We live in a world with bor­ders. More so, we live in a world that is defined by bor­ders. Bor­ders are respon­si­ble for how we live, how we think and how we act. There are phys­i­cal bor­ders that sur­round our respec­tive coun­tries and there are imag­i­nary bor­ders with­in our heads that define who we are as peo­ple. What makes the sub­ject of bor­ders and bound­aries so fas­ci­nat­ing is that we need them. We need those in the out­side world and we need those with­in our­selves. But some­times we need to tran­scend those bor­ders. We need to cross the Rubi­con.

A per­fect exam­ple for some­one who stepped out of his com­fort zone is famed alpin­ist Peter Habel­er. To climb the Mount Ever­est with­out the aid of portable oxy­gen might seem like mad­ness — a crazy and unat­tain­able mis­sion even to under­take. Habel­er risked it all and suc­ceed­ed. By going out of his com­fort zone he man­aged to not only write alpin­ist his­to­ry but to also grow as a human being. There is a les­son to be learned here: Break­ing then bound­ary of what had pre­vi­ous­ly seemed infea­si­ble is pre­cise­ly what it takes to be a leader. Lead­ers are peo­ple who go out­side the bound­aries that oth­ers accept — and in doing so demon­strate that we„re all capa­ble of achiev­ing more than we sus­pect.

Lead­ers are peo­ple that moti­vate and inspire oth­er peo­ple.
Lead­ers are peo­ple who help oth­er peo­ple to step out of their own com­fort zones.

One way to get beyond bor­ders is to wel­come — or even insti­gate — an extreme event. An extreme event can involve a moment of polit­i­cal upheaval that desta­bi­lizes the sta­tus quo; it can be a nat­ur­al cat­a­stro­phe that shows us how unpre­dictable nature is — and how much we are at nature„s mer­cy. Or it can be some­thing that we take on our­selves. What does it mean to push us out­side our com­fort zones? It„s com­plete­ly nat­ur­al for most of us to find a way of liv­ing that gives us a sense of secu­ri­ty and well­be­ing. At the same time, there„s a down­side to liv­ing so com­fort­ably: we stop grow­ing, we stop learn­ing and we stop test­ing our­selves against our own best selves.

John Casti, one of the lead­ing experts in the field of com­plex­i­ty sci­ence, coined the term X‑events. Said X‑events are rare, hap­pen sud­den­ly and do a lot of dam­age. Those extreme events take us out of our com­fort zones. Sud­den­ly, what once seemed unthink­able is the new nor­mal. The old real­i­ty that we‘d grown com­fort­able with is gone and a whole new ver­sion of real­i­ty has replaced it: The Berlin Wall falls, the glob­al eco­nom­ic cli­mate suf­fers a finan­cial melt­down, a new tech­nol­o­gy per­ma­nent­ly alters how we work or com­mu­ni­cate. The point is not that these X‑events are good or bad. The point is sim­ply that they hap­pen and we all have to adjust our­selves to the new real­i­ty.

The notion of X‑events rais­es some impor­tant ques­tions for Upper Aus­tria: How can we do a bet­ter job of devel­op­ing „social resilience“ into the way we think and act and respond to change? What kinds of instru­ments or con­ver­sa­tions would make Upper Aus­tria more adapt­able to the shocks and sud­den changes that we know will come — whether we‘re ready or not? Is it pos­si­ble to do a bet­ter job of ana­lyz­ing or even pre­dict­ing X‑events before they hap­pen? Would more con­ver­sa­tions and dis­cus­sions about X‑events of the past and pos­si­ble X‑events of the future pro­duce a greater capac­i­ty for under­stand­ing and respond­ing to X‑events? And are there X‑events that we should actu­al­ly be seek­ing to pro­mote?
Are there social changes, eco­nom­ic changes, polit­i­cal changes that are cur­rent­ly „unthink­able“? And if there are — which would prove ben­e­fi­cial to Upper Aus­tria? Will we be able to free up our minds and imag­ine them? Will we be able to per­haps find ways to cause them? Have we got­ten too com­fort­able liv­ing inside the bound­aries of the sta­tus quo? Agreed, these are all pret­ty tough ques­tions. But for the sake of our future we will have to ask them over and over again until we find the right answers.

There are more ques­tions ACADEMIA SUPERIOR had to face dur­ing the SURPRISE FACTORS SYMPOSIUM and will con­tin­ue to face in the future. These are ques­tions that are not easy to answer. But I strong­ly believe that we will have to face them no mat­ter what. Because the answers we seek will help us shape a bet­ter tomor­row. How can we inspire our­selves and our young peo­ple to take on tasks and envi­sion new pos­si­bil­i­ties that set new stan­dards of excel­lence? Whether you are an ath­lete, an entre­pre­neur, a busi­ness inno­va­tor, an artist or a stu­dent: Will­ing­ly and open mind­ed­ly leav­ing your com­fort zone will give you the fan­tas­tic oppor­tu­ni­ty to reap huge rewards. Some­times it„s the small steps into the unknown that are the hard­est to take.

After all you don„t have to climb Mount Ever­est with­out an oxy­gen mask on your first day“

Personal details

Alan Web­ber is a US-Amer­i­can busi­ness jour­nal­ist. He Cofound­ed „Fast Com­pa­ny“, the most suc­cess­ful busi­ness mag­a­zine in US-his­to­ry. He is the for­mer man­ag­ing direc­tor and edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor of the „Har­vard Busi­ness Review“ and Author of „Rules of Thumb”. He is a mem­ber of the Aca­d­e­m­ic Advi­so­ry Board of ACADEMIA SUPERIOR since the begin­ning.