“The greatest gift we can give our children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.” – Maria Montessori

Anders Sundell, an associate professor at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, clearly loves a challenge. He interviewed hundreds of thousands of people across eighty different countries to uncover the most important values they think children should learn. Here is his list:


Most Important Values

Nordic nations stand out, believing independence and imagination are the most important qualities for children to attain. Interestingly, obedience was way down the list.

From kindergarten, Nordic children enter a values-based education system. Students are taught values such as democracy and respect for the individual, being guided by teachers who model mediation. This encourages students to resolve difficulties amongst themselves, rather than simply being told what to do. As students progress through school they are given more opportunity to take control of their educational environment, such as their curriculum, designing and organising school sports facilities and social events.

Arguably this focus on independence helps prepare Nordic children for leaving home and fending for themselves much earlier than other EU countries. Seventeen to eighteen is a common age to fly the nest in Sweden compared to the EU average age of twenty-six.

Countries like Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland also think encouraging and developing their children’s imagination is more important than focussing on hard work.

According to a recent Global Innovation Index and the Global Competitiveness Report, “The Nordic countries are among the most innovation-driven societies in the world. The Nordic Region is also home to one of the largest creative classes in the world, spanning science and technology; arts and culture; and business, management, and the professions. As a whole, the Region ranks high for overall creativity, a broad-based measure for advanced economic growth and sustainable prosperity based on the 3Ts of economic development — talent, technology, and tolerance”. Not too shabby, as they say.

Could this cultural formula be the reason behind Nordic domination of the top spots in the global “Happiness index”? The world rankings showed Finland topping the 2021 list for the fourth year in a row, with other Nordic neighbours filling most of the top spots. (By way of contrast, the UK took a bit of a tumble falling from 13th to 18th).


Happiness Index

Winning hearts and minds is challenging regardless of generation. According to a 2016 McKinsey paper, changing mind-sets requires four key actions – Role modelling, Fostering understanding and conviction, Developing talent and skills, and Reinforcing with formal mechanisms. In effect I will change my mind-set if…

  • “I see my leaders and colleagues and staff behaving differently.”
  • “I understand what is being asked of me, and it makes sense.”
  • “I have the skills and opportunities to behave in the new way.”
  • “I see that our structures, processes, and systems support the changes I am being asked to make.”

As a business that meticulously reviews the quality of our client service we are very conscious of the impact any change can have on our team. Our intention to become a B Corp company, for example, will mean changes to how we interact with business partners and suppliers. B Corps are companies that voluntarily meet the highest standards for social and environmental performance. They go through a rigorous certification process, completing a comprehensive assessment of their company’s impacts on all stakeholders. Understanding how to lead others through change is vital to getting the best outcome for our business, staff, and importantly our clients.

I believe we can create the above conditions – lead by example, articulate our plans, create the skills base, and construct collaborative processes. But by doing so, can we top the happiness charts for clients and staff alike. Now there’s a challenge!