Learning from Trolls

Greetings. This month marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Tove Jansson, the Swedish-speaking Finnish author, artist, and creator of the wonderful and popular Moomin books. Books that have delighted children and adults in Europe and around the world with their whimsical and profound tales of a family of hippopotamus-looking creatures (a.k.a., Moominmamma, Moominpappa, and Moomintroll) whose lives are filled with remarkable adventures and quirky and colorful friends like Snufkin, Snork Maiden, Sniff, Too-Ticky, and Little My. Adventures and quirks that in their fantasy world turn out to be spot on in giving us a window to our own very human inclinations and the keys to unlocking our full potential.

While her books never received as much attention here in the U.S., Tove Jansson has created a real gift for kids and adults of all ages. And they are a joyful and powerful resource in our efforts to grow as individuals and even organizations. (Not that most of you would consider reading a children’s book at work.)

At the heart of her stories is an abiding belief in the importance of family, the value of friendship and friends who are different than us, the necessity of being yourself in a world that too often rewards conformity, and the simple joy and value of being adventurous. Ideas and themes that have great meaning for all of us. And I might suggest that you find the time to read at least one of her books with your own family or co-workers then challenge yourself to think about how you might create even more compelling results by:

  • Building stronger relationships…
  • Broadening your circle of quirky friends and colleagues…
  • Inspiring those around you to be themselves…and
  • Stepping outside your comfort zones to seek adventure…

 

Moomin_kuva

We win in business and in life when we find wisdom in the world of fantasy. And when we take the time to appreciate the things that matter most.

Cheers!

The Tastes of Sweden

Greetings. For many of us, food is an important part of travel and a great way to get a deeper understanding of different cultures. And it is safe to say that Swedish cuisine has had a real renaissance in the last ten or fifteen years as innovative chefs have taken remarkable local ingredients and turned them into novel and award-winning creations. Gone are the days when Swedish cuisine could be summed up by Swedish meatballs, boiled potatoes, herring, gravlax or anything to do with a salmon, fresh strawberries and ice cream, lutfisk…a weird Nordic recipe of gelatinous fish soaked in  lye and surstromming…a fermented herring that was once described by a Japanese researcher as the worst-smelling (i.e., “putrid”) food on the planet. And that is saying a lot! In concert with the new Swedish cuisine, the Swedish spice cabinet has also expanded beyond salt, pepper, and dill, to include a vibrant mix of the world’s most engaging flavors.

Lax Tallrik

But let me take a few moments to scratch beneath the surface of Swedish cuisine to give you a sense of some of the country’s more interesting offerings.

Let me begin with sauce. Swedes love sauce. And it is safe to say that most meals would not be complete without the appropriate sauce. There are sauces for different types of fish dishes, sauces for different types of meat and game dishes, sauces for different types of potato dishes, and even a wide array of sauces for many of the most popular desserts including vanilla sauce, chocolate sauce, and even salt licorice sauce that can be used to top off your favorite treats. As someone who is not particularly keen on licorice I find this to be amazing at best and scary at worst.

Licorice Sauce

And Swedes are also crazy about aioli, which is kind of a sauce too.

Swedes also love food that comes in tubes. The most popular of these staples of the Swedish kitchen table is something called Kalles Caviar, a bright blue tube filled with creamy fish roe that Swedes put on sandwiches of eggs, cheese, or simply butter. It is kind of like peanut butter for Swedish children. And this delicacy has morphed into an ever growing collection of taste sensations that include caviar and cream cheese. Now Swedish engineers just have to figure out how to get a decent bagel in a tube. But that’s not all, you can buy mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, soft cheese and shrimp, and even herring and mackerel (yes, that’s right, herring and mackerel) in a tube. And, of course, you can also buy sauce in a tube.

Kalles

Swedes also adore candy (or “godis”) and the typical Swedish grocery store devotes a disproportionately large amount of space (by American standards at least) to a wide assortment of loose candy to be filled into handy little bags, packages of chewy candies like the especially popular Bilar (“Cars”), and candy bars. And even the world-renowned “Swedish Fish” which are made in both Sweden and Canada. I must admit that Swedish chocolate is delicious. And you can even mail candy bars to friends through the Swedish postal service (or “Posten”) simply by putting their address and a stamp on the bar itself.

Candy by Mail

Now I will leave you to draw your own conclusions about Swedes based on their food, because as French lawyer and politician Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin is credited with saying:

“You are what you eat.”

Though I think he said it a bit more cleverly.

Cheers! Or should I say “Skol!”

On the Road in Sweden

Greetings from Sweden. Those of you who follow this blog or have read “The Necessity of Strangers” know that I regard travel as one of the most remarkable ways to learn new things and stretch our thinking about how to reach our full potential as individuals and organizations. So during the next couple of weeks I will try to share some ideas, insights, and observations from my latest visit to the land of Vikings, Volvo, Skype, Spotify, and marinated fish. But before I get started it is worth noting that not everyone here in Sweden is blonde. Granted there are a lot of blonde Swedes, but many Swedes who have been here for countless generations have dark hair and there are a growing number of immigrants moving here from a wide range of not particularly blonde places. People who are bringing with them new ideas as well as new traditions, languages, religious preferences, music, foods, spices, and ways of doing business. It is simply becoming a more diverse place which poses challenges but also brings many new possibilities.

