Why have small countries like Finland and Scandinavia produced such global power house like Ikea, Nokia, Ericsson and Volvo?
I think it’s down tot he national character that is prevalent in these Nordic countries. Both Swedes and Finns tend to be quiet, modest people (at least compared to Brits and Yanks, who seem loud and egotistical by comparison). Let’s face it, if you live in a climate which is dark and cold most of the year, you don’t really feel like being loud and outrageous. In the past, just surviving the winter months would have been tough enough. And when the community has to pull together just to survive there is not much time for grandstanding or rampant individualism. So the Nordic national character developed in this way – both respecting the stillness and power of a cold natural world, while keeping the community together. In fact there is quite a famous Swedish comedy called “Together” which pokes fun that this concept. This community feeling means that both Swedes and Finns don’t like to stand out from the crowd. You can see it in the way they dress. Sure, people are fashionable, but, as one Swede said to me, you don’t want to be “too” over dressed or too plainly dressed. You need to be “in the middle” (which is literally a Swedish phrase to describe their national character).
Ordinarily you’d think that would lead to rampant rignt-wing conservatism, but that focus on community has helped foster a pretty good natured desire for social democracy and state support for the vulnerable. At its worst however, it’s lead to a sclerotic obsession with benefits – something most European democracies are now trying to deal with as populations age.
But that doesn’t explain why we got Nokia and Ericsson. My theory is that, constrained by the desire to look and act similarly, the Scandinavian character has instead had to strike out in new directions to vent its creativity. Combined with their geography, on the edges of Europe, this means the region has produced outward looking societies, in business and culture, ready to trade and explore. Let’s face it, the Vikings were the first!
Further: One Finn said to me “the dream of most 40-year old Finnish men is to go into the forest and build their own house.” Swedes too, love to go the archipelago – most have holiday houses there. Both nations have fostered a sense of self-sufficiency. That makes them “can-do” people. Indeed Finnish children are taught from an early age about basic skills like carpentry.
Meanwhile, back in Britain we are tripping over ourselves to keep little Darren away from the kitchen scissors. And any tradition we had for actually craft work or making things has largely been destroyed from two angles. Firstly the re-characteriation of craft as “hobbies”. So, now hobbyists are either sad people who muck around with balsa wood and Airfix glue, while women’s craftwork is cast as something old ladies do with doilies. At the other end of the spectrum, the free time of British young people is eaten up by MSN messenger, Sony Playstation, TV and Big Brother.
However, there’s hope for the Scandinavians yet. My travels here reveal that the young are as equally obsessed with text messaging and MSN as ours are, so pretty soon we’ll all be the same. “Together” indeed.