February 28, 2019

The speed of trust – new partner at Nordic Sustainability

Today, I’m happy to announce that I am the new managing partner of Nordic Sustainability, leading our insights and analysis work. After four happy years as an independent sustainability advisor, being “alone but not lonely”, I have decided to team up with Sven, Esben and the rest of the growing Nordic Sustainability crew. Why? I believe it comes down to trust.

A few months ago, I was moderating the High Tech Summit at the Technical University of Denmark. For the final debate, we gathered a panel of leaders from the triple helix of industry, academia, and government. The title of the debate was “Technology Empowering People”, but in reality we were closer to discussing how digitalization could empower the Danish economy. The panel was looking for the competitive edge that would make Denmark and the Copenhagen area able to compete with other technology hubs in Europe and the US, when someone suggested that “trust” would be the defining factor.

It is not as strange as it may sound. It is well known – at least in this part of the world – that social trust is uniquely high in the Nordic countries. In a ranking of European countries on the level of social trust, Denmark comes first, Finland second, followed by Norway and Sweden, and we’re proud of that. When we momentarily forget the “Jantelaw”, we pride ourselves on having created societies where most people trust most other people. But can social trust actually be translated into an advantage in the international competition for markets, talents, and resources?

Four words that define how we work
A few weeks before the High Tech Summit, I was facilitating a two-day private workshop, where the Danish minister for Education and Research, Tommy Ahlers presented a term, that I have since taken to heart: “The speed of trust”. In all fairness it should be said that he credited the term to another, and there is actually a New York Times bestseller named The Speed of Trust, so neither he nor I can claim to have come up with the term, but that does not make it less powerful.

The speed of trust is what you experience when a business relationship goes beyond transactions and becomes a partnership. It is what you see, when a group of stakeholders quite suddenly puts their differences apart and start working towards the same goal. It is what happens when you can close a deal by a handshake and know that you will work through any potential problems along the way. Acting towards a common target becomes much easier when we don’t need to reassure ourselves of each other’s good will or spend time knit-picking about who does what. We just do it.

The magic of trust
This is what happened recently, when I sat down with Sven and Esben, the founders of Nordic Sustainability and began the discussion on a potential partnership. I have known Esben for years and Sven for a few months. We knew we liked each other, and we knew that our competencies and areas of interest matched, but could we be in business together?

I believe it took us less than an hour to figure out that we could. That we should. We gave each other a bit of time to think it over during the Christmas break but when we came back, we effectively started working together. We didn’t even have the formal discussion until a few weeks later. Since lawyers and accountants work a lot slower than trust – which is actually the point of this blog – our partnership began on the basis of trust. In reality there was little or no doubt after the first meeting. With trust we could continue developing the company as our common project.

A new kid on the block
Today I am happy to be able to present myself as managing partner in Nordic Sustainability, not least because the speed of trust is a key element of how we work. Trust is one of our key values, but trust is also in my experience one of the key factors when pushing towards a more sustainable world. Good things happen at the speed of trust, and building trust is an ingrained part of how we design projects and strategy processes. Stakeholder engagement and mobilization are key factors for the impact of our work, and we know how to create it. Trust is also what drives our relationship with clients, and it is what makes our office such a nice place to work.

At the High Tech Summit, the discussion shifted when trust was introduced. Instead of talking about how other parts of the world had more capital, more talent, and more incumbent companies the group started talking about how to work together to make certain, that the next generation of digitalization – the one based on ethics and not on parasitical use of data – could be incubated here. And that’s when we began actually talking about “Technology Empowering People”.