Summary of Nordic Business Forum 2015 presentations

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Last week I spent two days at the Nordic Business Forum 2015 listening to great presentation by world-class speakers and business thinkers. In case didn’t have a chance to attend or did attend but didn’t make your own notes, I wanted to share my notes with you. Here is what I learned and picked up at this year’s NBF.

John C. Maxwell

  • When you’re young you have energy, but not wisdom. When you’re old, it’s vice versa.
  • He who thinks he leads, but no one follows, is just taking a walk.
  • John’s book 21 irrefutable laws of leadership (bestselling leadership book ever)
  • Law of the lid. How well you lead, determines how well your organization succeeds. Leadership is the limit (lid) of your success. If you grow as a leader, you can grow your organization to succeed better.
  • Law of process. Leaders develop daily, not in a day. It takes a long time to become a good leader.
  • New book: Intentional Living.
  • The more you know, the more you know what you don’t know.

Five levels of influence/leadership (leadership is influencing people):

  1. Position (rights). People follow because they have to (because of your position in the organization). This is the lowest level of leadership. This is a good place to start, but a terrible place to stay. There is a difference in having a leadership position and being a good leader. If you’re a level 1 leader, people will give you the least amount of effort as they are able to without getting fired. If you have to tell people you’re the leader, you’re not. At this level people don’t like you as a person.
  2. Permission (relationships). People follow because they want to. People believe in their leader and the leader believes in their people. Level 2 leaders do three things really well: listen, observe behaviors, and serve. Learn to listen better and how to ask good questions. Good leaders never say: ”Its lonely at the top” because good leaders have people around them. If you’re alone at the top, you’re not a leader, you’re a hiker. Culture is what you’re doing and what you’re doing determines where you’re going (it does not work the other way around). Level 2 leaders say to their people: ”you don’t work for me, you work with me.” At this level people like you as a person.
  3. Production (results). People follow because of what you have done for the organization. This is the level where you gain the credibility to lead as you have produced results (level 2 leaders are good friends). These leaders lead by example. At this level you are a visual example how to succeed in this organization. Stanford research says that 89 per cent of what we have learned we have learned visually. Too many leaders are like travel agents, they send people to places they have never been to themselves. Level 3 leaders are like tour guides. Level 3 leaders produce momentum in the organization (managers solve problems). They also attract better people to the company because smart people want to work for people who are smarter than they are.
  4. People development (reproduction). People follow because of what you have done for them. You have trained and mentored your people and have made them better. They do three things really well: recruit people (because they who exactly what they are looking for), position their people well according to their strengths and they equip their people well. Five steps to equip people: I can do the thing I need to teach someone, I do the thing and you come watch me do it, you do the thing and i come with you to watch you do it, you do the thing (addition step), you do it and someone is with you (multiplication step).
  5. Pinnacle (respect). People follow because of who you are and what you represent. You can’t teach this, it is something you earn from your people. Assignment: list the people you lead and consider with each what level you are on with them.
  • Have any great men born here? No, no great men. Just babies.
  • Note that these layers build on top of each other.
  • There is no such thing as work-life balance. You can’t balance your life, you can only prioritize.


Arianna Huffington

  • Huffpost is an open platform, anyone can send interesting content by emailing
  • Mobile first, 50% video
  • Lifestyle and wellness (reducing stress, increasing productivity) is a big area in huff post. They call this thriving.
  • Huff Post has a section called ”Good news”
  • They cover Donald trump in the entertainment section
  • When the pope opened a Facebook page their headline was ”poke the pope”
  • ”No brilliant jerks allowed.” meaning no assholes in the company.
  • World of work is fueled by burnout
  • Leaders are measured by their decision making
  • If you identify too much with your job you won’t be able to take risk because losing your job affects your whole identity.
  • Turn off your devices (tablets, phones and laptops) at least 30 minutes before you go to bed and gently escort them out of your bedroom.


Nilofer Merchant

  • ”Fuck the channel” – Steve Jobs
  • Leaders need to look into the future and also manage the day to day business.
  • See(k) around corners
  • Learn to unlearn
  • A company made more money than expected, so they created a pool and people could pitch ideas. This resulted in a positive cycle where people were committed to their ideas and executed them with little or no money (equivalent to google 20 percent own time).


