Jenny Diski

It’s a bad year for snow in Zermatt. Mont Cervin is mostly bare red rock. Even the Matterhorn has only a frosting of snow. But the pistes are all right: every few hundred yards bright yellow snow-making machines, like small snub-nosed cannon, soak up water from the lakes and shoot it ten metres into the air to do what God can usually be relied on to achieve, and keep what skiers there are on the move. Still, the shopkeepers and hoteliers are not a happy bunch, and there are nothing but shopkeepers and hoteliers in Zermatt. The lights in this tacky twinkletown flitter merrily, gold watches glisten in the jewellers’ windows, but the faces are glum. There is no other point to the place except to enable wealthy folk to slide down the mountain into the shops and bars to spend their crisp Swiss francs. Except, that is, for one long weekend each year when two hundred people gather together in a windowless, air-conditioned hall in the basement of one of the swisher hotels in order to learn how to be creative. The director-generals of Lancôme, Ciba-Geigy, ABB and Nestlé, along with their underling executives, have all paid four thousand or so Swiss francs to discover how to add a mysteriously desirable cache of creativity to their already accumulated, though more concrete, store of wealth and power. Like so many overbred princesses, they still feel the pea, no matter how many feather mattresses they lie on.

The word ‘creativity’ is bandied about over the four days of the sixth International Zermatt Symposium on Creativity in Economics, Arts and Sciences as if it were an abracadabra. Only give us the wand, the hungry hotshots cry, and we’ll be masters of the universe. At one point the super-suits are even prepared to sit manipulating the ends of a metre of rope to learn from a French funambulist how to make a clove hitch knot that unties, if you do it right, as if by magic. They’ve paid their money, and they will acquire, by hook or by hitch, what seems to be missing from their bag of tricks.

The ISO-Foundation for Creativity and Leadership is the brainchild of Swiss-born Dr Gottlieb Guntern, a one-time medical psychiatrist turned systems-theory proselytiser and consultant to the stars of Swiss mega-corporations. He has written books to explain, as he repeatedly does when introducing the speakers, that we have been living and suffering ‘under the sign of the dinosaur’. Only innovative leadership, prepared to break up the dinosaur into a thousand creative butterflies, will enable us to enter the new millennium successfully. ‘Creative leadership renounces trailership, which reacts tactically-defensively where strategic-proactive thinking and acting would be necessary.’ What this means, I can’t say, but the Suits have put their money where Dr Guntern’s mouth is, so they have some inkling of what it’s all about. They, after all, are rulers of the multinational corporate universe. Never mind that the dinosaurs lived successfully for longer than any other species; never mind that it is in the nature of butterflies to flit aimlessly from one brightly coloured flower to the next, to eat, reproduce and die in the blink of the sun; never mind that it was the small, shifty-eyed ratty mammals, our ancestors, who colonised the planet after the dinosaurs died, not from stupidity but from the effects of a fortuitous meteor shower: surely the powerhouses in the darkened hall would not be sitting here tying knots in pieces of string if they weren’t going to get something for the expenditure of their precious time.

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