Sweden is frequently listed as one of the most creative countries in the world. We asked the people behind some of Sweden’s most exciting brands and start-ups how – and why – this small country has become a global force in innovation and creativity.
Tommy Hansson Strand
“A culture of challenging existing ways of doing things”
TOMMY HANSSON STRAND
Director, consumer connected services, Volvo Cars
“Sweden is often very high up on the list when there are surveys of the most creative and innovative countries, and I think there are many reasons for that. For a start, we have a culture where we are allowed to challenge the existing ways of doing things.
“I think a lot of that comes from the Swedish education system, where it’s often about working in groups and finding your own way forward, not simply being told what to do by your teachers. You find the same openness in Swedish working culture, which makes people more likely to put forward new ideas. That open dialogue and collaboration is crucial to creativity, and it’s crucial to what we do at Volvo Cars.”
• Volvo Cars was founded in 1927. Today it is a global leader in innovation, with more than 28,000 employees around the world.
“A global outlook and experimental attitude”
Head of product development, POC
“We’re a very international country in our demographics and our outlook – so while we have our cultural traditions, we’re not bound by them. A lot of Swedes look to the wider world to get inspiration.
“Sweden also has a reputation as a bit of a ‘trial market’ because we’re quite experimental – happy to be early adopters of new ideas, products and services. And Stockholm is definitely a melting pot for creative people. There is quite a phenomenon that there are big, creative brands coming out of Stockholm, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence at all.
“We are also lucky in Sweden that – for the past 15 years at least – there has been a big focus on research and development, and thinking about innovation in general, especially in the school system. And of course the general level of education is quite high, too.”
• POC designs and manufactures helmets and other safety equipment for skiing, mountain biking and road cycling.
“A legacy of innovation”
CEO and co-founder, Shortcut Labs
“I grew up in Stockholm and so did the other two co-founders of Shortcut Labs. You could say the idea behind Flic – a button that allows you to control a range of devices and apps with one simple action – is quite a Swedish concept. It’s about making something that could be complex simple. I know that Volvo Cars takes a similar approach with its products.
“Swedish culture is always changing, of course, because it’s influenced by what’s happening globally. At Shortcut Labs we have a diverse workforce, with lots of different languages and cultures represented. I think that is very important – we would never have gotten this far without having all these different perspectives. Sweden is a small market, so as a brand you have to think globally.
“There’s a legacy of innovation in Sweden. It’s something that everyone is very proud of. It’s culturally encouraged to be an entrepreneur, to be an innovator.”
• Shortcut Labs was founded in 2013. Its first product, Flic, is a wireless smart button that acts as a physical shortcut for mobile devices and apps.
“A place of inspiration”
CEO and inventor, Flyte
“I grew up in New York. After university I moved to Sweden because I thought it would be a good place to prototype some ideas. It’s somewhere a lot of innovation comes from and it really embraces the start-up community. It’s been a place of inspiration and we’ve found a great community to work with. If you have an idea or you want to start a company then there’s help and funding. The government here supports you and they sponsor programmes that encourage new ventures.
“Sweden also appealed to me because it has a great balance between open space and the city. And Stockholm is one of the few cities where you can actually go and swim in the water in the city in summertime. Summer in Sweden is euphoric. I think that the environment you’re in affects what you do. On an unconscious level, perhaps the unique appreciation of light in Sweden influenced me to make a light.”
• Simon Morris moved to Sweden from New York in 2008. His company makes levitating lights and planters.
“A collaborative country”
SUSANNA WÅHLIN AND CRISTIANO PIGAZZINI
Interior architect and design manager, Note Design Studio
“Sweden is a collaborative country. Everyone gets a say and has their space in a group. Our strength here at Note Design Studio is that we’ve always been a group. There’s strength in being brave together – as a team you take risks.
“In Sweden there’s also a tradition of designers making things for their own houses. That has fostered a particular type of creativity, and a particular style. If you’re designing for yourself first there’s less need to show off, to show others what you can do. There’s a mentality here that you do by yourself what you can do. Kids start building stuff when they’re young and in Swedish schools it’s not all about the teacher talking and the kids obeying. That encourages creativity, too.”
• Note Design Studio is a Stockholm-based design studio that works within the fields of architecture, interiors, products and graphic design.
“A freedom that helps creativity”
DANIEL SANDQVIST AND SEBASTIAN WESTIN
“In Sweden there’s an openness, an acceptance of trying to do things. If you want something then you can try to make it yourself. We’re willing to let people give it a go. If you fail that’s not so bad – you can always try again.
“And we have time to think in Sweden, with long summer holidays and long winter nights. That is a lot of time to be creative. Also, Sweden is a safe place to be. The healthcare is good and people don’t have to worry so much, so you can think about other things. A certain amount of freedom helps creativity.”
• Sandqvist makes bags and accessories inspired by the Swedish landscape and urban environment.
Something new from Sweden
Adventurous by design
Getting into the great outdoors is built into the Swedish DNA, says Volvo Cars’ Senior Vice President of Design, Robin Page. He discusses the perfect car to take you there – the new Volvo V60 Cross Country.
CarPlay takes the functions and apps you’re familiar with from your iPhone and makes them conveniently available via the centre display in your Volvo. Siri voice control even takes care of your SMS messages, so your attention stays safely on the road ahead.
Nowadays, our air isn’t as clean as it once was. More and more cities across the globe are becoming enveloped in smog and pollution is a problem that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. Up to 45 per cent of the world’s population now suffers from some form of allergy or hypersensitivity and over 10 per cent suffer from asthma. And when you consider that we now spend more time in our cars than ever before, the need for an effective and reliable air conditioning system has never been greater. This is why Volvo developed the CleanZone philosophy.