Category Archives: Notes from a small country

Case analysis contest for NSM M.Sc. students

image image A couple of our M.Sc. students have contacted Boston Consulting Group and gotten their cooperation to arrange a case analysis contest. This is just the kind of student initiative I am very happy to sponsor, so I will a) be a judge, and b) market it here.

So – if you are a M.Sc. student at the Norwegian School of Management – you are herewith invited to participate in a case analysis contest. There are a couple of provisos: You have to form a team of 3-4 students, and at least two of those have to be strategy students (i.e., do the strategy major). The contest will take place at BI on April 14th from 8am to 8pm, and will involve analysis, presentations, feedback and – for the winners – some rather attractive prizes from both hosts.

Be a consultant for a day and test your skills with a real business case – with feedback from both faculty and bona fide strategy consultants!

The application deadline is April 1st. The number of places is limited, so ”first come, first served“ – and please send the application to (And do mention that you saw it here – we are trying to track how information travels about this.)

7 hour train journey via Bittorrent

The Norwegian broadcaster NRK recently made a 7 hour program about the very scenic train journey from Bergen to Oslo. The program was hugely successful despite the rather slow subject, offering long views from the front of the train interspersed with interviews and various other happenings along the ride). Here is a selection:

The raw film from the front camera is now being offered as a free Bittorrent download under a CC license. There is even a competition (in Norwegian only) for best reuse of the footage.

Kudos to the people behind NRK Beta, the experimental part of NRK, who again come up with interesting ways of making their material available!

Update 20.12: Boingboinged!

Obama impresses again..

…this time with a ready message about a prize given too soon: The US is the world’s guarantor of peace and democracy, no matter what others may think about it. And in that role, the country needs and deserves the world’s trust that it is doing the right thing – and gives the assurance that it will listen.

An impressive speech, given the uncomfortable situation the Nobel committee has placed Obama in.

To paraphrase the (Republican, but well-traveled and well-read) humorist P. J. O’Rourke: No matter what you think about the US, please notice that when the world needs power behind good arguments, nobody calls Sweden (or, for that matter, Norway.)

Seeking M.Sc. students to study the Norwegian IT industry

The Norwegian School of Management is starting a large research project called "A Knowledge-based Norway" ("Et kunnskapsbasert Norge"), where the goal is to study Norwegian "knowledge hubs" – knowledge-intensive industries and how they create and distribute knowledge. The project is led by Torger Reve and Amir Sasoon, and will encompass 10 different industries.

I have been tasked with one of these industries – the Norwegian IT industry, and is therefore seeking M.Sc. students who wants to write their theses under this topic. This will involve studying individual companies (such as, for instance, EDB Business Partner, Accenture or Opera Software) or groups of companies (say, the Norwegian IT services sector, or software companies supporting the oil industry) to understand how they develop knowledge, interact with each other and their customers, evolve their markets and their services, and so on.

The upshot for students, of course, is that they get to learn something that is very relevant both from a research and a practical (read: career) perspective. The study starts these days and will finish in about two years, which will make it ideal for M.Sc. students starting their thesis work this or (to a lesser extent) next Fall.

Please contact me at if you are interested.

The datacenter is the new mainframe

From Greg Linden comes a link and a reference to a very interesting book by two Google engineers: The Datacenter as a Computer: An Introduction to the Design of Warehouse-Scale Machines (PDF, 2.8Mb) by Luiz André Barroso and Urs Hölzle. This is a fascinating introduction to data center design, with useful discussions of architecture, how to do cooling and reduce power use (it turns out, for instance, that getting computers that use power proportionally to their level of use is extremely important).

I suspect that even highly experienced data center designers will find something useful here. The book is written for someone with some degree of technical expertise, but you do not need a deep background in computer science to find much here that is interesting and useful.

