The Power of Saying You're Great
Updated: Apr 1
Recently, I asked my 10-year old son to tell me one thing that he liked about himself. Keep in mind that he is half-American / half-Norwegian, and has been raised almost entirely in Norway. His response was, "Mom, you can't say many nice things about yourself. That's called bragging - and bragging isn't nice for other people."
His reply completely underpinned the subtle, cultural interplay - and disconnect - that I've personally and professionally experienced over the last decade of living in Norway.
It's called #janteloven.
Janteloven - directly translated as the "law of Jante" is a social norm that was best articulated in the 1930s by Danish-Norwegian author, Aksel Sandemose, in his satirical novel A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks. In this satire lived the people of the fictional town, Jante - a collective, homogenous society that moved according the following rules:
1. You're not to think you are anything special.
2. You're not to think you are as good as we are.
3. You're not to think you are smarter than we are.
4. You're not to imagine yourself better than we are.
5. You're not to think you know more than we do.
6. You're not to think you are more important than we are.
7. You're not to think you are good at anything.
8. You're not to laugh at us.
9. You're not to think anyone cares about you.
10. You're not to think you can teach us anything.
The #Nordic countries are well-versed in janteloven and many in society still adhere to its code, albeit unconsciously. Across the Nordics, you'll find that humility is a common quality, as is shyness, reservedness, honesty. And after having lived in Oslo for 10+ years and having worked across the Nordics for 8+, I have also developed a strong appreciation for the art of #humility. We Americans could use more of it. Personally, it's endearing, but for #business, it's oil-meets-water.
From an early age, #Americans are groomed in the art of #publicspeaking, #marketing, #branding, #positioning, #publicrelations. Now, that isn't to say that we all get it right all the time, or that our business is superior because of our grooming. We don't and it isn't.
It is to say, however, that culturally, Americans place these activities high on the priority list, so much so that these aren't even considered activities; they are #corevalues, personally as much as professionally. And, in these areas, I believe our businesses reflect this cultural nuance in the earliest stages of #startup development, regardless of #industry.
Yes, sometimes Americans catch the 'bad rap' of being overt salesmen and ok, fair enough. That being said, regardless of where we come from, most of us can agree:
A clear vision, a strong story, and a powerful delivery are key to the success of your brand & your business.
And no one can deny an American's willingness to tell you who they are, what they are doing, and how they are doing 'it' really well.
If children are raised to believe that to say a simple kind statement about oneself is akin to #bragging - and that all bragging is negative - how do we then raise them to become adults who feel comfortable innovating and turning creative ideas into successful companies?
The grey line might be subtle, but the need to differentiate is not:
To attract and gain customers, to fundraise, to hire great teammates, to grow, you must be willing to say great things about yourself and your idea.
If I could offer any advice to start-ups, particularly those with roots in janteloven soil, it would be this: ask yourself whether you are your company's best storyteller.
Are you comfortable with saying that you're great - and why you're great - and putting it out there for all your peers to see?
Do you know the difference between marketing, advertising, PR, branding?
If you're not or you do not, then it's time to find people to support you.
#Storytelling is not something you begin once you're done #innovating, because it is the story that helps shape the direction in which you innovate and the people who climb on-board to help get you there. It begins on Day #1 and it doesn't have to be expensive, but it will become expensive if you wait too long.