I have spent great deal of time in the Nordic countries over the last year. Throughout all my travels there, one of the most interesting cultural lessons has been about The Law of Jante.
Check the Wikipedia listing for the details, but at a high level, it’s an idea that discourages individual success. Instead, it favors social stability and harmony and in general entails never boasting about your own work. Being a Los Angeles native and working now in Silicon Valley, I found this was all quite foreign.
You might say these countries have taken the #humblebrag to a whole new level. It is both absurd and fascinating at the same time. I’m still trying to understand just how much influence The Law of Jante has on modern-day business in the region. Thankfully, I can already tell younger generations are ready, albeit somewhat unprepared, to challenge this approach as they carve their own path.
Of course, much of this thinking is completely incompatible with start-up founder life. As defined by the author Aksel Sandemose (pictured here), the Law of Jante consists of 10 main rules. Luckily, founder life also allows you to bend the rules. In some cases, you can outright break them. To that end, I present the 10 new rules (with the old rules listed first for comparison) of The Laws of Jante, Founder Edition:
(View the new rules in Norwegian)
You’re not to think you are anything special.
You’re something special and probably a little crazy.
You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
You’re going to think you are better than your competitors are.
You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
You’re to make us think you’re smarter than we are.
You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.
You’re going to convince yourself that you are getting better every day.
You’re not to think you know more than we do.
You’re going to act like you know more than your investors do, even if you don’t.
You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
You’re not to think you are more important than we are (unless you’ve had a incredibly successful exit previously).
You’re not to think you are good at anything.
You’re not good enough at anything, but you’re figuring it out.
You’re not to laugh at us.
You’re to laugh at yourself and others, often.
You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
You’re not to care what anything thinks about you.
You’re not to think you can teach us anything.
You’re going to teach your fellow founders everything.
As you can see, much of the theme here states that an individual is not special. However, that’s very much not the case for founders. They are indeed special. They have taken the path of most resistance, and in the process might just change the world. For that, we salute them and, at the same time, should let them redefine some of the rules.
Want to learn more about working with Norwegians? Check out my book on the subject.