Religion and the secularisation of Europe

According to the latest British census, the country is increasingly leaning into secularisation as more of its people are professing a lack of religion. As stated by The Economist’s report of the said census, “just over a quarter of people in England and Wales say they have no religion, up from 14.8% a decade earlier”, while “the proportion of Christians has fallen from 71.8% to 59.3%”. This is arguably reflective of the European region’s general secularisation.

In a study by sociologist Peter Berger, Scandinavian neighbours Norway and Sweden turned out to be two of the world’s most secular nations, with Sweden topping the list. In fact, last year, Norway removed the Evangelical Lutheran Church as the state religion. These figures and discoveries may be interpreted in several ways. It may indicate that some religions might be losing ground, or it could be that people just aren’t interested in committing to a single organized faith anymore. Either way, it is highly remarkable how religion has come to be a major interest in public and academic discussions in the 21 st century.

For one, the free market of ideas that emerged alongside the growth of the Internet has encouraged widespread debates about religion. In the past, religious talks were confined only to “sacred” forums such as churches or temples. Today, however, there is more freedom and openness among people to express their thoughts about previously shunned or tabooed topics. Moreover, the anonymity offered by most online platforms allows internet users to take part in religious discussions without the fear of being denounced and/or excommunicated. This is also the reason why several religious leaders have turned to the Internet to reach out to their constituents and the general public. Quite recently Pope Benedict XVI, the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church, joined the popular microblogging site Twitter under the handle @pontifex. Other leaders from major world religions (such as the Dalai Lama) have also been using Twitter as a platform for connecting with the online populace.

Publishers would know how compelling a topic religion (or the lack thereof) can be. Release an article about business or economics and you get a comment or two; but publish a piece about religion and the comments section will soon be flooded by an array of different opinions, ranging from the academically theological to the humorously sarcastic. For instance, when The Economist published a brief piece – consisting of an infographic and a single short paragraph – about the abovementioned British census, it warranted a flurry of comments reaching up to three pages (and counting). In fact, just the use of the phrase “descent into godlessness” was enough to set off a heated debate about whether leaning into godlessness is to be considered an ascent or descent of British society.

Clearly, religion and national culture are intertwined in a web so complicated that the ends are indistinguishable – much like a chicken-and- egg cycle, only more complex. However, the supposed “secularisation of Europe” as implied by increasing numbers of the irreligious in the region has hinted that more and more people are coming to believe that a secular (i.e. irreligious; impartial to one or selected religions) society is the preferred way to proceed.

Knut Harald Nylænde is an Oslo-based investor and business man. He is the founder and CEO of Moxie AS, an investments firm. Outside the professional sphere, Knut has a wide variety of interests, including sports, language, and culture.

Philanthrocapitalism

In my article on social entrepreneurship, I noted how the current boom of non-profit organizations has made social work open to participation of almost anyone. Similarly, corporate organizations and businesses are increasingly leaning toward social responsibility and community engagement efforts. With all these news of new trends and theories about social entrepreneurship and the boom of corporate social responsibility (CSR), I can’t help but wonder: What is it with all this fuss about philanthropy? Did the human race suddenly become collectively nice? Or is there another motive behind this phenomenon? In pondering about this, I chanced upon a recently-coined concept called philanthrocapitalism. Basically, philanthrocapitalism is just a fancy term for doing philanthropic work in the same way you would do ordinary business: with an end-goal in mind and with investments and assets at stake.

As my social entrepreneurship article pointed out, modern-day philanthropy is often closely related with business. It works both ways: businesses use philanthropy as a way to achieve “social responsibility”, and philanthropists are starting to use business models and elements in their operations as well. In The Economist’s article The birth of philanthrocapitalism, it was explained why increasingly more players in this field are suggesting how philanthropy needs a more “investor-like” nature to be able to flourish. The article enumerates these three key preconditions for a philanthropic marketplace to work:

“First, there must be something for philanthropists to “invest” in – something that, ideally, will be created by “social entrepreneurs”, just as in the for-profit world entrepreneurs create companies that end up traded on the stock market. Second, the market requires an infrastructure, the philanthropic equivalent of stock markets, investment banks, research houses, management consultants and so on… Third, philanthropists themselves need to behave more like investors. That means allocating their money to make the greatest possible difference to society’s problems: in other words, to maximise their “social return…”.