Guy Kawasaki

  • Dent the Universe.
  • I guarantee you that Steve Jobs is telling god what to do now.
  • Two most characteristics of tech speakers: they suck and they go long.
  • When you want to make graphics, try Canva.

Ten key points of disruptions

  1. Make meaning. Great disruptions happens when people want to create meaning instead of money. If you intend to make money you will attract the people that will not stick with you during the bad times. Google = information, Apple = computing, eBay = commerce.
  2. Make a mantra. How does your meaning change the world? Why should you exist? This should be two or three words. Don’t fall for clichéd mission statements. Wendy’s = healthy fast food, Nike = authentic athletic performance, FedEx = peace of mind.
  3. Jump to the next curve. The evolution of ice delivery (lake, ice factory, refrigerator). Note that usually and ice factory worker would not become a fridge builder.
  4. Roll the dicee. Five qualities of products and services that jump to the next curve: deep (features that the customers would not anticipate needing), intelligent (features that you need), complete (everything you need), empowering (they make you better), elegant (somebody cared about the user design and interface)
  5. Don’t worry, be crappy. In Silicon Valley they ship and test. Your revolutionary product can have crappy elements. Think Minimum Viable Product.
  6. 6. Let 100 flowers blossom. Don’t worry if the wrong people buy your product or that they use it for the wrong purpose.
  7. Polarize people. When you disrupt, some people will hate your product and other will love it. If people don’t care about your product, you should worry. It needs to trigger a response. Great products and services polarize people.
  8. Churn baby, churn. You need to constantly improve your revolutionary product.
  9. Niche thyself. Unique x Value two-by-two chart. Bottom right = you need to compete on price. Top left = just plain stupid (you own a market that doesn’t exist), bottom left = worst of all (there are other companies doing the same stupid stuff, low uniqueness and still need to compete of price), upper right = where you want to be. Convince the world that your product is unique and valuable. This is all the marketing you really need to now.
  10. Perfect your pitch. Formula: Customize your intro. Follow the 10-20-30 rules (max 10 slides, duration no more than 20 minutes, use minimum 30 point font). Turn your slide background to black (more readable and visually appealing).
  11. Don’t let the bozos grind you down. In many cases rich and famous equals lucky, not smart. Rich and famous bozos are dangerous. If somebody says it couldn’t or shouldn’t be done, don’t listen to them. ”We have one child and my wife she is in beta with our second child.”

