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Creative Nation

Today’s Denmark, with its spirit of openness, its focus on sustainability, and its network readiness, is so fresh and sharp that bigger nations can’t help but notice. We admire the Danes for their edge, their global thinking, and their sleek design. But what is it that makes the Danes so creative?

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“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.”
Erich Fromm

Puff pastries and H.C. Andersen’s fairy tales are wonderful, but with all due respect, they belong to yesterday’s Denmark. Today’s Denmark, with its spirit of openness, its focus on sustainability, and its network readiness, is so fresh and sharp that bigger nations can’t help but notice. We admire the Danes for their edge, their global thinking, and their sleek design. But what is it that makes the Danes so creative? “In Denmark we have an atmosphere of forward thinking,” answers Senior Director of Wonderful Copenhagen, Peter Rømer Hansen. “Our creativity also has to do with our management style; we’re open to new ideas and criticism. Free thinking is encouraged in our schools. We’re used to working together, jamming together.” Thomas Bahne, Managing Director of Barito Design of Copenhagen agrees: “We have a good health care system and a good educational system, which also happens to be free, and I think this, together with the fact that we’ve had peace for a long time, makes for a society in which you can live, breathe, and create.”

Welcome to Denmark: Creative Nation.

Creativity is the cornerstone of the Danish economy, and Danish companies are renowned for generating ideas that foster innovation. Last fall, the Creative Nation campaign brought Danish and American business leaders together in New York under the theme “Working together towards sustainability”. Nordic Reach decided to further investigate what specifically triggers Danish inventiveness and enterprise, and asked some of Creative Nation’s participants what they thought.

Kim Gravesen
President, Bang & Olufsen, US

What makes Denmark and your company creative?
In both cases it’s the people; we are committed and we have courage. Denmark is a good country for business because in spite of the fact that it’s small, it’s very global.

Heidi Nyby
Marketing Manager, Kopenhagen Fur

What makes Denmark a Creative Nation?
We have a tradition for thinking innovatively and towards design. For example, Kopenhagen Fur has a lack of respect for the traditional use of the material (fur).

Jesper Møller
CEO Tom’s Group, Anthon Berg

What makes Denmark and your company creative?
We try to be different.

Lisa Resling Halpern
GM/Executive Vice President Euro-Center USA
Goodwill Ambassador to Denmark

What makes Denmark so creative?
The people! It must be from years of being remote from central Europe. The Danes had to get creative during those long, cold winters.

What makes Denmark a good country for business?
Denmark is uniquely situated in Europe: It is attached to Europe and yet Nordic. This ensures accessibility but allows it to develop independently. From the moment you land at the airport this is noticeable – all the major destinations of the world arrive at Copenhagen Airport to find an international airport that is not only functional and a major hub of activity, but also aesthetic in design. Your first stop in Denmark is like the rest of the country – it surpasses expectations.

Tina Pilgaard
U.S. Marketing Director, BoConcept USA, Inc.

What makes Denmark creative?
We have a tradition for not only producing things with a purpose, but to make them beautiful, too. We know design and how to use it creatively. It’s in our blood. Our creativity comes from brainstorming and teamwork.

What makes Denmark a good country for business?
We keep our word, we are a trustworthy nation. We have an extremely good reputation outside Denmark.

Knud Erik Hansen
Managing Director, Carl Hansen & Søn

Why is Denmark a creative nation?
We’re so small we have to do something different to get attention. Also, nobody ever ruled us, so we’re very independent and we have a long history of independence. We have no raw materials, so survival in any condition was a necessity early on, we had to be clever in trade. I guess conditions like that foster creativity. By the way, there’s nothing new about Danish creativity. Have you seen old Viking jewelry? How beautiful and creative [it is]!

What is typical Danish to you?
We make the best furniture in the world! Also, we have a tendency to always complain about the weather.

Is being Danish an advantage abroad?
It was – until those Mohammed drawings a couple of years ago. It was quite difficult for a while, but I think people know we don’t pose a threat, we’re friendly people. In general, I’d say it’s an advantage.

Peter Andersen
Developer and Partner, Skrub’a

Your product, a glove for peeling potatoes is very clever. How did you come up with that idea?
It was my colleague who did, actually. It’s based on the annoyance of having to clean in the kitchen with sponges and what have you. Having this problem at home sparked his idea.

Are your products typically Danish, and if so, how?
Yes, I would say they are. We develop simple products for everyday problems. The design is simple, stylish, and minimalist with a unique feature – and I think that’s typical Danish design.

Is being Danish an advantage abroad?
Well, we’ve had a lot of problems with the Middle East, and since our company has had interest from the Middle East, we’ve had to talk ourselves out of a lot of those issues…. But in general, I’d say, yes, being Danish is an advantage abroad.

Does the Royal Danish family use your products?
We don’t know for sure. But the Crown Prince and Princess… they seem like the kind of people that would say 'hey, let’s give this a try.'

Claus Meyer
Internationally renowned chef

Would you call Danish cooking creative?
Well…Danish food is twofold. On the one hand it’s all about heritage; on the other it’s all fusion. In general it’s creative because of our idea of cooking close to season. Seasonality and responsibility for nature is very much part of our everyday life - caring not just for ourselves, but for the entire planet.

