The Vikings Have Really Improved

This year begins with a new series,

Developing Leadership Skills from History.


Should we teach business skills in schools?   Do business skills matter?

14D0B110-84C1-46F7-9CE8-0423F05B0DEEFor 373 years, the Vikings terrified Europe. The Germans were powerless before the Danes.  Vikings called the Franks in the powerful Carolingian Empire “beggars,” because they would beg for their lives.

“Here, take all of our treasure, just please leave us alone,” the Franks would cry.

But when the Vikings became Christians and the Viking age ended, the tide turned completely back.  It was not the Vikings who controlled their domains, but the Germans.  Merchants of the German Hanseatic League set up trading cities, hired armies, and established banking.  The Hanse merchants were simply better at marketing, supply chain management, and scaling.  For 300 years, the merchants controlled the economies of the Baltic and most of Scandinavia.

So as it often in history, the abacus was mightier than the battle axe.  

Japan borrowed that lesson.  In the first part of the 20th century, their military controlled Asia.  Japan grew an empire that covered (at the peak) between 1/4 and 1/3 of the world’s population.  But they lost it all pretty quickly.  So they built an economic powerhouse, and Japan is much more prosperous.  The abacus was more powerful than the katana sword.  Japanese are much more happy. 

The Viking descendants did catch up on business skills.  Now they sell tiny plastic toy blocks at 10,000% profit (Legos).  And they sell furniture cheaply by outsourcing most of the manufacturing to the customer (IKEA).

Are you developing your business skills?  Remember that basic business skills do help build economies.

:::  Be fierce.  Be kind.  Be knowledge-hungry.  :::

Stay Off Santa’s Naughty List

In my country, people practice a pretend belief in Santa Claus.  This mythical person delivers gifts to well-behaved children.  Naughty children, in theory, receive nothing.  

The definition of good vs. bad is fuzzy.  It is subjectively determined by parents in each household.  

In practice, however, poor children receive less, regardless of behavior.  Bounteous gifts are given by parents who are wealthy (or are divorced and trying to win affection, in competion with ex-spouses).

As adults, I wonder how we can stay off Santa’s “naughty list.”  How can we be better?  These are four common sins we can stop committing:

1.  Be less busy.  We need to put down phones, turn off televisions, and listen to silence.  Creativity requires quiet time.

2.  Stop using the Law of Small Numbers to make decisions.  Humans tend to make hasty generalizations based on small sample sizes.  We generalize about a race of people based on a single example.  And everyone knows someone who had a mean father, so we hate all men and publicly engage in gender shaming of boys.  Potential entrepreneurs often plan businesses based on what a group of friends might want to buy, and they fail.  

3.  Eat better.  To improve brain function, we should eat less meat and more vegetables (and no dairy).  Almost everyone should eat less sugar. 

4.  Be more humble.  Learning begins with humility, because only teachable people learn.  

That is my list for the new year.  Have a great year of continuous self-improvement.  What sins are you working to avoid?

The Positive Power of Amnesia

Jamais vu is a French term meaning “never seen.”  It is the opposite of deja vu.  (We associate it with amnesia or epilepsy.)   Jamais vu usually means not recognizing a word or person you have seen before.  

I associate it with seeing or experiencing something I have seen before, but in a new way.

To me it means seeing anything anew.  If you view something you have seen many times, but view it in a new way, with fresh eyes, we could call that jamais vu.

This is not  French language lesson.  It is a challenge.  

 Be childlike.  Be a fool.

Challenge #1:  Choose an aspect of your job and view it in a new way.  Become an outsider.  Pretend you have never seen it or heard of it before.  

If you actually saw the situation for the first time, what might you want to know?  Ask some questions to help you understand it.  

Challenge #2:  view a relationship in a new way.  For example:  if you were meeting your spouse for the first time on a blind date, what would you ask?  What would you say to impress?  Most importantly, what communication patterns would you strive to create?  (i.e. which of your current negative patterns would you avoid developing?)

:::   Be fierce.  Be kind.  Be knowledge-hungry.   :::

We Need You to Save Us

A Skill for Troubled Times

Difficult times might be coming. A cycle of violence, like the period from World War I —Russian Revolution—World War II, might begin in 2019. Hatred and irrationality are growing.

B0DF133F-ADAC-476C-B636-6EB8561EFC49Your skills will be needed.

If not a violence cycle, some regions might be hit by natural disasters.  Others may experience famine or economic collapse.  In these new cycles, we will need you to save us.

What we need is you to develop your ability to stay calm.  The psychologist Rollo May said:

Finding the center of strength within ourselves is in the long run the best contribution we can make to our fellow men. . . . One person with indigenous inner strength exercises a great calming effect on panic among people around him.  This is what our society needs — not new ideas and inventions; important as these are, and not geniuses and supermen, but persons who can “be”, that is, persons who have a center of strength within themselves.

This blog encourages you to teach yourself to be successful.  You can do that in several ways.  But sharing your inner strength might be the most important competency right now.

People might want to kill others because of their ethnicity, like Hitler did.  Or people might want to kill others because their farms are a little bigger, like Hitler’s mentor Lenin did. Both types of hatred are simmering.  Maybe they are the same thing.  Either way, please help is to make good choices by ignoring mass hysteria.

Maybe these sorts of problems will not occur again, but if they do, we depend on you to be ready.  We’ll be too busy shouting slogans  or running for cover.

:::   Be fierce.  Be kind.  Be knowledge-hungry.   :::

My Former Life as a Secret Agent

I have never told anyone this.
When I was 9 years old, I experienced a stressful event which caused me to partially withdraw from society.  I built around me a cocoon of imagination.  My whole life was fake.
I imagined I was a secret agent.
For some reason, my country needed a small boy with no athletic ability and no skills to save them.   Enemy soldiers had infiltrated our land, and I–only I–could stop them.
Sometimes soldiers entered my classroom to seize me.  After winning a gun battle across desks, I would escape.  I jumped out the window to draw off any remaining enemies, to keep my classmates safe.
I lived to fight another day.  (Spoiler alert: because I am typing this now, you know I did not die)
The Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler called this Compensatory Fantasy.  We all have weaknesses.  But instead of overcoming them, some people retreat into fantasy.

I am concerned about the current wave of superhero films.  They can be fun for most people. But for some people, the films provide escape from creating a life.  So can video games.

My plea: don’t spend too much effort in building a game avatar or an imaginary persona.   Instead, build your own real-life skills.
Once you have found your passion, invest in becoming expert at that passion.

:::  Be fierce. Be kind. Be knowledge-hungry.   :::
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