After all, not everyone gets the idea…
... to do his community service in Israel at the age of 18. What has happend there?
I grew up 20 kilometers away from Auschwitz. And had no clue what actually happened there. When it dawned on me at some point, it was clear: This is my business. I need to understand this in depth. That is only possible, if I overcome my own comfort zone, go out into the world, think outside the box. So Israel. Where else can you get a close look at your very own history?
This desire to venture out into the world to discover new territory to be amazed again and again, to understand foreign things instead of judging them, that runs like a red thread through my life.
"Who draws comparisons between the slums of Ghana and the conditions in large European corporations?"
That was certainly the decisive factor for me to study anthropology. The many trips to the most remote places, appearances in Nepalese village theaters, night walks through Asian mountains, participating in evocations and rituals of possession - all of this required explanation, a coherent connection. Much of what I experienced during my travels and field research in Ghana looked pretty crazy from the outside. But that had to make some kind of sense to the people who saw it as part of their everyday life.
Understanding these interrelationships, deciphering the rules of the game according to which such a social event functions: that was adventure and fascination at the same time.
After my return from Africa and the subsequent doctorate at the Albert-Ludwig University in Freiburg, it took me a while to realize that the basic attitude of the ethnologist - participatory observation - also makes a lot of sense in other, less exotic contexts. For example, in the work of managers. They also need a well-balanced mixture of closeness and distance in order to lead effectively. And act over long stretches on unfamiliar territory: in social games in which the secret rules of the game of success and one's own effectiveness are difficult to understand. You don't have to endeavor Dilbert to be amazed at everyday life in large corporations. My time at Mercedes-Benz certainly contributed a large part to these insights.
"What on earth do anthropology and economics have to do with each other?"
A whole lot! The fact is: Without understanding how such a culture ticks, according to which rules of the game it works and how these secret rules are used to enforce interests, achieve goals, to achieve impact - without knowledge of the rules, all these social games simply make no sense. It's like football. You keep asking yourself why nobody just tucks the ball under their arm and runs off.
If I have learned one thing in all the years of working with large companies, it is: to look behind the facade as quickly as possible in order to understand the rules of the game by which such a social system tick. Participate and observe - again and again. Every manager has to do this - unless they are the “breakfast director”. But of course, that is easier if you look at it from outside, so initially not being part of the game is the key. But believe me: you can't clean anything without getting your hands dirty.
Routines are sleeping pills: You get through the night, that’s it.
"That sounds like a pretty colorful resume, doesn't it?"
Yes, that's true. To keep moving, to be curious, to try new things, to question the limitations of established routines, to protect one's own comfort zones, but also to put them at risk - all of this motivates me a lot. In my work, on my travels, in all the projects and ventures that I have started off the fence over the past few decades.
And what might sound a bit like a varied hodgepodge of different activities follows a common denominator. That is simply called future viability. In my work, it's simply about creating spaces for opportunities, making room for new things. To question routines that promise pseudo-security, where a departure would be more in demand. My aim is to introduce options. To question certainties that stand in the way of your own curiosity and creativity. To give priority to the “Why not” instead of the “Yes, but”.
"Up to here and what’s next?"
I am more concerned than ever that we are getting tangled up in the present. We look spellbound at the existing, hold on to it like a grandma to her handbag. Instead of using our sense of possibility, we shrug our shoulders and come to terms with an everyday busy life. Self-satisfied routines and well-trodden paths wherever you look. But where courage and determination are actually required. To lend a hand in shaping an attractive future that certainly won't just fall from the sky.
The concern is particularly explosive due to the current upheavals that are leading us straight into the next, digital society. I believe that no stone will be left unturned. If we fail to develop a civilized way of dealing with all the technological achievements that keep us and our everyday lives in suspense, then we are wasting the chance of a future worth living in. Artificial intelligence, omnipresent robots, self-optimizing algorithms, dizzying amounts of data that thirst for further networking - all of this makes us more and more spectators of our own fate.
What we need are new cultural techniques that enable us to deal critically and constructively with these new developments. The retreat into the allotment gardens of bygone times, resting on the successes of yesterday, the longing for an ideal world and simple solutions, all this backward-looking pleasure in retropias instead of utopias are coffin nails for our future. And that increases the risk.
“That looks like a lot of work - is there a restless junkie at work here?"
That's bullshit. I love my work - but God knows it's not everything. I am passionate about traveling, enjoy good music. By the way, that was already the case in my youth. As a drummer in one of the first hip-hop bands in southern Germany, for example (McOetker and the Motherf**cking Cooking Studio - the name says it all). With wild travel projects: from circumnavigating the Mediterranean by bike to crossing the Sahara with an old BMW, there are a few adventures that I think back to today with a good portion of respect. Sometimes I was just lucky back then. At some point, time tames the excesses of youth. But to this day I enjoy sinking into jazz music or exploring the mountains of Myanmar in the saddle of an old Honda. Good conversations, a hearty laugh, often enough about myself: All of this is like a fountain of youth for me..
“We hold on to the present, like a grandma to her handbag.”