What Can American Workplaces Learn From 2017’s #1 Happiest Country in the World, Norway?
How Intrapreneurship Thrives in Norway’s Public Sector
Many Norwegian organizations are state-owned. As opposed to a structure based on meeting higher and higher profit goals, organizations like NRK receive consistent funding from the government each year along with a paid user license model. In a surprising contrast from the US model, this structure actually unleashes innovation. The financial security of the organization creates safety to experiment as long as base goals are met.
At NRK, this has allowed innovative projects to emerge. One example is the experiment of slow TV, in which for about 8 hours a channel showed live feed from the train going from Oslo to Bergen. A ride I took myself (see video below) and the experiment had great success with high views. Another example is the innovative work of Millennial and project manager of the Youth department at NRK, Thea Flinder, who introduced live artist collaborations as a part of the annual music awards show, which she was responsible for as the lead architect. Rather than the typical staged performance between awards, Flinder orchestrated ongoing live collaborations, with celebrities co-creating together in the moment of the event.
The model makes it so that it’s actually more difficult for private companies to compete with the public sector – something we rarely find in the US where the private sector is seen as more forward thinking and fast growing than the public sector.
In addition to the evenness of wealth distribution reinforced by Norway’s governance, the concept of rich is historically very different in Norway. The wealthy’s dream is to build a hytte — primitive housing, traditionally without electricity and modern comforts – in remote, beautiful locations. Essentially, the rich man’s dream is what is usually considered being poor. The dream is rooted in an interesting principle, known as the Law of Jante, in which individual success is considered inappropriate and instead, equal opportunity for every individual should be the focus. It is often stated as “You are not to think that you are anyone special.” It is also rooted in the adventurous spirit of Norwegians, historically roots in Vikings, but today present as a need for a peace, a relationship with nature, and being rather than doing.
With all these elements in mind, a culture where people, life, and work are valued and supported equally. Profit is not the only driving force behind business, but the well-being of people and the community as well.
Immigrants in Norway seem to play a very particular role and take on particular positions. It’s not necessarily an easy place for an immigrant to excel. In addition to lower diversity in comparison to other developed nations, the culture is very close and tight knit. It is said that conversation only occurs between people when a purpose is already present. It can take a long time for Norwegians to become open and discuss personal issues, even among close friends. Norwegians are known for not saying hi to strangers and having a deep respect for personal space.
From my observation, the lack of diversity and lack of openness creates a hindrance to innovation. The pool for ideas and improving upon ideas is smaller. The lack of purposeless, random connections stop ideas from emerging organically, when one doesn’t know what they are looking for. In addition, Norwegians that travel outside the country may be less adaptable to other cultures, especially ones who do not have such trustworthy governance and social welfare focus.
Culturally complex, as all nations are, Norway offers multiple questions for US organizations:
- What degree of safety net could enable innovation while not hindering motivation? With very little safety net today, large American organizations tend to get mired in short-term firefighting and struggle to take risks, in a time where industry disruption is an enormous possibility.
- How do we build trust in our organizations today?
- How important is enabling employee and community well-being to an organization’s success today? Why?
- How does America’s higher degree of wealth inequality show up in the workplace?
- How has the American dream changed over the years and how does it impact the motivation of American employees, across the wealth of diversity (native or immigrant, multiple generations, etc)?
Crystal Kadakia is a two-time TEDx speaker, author, and consultant on Millennials and modernizing the workplace. Her unique expertise is in driving the connection between Millennial behavior and creating the future of work fit for a digital world. Her company, Invati Consulting, modernizes the workplace through speaking, training, and consulting solutions. She is the author of The Millennial Myth: Transforming Misunderstanding into Workplace Breakthroughs and Your Career: How to Make it Happen. She is the creator of the award-winning virtual, blended training on generations, Generation University™,the Modern Learner Workshop, and the Modern Culture Diagnostic™ that drives organizations to strategically shift culture for the needs of modern employees.