10 Business Lessons from Ragnar Lothbrok

Part I

Spoiler alert — if you haven’t seen all three seasons, read at your own peril. Nothing is included about the latest season.

It’s impossible not to admire a man who begins as a simple farmer, raids England, becomes the King of Denmark, and captures Paris, all while reinvigorating warfare and culture in a plateauing civilization. His intelligence, skill, and battle ability made us keeping watching because we wanted to know what next impossible struggle or mountainous challenge he would overcome. Here are 4 lessons on business and career that we learned from Ragnar.

  1. Have a Relentless Pursuit of Knowledge
“Odin gave his eye to acquire knowledge, but I would give far more.”

It’s one of the first lines he says to his son in the show and it foreshadows the strategy of how Ragnar will create his power and wealth. Have a relentless pursuit of knowledge. After a series of mediocre raids in the east that barely put food on the table for his family, he wasn’t satisfied. He wanted more. He didn’t know what was to the west — he had only heard rumours and tales. But he wanted to know. His curiosity led him to discover more. But to traverse the great sea, he would need a boat that could handle the power of the ocean and a way to navigate safely. He was just a simple farmer, he did not have any knowledge of boat building or navigation. But he learned. He employed Floki, the boat builder and master engineer to build him a ship that could make the journey and he found a way to ingeniously navigate safely and accurately.

Have a Relentless Pursuit of Knowledge

Application:

Ragnar always wanted more, bigger, and better and he knew that he needed more knowledge to achieve it. If his world had libraries and as ready access to information as we do today, you know he would be absorbing it like no tomorrow.

  • Read everyday — blogs, articles, books about areas that interest you and are relevant to your career and your goals.
  • Listen to podcasts subscribe to podcasts on business, marketing, technology, personal development, and politics. Audible is a great app available for iOS and Android that you can download audiobooks and listen on your phone on the way to work, gym, or at the grocery store.
  • Challenge yourself with a new project — find a new skill or project that you have been procrastinating and do it. Build a coffee table. Paint your bedroom walls. . Don’t have family and friends who can help you? Youtube. Internet. F******g figure it out.
  • Challenge yourself with a new skill — always wanted to go sailing? Learn muay thai? Jui jitsu? Sign up. Now.
  • Create a knowledge vision map — this is part of an application for one of the next lessons and I’ll go in further detail then, but think of the job/position/place you want to be at the pinnacle of your career. What are the things you will be doing? Write them down. What are the skills and knowledge you need to know in order to complete that job effectively? Leadership skills? Negotiation? Consumer psychology? Corporate Law? iOS app design? Write them down and map out when you will learn these skills and knowledge.

2. Exercise Humility

“Power is only given to those who are prepared to lower themselves to pick it up.”

Ragnar was at times arrogant, conceited, and narrow-minded; however, when it mattered most, he exercised humility. He knew he could not build a ship himself so he entrusted Floki. A great leader utilizes the strengths and weaknesses of the people around him to great effect. Arrogant and short-sighted leaders think they can do everything better than anyone else and take credit for others’ success. We’ve all had bosses like that. Did you respect them? Did that behaviour make you want to work harder and better? Probably not. Ragnar knew that he must exercise humility and respect for those below him. He also knew he wanted to be the king of the vikings, King of all Denmark, but while Horik was king, he knew that he had to be patient. He spent years, biding his time, serving under Horik with great humility. There are times when you have to be humble with those above you. Horik made many decisions that he did not agree with but he served Horik and as his superior, obeyed him until the time was right. Obviously, the ending to that story is not the way to treat a mentor in modern society but we can observe the first part of the law.

Exercise Humility

Application:

