Jante’s Law: The Enemy of Personal Branding in Sweden


Personal Branding Across Cultures Blogathon – Day 17 / Anna Rydne


personal branding swedenThe other day, I performed a Google search on personal branding in Sweden. I didn’t find much.

And what I found was mostly articles written by non-specialists in the field, giving an overview of the concept. Basically a scratch on the surface. They mostly wrote stuff like “personal branding is strengthening the corporate culture by profiling the human capital…”

Boring, bland, dull explanations. No one seemed as passionate about it or understood it well enough to actually be a thought leader in the field. And, hit me if I’m wrong, the few who claimed to be the experts in the field appeared to have rather narrow or shallow views of what personal branding really is.

The threat within the culture

To me, true personal branding is to find your genuine voice, your authentic self and to communicate your personality in a way that visualize how you differ from other individuals in your field of expertise. Personal branding is something that makes you stand out, tells others that you are a person to go to and shows a potential employer how you could add value both to the team and work tasks.

One explanation for the absence of a true Swedish personal branding paradigm is that in Scandinavia, and particularly in Sweden, we have a culture of what’s called Jante’s law (originally formulated in a book by Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose).

Basically it says “don’t think you’re better than anyone else.” This un-written law is very deeply rooted in organizations, among friends and families and in the overall society.

I see Jante’s law as the number one enemy of development in the personal branding field in Sweden.

Poor practice of recognition

In my country, people sit and wait for managers and peers to recognize them. Some of us wait a lifetime for a well-deserved recognition that never comes our way. We don’t wave our hand and say “Hey, I’m good at this!” Why? Because we’re not raised that way. Individual success is often seen as inappropriate and those who stand out is often criticized and discouraged. And because we’re not raised that way, we’re not taught to praise others either. It’s a vicious circle.

Among the Aboriginal Australians, I’ve heard that when a person experiences that they’ve come to a higher level or understanding of a skill, they host a party to celebrate what they’ve achieved. It’s not their superiors’ responsibility to monitor and judge when someone has evolved, it’s all up to the individual. This is the opposite of Jante, and when you think of it, it is a very healthy outlook on the self. We can all take something to heart from this. No one better than yourself know when you have taken another leap in your personal development. Why sit and wait for others to notice? Just tell them what wonderful new skills you have learned!

Confusing career possibilities within organizations

Another obstacle against personal branding in Sweden is the common use of flat organizations. Middle management exist more seldom in Sweden than in for example Finland, our eastern neighbor. It leaves less room for professional advancement within a company, even if it has positive side effects as well.

Just as Runa Magnusdottir points out about Icelanders in her blogathon post, Swedish people are also very informal, even in corporate life, and feel relatively free to speak their mind to people at all levels in a company.

On the other hand, Swedish professional titles are puzzling. Many times, it’s very difficult to know what experience a person has or what level they’re working on when looking at their title or absence of it.

Take myself as an example. On my corporate business card, it says “Anna Rydne, Internal Communication”.  No level is specified. I have worked within communications for 12 years, and people I know in corresponding positions in other countries have titles like “Internal Communications Manager”, “Senior Communications Professional” or “Communications Business Partner”. Titles that tells something about who they are and what responsibilities they have. But I’m Swedish, so I am my department. I am “internal communication”.

Confusing? Hell yeah! But Jante’s law puts it in context: don’t think you’re special or more important than others.

Foreign influences lay foundation for a Swedish personal branding discipline

As always, where there’s a strong tradition or un-written law, there’s also a counter movement. This applies for personal branding in Sweden too. Younger people are much more confident about the superiority of their uniqueness than earlier generations.

And as the social media revolution continues to expand, influences from other countries, especially the U.S., also become obvious. It benefits the Swedish personal branding progress: the more outgoing nature of other cultures can only influence the formerly shy Swedes in a positive way.

About the author

Anna Rydne Anna Rydne is an award winning communications specialist. Based in Stockholm, Sweden, she writes the blog Communicate [your] Skills where she covers topics on how to improve your communication skills in all areas related to yourself, your community and your professional life. She's determined to uncover the secrets of how successful people and companies communicate. Anna has a special interest in social media and personal branding and she believes the road to success is trying. She holds a bachelor's degree in psychology. Connect with her on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ or join her on her Facebook page.