Foreign Insight: The Scandinavia Edition


(Business Lounge Journal – Foreign Insight) Scandinavia, a region in Northern Europe share a lot similarities in culture and heritage that makes the Scandinavian countries, namely Norway, Sweden, and Denmark famous worldwide.  Widely famous as the birthplace of Vikings, today Scandinavian countries are widely famous for being an exemplar of egalitarianism and equality around the world.

This trait is not appear overnight, as since a long time ago, the Scandinavian people has been practicing egalitarianism to the point where people would negatively portraying and criticizing individual success, as mentioned by the famous Scandinavian author, Aksel Sandemose, who drew an informal “Law of Jante”, which consists of ten rules;

  1. You’re not to think you are anything special.
  2. You’re not to think you are as good as we
  3. You’re not to think you are smarter than we
  4. You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than we
  5. You’re not to think you know more than we
  6. You’re not to think you are more important than we
  7. You’re not to think you are good at anything.
  8. You’re not to laugh at us.
  9. You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
  10. You’re not to think you can teach us

Generally used colloquially in Scandinavian and even Nordic countries. So albeit informal, these rules might be the explanation on; why most of us (all of us, even) easily recognized the CEO of Apple and Microsoft from United States, but only a few of us recognized that Skype, English First, and even Minecraft are Swedish product.

Simply put, Scandinavian abhor boasting their achievement.

But what makes Scandinavian famous is, that these rules, which could appear rigid to some, are able to adapt and progress through time.

Is the Law of Jante still work? How Scandinavian business model works? Ms. Hilde Solbakken from the Royal Norwegian Embassy and Mr. Mark Magee from IKEA Indonesia will explain more on what makes Northern European’ culture endure and strong.

Hilde Solbakken: HS
Mark Magee: MM

The Scandinavian Culture

HS: I think one common theme for the Nordic countries is that there is a strong tradition for egalitarian values that go far back. And I think a lot of positive things that we’ve seen in the Nordic countries and the Scandinavian countries is based on this. I mean the equality between men and women that we don’t have, we don’t have big differences between rich and poor. There’s a greater emphasis in schools for example that everybody should have equal opportunities and especially students who struggle a little bit are given extra, extra attention and training and so on.

MM: In Swedish, we refer to as tillsammans. Tillsammans means together all Swedes believe that we should stand together. We all believe that everybody is equal. It’s not okay for somebody to have special treatment. Everybody should be treated the same, whether you’re the boss or whether you’re the coworker, whether you’re cashier whether you are the logistics warehouse person, everybody is treated as equal. Everybody’s view is respected.

HS: But on the other hand, especially according to this author, Aksel Sandemose, in small communities it can also translate into a kind of a small minded attitude, saying that: you shouldn’t think that you are better than us and don’t come here and try to teach us anything. You better not laugh at us, I mean these are some of, some of the 10, 10 laws that he kind of invent them for this community.

And I think the reason that it has become such a strong concept in, in Scandinavian mindset in a way is because there’s a lot of people recognized this. This tendency to try to cut people down if they have too much success, may be also little bit the fear of the unknown. It’s very much about us and them and sort of the strangers coming in.

MM: Everybody is equal everybody’s view is sought. And to act in a way negative to that is seen as not a good way to operate. So we believe in people and we believe that we make the best decisions when we act together.

HS: So the Jante law is really something negative. It’s about– it’s in a way against the success of the individual and instead sort of guarding the collectively or the group.

The Scandinavian Business Culture

HS: if you really, if you really sort of stick to the idea and the law of Jante then you wouldn’t allow any entrepreneur or any sort of individuals geniuses or anything to blossom and have success. But obviously what we actually see in Norway today and the other Scandinavian countries is that there is a great deal of entrepreneurship. And the great deals of these individuals who do go out there and do new things, do different things.

MM: Today there are over 390 IKEA stores in 48 different countries. Part of the success of the IKEA business is down to the people. It’s the way we operate the stores. Today, we have a hundred and sixty thousand people working for IKEA in supply chain, in design, and in our retail operations and distribution.

We all think the same way we’re all guided by our Swedish management style. We believe that it is the heritage of our Swedish management style that gives us a competitive advantage. We listen to each other, we work together, we appreciate each other. And for me, that is one of the key elements of why IKEA is successful across the globe.

MM: If you work at IKEA, you have to work in the Swedish way. Many friends asked me what is the Swedish way. Well, let me try to describe that a little bit. Here at IKEA, we believe in flat management structures. We don’t have a huge number of layers in our management. We believe that the best person to make decisions in our business is the person who faces the customer. We want everybody in IKEA to be able to make those decisions, and we say that taking responsibility is a privilege. You don’t need to wait for the boss to tell you what to do. You are empowered to do what you think is right for our customers.

Also back to our Swedish roots,  we are very, very keen that we have equal opportunities for both male and female. You’ll find that in practically every IKEA operation, we have a gender balance, fifty-fifty. So we believe that we can get the best from our workforce whether they’re male or female, and we believe what’s important is performance not gender. That comes from our Swedish roots, that comes from what we believe in.

HS: As I said I think the egalitarianism I think has been quite positive for the Nordic countries. So if you look at that more broadly whether it’s I mean you can also interpret that in different ways but that is sort of equal value of each human being in relation to God or the state or whatever. Or if it’s small sort of from creating equal opportunities for everybody. So I think egalitarianism is most good. I think the law of Jante describes the downside of the egalitarianism, kind of when egalitarianism, egalitarianism is taken too far where it doesn’t allow anybody to be different. And particularly doesn’t allow anybody to, to have success or do particularly well compared to others.

HS: But I think young, young people in Norway today, they don’t let that stop them or hinder them. I think they have a much more relaxed attitude to the this than in the past. And I think is also very important that, that we do moved away from from the sort of negative putting down others because Norway is also now a country where with very many immigrants and also children and grandchildren of people who emigrated to Norway. And again if you look at the Jante law, then they are saying that, oh you’re different from– you’re different from us you from the outside and then that would be bad and they would be putting them down. I think we we we can’t have a society like that. We have to be open and inclusive to the new people who come to Norway. So I think that– I think the Jante law really should be debunked.

Michael Judah Sumbayak adalah pengajar di Vibiz LearningCenter (VbLC) untuk entrepreneurship dan branding. Seorang penggemar jas dan kopi hitam. Follow instagram nya di @michaeljudahsumbek