Now, this merger between business and philanthropy is not a bad thing in itself; but what I fear is that at the pace this is happening, the time will come when the line separating the two will blur and eventually lead to deception and manipulation. As much as I hate to admit it, there is a high possibility that at the end of the day, some of these businesses will still have profit as the main motivation for engaging in philanthropic activities. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that this is what motivates all businesses, but it’s a danger that we all should be wary of.

Knut Harald Nylænde is the current CEO and founder of Moxie, a cluster of investment firms mainly based in Oslo. In his official website KnutNylaende.com, Knut writes about his opinions on business trends, current events, and the frequent collision of business and culture.

Performance-based pay and employee monitoring

One of the long-enduring dilemmas that has been pestering managers all over the world is the question how to determine workers’ salaries. Over the years, numerous schemes have been developed in an effort to find the best solution to this conundrum. Today, one of the most common methods internationally, is basing the payment on the worker’s performance, in one way or the other. – the “No Work, No Pay” approach, so to speak. In many countries, like in Norway, these kinds of methods are not so widespread, but in some businesses they have gained a foothold. Basically, the worker’s wage corresponds directly with the amount of work he or she puts in. Obviously, this kind of approach requires a system that accurately monitors and “measures” a worker’s performance.

In The Economist of May 25, 2013, an article under the title Making pay work revealed that while close employee monitoring may make it easier for managers to gauge an employee’s output, it may actually backfire because the pressure of being watched and strictly “measured” takes away other motivations, like being able to do an excellent job. In conclusion, the article asserts that “the extremes seem to be a better choice: monitor hard, or do not monitor at all. A little bit of monitoring only annoys the good workers, causing them to slacken off”.

If this is so, what is the best solution?

If there’s anything about this topic that The Economist has confirmed, it is that there is no single solution that would fit any company or organisation. My stand on this issue is this: close performance monitoring can be a good recourse, but only as far as it motivates workers, not induces fear or stifles their potential. On the other end, a lax monitoring system can only be effective if the management has thought of other ways to bring out the best in their employees. So, rather than being a question of effectivity, the problem becomes an issue of style. Since we now know that these things work either way, the only important question to ask is “What triggers can I use to boost employees’ performance? What do my employees value the most? What challenges them?”. These questions can only be answered if you actually know your employees. Until such knowledge is established, any option or approach – performance-based or not – will only be futile.

Knut Harald Nylænde is a business executive and well-known investor in Oslo. In his several English and Norwegian blogs, Knut writes about business, management and culture.

Organising your organisation

Indonesia’s national emblem is called Garuda Pancasila. It pictures the mythical bird Garuda with a shield on its chest and gripping a claw with its legs. The scrool reads: Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, meaning “Unity in diversity”. Interestingly, the current official motto of the European Union is “United in diversity” and previously it was “Unity in diversity”.

According to the European Commission: “The motto means that, via the EU, Europeans are united in working together for peace and prosperity, and that the many different cultures, traditions and languages in Europe are a positive asset for the continent.”. This emphasis in fostering unity and coherence in an otherwise diverse and fragmented group of entities is not just confined to the realm of nations or state organisations, but has saturated the world of business as well. Needless to say, unity is important for a business organisation to function well. However, the changing landscape of operations and management have posed several challenges for managers in the area of maintaining a unified workforce.

For example, in my previous post about the practices of outsourcing and offshoring, I pointed out the pros and cons of delegating some business processes to external firms or foreign company branches. While some companies are hesitant about this kind of approach and would rather stick to housing their operations at a centralised location, more and more managers are finding outsourcing and offshoring convenient and efficient in terms of labour costs. However, should you decide to venture into outsourcing or offshoring, there are even more elements and issues which should be considered. For example, to most managers,managing an organisation that is made of many different and unconnected teams poses

several challenges. Often, managers tend to adapt to these challenges by simply treating different teams or divisions using different approaches (according to the specific needs of each), – but, alas, this usually produces mediocre to poor results. So how does one manage a fragmented organisation?

