One of my most jarring experiences doing business in Norway was when I first encountered the Law of Jante, or Janteloven. While discussing why a Norwegian business was not excelling, a colleague of mine simply shrugged their shoulders and proclaimed “Well, you know, Law of Jante”. Jante?
What was Jante?
He sat me down for an hour and laid out a cultural anomaly that colored how almost every Norwegian (and more broadly Scandinavians) operate, both in business and in life. The Law of Jante is a social concept created by Danish / Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose in his 1933 book A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks. You may be familiar with a similar concept used in other parts of the world called “Tall Poppy Syndrome”.
In Janteloven, individual success is discouraged and, in many cases, considered inappropriate. Instead society encourages the good of the collective over any one individual. This has shaped Scandinavian culture over many years and helped to create the peaceful, modest, and homogenous society of today.
The Law of Jante
You’re not to think you are anything special.
You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
You’re not to imagine yourself better than we are.
You’re not to think you know more than we do.
You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
You’re not to think you are good at anything.
You’re not to laugh at us.
You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
You’re not to think you can teach us anything.