One of my recurring ideas (and I am by no means alone in thinking this) is that the Norwegian west coast, with its cool climate, relatively abundant hydroelectric energy and underused industrial infrastructure (we used to have lots of electrochemical and electrometallurgical plants) could be a great place to do most of Europe’s computing. Currently we sell our electric energy to Europe through power lines, which incurs a large energy loss. Moving data centers to Norway and distributing their functionality through fiberoptic cables seems a much more effective way of doing things to me, especially since that region of the country has a reasonable supply both of energy engineers and industrial workers with the skill set and discipline to run that kind of operation.

Now, if I could only find some investors…

Interesting Wolfram Alpha statistics

Here is the answer you get from entering "budget surplus" into Wolfram Alpha:


Two things I did not know: The fifth largest government surplus in the world is held by Serbia, which surprises me, given that the country has 14% unemployment and a recovering economy, according to Wikipedia. And that Japan’s deficit is very close to the US’, indicating that things are not as bad in the US as you might think. Or perhaps that the numbers are a bit dated, but according to the source information, most of the numbers are from 2009.

Since May 17th is Norway’s national day, I think it behooves me to point out that of the five surplus states listed above, Norway is the nicest place to live, by most measures (weather, culture, politics, human rights, health care, etc. etc.). On the other hand, many of the countries with large deficits are nice places to live, so I wouldn’t read too much into the economics at all…

(Hat tip to Karthik, who retweeted one of my tweets, which I misunderstood and started researching….)

Gladwell on Goliath vs. the ever striving, socially unacceptable David

The New Yorker has a great article by Malcolm Gladwell on how David beats Goliath, largely by working harder and exploiting unanticipated weaknesses in the opponents defense. Examples include basketball, Lawrence of Arabia, Doug Lenat using an expert system, and, of course D vs. G.

The interesting point here, of course, is how Goliath reacts when David substitutes effort for talent and rule-bending (or, rather, rule exploitation) for tradition: By declaring that this is an unacceptable way of playing. During the 1990s, under the truly eccentric coach Egil "Drillo" Olsen" (pictured), the Norwegian national soccer team employed a strategy of putting the whole team in defense, and scoring all their goals on the occasional breakaway, when a long pass would find a single player (usually Jostein Flo) plugging a goal against a surprised defense. This strategy was highly effective (at one point, Norway beat Brazil and was ranked as number 2 in the world by FIFA) but raised the ire of commentators and players everywhere, because they were seen as destroying soccer as a spectator sport. Just like the protagonists in Gladwell’s article, Olsen was an analyzer and a highly controversial character.

Incidentally, after many failures on the field, the Norwegian national team has employed him as a coach again. And they have started winning. Just wait for the accusations to start…

(Come to think of it, the great Swedish Alpine skier Ingemar Stenmark was subject to the same mechanism: He never did downhill races (thinking them crude and dangerous), but won every slalom and grand slalom event on the tour, and thus the overall World Cup title (as well as a total of 7 Olympic medals). This led the powers that be to institute a rule that to be eligible for the overall title, you had to participate in at least one downhill race. Which Stenmark did, in an upright position like a Sunday skier. He finished dead last, and, of course, took the overall title. Again.)

Think about your own industry – what are the equivalent to Olsen strategy there? I am sure it involves something socially unacceptable which will allow the weakest player to win. May you find it before someone else does…

In defense of serious journalism

James Warren delivers the best defense for traditional newspapers I have yet to read, in The Atlantic. Interestingly, he singles out The Economist as one of the outlets that have done well in the face of the online onslaught. In Norway, the same thing has happened – the few papers that see increasing circulation are the quality niche papers, such as Morgenbladet and the extremely left wing Klassekampen, both of them niche publications that to some extent have shed their political affiliation and instead opened for quality journalism with opinions attached.

I feel encouraged that this is the way forward. Why waste paper on anything that isn’t high quality?

Update March 16: Linked from the same page: The potential disaster for investigative journalism, another good article, by James Warren. Methinks we need to look into funding of investigative journalism outside the subsidy model. Funny, I remember giving a talk about the decoupling of ads and content to Dagbladet, a Norwegian newspaper that is now in dire straits, in August 2000, and by then this wasn’t even news…


Until 2003, I lived in a part of Norway that gets about 7 ft of snow every year, so after a brief period of sweaty and aching mornings I invested in a small snow-blower. Then I moved to a place about 20 ft above sea level, where snowfalls are few and far between. But my little snow blower has brought unexpected benefits.