Swedes are really into technology and are innovators in many areas including IT and the internet, telecommunications, transportation, energy efficiency, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and medical technology, and even defense and aerospace. I use the word “even” in referring to defense and aerospace because Sweden has long prided itself on being a neutral country–a neutral country that creates and provides weapons to lots of non-neutral countries. And the Swedes also have a reputation for being quite concerned with automotive safety. They accomplish this in two ways. One, by engineering cars to be as safe as possible. In fact, for several decades Swedish automakers Volvo and Saab were widely regarded as the safest car brands. And two, by having strict societal pressure and significant penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol. As a result, a percentage of party-goers are automatically designated as non-drinking (alcohol that is) drivers who take on responsibility for driving their beverage-consuming family and friends home. And the hosts of parties throughout the country often provide a variety of special non-alcoholic drinks to make their experience a bit more palatable. On the engineering side the list of Swedish automotive safety advances is particularly long and includes three-point seat belts, side impact protection, car crumple zones, integrated child safety seats, and pedestrian detection systems. And I was struck by two interesting features of my 2015 Volvo xc60 rental car. It turns out that the car has a camera specifically designed to read every speed limit sign and to instantly post the speed limit clearly on the car’s speedometer the second that it changes. This helps drivers to stay continuously focused on the speed limit without having to remember the last sign that they passed. It also has self-adjusting high beams that turn themselves on and off when (a) another car is approaching or (b) the lighting environment changes (i.e., when driving into a town or city). This is pretty cool and makes it easier to focus on driving without having to continually be on the alert to turn off the high beams before blinding an oncoming driver. And there are probably a bunch of other things the car can do that I simply haven’t discovered yet. It is also worth noting that the highway department in Sweden has the ability to preempt every car radio to provide information to drivers on accidents or road closings along their way.

road-sign-recognition-keeps-you-aware-of-speed-limits-and-potential-hazards

We win in business and in life when we are continually innovating in ways that matter. And when we are all focused on traveling and driving as safely as possible.

Cheers!

The Power of Connection

Greetings. As you all now, I have a strong belief in the importance of strangers in our lives. I also believe that each day we pass by more than a hundred people who could change our lives, even if it was only for a moment. But in our haste to get to the next meeting, or run an errand, or simply get home from a long or short day at work we rarely take the time to connect. In fact, we rarely look up to catch their glance. So I was struck when I recently learned about the work of a New York City photographer named Richard Renaldi who also has a passion for connecting strangers and for unlocking the discomforts and possibilities that make us all human.

His work is fascinating. He identifies “random” people on the street and “asks them to pose in pictures together as if they were family members, friends or lovers.” And the results are quite surprising and inspiring. Results that were summed up quite simply and brilliantly by one of the women he photographed when she noted:

We are probably missing so much about the people all around us.”

Follow this link to learn more about his work and to see a short and thought-provoking video of the things that happen when total strangers come together. Then try to imagine how you and your colleagues might do a better job of connecting all of the strangers in your company or organization as the real key to greater collaboration, innovation, business success, and creating a more inspiring workplace. After all, you too are probably missing so much by failing to really connect with, learn from, and grow with the people around you.

richard renaldi

We win in business and in life when we take a chance and connect with strangers. And when we dare to believe in our own humanity and the humanity of others.

Cheers!

Getting “Out of the Box”

Greetings. While I am keen on the importance of strangers in our work and lives, I have a bit of an aversion to the popular notion of thinking “out-of-the-box” as the key to greater creativity and innovation. Yet it is still a widely-used phrase in companies and organizations that are trying to figure out how to think and act in new ways. My biggest concern is that too many businesses believe that simply calling for “out-of-the-box” ideas, often accompanied by a “suggestion box,” will create a veritable landslide of brilliance as employees suddenly feel liberated to suggest amazing possibilities for new products, services, solutions, customer experiences, and new ways of doing the things that matter most.

If only it were that simple.

As we all know, coming up with (and implementing) the right new ideas takes strategic focus, real discipline and commitment, curiosity, humility, a willingness to take calculated risks and make some mistakes, a sense of urgency, and a culture that is truly open to learning, fresh thinking, new perspectives, and the insights of people and places that are very different.

Having said this, and in the spirit of trying to be as open-minded as possible given that some things are just plain weird, I must admit that a recent feature in the New York Times challenged me to be a bit less critical of “out-of-the-box” thinking…or at least one particular example. The article in question was about a remarkable innovation in the world of funerals in which the star of the show (a.k.a., the “deceased”) is able to attend their own service in a favorite setting or pose. Settings that include sitting at the kitchen table surrounded by favorite possessions or important life symbols like a bottle of Jack Daniels, being dressed like Che Guevara with a cigar hand, sitting behind the steering wheel of an ambulance, sitting atop a favorite motorcycle, or standing up dressed as a boxer in the corner of a boxing ring.

Yes, even I must admit that this seems to represent a new and graphic way of getting “out of the box” (or out of a specific type of box).

According to the Times, this new approach to funerals first appeared in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and has now become increasingly popular in places like New Orleans…which doesn’t seem like a big surprise. And its growing popularity might even suggest a world of untapped creativity aimed at making us look as fantastic as possible until closing time. It even brought back memories of the passing of my favorite great uncle who had just returned to Boston after spending the winter in Florida. Upon seeing his tan self, one of his closest friends remarked: “The winter by the beach did him a world of good!” Not exactly. But as Billy Crystal use to say on Saturday Night Live, “It is better to look good than to feel good.”

NYT FUNERAL-articleLarge

Which begs the question of how all of us might conspire to reinvent our industries in ways that get us out of the traditional context in which we offer value to our customers. And how we might do an even better job of customizing our offerings to the unique needs, desires, and personalities of those we have the privilege to serve so they can look as good as possible.

We win in business and in life when we seek to create greater meaning in our most important moments. And when we always try to look our very best.

Cheers!