What do Norwegian sports have to do with winning in design and business?

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Illustration by Jon Graeff
Hero image
Illustration by Jon Graeff

Norway is a powerhouse when it comes to the Winter Olympics, breaking the medal count record by winning 39 medals in PyeongChang while sending less than half the athletes of the entire United States. This is all done in a system that refuses to rank or keep score in sports until the age of 13.

When the pressure to win is removed at a young age, athletes learn how to enjoy sports, it allows the space to play, and encourages team over personal growth. By reducing pressure, joy is revealed, an emotion that isn’t commonly valued in a professional space and certainly begins with a very different approach in the United States considering how early we begin emphasizing results from our children in all aspects of their lives.

As creatives, we sit in between two very opposing forces. Our jobs sit uniquely between play and business while our employers, and clients, are under pressure to find ways to encourage performance for the greatest return. This generally becomes more about the timeline, budget, and deliverables and less about how much joy is discovered in the process. 

In the Norwegian sports world, this means building a foundational culture of joy and the results are shown on the podium and how the team interacts with each other, not as individuals but as a team that truly enjoys their time together.

In the design and business world, it begins by taking a step back and realizing that we are all on the same team and ultimately everyone wants the project to be successful. Creatives and clients working together to create. It’s that simple. What is created doesn’t matter because every project is personal to the people involved. Creating the necessary space to play is guaranteed to show in the work and the client relationships because the stress of success highlights failures while the opportunities stay in the shadows.

Creativity can’t be industrialized, there is no algorithm that produces ground breaking thinking and design that delivers on a brief. When someone struggling through a task finally succeeds, there is universal emotion that can be seen and felt. Likewise, when someone is honestly enjoying the work they are doing, it is palpable to everyone around. That’s the sweet spot we should all be aiming for; how do we focus more on the actions that can deliver on the unmeasurable metric of joy?

Build relationships. Be empathetic. Stop keeping score.

We want them to be in sports because they want to be. Instead (of winning) they want to have fun and they want to develop not only as athletes but as social people.
Tore Øvrebø Head of the Norwegian team
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