The first winter here was bare and cold until late January, when I woke up one morning to about a foot of snow. It was before seven in the morning and the office beckoned, so I dressed warmly and got to it.

I was a little worried, though. My next-door neighbor, with whom I share the driveway, is unofficial Norwegian champion sleeper and likes to delay the vertical part of life as long as possible. I wondered how he would react to the noise from the snow-blower at a time he considered to be just after bedtime. But I had to get to work, so I pulled the cord and started.

Half an hour later I was done, garaged my little machine (which is more like a motorized broom than a real snow-blower, except in the noise-making department) and got inside for a brief thaw-out and the day’s first coffee.

Then the doorbell rang. I prepared for the worst and nervously opened the door. There stood my neighbor, in slippers and morning coat and with his hair in all directions.

He had woke up, seen the snow and resigned himself to having to get up and do something about it when he heard me start the engine. He didn’t know I had a snow blower, and explained with an ecstatic expression that little snow-blower with a missing muffler was "the most beautiful sound he had ever heard."

Whereupon he handed me a bottle of Cognac and returned to bed.

PS: We have since formalized the arrangement. I blow the driveway, and he buys one bottle of wine per snowfall, which we consume with a delightful dinner sometime in April.

And now for the good news…

I don’t, as a rule, read the HBS Alumni Magazine too closely, but here is an interesting perspective on the decline of the newspaper industry from Roben Farzad, MBA ’05  and business journalist, who paints a bleak picture of the newspaper industry, declining in revenues and importance as the barbarians digitally storm in with their click-counters and lack of respect for the sanctity of the fourth estate and its industrious acolytes. There is little hope, he says, as the fundamentals of the industry are disappearing so fast that not even patient money taking over to run newspapers as museums would help much.

I would like to point Roben to the case, developed after he finished HBS, of Schibsted ASA, a Norwegian media company that, so far, is one of the few media houses that successfully has managed the transition to the web. As one executive at said to me recently: We dominate everywhere in Europe, except Norway and Spain, where Schibsted dominate. Schibsted was early onto the Internet, and managed to have a long term view (15 years) on their investments and the luck of selling out a few of their early investments before the dot-com boom, so that their portfolio did not look totally hopeless even in 2002. It helps, of course, that its top management (particularly Kjell Aamot) was convinced, very early, that the Internet was here to stay and fundamentally would change the newspaper business.

Now, their Internet revenues exceed those from their newspapers (partially because they dominate classifieds in Norway with, more people get their news from their web sites than from their (large) newspapers., the largest news web site, gets half as many hits as (and we are less than 5m people here in Norway). breaks every rule of good web design and, precisely because of that (according to Torry Pedersen, its editor) encourages browsing. Incidentally, Torry recently became editor of both the web site and the newspaper (which, at some point in the not-too-distant future, may become free).

And yes, they have different journalists working on the net and the paper. Only 10% of the material is cross-posted, because Torry wants it that way. No mixing – these are different media and need different kinds of people.

Schibsted is by no means out of the woods yet – but they have a far better chance than any other media group I know of. I think they should focus more on their considerable capability in search technology to create more targeted and specialized, "automated" web sites, as well as get their hand more firmly in search-based advertising. And there is still work to do on integration of their activities across their various media outlets. But Schibsted did something while the rest of the media industry (and most of its journalists) lamented the coming of this vulgarity called the Internet. And that is the beauty and the fear of disruptive technologies – that by the time you understand their impact, it is too late for the majority of companies. And those who work there.

The funny thing is, if you ask journalism students, the majority of them want to work for paper papers, not this vulgar web thing, where you have to publish right away, write quickly, and instantly know whether you are being read or not. A paper journalist files one item per day. A web journalist, according to figures floating around among journalists here in Oslo, posts, on average, six.

