Christian Kaspar Schwarm is about the future. The future of your company, the one you work at or
which you might even own. Your individual future or the one we're all about to face. His aspiration:
developing perspectives and chances. Not the usual ones though – but the unthought, the
unexpected, the innovative. How it works? By allowing yourself to let it happen.
Q: Some time ago the MIT Review asked a provocative question: "Is Thinking a Lost Art at Your Company?" Have we forgotten how to do it?
Not as individuals, hopefully. However, on a collective level – like in a company – it's hugely challenging to install creative and strategic thinking. Even though everyone is constantly calling for innovation. In hundreds of meetings we discuss things, we plan, we organize, we delegate, sometimes we maneuver or we dispute … but we very rarely really think about things. I'm talking about the kind of creative process that actually brings something new into the world. It's not really a part of most companies' culture and in my opinion, this can't be redeemed with inventive group events. These usually don't trigger any revolutions. Within our economic system we're naturally always looking for reproducible and scalable processes. But we have to understand that creativity and innovation at the beginning require a certain amount of uncontrollability. And we can only venture into this uncontrollability by thinking. Thinking without rules, borders, moderators, notes and bullet points. With my space and experience, I provide room and resonance for such expeditions and discourses. My work is about examining a specific question with my counterpart – with depth and in a way which otherwise has no space in our busy worklifes. Together we find and develop the best possibilities for action, for the company, a brand or for the decisive individuals.
Q: Most managing executives have chopped up their time into half- or quarter-hourly intervals. Contrasting this, many companies still need years to develop a new strategy. A paradox?
A strategy that has taken years to develop will hardly be helpful in most cases. It will either be outdated – or it will be so simple and generalized that it won't achieve the desired impact. When it comes to our overall framework for action and thus our future decisions, we must be equally swift and thorough – on point and balanced – flexible and well rounded – and as creative as feasible. Today, we must actually endure and resolve these apparent contradictions. Unfortunately, our corporate and meeting cultures don't yet match the demands this hyper-complex world places on us. As strategist, I therefore think and work in "days" and "weeks" – which hasn't only proven pretty expedient for me, but for my clients and partners as well. Especially those who are forced to play "Calendar Tetris" all the time have to allow themselves islands of time and oases of thought in order not to lose sight of the whole big picture, just out of obligation. If not, this joke might turn out to be true in the end: for companies, the biggest challenge isn't to become innovative – but to schedule time on the calendar for it.
Q: Although you find it very important to not overly rely on any specific model in strategy development, analysing you cherish a tool that is not yet very common in your industry.
Indeed – Spiral Dynamics. And it is much more than just another tool. It is a meta-model that has broadened my horizon extremely. This empirical theory assumes that in our history, revolutionary leaps in people's worldview have occurred whenever the previous value system has no longer been capable of adequately responding to the major challenges of a particular time. Let me give you an example: In Germany, since 1945, we have been going through four different stages of specific value-sets, all existing in parallel, but with shifting priorities within our society. First, the frugality and sense of duty of the early post-war period. Secondly, a belief in progress during the years of the "Wirtschaftswunder", seamlessly leading into the digital era that is still highly present today. Emerging then was a sense of global responsibility, which began with the student revolts of the late 1960s, drove the peace and environmental movement in the 1980s and is currently engaged in the fight against climate change. And most recently, a rather new meme that values the discovery of new solutions by combining elements in a way that has them overlap intelligently – with this meme we are now entering the transdisciplinary age. With the help of Spiral Dynamics, we become aware that our individual view of the world is shaped by certain convictions and ideologies. From the moment we begin to recognize this, we gain a new perspective which enables us to regard things that are happening in an integral way, which almost immediately opens up new possibilities. I've been integrating Spiral Dynamics into my strategy development work for almost eight years now, and adapting this contemporarily, have surprisingly become a pioneer in my area. This might be due to the fact that though the model has long been established in change management and organisational development – the world of strategists, which is for the most part purely rational, still remains rather conservative here.
Q: Spiral Dynamics is an instrument of the so-called "Integral Theory", which unites different schools of thought under its roof ...
Spiral Dynamics is considered a key element of the Integral Theory, which was amongst others, formulated by Ken Wilber. Integral Strategy differentiates itself by not only combining our knowledge of natural-, social sciences and the humanities, but by also gaining insight employing what we can learn from wise ancient traditions and modern spiritual insights. I'm using a lot of these elements in my practice, which of course is also shaped by my own experiences and methods. When it comes to thinking in alternatives for example, I also draw on more than twenty years of experience in entrepreneurship, the creative world, art and music.
Q: What makes the integral approach so contemporary?
I use the term "integral" in the sense of "comprehensive, holistic and balanced". An integral strategy is therefore both based on facts, data and numbers and on entrepreneurial intuition and creativity. It takes diverse perspectives into account and synchronizes individual wishes of people involved with defined goals of their company. All in all integral strategy does not try to minimize the complexities of our world; instead it rather anticipates these from the beginning and with pleasure – in order to be able to respond to them in innovative ways. It therefore doesn't feed the illusion that all variables can be calculated and all contradictions can be resolved. On the contrary: it treasures how seemingly opposites, blurred boundaries and vague spaces end up as the best raw materials for building new and innovative solutions. A smart psychotherapist friend of mine, she recently put it this way: "We don't achieve feeling secure by suppressing uncertainty – but rather once we fully accept it." In this sense, daring to venture into more complex territory is altogether very rewarding and extremly exciting.
It actually matters
who you think with
Q: What do you offer specifically? What does one need in order to start working with you?
When it comes to strategy there's no one size fits all – in fact, none of my projects resemble each other. Nonetheless, there are usually two ways of working with me. First, my gateway drug, if you will: Deep Thinking Days to reflect a specific challenge. I do such workshops either in a very small group or straightaway as completely individual one-on-one sparring session. Secondly: the development of Entire Strategy Concepts. Content wise, anything is possible: developing a vision and working on the basic orientation of a company, repositioning a product or a service or dealing with internal challenges, such as building up creativity or the potential to innovate. I also support the development of strategies aimed towards – for example an entrepreneurs' – more personal future. For me, strategy means working with my clients in order to find unexpectedly good answers to their most difficult questions.
Q: You began your professional life as a journalist, were an agency owner next and for almost two decades and therefore often stress the importance of using the right words.
Yes, indeed. I've seen special ideas and concepts fail so many times because they hadn't been communicated with the right words. When it comes to good strategy, a new offer or demanding change especially, appropriate and genuine language is crucial for success. For this reason, working with words, developing strategic claims or rephrasing key statements where needed, is also an inherent part of my work. I love doing this and call it "creative support". What I like about it is the image of a third dimension, giving my other two pillars – the Deep Thinking Days and the Entire Strategy Concepts – additional and probably unusual depth and holistic quality.
Q: Does – who wants to work with you – have to come to Berlin?
Authentic dialogue is always possible – even over geographical distance. That's why I'm able to offer all aspects of my work also remotely. I've had great experiences with that, especially in these pandemic times,. It is so important that we remain capable of development in times of such turmoil – and mostly just a question of the right setup. Of course, I like to travel every now and then as well. However, my library proves again and again to be the most wonderful place to think. For me, this without doubt is a magical place, hidden in a Berlin neighbourhood that has always been very creative. One hundred metres from here, an interdisciplinary group of men and women from science, literature, art and music founded the "Klub der Kommenden" in 1900. 120 years ago!