Simon Sinek

  • We are social animals and our ability to survive depends on our ability to co-operate and trust each other’s. The problem is that these are not instructions, they are feelings. You can’t instruct someone to trust someone else. Where do trust and co-operation come from?
  • Life in Paleolithic times was dangerous and scarce. In order to feel safe we needed to be in groups. We evolved to trust each other’s and co-operate to survive. How do we build is circle of safety?
  • The reason we love Southwest Airlines is that their employees feel safe and empowered. This benefits their customers and the company.
  • In great organizations people do not feel that they need to protect themselves.
  • All our feelings are governed by four chemicals: endorphins (masks pain from physical strain), dopamine (signals reward from achieving a goal, i.e. natures incentive), serotonin (leadership and status) and oxytocin (love and friendship).
  • We are very visual animals because we have evolved that way. We are very bad in handling abstract things. This is why you should write goals down and make things in business as concrete as possible. Think Martin Luther Kings ”I have a dream”.
  • Metrics are important because we know when we make progress. In addition to metrics we need a destination or purpose.
  • Goal = 50 kilometers. Vision = something that is not there yet.
  • If you create a predominantly dopamine-based environment (hit the goal, get a bonus) it can become very very addictive. In time this addictive environment will become toxic.
  • Things that release dopamine are e.g. alcohol, nicotine, gambling, your cell phone…
  • Dopamine and endorphins entice repetitive behavior. And they are ”selfish”. Their effect last a short time.
  • Serotonin and oxytocin are ”selfless” molecules. Their effect lasts long.
  • Public recognition releases serotonin and is very important for social animals. Serotonin is very closely tied to self-confidence. Money or non-public recognition does not release serotonin. Money cannot replace time and energy spent.
  • We are hierarchical animals and we are constantly judging each other ”who is alpha”. When we see an alpha, we voluntarily step aside and let the alpha eat and mate first. This is why it does not bother anyone in a company if a senior member makes more money, drives a nicer car or has a better parking spot. However, this comes at a cost because the group expects that the alpha will protect them in times of danger. This is why we hate leaders that sacrifice their own for their own personal benefit. Great leaders sacrifice the numbers in order to save their people. If people feel that the leader will sacrifice themselves for their people, they will give her their love, respect, blood, sweat and tears.
  • In the marine corps the most junior member eat first and the most senior eat last. Leaders (as well as parents) take care of their people (or children) first and only after they take care of themselves.
  • Being around people we know and like makes us feel safe. Strangers are scary. Physically touching people you know releases oxytocin. We will rather do a handshake deal than a written contract without shaking hands.
  • When someone gives us their time and energy, it makes us feel great. E-mail doesn’t work because its too easy. Think how it would make you feel if instead of a thank you e-mail you would receive a hand-written thank you letter with the same words. Which would make you feel better? E-mails is great for exchanging information, but it is terrible for everything emotional (criticisms, praise, ideas etc.).
  • Unlike dopamine-based systems, good leadership/parenting/education is impossible to measure on a daily basis. Same goes for exercise, looking at the mirror every day doesn’t tell you anything.
  • You get a dopamine hit when your cell phone buzzes or beeps and it can create an addiction. In time you will waste time, waste resources and ruin relationships, like with all addictions. If you hold your phone in your hand (or on the table) when you are with people, sends a subconscious signal to the people that you don’t think they are very important. If someone wants to talk to you, put your phone in your pocket or purse, close your lap top and ask ”What can I do for you” or ”How can I help”.
  • Trust is built in small conversations over time. Small talk is important.
  • Charge your phone in the living room, not in the bedroom.
  • When I am in a meeting with executives, I start by getting a big bowl and collecting everyone’s cell phones. This helps people relax in the meeting and even during the breaks people don’t start checking their cell phones even though they are allowed to.
  • What if we would gauge the executive golden parachutes for the company’s five year performance after the executive leaves? This would encourage the right behaviors.
  • Peer recognition is very powerful.
  • Think 2×2 table of performance and trust. In the Navy Seals they know that a high performer with low trust is a toxic leader. They rather promote medium or even low performers that have a high trust. However in companies often promotions depend mostly on performance. (How do you measure individual trust in an organization).


Mette Lykke & Alf Rehn

  • Mette and two other McKinsey consultants started Endomondo because wanted meaning and make an impact in the world.
  • ”Can we use technology to make business fun?”
  • Whatever our wildest dreams maybe, they only scratch the surface of what is possible.
  • Endomondo took 2,5 years to get to 1 million users
  • Problem: 80% of people would like to exercise more but are not motivated enough. This is the problem Mette & co wanted to solve.
  • You need to have a passion for what you do. Otherwise you become a consultant.
  • Often people are so busy with their lives that they forget to think about what their passion is.
  • Think ”What’s the worst thing that can happen.” when you want to pursue your passion.
  • We should teach our kids that entrepreneurship is a real job option. And start at a very early stage.
  • Alf: Universities are engines to create civil servants.
  • Governments should think about how they could help private people invest in start-ups e.g. with tax deductions. Or giving tax breaks on start-up equity.
  • Alf: most entrepreneurs don’t think in terms of nations or nationalities.
  • Spend your time mostly on meaningful activities i.e. Things that make sense.
  • If you don’t want to have a beer with your business partner, find a new one. You need to like them.
  • When you’re young, you’re naive and that’s good when you start a business.
  • Also when you’re young your living expenses are lower, so you can tolerate a lower salary level better.


