The SURPRISE FACTORS SYMPOSIUM in march 2014 marked the begin­ning of the fourth year in the his­to­ry of ACADEMIA SUPERIOR. Once again, inter­na­tion­al experts, mem­bers of our Aca­d­e­m­ic Advi­so­ry Board and stu­dents exchanged their ideas on top­i­cal ques­tions. Find­ing answers to these ques­tions may be of vital impor­tance if we want to build a bet­ter future for Upper Aus­tria and beyond. This year’s theme, „Beyond bor­ders — the strength to emerge from crises,“ fits with­in this con­text.

Crises and unex­pect­ed events, such as the cur­rent eco­nom­ic cri­sis which has last­ed since 2008, have often pre­sent­ed for­mi­da­ble chal­lenges to indi­vid­u­als as well as to soci­eties.
ACADEMIA SUPERIOR’s con­clu­sion from the analy­sis of such events can be sum­marised as fol­lows: Fail­ures can even­tu­al­ly become the basis for suc­cess if they are capa­bly analysed and if the right lessons are drawn from them. But in order to achieve this goal we must over­come bound­aries and leave our own com­fort zone.

Benefits of overcoming boundaries

Indi­vid­u­als, nation states, busi­ness­es and organ­i­sa­tions have one thing in com­mon: They hard­ly ever leave their own com­fort zones. How­ev­er, those who are ready to over­come the bar­ri­ers in their minds have the oppor­tu­ni­ty of broad­en­ing their hori­zon. Only those who leave their com­fort zones in search of new dis­cov­er­ies and new insights will learn to assess risks and to make the right deci­sions. More­over, those who take risks and aspire to suc­ceed will expe­ri­ence per­son­al growth and devel­op lead­er­ship qual­i­ties. Upper Aus­tria is still in need of vision­ar­ies with clear­ly defined goals who are ready to shoul­der respon­si­bil­i­ty and make the nec­es­sary deci­sions.

I think it is up to ACADEMIA SUPERIOR to com­pile, sift and process infor­ma­tion relat­ing to future devel­op­ments in Upper Aus­tria. This is our only chance of ful­fill­ing our mis­sion of pro­vid­ing deci­sion-mak­ers in pol­i­tics and econ­o­my with blue­prints for the future. Thus we can give deci­sion-mak­ers in Upper Aus­tria the sup­port they need to be effec­tive lead­ers in the years to come. This means, how­ev­er, that we must not shrink from mak­ing unpop­u­lar rec­om­men­da­tions if need be.

Resilience helps to cope with crises

Nat­ur­al dis­as­ters and their var­i­ous after-effects have taught us that extreme events (so-called X‑events) often come upon indi­vid­u­als and states unex­pect­ed­ly at a moment’s notice. With regard to Upper Aus­tria we may con­clude that our province should make an effort to pre­pare for future X‑events and to make them pre­dictable as far as that is pos­si­ble. From dis­cus­sions with experts and our analy­sis of the facts we come to the con­clu­sion that resilience is the best safe­guard against poten­tial dis­as­ters. More­over, there is truth in the phrase „Small is beau­ti­ful.“ Small units are much less vul­ner­a­ble than big and com­plex sys­tems. Upper Aus­tria, which is rel­a­tive­ly small, must strive to strength­en its self-reliance in the fields of cul­ture, econ­o­my, and pol­i­tics. On the oth­er hand, the province must not iso­late itself. A care­ful and cir­cum­spect exten­sion of its net­works towards oth­er (inter­na­tion­al) loca­tions is essen­tial.

Education as a competitive advantage

How­ev­er, there is a con­nex­ion between net­work­ing and com­pe­ti­tion. We must not lose sight of the fact that Upper Aus­tria is engaged in a com­pe­ti­tion between Euro­pean regions. It is a pre­req­ui­site for future suc­cess in the fields of econ­o­my, sci­ence and research that we invest in young people„s edu­ca­tion.

To invest in the future — and also in edu­ca­tion — is cru­cial for the resilience of a coun­try. Espe­cial­ly in the field of edu­ca­tion our coun­try must not be left behind. Not only in times of cri­sis, but also in peri­ods of prepa­ra­tion for piv­otal moments in the future, we need per­cep­tive indi­vid­u­als who can read the signs and have the exper­tise to draw the right con­clu­sions.

Fiction can help us to understand the future

Not only in pol­i­tics, but also in the field of research it is nec­es­sary to ques­tion old modes of thought and to explore new ter­ri­to­ry. Espe­cial­ly with regard to extreme events and future threats we must con­sid­er uncon­ven­tion­al approach­es.

We can even gain use­ful insights from dis­as­ter fic­tion, from books, films and TV series set in an apoc­a­lyp­tic or postapoc­a­lyp­tic world. If we want to check the plau­si­bil­i­ty of sce­nar­ios for the future, dis­as­ter fic­tion can fur­nish use­ful ideas. Here again, ACADEMIA SUPERIOR needs to be more per­cep­tive, to iden­ti­fy pos­si­ble sce­nar­ios for Upper Aus­tria and to pre­pare for future chal­lenges.

Personal details:

Markus Hengstschläger is the Head of the Advi­so­ry Board of ACADEMIA SUPERIOR. Head of the Insti­tute for Med­ical Genet­ics at the Med­ical Uni­ver­si­ty of Vien­na and Head of the Genet­ics Depart­ment at the Wun­schba­by Cen­ter, Vien­na. He is a Mem­ber of the Aus­tri­an Com­mit­tee for Research and Tech­nol­o­gy, Vice Pres­i­dent of the bioethics com­mis­sion and Mem­ber of the Uni­ver­si­ty board of trustees at Johannes Kepler Uni­ver­si­ty Linz.

Books by Markus Hengstschläger:

  • Die Durch­schnitts­falle: Gene — Tal­ente — Chan­cen, Ecowin 2011.
  • Endlich Unendlich, Ecowin 2008.
  • Die Macht der Gene, Ecowin 2006.