Sweden or, more accurately, the Nordics, has been in the news recently. The Guardian writer Michael Booth had a bit of a "pop", as you say in the UK. He said of the Swedes: "They don’t hate you, they are just terrified of unnecessary human contact."
Sure, Swedes have their curious ways but, on the whole, they are good listeners. They’ll do everything to avoid confrontation and reach a happy consensus, are a pleasure to be around and just so, well, darned creative.
A record number of Lions have been won in recent years. Swedish creatives seem to be de rigueur in the creative departments of the world’s leading agencies. Sweden now tops the list of the world’s most creative countries, according to the Global Creativity Index, and is ranked the second-most-innovative country, according to the Global Innovation Index.
What are we putting in the aquavit? Or does dressing in Acne clothes make you more creative?
So what’s the secret? What are we putting in the aquavit up here? Or does dressing in sleek, avant-garde Acne clothes make you more creative? I’ve tried, so it must be something else. Could it be Sweden’s democratic nature, gender equality and consideration for people and nature? Maybe. Here, it’s seen as bad form to brag. So creativity is a positive form of self-expression; the edgier the better. It also helps that Swedish creative people are used to working in environments that are non-hierarchical and encourage independent thinking. Collaboration is a given and most agencies work without silos or monopolies of skills. As a result, people feel a shared responsibility for developing great work. In other words, brilliant ideas can come from anywhere.
Regular instances of fika (a short break in which you sit down with your colleagues to drink coffee, eat cinnamon buns and chat) also help. More concrete reasons might be that creativity has actively been encouraged through government initiatives such as subsidised broadband. Another contributory factor might be that there’s little distinction between off- and online marketing. Swedish TV stations were a bit like the BBC, and TV advertising only really became widespread not long before the web was brought kicking and screaming into the world. Therefore Swedes have never really chased "film". They have been brought up understanding that every media form is an outlet for great ideas. The focus is on innovation, which means digital and social are in the DNA. The lines between disciplines constantly blur. It’s about big, juicy and brutally simple ideas served up the best way possible – a true democracy of creative discipline.
One thing is for sure: it’s an approach that’s still shaping some of the world’s best creative schools, agencies and production companies in Stockholm and beyond. Either that, or Swedes are nearly perfect. But what do I know? I’m Norwegian.
Bjarte Eide is the chief executive at M&C Saatchi Stockholm