Gottlieb GUNTERN, Switzerland
psychiatrist, systems scientist, creativity researcher
Cesar Ritz – a role model
Gottlieb Guntern grew up in Ritzingen/Grafschaft, a small mountain village in the Swiss Alps (Canton Valais). That settlement was founded by the Ritzen, an Alemannic clan who migrated to the high Goms Valley via the Grimsel Pass about 1000 years ago. Cesar Ritz, whom Edward, Prince of Wales, called "king of hoteliers and hotelier to kings" in the 19th century, was a descendant of that clan.
|Ritzingen Valais / Switzerland|
As a boy, Cesar herded goats in Niederwald, a mountain village about a 7 minutes drive west of Ritzingen. It was an experience relived by Gottlieb Guntern, who spent the summer of 1953 as Ritzingen’s last goatherd. He learned about the myth of Cesar Ritz early in life and, intrigued by the story, adopted Ritz as a role model for the development of his own identity. Guntern’s admiration for his world-famous, creative compatriot unquestionably contributed to his later desire to discover the secret of human creativity, a fascinating field in which he has meanwhile become an internationally recognized expert.
|Cäsar Ritz, 1850 - 1918|
Guntern was born in modest circumstances. His father, Quirin, was a lumberjack in the California woods as a young man and, on returning home, became a tunnel worker, helping to build fortified tunnels for the Swiss army in the Grimsel and Sargans regions. He died of an occupational lung disease, silicosis, when GG was six. At the time of his father’s death, GG had already been hospitalized in Brig for eighteen months for osteomyelitis, a condition requiring several surgical interventions. The young patient quickly learned first hand what it meant to be helpless and at the mercy of doctors and nurses – a traumatic experience he would never forget. It is probably no coincidence that, later in life, GG would return to the same hospital to establish and become Head of Psychiatry of a pilot center for psychiatry and systems therapy.
His mother, who had worked in the hotel industry as a young woman, found herself widowed with seven children at the age of only 38. Highly intelligent and imaginative, Lina Guntern fortunately possessed the initiative and assertiveness she now needed. It was from her that GG learned how essential self-discipline and far-sightedness were: that they were the prerequisites for any form of real achievement. Lina came from Ausserberg, a mountain village near Visp. As a boy, GG spent eleven summers there, tending cattle for relatives on the Leiggern Alp. This intimate understanding of the harsh conditions facing mountain farmers every day helped him, from an early age, to develop frustration tolerance, a sense of reality, and autonomy of thought and action fostering self-reliance. As a result, when he began studying medicine, he was immune to the continually shifting fashions and trends to which his fellow students so easily succumbed: one day they would want to become career army officers, and the next they metamorphosed into followers of Che Guevara, spouting Marx, Lenin, and Bakunin. In a fit of intellectual radicalism, they might turn their backs on organized religion, only to find a new mantra in the speculative dogmas of Freudian psychoanalysis.
GG was a student at Spiritus Sanctus College in Brig for 8 years. The school was founded in 1662 by Kaspar Jodok von Stockalper, a successful merchant, banker, and politician whose business interests included gold mines and the monopoly on salt imports over the Simplon Pass. Showered with titles and honors by popes, emperors, kings (among them Louis XIV), and princes, this so-called "Fugger of the Alps" and "King of the Simplon" had a castle built for him, to reflect his own glory, but also to defend his trade caravans and provide a haven for his descendants. Today the Stockalper Palace is considered Switzerland’s most important Baroque building.
|Stockalper Palace, Brig / Wallis / Switzerland|
When Kaspar Jodok von Stockalper established the college, he entrusted the Jesuits with training the knowledge-hungry youths of the Upper Valais in rational thought and goal-oriented action in the context of Roman Catholic ideology. Under the Constitution of 1848, the Jesuits were expelled from the country for their excessive interference in Swiss politics. At Spiritus Sanctus College, they were replaced by priests who tried to keep the Jesuit spirit of ora et labora alive, though not always with equal success. As a boarder at Spiritus Sanctus (1953-1961), GG relieved his boredom by spending day and night reading novels, world literature and biographies of distinguished figures in the arts, sciences, and other fields. That provided his initial access to subjects that would later become central to his life: personality, creativity, and leadership research.
Physician, psychiatrist, systems therapist
GG studied medicine in Basel, Lausanne, and Paris, and subsequently spent one and a half years as a local doctor in a resort village in the Valaisan Alps. He specialized in psychiatry, soon developing the basic ideas and concepts of a new therapeutic model, to which he gave the name “Systems Therapy.” He practiced in the USA and Switzerland for 20 years, the last 10 of which he spent as head of a psychiatric facility, which he built up in accordance with his own principles. During this period in the USA he wrote a book about mass tourism, social change, and stress, which was published by Springer (Berlin-Heidelberg-New York) in 1979. A further book, about systems-science-based therapeutic concepts, was published by an Italian publisher. In numerous scholarly articles and lectures, he described and explained his basic theses: that there is no such thing as mental or somatic illness, only organismic illness; and that, in consequence, all the concepts, strategies, and practices of our present health system needed to be radically overhauled and innovated – from the design and organization of clinics and policlinics to the development of preventive and therapeutic methods and techniques.