  • Make a list of 5 people close to you and write down their skills and strengths. What makes them amazing people? Next time you are with them, acknowledge and notice them for it. They will appreciate your thought and observation.
  • Make a list of your 5 greatest weaknesses. Acknowledge people around you who are strong in those areas. This may overlap with the list above. Find 5 new people.
  • Lead by service — some of the greatest leaders lead by serving. They put the people they are responsible for ahead of themselves. Contrary to popular belief, the alpha wolf travels at the back of the pack so he can watch over the safety of the pack. The beta wolves guide in the front. The alpha wolf knows that his leadership is a responsibility and he must serve those he leads (I’ll expand on this in a future blog post). The next time you are in a situation where you lead, think about this and lead by service. If you’re on a sports team, go at the front of the line of a drill so the others don’t have to. When the pitcher of beer comes to the table, pour every else’s beer first. If you have little brothers or sisters, offer to teach them new skills.
  • Honour with service — pick a mentor, leader, or boss in your life. Write down 3 ways you can honour them and their service. Bring them a coffee and remember how they like it. In your next report to them, go above and beyond what they asked. Find out what they want, and figure out a way to get it. Could be as simple as a new book. Maybe it’s a particular client they’ve had on their radar. You probably can’t get them the client but you can write a report with everything there is to know about this client, their company, and who they have used in the past (this goes back to relentless pursuit of knowledge).

3. Be Ruthless in your Commitment

The previous lesson flows nicely into the next one. Ruthlessness. As a millennial, we have a tendency to lack commitment. We make decisions and change our mind. We make promises and break them. We make plans with friends and cancel at the last minute. We have a “FOMO” or fear of missing out. We detest any sort of commitment in case something better comes along, because if we commit then they might think we actually care. We’re flaky. In our daily life, we are half-in. Ragnar is never half-in. He is always committed to his cause, his decisions, and his purpose. He makes a decision and commits to it with ruthlessness. Well guest what. His friends, his family, his enemies, they can all agree on one thing — he cares. He puts his passion and energy into committing his thoughts into action. And guess what, simply committing isn’t good enough. Now that you commit, you have to be ruthless in your commitment. Ragnar wanted to be Earl of Kattegat and he staked everything he had. When he finally had Earl Haraldson in the dirt, under his axe, he could have had mercy and let him and his family escape. But in that day and age, if he did that, not only would his followers lose respect for him, but he would have the risk of Haraldson coming back for his throne and title. Jarl Borg threatened his family and his city. While he took nearly a full season to complete the task, he destroyed Jarl Borg and any further threat to his legacy. Even a psychopath would agree that Ragnar’s blood eagle ceremony was ruthless.

Be Ruthless in your Commitment

Application:

  • Make a list of 5 goals you have. Pick one. Scratch out the rest. Write a date next to the goal. Tell 5 friends and family about this goal and when you will accomplish it. F*****g commit. Be ruthless.
  • Watch this Youtube
  • And this one
  • Watch the Revenant

4. Disconnect. Embrace Solitude.

That last one was a little heavy. Let’s bring it back down to Earth.

With all of the bombardment of media and noise in our lives, it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle. Ads on our phones. Music on the radio. Signs. Billboards. Information. It’s all noise. It’s impossible to escape. And then there’s all this bullshit about ‘multi-tasking’. We are primal beings and we need focus in a world full of distractions. In the first season, when Ragnar decided that he had to kill Haraldson, he sought solitude on the mountain. He disconnected from all distractions and gave himself the time and space he needed to make his decision. Now of course in the drama of the show, he ended up getting attacked by Haraldson but don’t let that take away from the importance of the law. Disconnect. Seek solitude. Give yourself the gift of meditation so you can centre and carry out your decision with strength and fortitude.

Disconnect and Embrace Solitude

Application:

  • Plan a hiking trip — If you live on the West Coast, there are plenty of great mountain and forest hikes close to the ocean. Honour yourself and disconnect from your phone, wifi, work and reconnect with nature. Use that time to meditate about big decisions or problems that are troubling you. The rhythmic music of the waves and the tranquility of the forest will calm you. There is something about returning to your primal state that brings you back focused and sharp. I recommend the Juan de Fuca or West Coast Trail. I’ve done both this summer alone and I plan to do the North Coast in September.
  • Read a book— We live in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. Find a place to relax, enjoy the sunset or sunrise and read at a time when the world is slowing down or beginning to awaken.
  • Focus on your goal — Do the above but instead bring a pen and paper. Before you leave, write down in big font your goal for the year. Circle it. While you are there, write down everything that comes to your mind. Everything.
  • Wake up earlier than you have to — Wake up 3o minutes earlier than you have to every morning. Drink a half bottle of water to rehydrate your body. Use that time to enjoy a coffee, think about the day, and meditate about what you are thankful for and what you will accomplish.
  • Watch King Ragnar and his mountain