I am spending two weeks, mostly in Austria, exploring the Eastern Alps and biking along the Donau (Danube) River, before seeing Wein (Vienna) and Prague in The Czech Republic. Austria is exquisite. The majestic views here make Wisconsin’s landscapes look like a table model for the real thing. (And I love Wisconsin’s land.)
In Saltzburg, an imposing castle stands atop the city. (The photo is an IPhone shot I took in Salzburg.) Indeed in most significant Austrian cities there are castles or grand churches hundreds of years old, each so stately it defines the character of the community.
I can’t help but wonder how the imposing presence of the past impacts those who live in Austria today. Unlike the US which grew steadily, the Austrian-Hungarian empire significantly shrunk following World Wars. How does this affect the cultural norms passed from generation to generation?
Yet in many ways Austria is far more modern than the US. Austria has the highest production and consumption of organic food within Europe according to Fodor’s. By the end of our trip, Nick and I will have biked over 210 miles, 90%+ on bike paths safe from road traffic. And there are hundreds of more miles we will not cover. Hallways in hotels old and new have motion sensitive lighting, while solar panels cover far more roofs than I’ve seen covered in the US. (The roofs by the way are tile-built for life.) The Danube River is dammed at many points to capture its current for electricity, but boats and fish still travel downstream and upstream thanks to large locks built into every dam.
Linz is an old industrial city that has reinvented its business model (yes, cities have a parallel to business models) as a European Cultural Capital, with tourists filling its lively streets and performances. The industrial base has also reinvented itself according to the Linz write-up I read. Milwaukee could learn something from Linz just as Wisconsin could learn a lot from Austria’s tourism approaches, so friendly to bikers, hikers and motorcyclists alike.
Austrians’ love for their land is visible even to tourists. Edelweiss, the Sound of Music’s closing number in which the Austrian Von Trapp family leaves Austria to avoid the father becoming part of Hitler’s army, sounds even more sad as I recall it. A tour of Mauthausen’s prison camp where 123,000 innocent Jewish people, Russian prisoners of war and Austrian resistance fighters were killed reminds visitors (many of them Austrian students on the day we visited) of an ugly part of the country’s past.
The best cultures are ones that honor values from the past vital to success going forward. Values that no longer serve the greater good are weeded out. Strong cultures, like that in Linz, are not just open to changes required by the times, they proactively capitalize on the need to change in ways that create a stronger future.
Great leaders astutely identify the values that must be left to history while reinforcing the values that will create tomorrow’s works of art – the outcome of our collective efforts.
For insight on business model strategy, read my recently released book, Beyond Price.