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The island of Donauinsel, Vienna, Austria. Island number 5 (out of 100, country number 4 (out of 25), months number 3 (out of 100.)

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Quick! If I say “Vienna” what picture do people get in their heads?

I am going to guess that most see something old. Like the St. Stephen’s Cathedral at Stephansplatz, a picture of Mozart – or a carriage and a horse.

That is the image that Vienna has.
Of something old. Centuries old.

It is almost like people look at Vienna as a museum of western creative brilliance from the past.

(The Mozart souvenirs are everywhere…)

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But I think it is very unfortunate to look at Vienna as a museum of times past.

Because innovation is not about the past. It is about the future.

That was a thought, or shall I say, an idea, that struck me today as I was walking around on Donauinsel, a long and narrow island situated in the Danaue River which flows through the center of Vienna.

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Donauinsel is a unique island. The island is more than 20 (!) kilometers long – but just 70-100 meters wide. The car free island is like a huge park that Viennians (is that a word?) can escape too to run, walk their dogs, stroll or swim.

A women out running, whom i got a chance to talk to, told me that the island had almost disappeared in the 1970’s because politicians wanted to build an electric damm but some strong willed people saved the park-like island for the people of Vienna. (At least that is what I think she told me since she told the stories in German, a language I am afraid I do not speak…) Either way it was very clear in the passion in this womans voice that Donauinsel means a lot for the people of Vienna.

In the summer the island explodes with activities such as concerts and races and there are even a couple of nudists beaches on the island.

When I was walking around on the island I was struck by how you could see old churches and an old light house, but at the same time shining, modern and tall office buildings in glass, and graffiti on the bridges connecting the islands to the main land.

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On the way to the island I had walked though the center of Vienna and had happened to walk by the exhibition “Happy” by the designer Stefan Sagmeister that was showing in the MAK Museum.

The MAK Museum is an old, majestic and historic building complete with coloured glass windows in the ceiling and status of old, serious looking men.

Stefan Sagmeister’s exhibition was bright yellow, whimsical and – well, Happy.

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At first it seemed like such a stark contrast to the building.

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But the more I walked around in the show the more I realised that they were just two sides of the same coin, only separated by time.

Stefan Sagmeister is a Austrian graphic designer who now lives in New York. (Be sure to watch his TED talks on the value of taking time off and Happiness by design.)

He is one of the most celebrated Austrian designers of our time.

When I was walking through the building to go from one part of the exibithion to another you had to walk though one of the permanent section of the museum. It was filled with old furniture, glassware and vases.

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It was such a stark contrast to the Happy show.

At first glance it felt stuffy, out-dated and old.

But while I was walking through it I understood why they had left it there: It was to show how these exhibitions of old things once had been new and novel innovations.

One of my all time favourite quotes is from Coco Channel who said: “Innovation! One cannot be forever innovating. I want to create classics”

The way I read that it was meant as an ambition to see longer than the latest trend and to create creations that would stand the test of time.

But I guess we could re-write the quote to communicate a different truth: “Classics, Classics. One cannot be forever looking at the classics without seeing that they once were innovations too.”

Because that is what became so clear today with all those new ideas being shown in an environment full of old classics: Every classic was ones an idea that someone created.

When we see those old, historic classics from historic times it is easy to think that they were conservative – but they often were not. They were often cutting edge. They were edgy, provocative and often questioned and/or ridiculed.

They became timeless classics because they were brilliant innovations. Creative creations.

I left Vienna not with a feeling of looking back in history: but of looking forward into the future: because that is what creativity is: creating a better future.

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Fredrik Haren, aka “The Island Man”, plans to visit 100 islands, in at least 25 countries, on at least 6 continents – in less than 100 months. The purpose of this “World Tour of Islands” is to get a better understanding of the world, a deeper understanding of the people who live here and a broader understanding of life.
Donauinsel was island number 5, country number 4 and months number 3.

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The island of Tjörn, West Coast of Sweden. Island number 4 (out of 100). Country number 3 (out of 25). Month 3 (out of 100)

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One winter night 36 years ago the ship “Star Clipper” ran into one of the columns of the old Tjörn bridge causing it to collapse. Before anyone was able to stop traffic 8 people, in 7 cars, had died as their vehicles plunged over the edge into the ice-cold water 40 meters below.

