Swiss Secrets to Stoking Creativity: St. Gallen Publishing Course

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By Sarah Dickman

Sarah Dickman

Sarah Dickman

This September I had the privilege of attending the first ever International Publishing Management Course hosted by the Frankfurt Academy and the University of St. Gallen’s Institute for Media and Communication Management. St. Gallen is an idyllic Swiss city an hour outside Zurich, nestled between Lake Constance and the Appenzell Alps. The week-long course took place at St Gallen University, which sits some 200 wooden steps up from the historic city center, making for an invigorating start to each day.

The course was conceived and led by Professors Vincent Kaufmann and Bozena Mierzejewska with the aim “to provide middle to senior management in-depth expert knowledge and tools required to lead publishers and media companies successfully into the future.”

There were 15 of us participating in the course, smaller than I was anticipating, but which proved to be an ideal number. We had lively group discussions and meaningful conversations before, during and after class. We hailed from nearly every continent and from all different parts of the book industry — children’s, academic, trade, professional, technology services, and consulting. Our varied personal and professional backgrounds made the experience all the more rich and rewarding.

Each day was divided into a morning and an afternoon session devoted to a specific topic taught by a world-renowned professor. Like us, the professors came from all over the globe, but each had either studied or taught at the University of St. Gallen, ranked one of the top business schools in Europe. With each session lasting three hours we could really delve deep into a specific subject. The best sessions were both theoretical and highly applicable to daily work life.

St. Gallen, Switzerland

St. Gallen, Switzerland

I haven’t been in school for nearly a decade and I loved sitting down to learn about the latest research and trends in topics ranging from the role of consumer research in publishing innovation, cross media and cross platform strategies, the cultural frameworks of the current challenges confronting the book industry, and managing cultural innovation. Our professors not only came from illustrious academic backgrounds but had also worked as consultants to a wide range of Fortune 500 companies. They had seen how to apply their theories to real work environments in practical, useful ways.

Professor Martin Eppler’s session on creative problem solving using visual team management tools was definitely a highlight for me, as well as for many others. He showed us how to identify and approach a problem from a totally different angle, enabling wholly new ideas to come to light. The ‘Flip Flop’ is a simple yet incredibly powerful technique whereby you consider how to achieve the exact opposite of your stated goal.  Questions like “How do we kill the publishing industry?” Or “How do we stop innovation at work?” give you a fresh perspective from which to come up with new ideas. Eppler emphasized that anyone can be creative and use visual problem solving to generate and implement feasible, new ideas.

The week concluded with Suzanne C. de Janasz, a Professor of Leadership and Organization Development. For me, Janasz’s session was the most personally inspiring. Although all of the professors had tailored their talks to appeal to an audience of publishing executives, Janasz spoke to us as peers and true leaders. Her session tied together a number of themes that we had examined during the week including creativity, innovation, effective management, and leadership.  Along with Professor Eppler, Janasz’s presentation was the most seamless combination of theory and practice.  We analytically discussed the best ways to identify problems, fact find, and generate, evaluate and implement creative ideas. But more than anything else, we learned how to achieve these objectives through our own leadership.

Take Aways

One of the most important, simple, and yet most difficult lessons to implement is the importance of building reflection time into your daily (or perhaps more realistically weekly) schedule. In order to be a better leader, I need to have the mental and physical space to take a step back to reflect, reassess, and revaluate. I need to cultivate and draw readily from my own well of creativity—to do something in an original way that is also useful—to me, and to my organization. I can apply one specific tool or one part of a lesson to my daily work life without having to implement an entire lesson or theory in whole. Even simple, little changes can have a huge effect on one’s thinking, freeing oneself from the status quo.

Although I won a scholarship to attend the International Publishing Management Course, my fellow participants were just as equally enthusiastic in their endorsement of the course: “If you are tired of other publishing conferences — come to St. Gallen! The course they have put together is profound, highly inspiring and worth every penny!” said Marlies Hebler, Head of Content, Textunes. Andrew Rushton, Deputy Publisher at NordSüd Verlag added, “I feel the course has made me better prepared to tackle a future in the publishing industry.” And Agata Mrva-Montoya, the other scholarship winner from Sydney University Press affirmed, “I came away inspired, renewed and filled with new ideas, tools and techniques that can be used to enhance innovation and creativity, and lead through change.

I had a wonderful experience in St. Gallen and in Frankfurt where the second portion of the course concluded. The two day St. Gallen course conclusion was definitely the highlight of the Book Fair for me. I cannot recommend the St. Gallen course enough and am so thankful that I got to take part. It will be wonderful to see how the course evolves in the subsequent years.

Sarah is the Director of Business Development at Odyl, the company behind the social book discovery platform Riffle. Before joining Odyl, Sarah was a Literary Agent and Foreign Rights Director at the Nicholas Ellison Agency, part of Sanford J. Greenburger Associates.  Sarah works with all of the Big Five, international publishers, and a multitude of indie authors and publishers. For more info please visit and

About the Author

Guest Contributor

Guest contributors to Publishing Perspectives have diverse backgrounds in publishing, media and technology. They live across the globe and bring unique, first-hand experience to their writing.