In a recent entry for the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, author Brad Power provided three tips on Keeping Work Organized when Your Team Is Fragmented. They are as follows: First, create a shared purpose and an end-to- end process map. Second, share information on process performance liberally. And lastly, create an online community for your process team.

Looking at these actions, it may seem that the best way to address team fragmentation is to create a false or imaginary sense of unity, to make separate teams and units feel as if they are but one group. This is difficult (and in some cases, even impossible) to achieve, however. On the other hand, in the paper authored by Joan Henderson and Rodney McAdam (2001) entitled Decision making in the fragmented organisation: a utility perspective, they say that “to manage such fragmented specialised business units, executives need effective decision making processes that are capable of measuring key indices quickly, accurately and effectively”.

Perhaps what business leaders should keep most forward in mind is that fragmentation is not a bad thing in itself. Like most other business elements and resources, what should be given priority is to find a way to maximize it and use it for the improvement of the company.

Knut Harald Nylænde is the CEO and Founder of Moxie AS, a high-growth investments group based in Oslo. Aside from running his successful firm, Knut is also a trusted expert in management consulting and business development. He blogs at KnutNylaende.com about current issues and upcoming trends in business, economics, and culture.

On saving Eurozone: Unanimity is the key

As of the first quarter of 2013, Britain has started recovering from the economic collapse. With the growth in housing market and consumer spending, a flicker of hope emerges. But after the international bailout negotiations in Cyprus this March, negotiations that attest an economic demise, the crisis in Eurozone has been – again – the talk of the town. The crisis in Cyprus is  indeed grave because capital controls have – for the first time – already been introduced just to convince investors to make their money stay. Of course these have serious repercussions such as making the citizens believe that it is now almost impossible to save the Eurozone. As usual, the good news has been overshadowed by the bad news. Because of this, instead of seeing and thinking of contributing to the efforts in saving the economic conditions of Europe, the citizens, and even people beyond the continent’s boundaries, wonder which country is next to face the same misfortune.

Larry Elliot, the economics editor of The Guardian, analysed the said economic issue. He brought up the reasons behind the fiscal failure and provided some points – based on his perspective – on how to prevent another Eurozone crisis. The first problem, he noted, is the lack of effective attempts to resolve the problem from other members of the Eurozone. According to Elliot, instead of uniting for a purpose that would benefit themselves individually and as an entity, they only defend hemselves by issuing statements saying they are not going to be the next Cyprus.

Elliot emphasizes the need to recognize the flaws of the current fiscal policy. If the members of the Eurozone keep on speaking independently about this issue, then it is the same as denying what is really happening and how this is going to be an inevitable domino effect. Then, like the usual way of facing any type of dilemma, it is better to start with acceptance. It is easier to have a more open mind and see the important elements of a problem when the situation is fully accepted. I am sure that in this ongoing economic crisis, with genuine acceptance, it would

become easier as well to be aware of and to acknowledge what is faulty with the policy. But of course, this does not happen overnight. As Elliot says, European countries should be given more time to set everything right, especially bringing public finances in order. He suggests that they should concentrate on structural shortfalls instead of general budget deficits. More than this, Elliot says that what should be done immediately is the creation of a banking and fiscal union. According to him, the economic collapse of Cyprus could have been prevented painlessly had there been pan-European bodies which could have recapitalised the banks.

Elliot has an interesting and keen viewpoint on this persistent economic issue. While all of his suggestions and recommendations are helpful, I will still deem that presently the most important factor that could save the Eurozone is the presence of harmony among the members. Elliot is totally right in saying that what Europe needs now is “one voice”. Some economists and analysts say that in the present state of affairs for the Eurozone, it is only God who can save it. I will claim it can be salvaged down here on earth if the Eurozone countries establish proper communication among themselves, and think and act – even just this once – as one.

Knut Harald Nylænde is a Norwegian entrepreneur and investor, who presently holds the Chief Executive position in Moxie AS, a group of investments companies in Oslo.