I was only 12 when it happened but I still remember it vividly.

Some places just gets connected to a trategy for the longest time.

Like Waco, Texas. And, on a much bigger scale, Hiroshima.

In Sweden Tjörn is still very much connected to the tragedy of the Tjörn Bridge in 1980.

Today I visited Tjörn and drove over the new bridge that was built to replace the one that was ripped apart.

I stopped to read about the bridge and found out that the new bridge was opened less than 17 months after the accident – a quite astonishingly fast construction, at least for being Sweden in the 1980’s.

When I read that I thought about how long it took for the USA to reopen the World Trade Center after the 2001 attacks of 9/11.

New York, 9/11 is another date and place that for a long time will be connected to a terrible event.

It has always struck me as odd how the USA was so slow to rebuild the World Trade Center.

You would think that if you want to show the world, and the terrorists, that you are strong, that you are bouncing back, then would the best strategy not be to do everything in your power to put up a new building as soon as possible?

Yet it took almost 15 years, 164 months to be exact, until the new building – One World Trade Center – was opened to the public in May of 2015.

More than 14,5 years to rebuild a building?

Yes, I understand that building a huge building in the middle of New York is not an easy thing to do.

But according to Wikipedia the owners of the original World Trade Center Towers (the Port Authority) announced the selection of Minoru Yamasaki as lead architect on September 20, 1962 and the towers opened  were opened 11.5 years later on April 4, 1973.

That means that it took 3 years longer to rebuild the World Trade Center the second time than it did to build the original two towers. (Even though the first towers were built more than 50 years ago (!) which means they had much more primitive technology to build with (and no computers at all to help them, for example.)

According to the sign next to the Tjörn Bridge, the reason they were able to build the new bridge so fast was because everyone worked together to make it happen, and processes that normally would have been done one after the other, where done in parallell to speed things up.

The story of the Tjörn bridge is a story of a terrible accident that was resolved in a resolute way.

I guess the lesson here is: It’s not what brings us down that defines who we are – but how we build us up again.

Fredrik Haren, aka “The Island Man”, plans to visit 100 islands, in at least 25 countries, on at least 6 continents – in less than 100 months. The purpose of this “World Tour of Islands” is to get a better understanding of the world, a deeper understanding of the people who live here and a broader understanding of life.
Tjörn was island number 4, country number 3 and months number 3.

(Picture Credit of old bridge: Wikipedia. Creative Commons.)

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The island of Vadoo, The Maldives: Island number 3 (out of 100). Country number 3 (out of 25). Month 2 (out of 100)

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The chef approached us last night at dinner with a big, friendly smile as he asked us: “Since you are staying for so long, can we treat you for a free dinner surprise?”

We were, needless to say grateful, but also a little bit puzzled – we had just told him that we were only in the Maldives for 5 days.

But it turns out that makes us long-stayers in the world that Maldives now finds itself in.

Our butler, Deepu, later explained to us that the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka has changed everything.

So how did peace in Sri Lanka transform the tourism industry of the Maldives?

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Let’s start from the beginning.

It used to be that the foreigners from far away lands (like Europe, USA – and lately China) flew in the Maldives and stayed for 10, 12, 15 days – or longer – before going back home.

The Maldives has, for the longest time, been the definition of paradise. It’s THE honeymoon destination of the world.

It has a very strong brand as the number one tropical island vacation spot in the world. As it should, it’s an awesome place to experience.

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But it is expensive.

So historically the people who came to the Maldives where wealthy people who could afford to stay two weeks or more once they had arrived from the long, and equally expensive, flight.

But then the war between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government ended.
After more than 25 years of bloody fighting the civil war had almost torn the beautiful island of Sri Lanka apart, and the killings, bombings and terrorist attacks had scared away almost all tourists for decades.

When peace finally arrived the island exploded with tourism developments.

Sri Lanka is an island, it’s as big as Ireland, full of culture, and with a beach that virtually goes around the entire island.
The country formally known as Ceylon is now trying to get tourists to discover that peace has arrived in paradise and that it is now safe to come and visit all these new resorts that they have built.
Which means that Sri Lanka is currently cheap.
Very cheap if you compare it with the Maldives.