Keith Cunningham

  • Most business owners are playing ”pin the tail on the donkey” with their company.
  • What you don’t know can kill you.
  • People don’t go out of business because they have bad ideas. They go out of business because they don’t know what is sabotaging their business.
  • There are four things that a CEO cannot delegate: organization chart (who does what), culture, strategy/machine (plan to overcome some business obstacle), allocation of resources
  • See it, solve it, own it, do it.
  • Keith’s three rules of business: Let’s do the right thing (if you don’t want your mama to read about it in the newspaper), do the best work we can, show other people that you care
  • What do you prioritize: getting new customers or keeping existing ones? Most people seem to be tilted towards getting new customers and it may hurt their business.
  • There are only two reasons to spend money in business: keep existing customers (do something people will notice) and getting new ones (get people to notice what we do).
  • Ask yourself: how big would your business be, if I still had every customer who ever tried me?
  • Why aren’t we two times bigger: Not enough customers? Customers not buying enough? Customers are not returning? Not enough prospects? All these are symptoms, not problems.
  • We all have an ”is” line (reality). We also have an ”ought” line (vision). The difference between these lines is the symptom.
  • Generalizations kill clarity. We need clarity in our businesses because we need optics. We need optics to make better decision.
  • Important book Think and Grow Rich.
  • You should schedule time to think. However you need to have a really good question to think about. For example: How did this get to be a problem to begin with? What could I do to improve my situation or make things better? If I could only ______ really really well, I could solve this problem? Where have we tolerated mediocrity, lowered our standards or allowed inconsistent execution to become an acceptable performance criteria? Competitively, why do customers buy from us? Why isn’t this strength sufficient to cause more potential buyers to stop doing business with our competition and to start doing business with us?
  • You get what you tolerate.
  • Nothing can change until the unsaid is spoken.
  • Keith has developed more than 650 questions that give him clarity.
  • Southwest: ”a plane on the ground doesn’t make money.” This is why they are really good at baggage handling.
  • Simplify, the 4 questions: 1) who do i want to buy from me (everything else results from this), 2) what must happen to cause them to buy, 3) what must happen to keep them buying, 4) what could them cause not to buy
  • Why didn’t the people who were reached by your marketing buy from you? Because there is a risk to switch suppliers?
  • How can you provide your customers with certainty of success?
  • How would you have to run your business, if you’re growth would become only from referrals?
  • Strategic growth summary
    • Allocate your resources to keep existing customers
    • Figure out what is the real problem instead of the symptom
    • Think. Smart people have great answers, geniuses have great questions. Have great questions and schedule time to think about them.
    • Simplify. Remember the 4 questions. They are what really matter.
  • On any given Saturday, I can have my team beat your team or your team beatmy team. – coach Paul ”bear” Bryant


Garri Kasparov

  • Has made 89,612 chess moves during his career, every one is a decision, some obvious, some unique
  • Before I can offer answers, I need to understand the situation. There are no universal answers.
  • The first thing to improve your decision making, is to know yourself.
  • Everything is connected. What happens now can affect something in the future.
  • Substance and style.
  • It’s about your ability to force the opposite side to play your game. You need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of you and your opponent.
  • If you are uncomfortable in the situation, you are more likely to make bad decisions.
  • More information usually does not translate to better performance. Learn to know when you have gathered enough information to make an informed decision.
  • Computers are useless, because they can only give you answers. – Pablo Picasso
  • Dave Ferrucci, Bridgewater (formerly part of IBM Watson team): Computers can ask questions, but they just don’t know which questions are important.
  • If you lose a game, you should go back and analyze why.
  • If you want to know what happened to AltaVista, you can Google it (oh, the irony).
  • It’s not just the iPhone that dominates, it’s the concept that it originated.
  • Gravity of Past Success is the disease that often affects industry leaders.
  • Every system will contain a problem that cannot be solved within the system itself. – Kurt Gödel
  • Google n-gram search analyzes Google Books to find the frequency of a given word.
  • Many great innovations are just commercial applications of inventions made a long time ago e.g. Internet and mobile phones were conceived in the 60s and 70s.
  • Individuals shape the culture but like a boomerang so that culture also shapes us.
  • Hans Solo: ”Never tell me the odds.”
  • Risks are always worth taking, because they move us forward.
  • You have more computing power in your pocket than NASA had in 1969 to take men to the moon.
  • Have we become more risk averse as a society?
  • You can’t fix just one element and think it will solve your problem. You need to always look at the big picture.


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