I recently heard an anecdote about a rock singer who no longer can make money selling records, so he had to do many more concerts to maintain his income. That forced him to lay of cocaine, since he now had to go to work much more often.

A few years ago, the Oslo press club had to close for lack of customers. Presumably, they were at work. What a loss….

The maladjusted and marginalized terrorist

Bruce Schneier, security guru extraordinaire, has a cracking good article on what motivates terrorists in Wired: The Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Terrorists, much of it drawn on a paper by Max Abrahms called What Terrorists Really Want.)

The main argument is that terrorists "turn to terrorism for social solidarity", i.e., that they join terror organizations less for political aims and more because they themselves are alienated and outcasts in search for belonging and, perhaps, as an outlet for violent or authoritarian tendencies. They are loners in search of meaning rather than radicals in search a way to express their political views:

Individual terrorists often have no prior involvement with a group’s political agenda, and often join multiple terrorist groups with incompatible platforms. Individuals who join terrorist groups are frequently not oppressed in any way, and often can’t describe the political goals of their organizations. People who join terrorist groups most often have friends or relatives who are members of the group, and the great majority of terrorist are socially isolated: unmarried young men or widowed women who weren’t working prior to joining. These things are true for members of terrorist groups as diverse as the IRA and al-Qaida.

I think this makes lots of sense. During the late 60s and early 70s there was a vogue in many European countries for politically active youngsters to join the far left – a movement that at the most extreme produced the Bader-Meinhof group in Germany. Here in tiny and peaceful Norway a number of people who later wondered how they got into it joined various versions of marxist-leninist groups with the stated aim of violently overthrowing the state. (A great novel by the author Dag Solstad, later turned into a film, explores these mechanisms, telling the story of a small-town high school teacher who joins the movement because he falls in love with one of the leaders). This caused a number of bookish intellectuals from well-off homes to try to act and talk like "the people" (often with hilarious results) and take menial jobs with a view to start strikes, unrest and eventually, the great revolution.

The movement petered out eventually, due to a lack of examples of marxist-leninist success stories, better career opportunities elsewhere, the demands of family life and, most importantly, the failure of the general populace to join the cause. Today, most of these people (especially the ideological leaders) are found in relatively good positions in society and will not thank you for bringing up this period. (In one ironical twist, one of them is a professor of journalism – an interesting position for someone who once wanted to force the press to serve the needs of the proletarian dictatorship.)

Now, imagine what would have happened if the Norwegian state had declared war on these groups and instituted all kinds of controls in the name of national safety? Suddenly they would have increased in importance, had some legitimate cases of persecution (heavy-handed security always produces incidents) and play off the fear and irritation induced by surveillance and controls.

Instead, the Norwegian government largely ignored them, aside from discreet monitoring for weapons violations and espionage. To the extent that anyone was arrested, the perpetrators were charged with clear violations of current law and given sentences similar to those of anyone else.

The movement did not achieve much: A few strikes, a half-hearted rebellion at a few universities, a radical newspaper that still scrapes by (and occasionally is rather good, especially after they toned down the ideology,) "progressive" clothing fashions, some small groups of old professors with weird research streams, reams and streams of newspaper commentary, and that’s about it.

Now, imagine if the current war against terrorism had been pursued as a large-scale police investigation rather than a war, with terrorists being pulled into regular courts, security controls set up for security rather than show, publicity focused on a general toning down of the whole thing, money spent on improving the situation for various downtrodden groups, and military solutions employed as the absolutely last resort, and then only under the auspices of the UN.

I think al-Qaida would be reduced to a group of fringe Islamist fundamentalists with uncertain political aims, lots of fratricidal infighting (when the populace ignores them, they turn on each other), uncertain career paths and increasingly untenable positions. Which is what they were, until the Western world handed them prominence to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars.

Bruce would, I think, agree. Here is his conclusion:

We also need to pay more attention to the socially marginalized than to the politically downtrodden, like unassimilated communities in Western countries. We need to support vibrant, benign communities and organizations as alternative ways for potential terrorists to get the social cohesion they need. And finally, we need to minimize collateral damage in our counterterrorism operations, as well as clamping down on bigotry and hate crimes, which just creates more dislocation and social isolation, and the inevitable calls for revenge.

