abroad as one reason. Without working in Chicago or Berlin, the recognition of their work would not be at the level where it is today. The experience and change of perspective gained in a foreign country have widened the perspective of their work and strengthened certain character traits in them. Indeed, strong characters have something magically attractive.

What inspired me? Success is something individual: there is no algorithm for success. It seems much more important to follow the intuitive and personal path, no matter whether it leads to craftsmanship or to distant cities. Our good life is something only we can define for ourselves.

Last but not least...

Due to the current situation regarding COVID-19 I had to postpone the Zero Senses Retreat.

I am happy that the wonderful Hotel Paradies as well as each of the fantastic speakers understood due to the given situation we had to postpone the Retreat. The new date for autumn will be announced soon and one more thing: We make two extra seats available. Interested? Sign up here.

And for those of you, who are curious, you can find the program here:

Review: My Circle of Inspiration in St.Moritz

We have to know the source to understand its consequences. The question of how leaders create relevance in this new era was the main topic of my last Circle of Inspiration (click for details). Together with an exclusive group of guests, we discussed the art of context creation during a dinner in the midst of the inspiring environment of the Hauser & Wirth Gallery in St.Moritz. By using the current exhibition as an example, the gallery’s director, Stefano Rabolli Pansera, captivated us with his stories and motivated a stimulating table discussion amongst the guests. It was clear: the more we understand the source, the better we are able to create a context. Why is that necessary? To create relevance and thus meaning in times when everything is available.

So much for this issue of the Letter of Inspiration - thank you for following my impulses! Feel free to share this letter with colleagues and friends.