Measuring development

Development is such a big, abstract concept. Approaching it from different angles, there are numerous ways to define and characterize development. In fact, we can even create different typologies of development and enumerate different types of development under the continuum. In addition to these variations, even the scope of development varies. For example, the term may refer to personal and individual development, as well as community-wide development and even nationwide and international development.

Most dictionaries present only loose definitions of development. Dictionary.com, for example, defines development as “a specified state of growth or advancement.” However, if we consult this definition, we would still wonder what the terms “growth” and “advancement” pertain. Both these terms in defining development are still both broad and vague. In fact, even when I looked up the root word of development which is “develop,” the definitions given are still vague. Again, the Dictionary.com states that to develop means to “grow or cause to grow and become more mature and advanced.” But then again, what is growth? What does ‘being more mature’ actually mean? What does ‘being advanced’ entail, more precisely? We can again look up these words in a dictionary and find that there are more definitions linked to these terms. This makes it difficult to characterize development.

Now that we see how impossible it is to give one all-encompassing definition of development, how then do we quantify the term in order to make it measurable and standard across all societies? What are our readily measurable indicators of development (or at least, aspects of it) and how reliable are they?

Perhaps one of the most commonly used indicator or measurment of development is the GDP of a nation. While GDP is widely used and considered a reliable measure, it focuses mainly on a nation’s economic situation and does not take into account the other aspects of development such as sustainability, satisfaction of citizens, and others.

Bill Gates said in an article in the Guardian that the GDP may be an “inaccurate indicator of the poorest countries.”. He said that if the selection for natios that need more development initiatives is based on the GDP, then there may be discrepancies. According to Gates, using statistics as justification to help the world’s poor may therefore not be accurate and reliable. In fact, according to him, GDP also undermines, to an extent, the development in rich countries because the value of goods and services are always in a state of flux.

In developing countries, however, GDP becomes an unreliable measure of development because there are many unrecorded economic activities that are not taxed. For example, those engaged in small and medium enterprises and other subsistence economies are not taken into account in computing for a nation’s GDP. In addition to this, many economic and development reports are not regularly updated. This becomes an additional cause of discrepancy in creating strategic development plans for nations which need them the most.

Therefore, development workers and experts must also start looking at development from a farther distance, in order to see the big picture. In measuring development, we must not only look at it from a single point of view and evaluate it using a single measure but try to gauge the different situations and integrate them in order to form a holistic understanding of development.

Knut Harald Nylænde is the man behind one of Norway’s investments groups, Moxie AS. Knut received his professional training from two of the best business schools in the country, and has worked as a State Authorized Public Accountant in the past.

Mapping the world through learning communities

Last year, New York Times bestselling author and vlogger (video blogger) John Green delivered an address entitled The Paper Town Academy at a TEDx event in Indianapolis. Green takes off from the practice of cartography and uses it as a metaphor to say that “The manner in which we map the world changes the world. The world is changed by our maps of the world. What we map changes the life we lead.”. He then transitions to talking about how the internet has opened up to new learning communities, allowing for more ways and opportunities for us to map the world  according to our diverse knowledge and experiences.Another interestng point in Green’s address is when he states that the YouTube page resembles a classroom, in that the teacher is speaking in an elevated and central platform (video screen) and the students are engaged in a conversation below the platform (comments section). Green makes a good job in describing how the YouTube comments section is a fantastic avenue for learning conversations and intellectual exchange. Often, when people think and talk about YouTube comments, they focus on the virtual conflicts that arise from online discussions. What Green points out, on the other hand, is that if one only looks closely enough, one would see that social media and popular online platforms like YouTube, Reddit, and Tumblr are also being used by people to share bits of knowledge with one another – as in a regular classroom setting.

This brings me back to another article which I wrote recently about The future of higher education. As I listened to John Green’s address, the idea of a higher education bubble sounded more unreal. Perhaps what’s happening is not that people are being deprived of opportunities and resources to pursue higher education, but rather that more alternative opportunities are popping up to the point that traditional higher education platforms – such as  universities – are not the only options any longer.