Which brings us to the logic behind the Paradox of Paradise which goes something like this:

1) Because the Maldives has a strong brand a lot of people want to go to the Maldives.
2) But because of the strong brand and strong demand the cost per night for staying in the Maldives is very high.
3) That means that people want to go – but actually prefer to not stay so long.

When Sri Lanka was still an island at war with itself it meant that the Maldives was just too far away for tourists to fly into only for a few nights, which meant that the people who could afford to come here were people who could afford to pay the expensive rates for many nights.

But now you can comfortably “top-up” your affordable Sri Lanka vacation with a cheap and quick 1-hour flight from Sri Lanka to stay 2, 3 or 4 nights in the Maldives. (Enough so that you can do some snorkeling, have a night in a villa on the water – and most importantly – post on Facebook to your friends: “Look, here I am in the Maldives!”.)

These new guest fly in, check in – and fly out again.

The strong brand of the Maldives drives these tourists to the islands.
The expensive prices of the Maldives resorts drives them away after a few days.

Why spend +1000 USD per night for two weeks in the Maldives when you can have 10 days on the beaches of Sri Lanka for a fraction of that cost and then still end your vacation with 3 or 4 nights in the Maldives, so you can still say that you have been there?

That is what I learnt from visiting the island of Vadoo in the Maldives today: That peace in one paradise can change the business dynamics of another country. We are all connected – our worlds more interconnected – in more ways than we think.

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Fredrik Haren, aka “The Island Man”, plans to visit 100 islands, in at least 25 countries, on at least 6 continents – in less than 100 months.  The purpose of this “World Tour of Islands” is to get a better understanding of the world, a deeper understanding of the people who live here and a broader understanding of life.
The Maldives was island number 3, country number 3 and months number 2.

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The island of Kungsholmen (and a few hundred other islands in the Stockholm Archipelago), Sweden.

Island number 2 (out of 100). Country number 2 (out of 25). Month 1 (out of 100)

 

The famous poem by John Donne begins:

“No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent.”

I have a slightly different way of looking at it, probably influenced by the fact that I spend a big part of my life living on or visiting islands.

I do think that islands are separated from each other.

I think the same is true for people.

And I think that is a good thing.

I think the beauty of islands is that they, in a way, are easily identified individual identities. And I think people who learn to distance themselves a little bit from the mass of others have a better chance of developing a clear idea of who they really are in a way that is built on integrity and own thought.

But I do not believe that means that islands (or men) are disconnected.

We might have to look under the surface, we might have to look deeper – but it is a fact that all islands are connected to each other – it’s just done in a way that is not so obvious.

An island is nothing but the tip of a mountain submerged in water. And all mountains are part of one landmass called Earth.

Just like all people are nothing but individuals contained in our own bodies and brains, but we are all part of humanity.

And nowhere does this insight get clearer than when you go skating in the archipelago of Stockholm during winter.

Which is exactly what I did today.

For hours we raced between literally hundreds of islands. Our skates cut into the black, thick and beautiful ice to propel us forward at remarkable speed.

Long distance ice-skating in the Stockholm Archipelago is a unique – and amazing – way to experience the blend of nature and city that is the Swedish capital.

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To be able to experience, like we did today. serene nature with tracks of beaver and even a close encounter with a huge eagle and then just a short while later skate into the absolute city center of Stockholm with sky scrapers, traffic jams and city dwellers all around you while you silently skate on the water while the ice sings under your feet is a nature experience that rivals anything you can do on this planet.
And then it hit me: When the water has frozen into ice the whole landscape magically turns into one.
The big mirrorlike ice sheet and all the separate islands blend into one piece of “land”.
One surface that we quickly could cross to go from one place to another.
The hard ice made it so easy to go from islands to island – and, even more interesting, made it so easy, both physically and mentally,  to step onto any island we wanted to stop at.
When the water froze to ice it made it easier to see that:
Yes, every man is an island
But – all islands are connected.
That is what I learned today, that thanks to the solidification of the water it was easier to notice what was always there: that we are all more connected than we think. We just have to stop and take a closer look to see it sometimes.
Oh, and I think John Donne was wrong when he wrote:
“No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent.”
Because we are not just part of a continent. We are part of the planet. And that is the primary way we should think of ourselves.
(Video below from our trip today.)

