Great Britain leav­ing the Euro­pean Union, the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump as the 45th Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca or ter­ror attacks in the heart of Europe – these are deci­sive exam­ples of last year‘s devel­op­ments that have aston­ished, star­tled and baf­fled the world. Events like these that shake our sense of secu­ri­ty ques­tion every­thing we have learned and are famil­iar with while stir­ring up fear of change and mak­ing us believe that every­thing is out of con­trol. At the sev­enth SURPRISE FACTORS SYMPOSIUM, we dis­cussed phe­nom­e­na like these, their impli­ca­tions, risks and oppor­tu­ni­ties with inter­na­tion­al experts on pho­tog­ra­phy, pol­i­tics, busi­ness, and jour­nal­ism.

„Europe means bring­ing peo­ple togeth­er because they are so dif­fer­ent.”

Against the back­ground of social, eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal events, we asked our­selves at this year’s sym­po­sium: ”Is every­thing out of con­trol?“ One thing became clear in the dis­cus­sions: The greater pic­ture reveals that not every­thing is as much out of con­trol as it seems to be. Uncer­tain­ty and insta­bil­i­ty are often the fac­tors that guar­an­tee not only the con­tin­ued exis­tence of a soci­ety, but also its fur­ther devel­op­ment. They are fac­tors that are need­ed to attain secu­ri­ty, sta­bil­i­ty and, at the end of the day, free­dom in our social coex­is­tence. But which vari­ables influ­ence con­trol; how should we deal with appar­ent or actu­al loss­es of con­trol, and how can we use them for our­selves in the future? These ques­tions were the sub­ject of pro­found dis­cus­sions.

A question of normalcy

To live in war zones is unimag­in­able for almost all of us. The sit­u­a­tion there is too uncer­tain and uncon­trol­lable; too much is left to chance or des­tiny. How­ev­er, what we fail to see is that even war has its per­fid­i­ous nor­mal­cy. Peo­ple in war zones have adapt­ed their lives and fol­low spe­cial rou­tines and pat­terns of action in their every­day life. To them, they live a nor­mal life. The sto­ries of Andrea Bruce, who has made this kind of nor­mal­i­ty the cen­ter of her work, show us that the per­cep­tion of the exis­tence or the loss of con­trol is, above all, a ques­tion of per­spec­tive and nor­ma­tiv­i­ty. It is about the per­son­al per­cep­tion of what is nor­mal for your­self and the envi­ron­ment you live in.

Loss of control as an opportunity for innovation

Against the same back­ground, we asked our­selves in the dis­cus­sions whether the loss of con­trol could lead to more devel­op­ment and inno­va­tion. The talks made clear that cri­sis in gen­er­al can offer oppor­tu­ni­ties for new things. How­ev­er, what kind and what extent of loss of con­trol should you allow? How you deal with it is cru­cial for the poten­tial devel­op­ment and inno­va­tion in a soci­ety. Many chal­lenges of human his­to­ry have led to fur­ther devel­op­ments, some of them more desir­able than oth­ers. It is there­fore the respon­si­bil­i­ty of all of us to far­sight­ed­ly cre­ate free spaces for new things and to approach new oppor­tu­ni­ties open­ly since, in the end, every sys­tem lives on change and progress. This find­ing is essen­tial if you do not want to suc­cumb to stand­still as a soci­ety but want to lead the way towards inno­va­tion and progress.

Control and responsibility

What is the right amount of con­trol? And who is respon­si­ble for the exer­cise of con­trol? It is not an easy task to find the right bal­ance for con­trol. The under­stand­ing of what should be con­trolled and where more con­trol is a bur­den and hin­ders progress is all too diverse. In order to reach the pre­sum­ably right lev­el of con­trol, we can no longer del­e­gate the respon­si­bil­i­ty for answer­ing the ques­tions raised above to oth­ers.

„Do we have to give up con­trol con­scious­ly in order to be cre­ative?”

For the exer­cise of (the right amount of) con­trol is up to each and every one of us, depend­ing on the areas in which we oper­ate. We there­fore con­sid­er it a cen­tral ele­ment of a func­tion­ing soci­ety to take an active part in the soci­etal pol­i­cy process and, with­in the scope of our pos­si­bil­i­ties, to exer­cise con­trol or delib­er­ate­ly avoid it. For who­ev­er is inat­ten­tive and evades respon­si­bil­i­ty, will ulti­mate­ly lose con­trol.

Control through emotion

As part of our dis­cus­sions, we also asked our­selves how you can gain con­trol over opin­ions or a soci­ety. The answers to this ques­tion were just as mul­ti­fac­eted as the ques­tion itself. How­ev­er, they had one thing in com­mon: You achieve con­trol main­ly through emo­tion, not through log­ic or anonymi­ty. A pho­to, a polit­i­cal deci­sion, the rel­e­vance of news or media – they all sub­sist on play­ing with our emo­tions. Their suc­cess stands and falls with the abil­i­ty to evoke emo­tions in their audi­ence and there­by con­trol them. Espe­cial­ly pop­ulist move­ments have already under­stood this fact and have repeat­ed­ly made use of it. In the age of emo­tion­al fear-mon­ger­ing, we there­fore see it as our task to oppose this move­ment deci­sive­ly.

Looking ahead by losing control

Ever since last year’s devel­op­ments, noth­ing is as it was for many peo­ple. Europe and the world have been shat­tered to the core; what was famil­iar has been destroyed, and all we had learned has been put to the test. What is left is uncer­tain­ty, anx­i­ety and fear. How­ev­er, the intense con­ver­sa­tions, insights and per­son­al impres­sions have shown us that crises are not always the specter we think they are. If we prac­tice mind­ful­ness, they are some­times actu­al­ly pre­dictable and, even when they hit us with unmit­i­gat­ed force, quite man­age­able.

„To change some­thing means los­ing con­trol, but it’s also a chance for devel­op­ment.”

In order to be able to use a loss of con­trol that is very close or already exist­ing, you do not only need a great deal of mind­ful­ness for the present; you also have to look into the past; you need the courage to tack­le things and the abil­i­ty to imple­ment what you have learned. If we com­bine these skills with­in our­selves, we can already learn today for the chal­lenges of the future from the loss­es of con­trol in the past and there­fore face them with far-sight­ed­ness rather than with fear and inse­cu­ri­ty.