Two great, yet simple ideas from Nordic Business Forum 2017

Nordic Business Forum 2017 was held on October 2–3 in Helsinki. With 7500 participants and well-known world-class presenters, it is definitely one of the largest and most successful business conferences in the Nordics.

Birgit Prants, Casino Release Manager at Playtech

Birgit Prants Casino Release Manager at Playtech had a chance to attend the event and of course I took the opportunity to talk to her about her impressions of the event.

Birgit, what were your expectations for the event?

Actually, I didn’t have many expectations. I only saw the list of presenters, which included Sir Richard Branson, Nick Vujicic, and at that point also George Clooney, who was later replaced with Will Smith. So, it seemed like an interesting initial lineup to me.

I didn’t do much homework about the other presenters, and honestly, I mainly went there to listen to what Sir Richard Branson had to say as he is such a well-known entrepreneur and leader. And his talk was good: he talked about how he got started, why he got started, and how he gets new ideas. But I also came across two people who were totally new to me and whose work I’d like to explore a bit more in the future.

Who were they?

The keywords of this year’s event were Purpose, Leadership, and Responsibility, and for me, of course, the most interesting subject was leadership. In addition to Sir Richard Branson and Nick Vujicic, there were also very interesting presentations from Selina Juul about food waste and Stephane Garelli about the economy, but I got the best leadership-related ideas from Adam Grant and Patrick Lencioni.

Grant talked about how original thinkers change the world and discussed the traits that such people possess. He also talked about people who are givers and takers and how they operate in the workplace. Lencioni talked about organizational health as well as the five main dysfunctions of a team and the ways in which to overcome them in order to become a better and healthier organization.

What were the main ideas you picked up from them?

Well, there are two ideas I took away with me.

The first one deals with presenting new ideas to people. It doesn’t matter if it’s to your superior or your coworkers.

Grant made it simple — you have to make the unfamiliar familiar. Basically, when you are explaining an idea to other people, you are clapping out a song for them. You can hear it in your head, but all they can hear is clapping. They have to figure out the rest of it in order to recognize the song. So, for other people to understand the ideas that you have been thinking about for weeks or months, you have to make them sound familiar.

How to do that? You have to compare the idea to existing situations or products. As an example, Grant cited the Lion King movie’s connection to Shakespeare. He said that the movie almost never got off the ground. It was conceived as “Bambi in Africa,” with lions as the protagonists instead of deer. After the first, failed script was rewritten and the directors still couldn’t understand the concept and asked for comparisons to existing texts, the writers compared it to the storyline of Hamlet. Then it made much more sense to the directors and the movie was greenlit.

The other aspect of it is to present the idea several times; to repeat it until the idea becomes familiar to the listeners. Then they have time to process it.

The second idea was about being an approachable leader. Both Grant and Lencioni talked about it. They stressed the same thing — the hero leaders’ time is over. These are the strong, unapproachable leaders who basically rule their teams. They are the supreme authority, the king of the castle, and these kinds of leaders’ time has passed.

Nowadays, a leader should be approachable, accept their mistakes in front of their subordinates, and be open to ideas from everyone instead of killing those ideas just because they are the leader.

It doesn’t seem like a new idea for the IT field, but it was presented as one of the bases of a healthy organization. To be flexible, approachable, to create an atmosphere of trust. For me, it is very important to trust the people I work with and to know that they are able to tell me what I’m doing wrong, so that I can fix my mistakes. However, I’m not sure if all leaders are as open to a situation where one can go and tell them they have a problem with some aspects of the leader’s management style.

What do you think is behind the success of the event?

I think it’s successful, because the organizers have chosen very interesting and very different presenters each year — business analysts, leaders, celebrities, activists, motivational speakers, etc. There’s something useful and interesting for all kinds of people who might have different businesses and different outlooks on life. So, variety is the keyword.

Would you attend it again?

Of course! And I encourage all who are interested to participate as well. Next year’s lineup includes Kevin Spacey and Lindsay Vonn and the keywords are Strategy, Peak Performance, and Artificial Intelligence.


Fun fact:

During his presentation, Will Smith said that his worst role-related decision was accepting a role in Wild Wild West instead of The Matrix, which he had also been offered at the same time. His favorite movie of his own is The Pursuit of Happiness.

Agree or disagree?


Check out video with Adam Grant who shares insights on how to speak up without getting silenced, and how to find allies in unexpected places:

In this video, Patrick Lencioni gives a talk at the HTB Leadership Conference 2013 where he covers the 5 dysfunctions of a team: