It is normal for Icelanders to have diverse and eclectic work histories because the culture, the lack of envy, not only encourages individuals to try different things but also admires failure as a noble sign of having tried. It is one of the happiest countries in the world.

“Having multiple identities … is … conducive to happiness. This runs counter to the prevailing belief in … other western nations, where speclialization is considered the highest good. Academics, doctors, and other professionals spend lifetimes learning more and more about less and less. In Iceland, people learn more and more about more and more.” Is Iceland the ideal playground for serious generalists or what?

Icelanders compete in the true spirit of the word “compete” – that is “to seek with” From the Latin competure. How different is this from our normal understanding of the word – which is founded on the idea of limitation, or insufficiency, and not abundance.

Icelanders admire people “who fail if they fail with the best intentions.” “If you are free to fail, you are free to try.” Contrast this with the American preference for failures with good endings, conditional failure if you will: “We love a good failure story as long as it ends with success. The entrepreneur who failed half a dozen times before hitting the jack-pot with a brilliant idea.”

From Eric Weiner’s book The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search For The Happiest Places In The World. ISBN 978-0-446-69889-4.

So how can we bring about more of these important ideas to the way we run our businesses? Here are some immediate thoughts:

Encourage generalism:

Practice “to seek with”:

Reposition failure:

Note to self – visit Iceland.

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The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World