Seminal experiences and insights
In the course of his 20-year career as a physician and psychiatrist, GG encountered two phenomena that increasingly preoccupied him. Both were associated with the enigma of human creativity.
• Shortly before they die (e.g. of cancer, a heart attack, an accident),
most adults abandon their masks and drop their pretences towards
themselves and others. In this situation, they generally have
• They had been so busy trying to impress other people,
even those they did not like, that they had neglected
the people they really cared about.
• In childhood and youth, they had repeatedly been
told that they possessed a particular talent,
but had done little or nothing to develop it.
• In couples and family therapy, partners often become fixated on their
marital conflict and ceaselessly reproach and berate each other.
This intensifies their helplessness, bitterness, and frustration, which
inevitably leads to further mutual recrimination. They are not struck by
the obvious idea that they need to replace their current, unsuccessful
form of conflict management with more successful, innovative
This brought GG to the insight that human creativity is a very valuable resource and needs to be systematically mobilized and implemented throughout life – whether in education and the home (parents, schools, universities) or in working life. A look at the state of creativity research in the mid-1980s revealed that little had happened since the mid-1970s. Publications in the field were practically all from the USA and dealt almost exclusively with personality trait theories – the idea that creative individuals display specific personality or character traits. But GG’s experience had taught him that there are creative individuals who do not display some of the specific character traits purported to be so important. And, by the same token, numerous people possess all of the relevant traits without ever producing a creative achievement. In other words: creativity research lacked a systemic approach that would do greater justice to the observable realities than did the fashionable personality traits theories.
|in guest house of a Japanese Zen garden in Kamakura|
Creativity and leadership research
In the hope of changing this situation, GG left psychiatry behind at the age of 50 and began devoting himself to creativity and leadership research. Why study creativity and leadership together? Because, though it is not always evident at first glance, teamwork is at the heart of virtually every creative achievement. Everyone knows that Edison invented the light bulb and that he was generally a creative genius in the field of technological innovation. What is less well known is that Edison had a team of about 100 employees working with him at Menlo Park, among them mathematicians, physicists, technicians, and mechanics – all of whom provided substantial support in the invention of the light bulb.
Since 1990 GG has brought together theory and practice in 20 books on Creativity & Leadership (9 as author, 11 as editor and co-author). IM ZEICHEN DES SCHMETTERLINGS was Switzerland’s best-selling non-fiction book in 1992. UPA (University Press of America) has published the English edition in 2013. A number of his non-fiction books have been translated into Chinese, French, Italian, English, and Dutch. His magnum opus, THE SPIRIT OF CREATIVITY - Basic Mechanisms of Creative Achievements, was published by UPA in 2010
CREANDO Foundation and symposia
Gottlieb Guntern and his wife, visual artist Greta GUNTERN-GALLATI, established the CREANDO International Foundation for Creativity and Leadership in 1979. Under its aegis the couple regularly held transdisciplinary CREANDO Symposia for Creativity & Leadership, at which creative individuals of international distinction – among them Nobel laureates in literature, medicine, physics, molecular biology, and economics – lectured and engaged with a qualified and motivated audience that included promising young leaders from across the globe. Over the years these events gave rise to a considerable number of remarkable projects.
There is nothing more practical in life than a good theory
That is one of GG’s most important insights for living. For example: if a child is to cross a busy street safely, it must have a solid – more or less conscious – theory of the dangers that exist, otherwise it will sooner or later be hit by a car.
Conversely: people who believe they possess a good theory continually need to test that theory against reality and apply it in practice so as to determine its validity and operative range.
On the basis of this insight and his theory of creativity, GG – combining a natural predilection, literary potential, and self-discipline in working and learning – has thus far published two novels; a third is currently being prepared for publication and a fourth is under revision.
Songwriter - Cantautore
First public concert, Dec. 2010
ZeughausKultur in Brig / Switzerland
As a singer-songwriter (cantautore) he has composed the music and lyrics for numerous songs. He has already produced two CDs with English lyrics plus a CD of ballads in the Old and Middle High German-based dialect of his home.
The art of metamorphosis
Living a fulfilled life depends on one’s mastery of the art of metamorphosis. In his book IN THE SIGN OF THE BUTTERFLY, GG describes the art of metamorphosis as the organism’s ability continually to transform its structures in order to optimize vital functions, while never losing its identity in the process.
For example: the brimstone butterfly goes from egg to caterpillar to pupa, emerging from its cocoon as a yellow butterfly, in which form it flies off and lays its own eggs, concluding its individual life cycle. In each of these stages the brimstone butterfly retains the unique identity that distinguishes it from other butterflies.
governs everything in the universe. In other words: the interaction of chaos and order, chance and law, freedom and structural constraint, spontaneity and calculation determine what human beings are and what they will become.
Where will the next phase of GG’s metamorphosis take him? Only the future will tell.