The future of higher education: How technology will shape learning, a report from the Economist Intelligence Unit and sponsored by the New Media Consortium, also tackles the topic of the convergence between new media and education. The report is based on a survey and in-depth interviews conducted in 2008 among executives from both higher education and corporate settings. However, while the report lists several impacts of technology (particularly online learning technologies) to conventional settings, it concluded that “for all of its benefits, technology remains a disruptive innovation – and an expensive one”. Though the study was conducted more than four years ago, it is safe to assume that such is still the general sentiment of conventional higher education professionals about using new technologies: disruptive and expensive. As John Green’s speech show, however, there is another way by which we can view this entanglement of education and technology.In his aforementioned TED address, Green says: “I became a learner because I found myself in a community of learners.”. More than higher budgets and stronger administrative tactics for higher educatio institutions, perhaps this is what we really need: a community of learners. Focusing on the technology per se has merely proved to lead to an endless debate. So why don’t we focus on the users of the technology instead? At the end of the day, it is not the technology or the technical platform that makes education possible, but how the learning community uses it.

Knut Harald Nylænde is a Norwegian businessman and investor who currently serves as the CEO of Moxie AS. In his multiple blogs, Knut discusses his views about issues of business, technology, culture, and defence.

Listen or die – market research

My investment company, Moxie AS, prioritises companies that show a high level of innovation and research. The reason why is that we in the organisation believe that research is an important aspect of every business endeavour, and should therefore not be taken lightly on. As you may well know, there are different phases and types of research necessary for business development, and one of the most essential areas is market research.

In some respects, traditional market research is just like television research in a different context. Sam Ford, however, says that this is not the way marketing should be done. In his recent piece for the Harvard Business Review called In Marketing, People Are Not Numbers, Ford argues that the marketing sector should stop using a broadcast model for market research.

Very few people would think of the name “Knut Harald Nylænde” when discussing this topic, as I am not from the research industry (nor from the marketing area) myself. However, as a business leader and entrepreneur, my business philosophy resonates with much of what Ford posits.

One of the most frequent and tough criticisms hured at advertising is the fact that it “sells” audiences and consumers as commodities. This includes turning consumers into mere figures or statistics, viewed quantitatively to “measure” a campaign’s success. But at the end of the day, these audiences are still human beings, with actual human feelings andemotions. For this reason, marketers and business owners and executives alike should stop treating the “consumer sector” as one homogenous entity, because they’re not. Every customer, client or patient has a distinct personality and a unique need. Most importantly, they have something to say about your brand and your business.

I am also a staunch supporter of listening and of consumer engagement.

In the aforementioned HBR article, Ford puts forward the principle of spreadable media, referring to the fact that in today’s online world, audiences have as much power and capability to spread and assign values to content as the “producers” themselves. This is why I think that it’s very important for business executives to recognize the power and potential of social media. The fact is that people do talk about you online, and it would be wise to listen.

Now that we’ve figured out the whys, let’s talk about the how. How do you balance consumers’ interests and sentiments up against those of the business? That’s a tough question to answer, not only in the field of research, but also in the areas of product and business development. There is one piece of advice that always comes to mind when I think of this dilemma:

“Give the people what they need in the form of what they want”.

Let me tweak it a little bit to make it more applicable to our current context:

“Give the people what (they think) they need and want in the form of what you can give them”.

In simpler terms, there must always be some form of compromise. Ultimately, it all boils down to being able to realize and understand that your business is not all about you. Business and entrepreneurship are intended to solve a problem, and if you don’t open your ears to the ideas of the public, then you would fail to get a grasp of what the problem really is. As a result, obviously, your business would end up offering the wrong solutions.

The conclusion is: Learn to listen, and learn to listen well.

Knut Harald Nylænde is an investor and businessman currently residing in Norway. Primarily engaged in the investments sector, Knut is also interested and frequently blogs about issues in business leadership, finance, global economy, and culture. 

Is innovation dead?

Innovation is a constant subject of my blog entries and articles. In fact, innovation is a constant subject of everyday conversations in the sphere of business. However, an increasing number of economists and technology experts and enthusiasts are developing the idea that innovation might be dying.

