Stockholm's Creative Soul
I finished off 2018 with a week leading an innovation program in Stockholm, Sweden which included visits to some great innovative Swedish companies (H&M and Solvatten, more on these companies in a later blog). Did you know that year over year, Sweden frequently lands in the top 10 for the most innovative countries in the world? In Canada anyway, we talk way more about Swedish hockey and much less about Swedish innovation when we are looking for inspiration of any kind, especially creativity! How Sweden flies under the radar was on my mind as I explored the home of IKEA, H&M, Volvo, Electrolux and Spotify to just name a few huge commercial contributions of this land. Having grown up driving Volvos in a time when they were functional, very safe, durable and unique in design, and a little boring, I am not surprised that this car was birthed in this land. My colleague and I arrived a couple of days early so we could explore the city and the culture of the people of Stockholm. Stockholm struck me as civil, beautiful, modest, sleek, well designed for people, bikes and cars, and very, very safe. The citizens of Stockholm go about their day, seem mindful of your presence, and ready to provide you what you need, but not overtly needing to, and don’t feel the need to be overtly friendly. When I arrived at the taxi stand in Stockholm after my transatlantic flight, the first taxi I could take was a big van and right behind it was a Tesla and its driver. I thought I’d ask if I could go in the Tesla knowing that in Toronto, you have to take the first car in the line. Well not only did the first driver say go ahead, he helped carry one of my bags into the Tesla! He smiled and wished me a wonderful day. I actually didn’t come across one irritated, frustrated or angry Swede (really!). Contrast that to 5 minutes in the Frankfurt Airport where we lucked out twice with snarky, edgy people on our way home. It was actually rather Zen in a city of 1.5 million people. I am reminded that in my favourite sport of hockey, Swedes are rarely fighters or bullies in the NHL, instead they are playmakers, working hard, skating fast and getting results.
The city works really, really well. It cares about its public spaces, and those spaces reflect the cool Nordic surroundings it is built in. It embraces its environment and so do the people. The bike lanes are filled with people even though it’s December and at least -2 outside. Another reflection of the integration of people and the environment is The Woodland Cemetery. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and is beautiful, poetic, peaceful and unassuming. There are no large monuments to any of the dead that lie within – not even for Gretta Garbo. The tombstones are quite similar in nature, and it is a statement that even in death, you are a part of community. It’s located on about 250 acres of pine-covered boulder ridge designed by the famous modernist architects Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz. Considered one of the most important works of the modernists, it evokes a Nordic philosophy on nature, life, and death.
I could easily see how IKEA – and its products and services could be birthed in a place like this and despite years of competitors copying their business model, they still remain the leader in this space. And they too have embraced the environments they do business in, constantly evolving. I guess that is Stockholm, a city that is over 400 years old with old architecture and cobble stone streets, yet feels so modern in so many ways. It appears to have hit a rather perfect balance of socialism and capitalism. I flew away inspired and so appreciative of such a place, and look forward to returning in the very near future.