In which sit­u­a­tions do we prove coura­geous today? How much courage do we need for our future? And what does it actu­al­ly mean to be coura­geous? In two intense days of work we explored the sto­ries of coura­geous peo­ple at the eighth SURPRISE FACTORS SYMPOSIUM and tried to find answers to the ques­tion of what con­sti­tutes courage and how we can all become a lit­tle more coura­geous because courage is essen­tial for our progress and a fair­er world.

This was the moti­va­tion for us to look into the top­ic of “courage” from dif­fer­ent angles. In the talks it became clear that courage is some­thing that dri­ves us from the inside. The moti­va­tion to be coura­geous is strong­ly deter­mined by the cir­cum­stances. Courage is the crit­i­cal fac­tor that ensures con­ti­nu­ity and devel­op­ment in our soci­ety. This year, again, we were inspired by inter­na­tion­al per­son­al­i­ties with a wide vari­ety of back­grounds, who pro­vid­ed us with guide­lines for our future work at ACADEMIA SUPERIOR.

Beyond definitions

The talks have raised at least as many ques­tions as they have answered: How coura­geous are we if we are still afraid of mak­ing deci­sions and break­ing out of the rou­tine? The dis­cus­sions focused above all on the attempt to pro­vide a com­mon def­i­n­i­tion of courage since def­i­n­i­tions help us make a top­ic, such as courage, more tan­gi­ble. When do we become coura­geous? Do we need crises in order to get up and act? It is a fact that crises can offer oppor­tu­ni­ties for some­thing new.

„COURAGEOUS BEHAVIOR IS NOT ALWAYS REWARDED. BUT THAT SHOULD ONLY ENCOURAGE US ALL THE MORE.”

In addi­tion, crises lead to a greater will to change, at least in busi­ness and soci­ety. Whilst crises can be strong moti­va­tors on the one hand, they can also weak­en coura­geous actions on the oth­er. In research, crises can lead sci­en­tists to be more inter­est­ed in avert­ing dan­ger than in reach­ing new, coura­geous goals. While “prov­ing courage” in war zones means risk­ing one’s life, “act­ing coura­geous­ly” in our Euro­pean con­text often means coura­geous­ly dis­agree­ing, break­ing out of the com­fort zone and ques­tion­ing cir­cum­stances and one­self.

The nar­ra­tives of the experts have made it clear that there are dif­fer­ent moti­va­tors for coura­geous actions. Courage there­fore depends on the sit­u­a­tion. Some peo­ple want to avert dan­gers, while oth­ers want to achieve a cer­tain goal through coura­geous actions. A cer­tain act may be an act of courage in one sit­u­a­tion; in anoth­er sit­u­a­tion it may be fol­ly or even naivety. There­fore, courage can­not be uni­form­ly defined.

Heroines and Heroes for a courageous society

Look­ing back in time, you can find a host of exam­ples of coura­geous peo­ple who fought for their goals and defied adver­si­ty. Those peo­ple show the pow­er a coura­geous per­son can have and that one coura­geous human being can rouse and move a whole soci­ety. They also show that our soci­ety needs hero­ines and heroes. In oth­er words, we need role mod­els who show us that it is worth fight­ing for the right thing. That is why it is so impor­tant to reach young peo­ple with hero­ic sto­ries. A major role for this can be attrib­uted to the film indus­try because films can influ­ence soci­ety pos­i­tive­ly and neg­a­tive­ly. Books, too, can con­vey the mes­sage of coura­geous role mod­els to a broad mass. For exam­ple, a book about coura­geous Aus­tri­an per­son­al­i­ties could strength­en us in our own courage.

A new culture of venture – or why it is so important to be courageous

There can only be growth and progress when peo­ple are ready to take risks. Only when peo­ple dare to accept new chal­lenges can we devel­op fur­ther as a soci­ety. How­ev­er, Europe seems to dare too lit­tle when it comes to pro­found changes. Espe­cial­ly when it comes to life plans or soci­ety as a whole, then the search for courage is often in vain. Politi­cians are there­fore chal­lenged to pro­mote a cul­ture of ven­ture in which free spaces are opened up.

„CRISES CAN BE POWERFUL MOTIVATORS FOR SOCIAL COURAGE.”

More­over, entre­pre­neurs have to be able to evolve. Start­ing a busi­ness is risky. There is no busi­ness mod­el, no sophis­ti­cat­ed busi­ness plan or entre­pre­neur­ial skill that pro­tects you from fail­ure. Peo­ple who want to start a busi­ness in Aus­tria today are often restrained and dis­con­cert­ed by bureau­crat­ic hur­dles. For the advance­ment of Upper Aus­tria, how­ev­er, we need coura­geous (young) entre­pre­neurs who devel­op new, fore­sight­ed ideas.

In research there is also a demand for a mind­set that con­sid­ers chal­lenges as oppor­tu­ni­ties as research is a key dri­ver of inno­va­tion. The chal­lenge is not to be sat­is­fied with the aver­age and not to fall into com­pla­cen­cy. The mot­to has to be: Keep going – even if you do not expect to suc­ceed. Try – even if the out­come is uncer­tain. In the end, it is impor­tant to be allowed to make mis­takes!

Conclusion: courage needs responsibility

The study of the top­ic of courage has shown us that courage does not fol­low a uni­form def­i­n­i­tion. Although role mod­els can show us direc­tions, the deci­sion to be coura­geous is some­thing very indi­vid­ual. This means that we can only be coura­geous if we are ready to take the respon­si­bil­i­ty for our actions. To prove courage also means tak­ing risks and per­haps even fail­ing. Even a coura­geous per­son can expe­ri­ence fail­ure. How­ev­er, this must not weak­en us but encour­age us to pur­sue our goals. We all have a respon­si­bil­i­ty to stand up for what is impor­tant and right and to active­ly shape our sur­round­ings. To be coura­geous also means assum­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty for oth­ers in cer­tain cas­es. That is why we see it as a key chal­lenge to cre­ate a sys­tem in which respon­si­bil­i­ty and courage are con­sid­ered more impor­tant.

„IT’S ALL ABOUT TAKING CHANCES.”

There­fore, I am look­ing for­ward to the work of the com­ing months with great con­fi­dence – since ACADEMIA SUPERIOR is respon­si­ble for pro­vid­ing new food for thought and design­ing strate­gies for a pros­per­ous future of Aus­tria. Let’s approach it coura­geous­ly.