ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON MEDIUM
The amount of kindness I received this week was simply unbelievable. Everyone was passionate and mission-oriented. It was clear everywhere.
I visited the IKEA Digital HQ (where all the tech magic happens) at 4 pm on a Tuesday. Generally, by the end-of-the-day at most companies, people would be drained, tired, ready-to-go-home. Yeah, not at IKEA.
EVERYONE WAS SO UNBELIEVABLY FRIENDLY, KIND AND EXCITED. I have never been hugged so much.
If you really want to know the secrets of a culture that operates such a high-functioning and high-impact business line, read Invgvar’s testament of a furniture dealer. It’s the modern-day IKEA bible and SURPRISE… it’s incredibly simple. Everyone at IKEA’s read it, and the content is emphasized everywhere.
The key to this influential culture isn’t the culture itself. You could have the most brilliant plan, and it wouldn’t matter. The key is to implement it. For everyone to live by it.
"The key to this influential culture isn’t the culture itself. You could have the most brilliant plan, and it wouldn’t matter. The key is to implement it. For everyone to live by it."
The word inspire is vital here. When everyone around you is inspiring, it’s exciting. The vibes spread throughout. If you’re inspired all-the-time, you’ll inject the culture everywhere.
The IKEA festival was a prime representation of the culture. Every small detail aligned with the core values and the mission. The amount of detail and thought they put into it was aligned with what they stand for. From the simplicity of the venue to the recycled plates and even the type of music they played.
This week at the festival, and the few extra days I spent admiring their offices, I always asked the question of “how the heck do you keep such a highly aligned, and cooperative culture?”
People found it hard to answer. Most said it was just highly ingrained, and it’s not that hard.
So, they don’t have a ton of rules, nor do they have that many best practices. It comes down to the hiring process.
“The first part of the process is ONLY about values; we don’t even take a look at skills.”
The IKEA DGTL teams were, by far, one of the easiest teams/groups of people I’ve worked with. They get stuff done.
They set themselves up for success because of 1 thing: simplicity.
There weren’t 300 venues with people running around like marathoners across Denmark.
There was one location for all the meals, keynotes and booths. And my favourite part, it was just high-quality people.
I was soooooo impressed by how on-top-of-it the organizing team was. They’re already emailing me my talk video and photos (it’s Monday morning, the event finished Friday evening). Speedy 🏁.
Often, in life, we think bigger is better. Speaking in front of 10,000 folks is better than 300, but it’s not as good as 30,000. This is so wrong. Neither is better. It’s about the quality of folks you talk to.
This was one of my favourite talks (and events period) yet because of the audience. It was incredible to talk in front of so many innovative minds from passionate designers to engineers. I loved every second of it.
Meeting Scott Penberthy and Barbara Martin Coppola were better than having 1000 other convos. I couldn’t have even dreamt of this.
It’s clear that a simple-high quality thing is worth a billion times more than a complicated low-quality thing. Bigger!=Better.
As Ingvar (founder of IKEA) says:
"Expensive solutions to a problem are usually the work of mediocrity."
This week has been nowhere close to mediocrity.
Most people know that IKEA sells furniture. It IS their main product line, and they spend a ton of time designing, perfecting and bringing the prices down.
HOWEVER, most people don’t know that IKEA is an up-and-coming sustainability powerhouse. Fun fact: they’re the third most sustainable retail company in the world. It’s just not something they scream and shout.
They’re doing plenty of behind-the-scenes work in sustainable food and circularity. IKEA’s the only company trying to achieve full circularity in its operations by 2030.
PS. Circularity isn’t about creating round furniture; it’s about building a circular economy; a system aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources.
What does the future of helping everyday people look like? In 30 years, it might not be furniture.
You could probably guess that the world’s best AI team is not at IKEA. Maybe at Uber and perhaps at Open AI, but you won’t find them at a Swedish retail company.
IKEA’s monitoring system is built-in Pascal — an ancient programming language. Bank software was built in Pascal too. AKA it’s old.
Not the most innovative tech company in history and they know that. They’re well aware. At the tech festival last week. I heard so many people say, “we are so behind, but at least we’re starting to catch up.”
Because they’re so humble about it, the vibe at the festival was “we want to LEARN”… even if it’s from a 16-year-old ;)
The company isn’t just cost-conscious to be cheap; they tie it back to their customers.
All employees fly economy because their mission is to help everyday people live better. Wouldn’t it be such a shame to use their customer’s hard-earned money to buy some extra comfort on a flight? Instead of indulging in everyday luxuries, they bring the money back to building better products.
Think about it: if google were aiming to become circular by 2030, there would be articles, posts & announcements everywhere. “Google is becoming a sustainability giant,” “Google is dedicated to reducing their Data center’s CO2 emissions by 90% by 2030”… it would be everywhere.
I’ve been SUPER DUPER impressed by the passion and mission behind IKEA. I think they need to amplify it more. But, hey, at least they’re doing it.
Which brings me to my main takeaway from this experience: the “why” you do things is more important than the outcome.
It makes me think: what aren’t the silicon valley culture cook-books talking about?
I’m going to be honest, coming to the digital festival. I didn’t expect to learn a ton about tech. I didn’t expect to see IKEA as a potential global leader in technology nor innovation…I was dead wrong.
Without breaking my NDA… there’s so much cooking behind the scenes. From circularity, to supply chain management to advancements in Artificial Intelligence. To be clear, IKEA isn’t a furniture company anymore. It’s a company for the everyday people, innovating and changing the game. Just wait.
I see innovation somewhat like wealth.
Wealth is about what you don’t see, not what you see. Most people want a million bucks so they can spend a million bucks. But if you spend it on cars, houses, or whatever, you actually won’t have a million dollars.
To some extent, up-and-coming innovation is about what you don’t see. It’s the behind the scenes. It’s about fixing the backend, doing the small un-sexy things.
We (myself included) often get way too excited about the overarching problems. We want to go out and ambitiously tackle them. But true innovators don’t care about the recognition or fame. They break down overarching issues into smaller ones and address those.
Often that’s things like data-organization in legacy systems. These tasks don’t get as much recognition as they should… but they are the things that make the difference.
Our whole world is designed to showcase the “obvious,” the “surface level,” but real transformation happens behind-the-scenes.
Based on this experience, I now want to search for what the world is hiding from me actively. My curiosity should continually guide me to search for more. Find the IKEA’s of the world.
Now think about it, what are the companies that have completely changed the way the world works?
When it comes to innovation, it's not about what you see. It's what you don't see.
IKEA’s culture is a fascinating one. It’s not talked about much, which says a lot about the culture itself. They’re humble.
Every micro-move counts. Small things are what define your character and values.