There are many ways you can experience a place when travelling.
One usually starts with sightseeing – get a guide book and work your way through the unique sights of the place. Be inspired by the uniqueness of the natural visual beauty that only exists in that specific part of the world. Marvel at the man-made buildings, structures and edifices that sometimes took multiple lifetimes to complete.
The next item on the traveler’s agenda is taste touring, eating and drinking in the flavours and tastes of the area, sampling that which is perfectly normal to a culture but that sometimes seem bizarre and exotic from outside it.
Another aspect is to listen to the sounds and music of a place, the music that provides that backdrop to a culture’s daily life & love, pain and tragedy, trials and tribulations as well as the natural sounds, the birds, the animals, the wind through the forests.
What fascinates me when traveling is trying to get a deeper understanding of how that particular culture came to be. How a combination of factors created something that is so unique to that place and time. The complexity of geography, weather, biology, language, human migration, wars, famines, plagues, fires, and how they each contribute to a people that think, act, walk, talk and interact in a way that, although in some ways similar to other cultures, is definitely unique in it’s overall expression.
One example that stuck out for me was the difference between the public transport systems in Berlin and London. In Berlin, the train stations are open, with no gates blocking your entry to the trains. It’s up to you to ensure that you buy the correct ticket and validate it before you get on the train. There are random spot checks that are performed on the train and the fine can be pretty hefty if you’re caught with the wrong ticket, or without it being validated. The underlying belief seems to be that people will do the right thing most of the time and the few that don’t will probably be caught eventually with the spot checks. The cost of checking everyone isn’t justified for the few that don’t tow the line. In London, you cannot get onto the platforms without already having a ticket or a card with money loaded on it. There are monitors at every entrance to the stations checking that nothing untoward is going on. The underlying belief seems to be the opposite to Berlin, in that people will generally abuse the system so we need to put measures in place to ensure that everyone pays their dues, and constantly police that they are indeed doing so.
I may of course be misinterpreting the motivation behind the different systems, but there were other signs that led me to these interpretations. Berlin signage would generally show you what the preferred or optimal way to do something was, whereas a lot of signage in London would tell you what you weren’t allowed to do. We went to Hampstead Heath to swim in the pond and the lifeguard was constantly shouting at people to follow the rules and not to do this or that. Signs everywhere told us what wasn’t allowed on the Heath. In Berlin, you could walk around with a beer in your hand all day and night and as long as you weren’t harming anyone else, it was all good.
The overall impression I got was that London was a bit of a “nanny” state, while Berlin was a place where mostly anything goes, as long as you’re paying your way and not hurting anyone else. I don’t have empirical evidence for these interpretations, but they were the feelings I got during my time spent in these cities.
These observations were very interesting to me because I related them back to the difference between the traditional “command and control” mindset and the agile mindset that I’m always punting to my colleagues. The typical Command and Control mindset believes that all employees need to be told what to do and that they can’t be trusted to think for themselves. The Agile mindset believes that the people doing the work know best how to do the work and you should trust them to do so, because you hired them for that purpose in the first place.
Perhaps Berlin is evidence that the agile mindset can scale well?