Benedikt Germanier – Follow your heart: a tip for young (and old) people

10. May 2016 – Benedikt Germanier

Anything is possible

When I was growing up, my father did a good job nurturing my sporting talents and my youthful desire to be an athlete. But he also did his best to make me consider more practical, sustainable career paths. In the latter he was unsuccessful: when I finished school I became tennis instructor. Then I spent many years working as a ski coach before, out of curiosity, I took a degree in economics. So how did I, as a young economist and sports coach, then go on to build a career? A headhunter once told me I was unemployable, because I had too many interests. Two years later I was leading a small research team in the trading room of a major bank, developing a tool to help analyse investor behaviour. By then, it was already clear to me that there were plenty of alternatives to traditional career paths. You didn’t have to conform to a straight or logical progression through life. Anything was possible.

Trust your gut feeling

As you go through life, in time you begin to get a feel for things. These feelings should be taken seriously. Working on Wall Street, I knew deep down that my heart was not in it. I fought for two years against my gut feeling, before finally being brave enough to change things. I moved with my wife and four children from a beautiful house by the sea to a modest apartment back in Switzerland, to throw my lot in with an innovative little start-up in the Swiss Alps called zai. Today I know that it was also the best decision I ever made. Sometimes I wish that people would listen more to their gut. It’s the place where many things come together. Even if you see yourself more as ‘head person’, there are times when strictly linear thinking is not the best approach. This is especially true when considering complex issue such as one’s life path and future role in the world.

Be brave and go for it!

There are people who prefer to over analyse and predict every situation. Let them do that. But if you always need to know all the answers before you act, there’s a danger that you never move. Today at zai we are a small team, but we are leaders in our industry because we keep moving. We were the first company to build skis with a stone core. We apply high-tech carbon composites previously only used by the medical industry. Of course there are tools – for example those developed by the ETH – which could help us to simulate our innovations before we put them into production. Yet, here too, sometimes it’s better to let instinct rule. Once a new prototype makes it into production, nobody asks whether the ski is born from the intuition of the developer or with the aid of a model. What counts is that we build skis that are better than anything we have made previously. If you use only known methods then you will never break boundaries. In order to truly innovate, you need to take risks. This applies life as much as it applies to work.It is important, too, to always keep an eye out for new avenues to explore. The other day I was talking with my mother-in-law, a 75-year old Feldenkrais teacher. “You know,” she said, “There are a few things that I really want to do in my next life.” And then she smiled at me and added: “But why wait? I might as well start now!”

Benedikt Germanier

Entrepreneur, Coach, CEO of ZAI