Describe Danish food.
Danish food is light, fresh, and vibrant. We’ve got some fantastic apples and pears. It’s also rich in grains. And of course we have excellent smoked food.

If someone was to prepare a favorite meal for you, what would that be?
On a day like today, I’d say I’d like a bunch of fresh asparagus in a balsamic apple cider vinaigrette served with some chopped hard-boiled eggs and crisp bread.

What do you enjoy about American food?
I have had some excellent heavy breakfasts in the U.S with granola and heavy, heavy pancakes! I also like the small take-away eateries, and then there’s my favorite restaurant in New York, WD~50.

Jens Magnus Eiken
Head Brewer, Carlsberg Denmark A/S

What makes a beer good?
I believe a beer is good when it is served on the right occasion, in the right glass, and at the right temperature (37.4°F/3°C).
Food and beer together can create an unforgettable experience. Beer is more than lager and can give you surprises when the sommelier knows about all beverage alternatives and serves the perfect match. When paired with food you get an increased experience because there is a match in aromas between the dish and the beer. Normally we talk about the five tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami. These five tastes are the key to understanding beer and food pairing.
Try a Belgian wit beer with fresh goat cheese, a blonde with hard cheeses like Compté or a barley wine with your blue cheese - yummy!

What is typically Danish?
I’d say design, green energy like windmills, film, shipping, and beer (e.g. Carlsberg and more than 100 microbrewers)!

What makes Denmark such a creative nation?
Denmark is such a small country, so Danes have always had to be good at fighting for their thoughts and beliefs. The organizational power distance in Denmark is low, meaning there are fewer organizational layers leading to faster decision making. I would also say that we dare to take the initiative, run risks, and commit ourselves without fearing the consequences! We trust each other, we are well-educated (strong intellectual capital), and we are flexible and like to work.

What makes Carlsberg creative?
A lot of our creativity comes from what I mentioned above. I would also say that Carlsberg has introduced a leadership model where mistakes are OK to make – as long as you learn from them. Responsibility is taken where the challenges and “problems” occur. We don’t wait to act! This leads to a more creative and innovative mindset. At the workshop in New York I made a beer-cocktail (“beertail”), which is beer put in another context, and it created a lot of smiles, especially among those who usually don’t drink beer.
That’s creativity!

Thomas R. Bahne
Managing Director, Barito Design of Copenhagen

What does it mean when something is typically Danish?
I’d say it’s design and quality at its absolute best. The details are there and everything is perfect!

Do you feel it’s an advantage to be Danish abroad?
Since the Mohammed drawings there are certainly issues in some countries, but on the whole, yes, it’s an advantage because people know that when you shake hands with a Dane, it means something. It’s a question of honor for us. I’m proud to be Danish.

What makes Denmark a creative nation?
We have a very high standard of living, we have a good health care system, and a good educational system, which also happens to be free. Apart from WW2 we’ve had peace here for a very long time, no revolutions, nothing like that…and I think this makes for a society in which you can live, breathe, and create. Danish design is a statement, it sounds good because we’ve been saying it for 300 years. “German Design” or “American Design” just doesn’t sound as good. Nobody can take that statement away from us.

Peter Rømer Hansen
Senior Director of Business Development, Wonderful Copenhagen

How many tourists come to Denmark each year?
Around 7 million. And all kinds of people come – young and old.

Why do they come to Copenhagen?
Well, we’re the biggest cruise destination in northern Europe, kind of like the Miami of the north. Copenhagen is also a popular international conventions destination. And then of course you have Copenhagen Airport, an international hub. Around 8% of our foreign tourist mix is American. I also believe we’re more attractive today than we were 20 years ago, and that has to do with the branding of our country. We used to be known for fairy tales, Tivoli, Royal Copenhagen porcelain, and all that. Today, although we of course still have that, we’re younger and cooler. We’re a destination with a modern, political agenda. The Kyoto Protocol will be signed in Copenhagen next time, during the 2009 Global Climate Summit. We have an atmosphere of forward thinking.

Are Danes more creative than others?
Well, that’s a claim that has to be proved. But there certainly is something… I think our creativity also has to do with our management style, we’re open to new ideas and criticism. It’s also our educational system, we have unity in our schools, it’s very informal, our kids are taught to work together and criticize. I suppose it’s the fact that free thinking is encouraged.

Dorte Kiilerich
CEO, Visit Denmark

Who’s the typical Danish tourist?
A middle-aged person, highly-educated with quite a high salary. A person who’s interested in our society and our culture.

Why do they come to Denmark?
Americans come to Denmark because they want to experience what it is like to be a part of a responsible society. In fact, society value is our biggest branding today. Our way of living.

Has tourism changed from 20 years ago?
Certainly. 20 years ago it was older; today we have younger tourists who come here because we’re cool and modern. Also the cruises play a big part.

Compilation of interviews and survey: Eva Stenskär
Photography: Henrik Olund

For more info on Creative Nation (next venue is in London at the end of June, 2008) see www.creativenation.dk and on the main organizer, Confederation of Danish Industries, see www.di.dk

Interviewed companies:

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