A simplistic answer…

Becker and Posner discusses the financial crisis, and for once I feel a little disappointed, for they somehow miss the international side of things. The financial crisis has been possible because the American people have been on an enormous consuming binge, thanks to cheap stuff from China financed by credit from, yes, China, channeled through mortgages based on ever escalating house prices.

Anyway, I was at an HBS alumni conference last week, and the topic, of all things, was technology trends and financial crises, with speakers such as Martin Wolf, Carlotta Perez and Erik Reinert. One interesting point which was brought up was the US curious insistence on always having cheap energy: Not only is there no tax on gasoline (which would have brought down consumption and emissions, given the national coffers some badly needed cash without having to sell Treasury bonds, and reduced dependence on foreign oil), but the US, according to another speaker, subsidizes coal production to the tune of $50b per year. Stop doing that, and you would help the environment and could buy yourself an investment bank every year….

Things Norwegian

Tyler Cowen, economist and blogger, has a list of his favorite things Norwegian over at Marginal Revolution.

My comment: I find Undset boring (and overrated), and Hamsun can be quite a piece, too (Hunger is good, but read it before Dostoevsky’s "Crime and Punishment" or Sartre’s "Age of Reason" which explore similar themes, i.e., aimless walking around while thinking deeply existential and mostly depressing thoughts.) As for other authors, try Erik Fosnes Hansen‘s "Psalm at Journey’s End", something by Ingvar Ambjørnsen (the movie "Elling", nominated to an Oscar a few years ago, is based on his books and deserves mention in the film category). Or perhaps something by Jan Kjærstad?

Tyler also notes the Norwegian Petroleum Fund, which is one of those things we Norwegians have a very ambivalent relationship with…. 

(To understand the Norwegian psyche, note that we tend to pay excessive attention to any mention of Norway by anyone abroad, an effect of living in a very small and rather remote place. As my students in India said when they heard of our population size: "In India, that would be a measurement error!") 

Moose bridges

ElgebroCory writes about overpasses and tunnels designed to let animals tranfer themselves – and their genes – across highways from Yukon to Yellowstone.

This is not news here in Norway – we have had "moose bridges" for years. They are a standard feature of all highways leading out of Oslo, as well as across the high-speed train to the main airport. The design is less ambitious than that visualized at Boingboing. We don’t do underpasses, since Norwegian moose won’t use them (whether US critters are less discerning remains to be seen.) As for using barbed wire for capturing fur…, well that is going to be a real motivator for sexually adventurous animals, isn’t it?

Anyway, the motivation for the bridges here in Norway is much simpler: Avoiding collisions between moose and cars. A moose can weigh in at 550 kg (1200 lbs.), and has long, thin legs which elevates most of that mass to just the perfect height for entering your car through the windscreen.

Moose warning signWhich reminds me of a little anecdote: When I moved to the US in 1990, I had to sell my SUV, a Mitsubishi Pajero (1987 model). I advertised it, and it ended up being bought by one of my business school colleagues. I was a little uncomfortable selling the car to a colleague – not that there was anything wrong with it, but if you sell it to someone you know, you take on a bit more responsiblity, at least morally.

Anyway, I moved to the States, then came back home for a holiday a year later. Visiting my old place of employment, I was walking through the main hallway when I heard my colleague shouting "Espen, Espen!" and literally running towards me. My neck hairs came up – was there something wrong with the car?

My colleague – a professor of organizational psychology – was short of breath and panted "Thanks for saving my life!" Eventually, the story came out:

He had been teaching a course at a branch campus outside Oslo in January. On his way home in, he had decided to take a short-cut using a dirt road through the forest. And as he came round a bend, he ran smack into a bull moose that nearly totalled the Pajero. But since the car was high off the ground and frame-built, it absorbed the impact in the front rather than with the windscreen, and my colleague was not hurt. If he had had a normal car, he said, he would almost certainly have been killed. "What a car, what a car!", he exclaimed, again thanking me profusely.

