By Thomas Høgebøl, CEO and Founder of The North Alliance
The phrase ‘dog eat dog’ is attached to the business world with increasing frequency these days. For those unfamiliar with this expression – which may well include some of my fellow Scandinavians – it is an expression used to emphasise the need for ruthlessness in business. It asserts that without aggression, selfishness and mistrust of other companies you are doomed to fail, or be (metaphorically) devoured.
I disagree with this. Though there are often tough decisions to be made in business, the notion that you need to be alone to be successful is simply untrue. This self-obsessed mentality, where everyone is looking over his or her shoulder to see who is wielding the knife, leads to a toxic corporate culture and unnecessary isolation. It is dangerous to see everyone as an enemy.
Instead I would advocate collaboration, the acknowledgment that with the help of others you can achieve much more. I am such a firm believer in this principle that I built my business on it.
Scandinavians have always been good at this. We have an unfair advantage, seeing as the notion of cooperation is one deeply engrained within our business culture. We tend to observe the Law of Jante, a form of Ten Commandments for collaboration and harmonious coexistence. From the 1936 book A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks, by Danish-Norwegian author Aksel Sandermose, the Law supposes that no individual is greater than the group. It is only with the help of others that you can flourish; a person that tries to succeed alone does not understand success itself.
This is one of the many reasons why Scandinavia is so prosperous as a region. Despite its relatively small population, the Nordics have a lengthy list of success stories (such as Skype, IKEA, Spotify, Volvo etc.). Though there are some Scandinavians who consider Jante restrictive, there are also plenty who see it as the embodiment of what makes the region so great. The humility and egalitarianism that comes with it has, I think, been one of the main contributing factors to Nordic success. I encourage it within my own company too: to the extent that 100 of our employees make up our active shareholders. By being firmly ‘in it together’ we can nurture the camaraderie and drive conducive to greatness.
The rest of the world is finally starting to catch up. Some of the biggest international companies are now incorporating smaller organisations within; so as to pool collective insights and skills across more than one craft. This is no more common than in the design sector, an industry that is of increasing relevance in the realms of tech and communications. In this year alone, Facebook, McKinsey and Accenture all acquired smaller design agencies (Teehan+Lax, Lunar and Fjord respectively) in order to bring more dynamism to their work. Understanding the need for cooperation, and the importance of providing more than just a single service, is very much in vogue.
In summary, the ability to collaborate is a crucial one. To move away from short-term competitiveness and to understand the bigger picture is a mature and shrewd business move. By appreciating that other people are experts in their own given fields is to see the value of making and keeping allies. Harmonious collaboration is the key – by working together you can achieve more than just the sum of your parts. You shouldn’t always eat the other dog. After all, wolves hunt in packs.