In the latest print edition of The Economist, the internationally-recognized business publication ran a story under the title Has the ideas machine broken down?, tackling the debate around the issue whether technological innovation has indeed stopped growing. The feature is mainly concerned about the innovative environment in Silicon Valley, the “capital” of innovative technologies and start-ups. The article voiced the fear that has been creeping into numerous minds: “it seemed the world had run out of ideas”. It also referred to the term coined by economist Tyler Cowen to describe the phenomenon: the Great Stagnation. The article also reveals the three major arguments of “innovation pessimists”: growth statistics, the decreasing number of new inventions and patents, and the general ‘feeling’ of stagnation, as compared with the rapid technological revolution of the early 21 st century.

These points, while valid, point back to the age-old debate between quantity and quality.

Can the rate of innovation be accurately and appropriately measured by using figures alone?

The greatest problem with this innovation debate is probably that it is immensely difficult to measure the impact of technological innovations. Millions of start-ups may be established this year, but we can’t really be certain about to what extent they will make a significant impact in people’s lives.

I am digressing now, however, why I go back to the question: is innovation really stagnant? More importantly, are we facing the end of innovative ideas that used to change how we live by their impact?

Last year, author Stian Westlake wrote in The Guardian, “British innovation is not dead. But it needs public investment to flourish”. The gist of the article is that, like before, innovation still has the potential and capacity to make our lives better and enliven the economy (it might, in fact, hold the same ability for the rest of this generation’s time); but for it to realize this potential, it needs a great amount of support and funding from the government. This is not a novel suggestion. It s an obvious fact that technology needs financial support to flourish; but the problem lies in the fact that most governments tend to veer as far from innovative technological projects as possible. Whether this is caused by fear or by mere doubt in the power of innovation, I don’t know. But what I do know is this: the general indifference and scepticism of governments towards the flourishing world of technology would only lead to the worse. What authorities should realise is that they have a major role to play (if not the most important one) in using the power of innovation to transform lives and economies. As Westlake says, “Governments can make it easier or harder for innovation to flourish.”.

Knut Nylænde is a Norwegian businessman and the incumbent CEO of Moxie AS, a group of investment firms based in Oslo. In KnutNylande.com, Knut writes about his business insights, as well as his opinions in culture and economics.

Is crowdfunding a viable idea for your business?

In my article about the wisdom of the crowd, http://www.knutnylaende.com/the-promises-and-perils-of-collective- wisdom/, I wrote about this generation’s high regard for collective wisdom and action. This, however, exists not only in the realm of discussions and market research, but in important finance practices as well. This is why following the proliferation of collective trends such as crowdsourcing came the rise of crowd-based business practices, the most famous of which is crowdfunding.

Basically, crowdfunding is the practice of sourcing or delegating the responsibilities of fundraising and investing to the public (i.e. the “crowd”). A great chunk of crowdfunding activities are done through the use of online funding platforms such as Kickstarter, “the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects”. During the early days of crowdfunding, most people seemed to dismiss it as a passing fad or a short-lived business trend. But as crowdfunding systems like Kickstarter continued to show impressive signs of success, more and more entrepreneurs and even those outside the business sphere (e.g. independent bands and artists who needed a simple way to raise funds for their creative pursuits) have jumped into the crowdfunding bandwagon.

One of the weightiest issues that had to be addressed was that of credibility and trust. In traditional business transactions, investors would have to see proof of the business’ or executives’ credibility before deciding to invest in the company or project; but crowdfunding basically puts entrepreneurs at the risk of placing their business in the hands of strangers. And of course, it also works the other way: people are expected to fund and invest in projects and companies with the slightest security of returns. Needless to say, there are still a lot of holes and flaws that crowdfunding has to address; and frankly, a system as risky and unsecure could only last for so long. Still, crowdfunding has its merits and has obviously contributed something significant to the business sector: a sense of community. What crowdfunding has taught us is that at the end of the day, it is still our relationships that will keep business alive.

Knut Harald Nylænde is the founder and incumbent Chief Executive Officer for Moxie AS, an Oslo-based investments group focusing on the development and growth of small to mid- sized businesses. Drawing from his educational background in Law, Accounting, and Economics, and from his rich experience in management and finance consulting, Knut blogs about responsible business practices and trends.