The fourth SURPRISE FACTORS SYMPOSIUM was held in Gmunden from March 14 to 16, 2014. Inter­na­tion­al experts came togeth­er to exchange ideas on cross­ing bor­ders and to dis­cuss sur­pris­ing aspects — those SURPRISE FACTORS that gave its name to the sym­po­sium. The aca­d­e­m­ic dia­logue was mod­er­at­ed by Markus Hengstschläger togeth­er with US jour­nal­ist and gov­er­nor can­di­date from New Mex­i­co, Alan Webber.
To iden­ti­fy the issues that we will encounter tomor­row and in the future, that is the task of ACADEMIA SUPERIOR. It is against this back­ground that the top­ic of this year‘s SYMPOSIUM with all its facets has to be understood:

„Beyond bor­ders — the strength to emerge from crises.“ Bor­ders and bound­aries accom­pa­ny us at every turn for a life­time. For cen­turies peo­ple have lived with­in self-imposed lim­its or bound­aries pro­vid­ed by nature. If we are con­front­ed with a bound­ary the ques­tion aris­es how to deal with it: Should we respect it or is it nec­es­sary to re-draw or even to ignore it?

„Bor­der­line expe­ri­ences“ can have pos­i­tive effects or result in crises. The cru­cial chal­lenge is not to be dis­cour­aged by defeats or crises and to take on life again and again.

Where do you draw the line between courage and igno­rance, cau­tion and cowardice?

The sym­bol of the jack-in-the-box stands for resilience, i.e. the pow­er to cope with crises and to stand up even stronger after a defeat. The par­tic­i­pants agreed that this abil­i­ty is extreme­ly impor­tant. But how can it be strength­ened? Do we have to con­scious­ly leave our com­fort zone to become more resilient? Do we have to get to the edge of what is rea­son­able? And how can we pass this pow­er on to our chil­dren so as to pre­pare them for the future?

This year„s experts dis­cussed their expe­ri­ences with bound­aries and crises in their respec­tive areas of exper­tise and tried to draw per­ti­nent con­clu­sions and to gath­er new insights. What can pol­i­tics learn from extreme sports? How can crises be antic­i­pat­ed? On the last day, stu­dents from YOUNG ACADEMIA dis­cussed the bound­aries they per­ceive in Upper Aus­tria and the risks and oppor­tu­ni­ties for young peo­ple which these bound­aries entail.


The annu­al high­light of the SURPRISE FACTORS SYMPOSIUM is the pub­lic evening event, the ACADEMIA SUPERIOR PLENUM. Again this year, around 450 peo­ple came to the Toscana Con­gress cen­ter to gain an insight into what had been dis­cussed among the experts dur­ing the day.

Tyrolean moun­taineer Peter Habel­er opened the evening by shar­ing his expe­ri­ences in the suc­cess­ful first ascent of Mount Ever­est with­out sup­ple­men­tal oxy­gen and his defeat when climb­ing K2. „Every­one in this room has his or her own sum­mit. Every­one has his or her own Ever­est.“ Habel­er describes how we all have to face lim­i­ta­tions and how we have to decide in each case what has to be done. Deal­ing with bound­aries is a bal­anc­ing act, which requires courage and pru­dence. Over­com­ing a bound­ary may result in peak per­for­mance or great dis­ap­point­ment. It is essen­tial to fol­low your goal con­tin­u­ous­ly. It also takes wis­dom to accept when you can­not go any fur­ther — this does not only apply to a hos­tile envi­ron­ment like the K2.


Pres­i­dent Michael Strugl point­ed out in his open­ing speech that it is not just about sur­viv­ing and over­com­ing crises but also about learn­ing from them for the future: „How can we gain even more strength from this sit­u­a­tion of cri­sis and glob­al com­pe­ti­tion which con­cerns all of us? As an eco­nom­ic loca­tion we are chal­lenged not only to come out of it safe and sound but to emerge from these crises even stronger.”

Gov­er­nor Josef Pühringer estab­lished a link to the Euro­pean Union and demand­ed that Brus­sels should show more respect for the sov­er­eign­ty of its mem­ber states. Sim­i­lar­ly, he empha­sized the enor­mous sig­nif­i­cance of the Union, since „after all, a unit­ed Europe as a safe­guard against waron this con­ti­nent is the great­est achieve­ment in the polit­i­cal his­to­ry of the last cen­tu­ry.“ In view of this, minor irri­ta­tions over the Euro­pean Union should be worth to be suf­fered as „there is no greater achieve­ment than the abo­li­tion of war as a polit­i­cal instrument.“

How can you emerge from a crisis, not as a victim, but as a winner?

Markus Hengstschläger chaired the aca­d­e­m­ic dis­cus­sion with Eva Horn and John Casti, who explore the top­ic of crises from dif­fer­ent angles. John Casti con­sid­ers crises as oppor­tu­ni­ties and asks, „How can you emerge from a cri­sis as a win­ner and not as a vic­tim?“ Pos­si­ble ways to achieve this are exam­ined by Eva Horn who ana­lyzes films and lit­er­a­ture. In her opin­ion, apoc­a­lypse sim­u­la­tions help us to go through cri­sis sce­nar­ios and to find out how pol­i­tics, soci­ety, and indi­vid­u­als might respond with­out actu­al­ly being exposed to crises. John Casti explores the rea­sons that lead to such col­laps­es and sees the main dan­ger in too much com­plex­i­ty. Espe­cial­ly large and pon­der­ous sys­tems are prone to seri­ous breakdowns.

Karel Schwarzen­berg draws a dis­turb­ing pic­ture when he sug­gests that we are stand­ing at a cross­roads between an era of peace and pros­per­i­ty and an uncer­tain future. Accord­ing to Schwarzen­berg, a long peri­od of peace has made the post-war gen­er­a­tion for­get what war means. In the cur­rent Crimean cri­sis there is no fear of con­flict — a symp­tom of cri­sis in Schwarzenberg„s opin­ion. He sees anoth­er symp­tom in the ever increas­ing sim­i­lar­i­ty of all demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ties and their inflex­i­bil­i­ty, which pro­vides new — and less demo­c­ra­t­ic — group­ings with grow­ing pop­u­lar sup­port. Karel Schwarzen­berg launch­es an appeal for a greater focus on ideas with­in demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ties and for an effort to make the pro­fes­sion of a politi­cian more attrac­tive. More­over, he empha­sizes the impor­tance of a com­mon for­eign and secu­ri­ty pol­i­cy with­in the Euro­pean Union.

We are fac­ing a time in which for­eign­threats are becom­ing real again.