 

(PS. We even skated by one of my own islands (Vifärnaholme, see www.ideasisland.com) where we stopped for a quick coffee break. And here is an interesting observation: If you own an islands in Sweden you have to be much more prepared to have uninvited guests on your island in the WINTER than in the SUMMER – because in the summer the water creates a small barrier between the “water” and the “land” that makes people think twice before stepping on your island. But in the winter that border is gone. Ice and Land become one and it is nothing stopping you from stepping on to the land.

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Fredrik Haren, aka “The Island Man”, plans to visit 100 islands, in at least 25 countries, on at least 6 continents – in less than 100 months.  The purpose of this “World Tour of Islands” is to get a better understanding of the world, a deeper understanding of the people who live here and a broader understanding of life.
Kungsholmen was islands number 2, country number 2 and months number 1.

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The island of Hainan, China.

Island number 1 (out of 100). Country number 1 (out of 25). Month 1 (out of 100)

 

The island of Hainan, located off the southern tip of China, is often called “The Hawaii of China”. In many ways it is a good description. It’s a big, tropical island – full of coconut trees – that the country’s citizens can reach without having a passport. Hainan feels like home, yet at the same time like a paradise getaway for the Chinese. Just in the same way as Hawaii does for the Americans.

I spent one day here while doing a speech for the Chinese managers of a multinational American company. The conference was held at the massive newly built Westin Blue Bay Resort & Spa.

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During my stay there I got the chance to have a chat with the General Manager of the Blue Bay Resort mr Douglas Ariza Giammaria. Douglas, who comes from Colombia and has made a career of going around the world to run hotels was now in China managing this resort. I asked him what he had learnt by coming to China.

He said: “I have learnt to appreciate the Chinese approach to service.”

I found his answer very, very interesting, because many non-chinese, (and perhaps also many Chinese) will argue that service in China absolutely sucks.

I sure know that when I arrived in China for the first time in 2005 I was equally amazed and appalled by how waiters would throw the food infront of the guests and how guests would spit on the floor of restaurants. But I also understood what mr Giammaria was trying to say, because few things are purely one-sided.

He said: “I have come to realize that the Chinese are warm and friendly people. When they serve you they do not look for the tip, they just want to serve you, it’s about face for them.”

He explained that the first impression of Chinese for many might be that they are rude, harsh or unfriendly but, as he said “you have to look deeper. At the core they really are warm and friendly people.” With this I agree.

In many ways they can be the most genuinely service minded people you can meet. In other ways they can be the least service minded people you can ever meet.

And here is the interesting thing: Service-quality in China has increased leaps and bounds in the last few years. Sure, you can still get the “plate-thrown-on-the-table-service” in many local places, but in places like the Westin, there service quality is on par – if not better – than in any other place on earth where there is a Westin.

Ask a waiter at the Westin Blue Ray Resort for a glass of Coke and she will reply “Certainly, sir.”
Meet a cleaner in the corridor outside your room and she will look you in the eye, smile and say “Good morning.”

Thanks to massive service training by companies like the Westin (and Hyatt, Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons etc.) the best practices from the rest of the world has now arrived in China.

At the same time they have kept many of the best practices of their own way of thinking of service.
The result is world class service as a result of the best of both worlds.

Globalisation gets a lot of bad rep, and especially around how local products, customs or traditions are traded for new foreign ideas.
And sure, it can be sad in some cases.

But we seldom talk about the opposite: about how the global distribution of ideas and customs are transfered around the world in order to improve how things are done.

Like, for example, how the service in China has gone from being one of the worst expericences in the world, to today being a place where you can get some of the best service on this planet.

Who would have thought.

Well, that’s what happens when you are open for new ideas from the outside. Which brings us to the coconuts.

Did you know that coconuts floats? Well, they do.

And because they float they can travel from their “hosts” to new shores to plants their roots in new places.

That is how I look at ideas. Ideas should be allowed to float. To spread. To travel.

And we should all be open to picking up those ideas from other shores if doing so makes our lives better.

That is what the island of Hainan has thought me about the world today: That we should be more like coconuts.

 

Fredrik Haren, aka “The Island Man”, plans to visit 100 islands, in at least 25 countries, on at least 6 continents – in less than 100 months. The purpose of this “World Tour of Islands” is to get a better understanding of the world, a deeper understanding of the people who live here and a broader understanding of life.
Hainan was island number 1, China was country number 1 and this is month number 1.

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