The Viking mindset

The future of Norway depends on whether it is willing to learn from failure, says previous Brain of the Year Leif Edvinsson

Photo courtesy of InnoMag Leif Edvinsson.

Photo courtesy of InnoMag
Leif Edvinsson.

Julie Vissgren

Best known for his pioneering work on Intellectual Capital, Leif Edvinsson is a Swedish professor, consultant, and organizational theorist. He was awarded the Brain of the Year award in 1998 and became the world’s first professor of Intellectual Capital in 2000 at Lund University. In this interview with the editor of InnoMag, Julie Vissgren, Edvinsson shares his thoughts on his work, his inspirations, and the state of Norway.

Julie Vissgren: What is your passion and how is it reflected in your work?

Leif Edvinsson: Design, because it adds to good mental health and enjoyment of life. It gives you a mental impact, whether you believe it or not. That’s why office design is so important. In order to have an innovative mind, you have to surround yourself with mindful things in a good context—everything from furniture to good lighting. You also need to have the right amount of oxygen to fertilize your mind and a good balance between Ying and Yang.

JV: Who/what inspires you the most?

LE: Questioning patterns and talking to good journalists. When I founded and worked at the Skandia Future Centre, I had at least one journalistic conversation per day. These were of mutual benefit because I got the help to codify some of my thinking into words and different languages. Good questions create new patterns in your head and are essential if you want to develop new insights.

JV: As the Grandfather of Intellectual Capital (IC), can you explain to our readers what it is and why it is important?

LE: IC is not about financial capital, which is usually what you associate the word with. IC is about derived insights of head-value and the hidden assets for future well-being. The roots for the fruits.

JV: What do you see as being most challenging for Norway during these recent times of restructuring?

LE: The challenge for Norway is to have something else beyond the oil. Norway was once a very successful shipping nation and has been a very successful oil nation—but if you have the same type of cultivation for too long, you no longer have the nutrition to maintain a sustainable harvest. You can’t keep fishing only one fish in the sea, and that goes for innovation as well. It needs to be multidimensional and cross-generational, where you mix old and new thinking.

However, the issue is not innovation, but continuous renewal. If you take your body as an example, roughly all the cells you have weren’t there five years ago—it’s been renewed at different speeds. Your mouth for instance recovers very quickly, but if you break a leg, it takes a lot longer. The speed of renewal in a society is therefore very important. But speed is not enough—you have to be able to shift patterns as well. So it is about navigational velocity on all levels.

JV: So if you compare Norway to a body part—which part would we be right now?

LE: Norway might be close to a broken arm! Unless you have the courage and support to renew, you will not sustain. Norway and Sweden are not culturally very overseeing with mistakes like the Americans are. Being open to learning from failure and rapid learning will be critical navigational skills for the future of Norway. You need to have the mindset of the Vikings—to have both the courage and support to explore the unknown.

Norway has tremendous potential with all the international intellectual capital you have, but you need to create an environment where it’s allowed for rapid prototyping and futurizing with the resources available in order to find new approaches.

This article was originally published on InnoMag at

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