As he walked off, my heartbeat slowly returned to normal, and I thought it was a good thing I had kept quiet and not pointed out the obvious: If he had had a normal car, he would never have taken that shortcut in the first place….


Incidentally, here’s a page, in Norwegian, explaining about moose bridges. As for the moose signs, one of the problems with them is that tourists – particularly Germans – like them and steal them as souvenirs. So now you can buy them at all the tourist shops.

Norwegian elections

Election day yesterday, there will be a new, “red-green” government. Not much else will change. I would have written about this, except a) not even foreign, die-hard journalists under a publish-or-perish regime can find much interesting about Norwegian politics, and b) Leif Knutsen has done an excellent job already: Analyzing the result here, and joking about it here.
Oh well. I will stake my hope on the Liberals, too – though that would peg me for a “clueless intellectual”….
Update: Wikipedia, of course, has the results.

Gassed out

For all those Americans who carp about how gas prices are approaching exceeding the magical $3 $4 per gallon mark, including Joho: Let me inform you that I just tanked up my 1995 Golf (rust-colored) at the local station at the cost of NOK 612, which at today’s dollar exchange rate is about $98. For one tank of gas for a small car….
Lemmesee – the litre price was NOK 12.60, which is about $7.60 per gallon….. Don’t think I will get one of these anytime soon….

Lessig frustrated with Kopinor conference

Lawrence Lessig gave a talk at a conference for licensing organizations here in Norway and was frustrated because the audience (or, at least, most of them) didn’t get it, and he was seen as naïve and dangerous.
I am not really surprised – the collective licensing organizations collect money where they can and dole it out to “approved” authors (not all authors, only those deemed qualitatively good enough.) Creative Commons and other forms of financing destroys (or, at least, attacks) their reason for being. Hence the hostility.

I could, unfortunately, not be at the conference. Wish I was. But I will get my chance later this year, giving a talk at a conference for a similar organization in Denmark.

As for Lessig’s view of Norway – I hope he is reassured that some Norwegians, at least, think highly of him and his ideas. The Future of Ideas remains the one book I recommend to everyone to understand the need for a differentiated set of rights systems and a “default option” of free and available.

Don’t give up, Larry. The Swedes joke that when airplanes from Stockholm land in Oslo, the captain will tell passengers to put their clocks five years back. We will get there, eventually.

An American on Norway

Bruce Bawer has an interesting piece in the Hudson review (via Lars Halvorsen) titled Hating America. I disagree with his use of the word “hate” (a bit to strong, I think most Europeans love to hate the USA, they don’t really hate it,) as well as a number of opinions about US foreign policy that he advocates, but it is very interesting to see how he describes Norway and our relationship to the United States. Viewing Norway, he is spot on.
The “American demanding McDonald’s way up in the mountains” story always struck me as a little incongruous, coming as it did during the newspapers’ cucumber season (i.e., the summer slowdown when papers are desperate for news and staffed by interns.) The original piece described a stay at a farm taking in tourists, with some remarks about the churlishness of the owner, which sounded entirely plausible to me. In Norway, willingness to serve the customer is seen as a deficiency of character, a view that is changing, but only slowly (and given the way the economy is going, it will take quite a while before Norwegians will have to.)
P.J.O’Rourke once said that Communism was “been brought to its knees because nobody wants to wear Bulgarian shoes.” While flippant, the remark contains more than a little grain of truth. And to all those decrying the boorishness and lack of intellectual curiosity of Americans, I invite them to, say, take a tour of the bookshops of Boston and San Francisco, and then visit similar establishments in Oslo, and check out the selection and conduct a few tests of the quality of the staff. Then sample some museums such as the Metropolitan in NY, the MFA in Boston or (my favorite) the Fogg Museum at Harvard, before trying to get something out of the Norwegian National Gallery (or, for that matter, the Louvre).
Nothing like some data to get your perspectives in line.