Historical Lessons: Viking Productivity

My picture nameGreetings all. In another life, before I made the shrewd career move of becoming a starving artist, I took a history degree and I always take pleasure in pointing out lessons from history which can help us in our modern day-to-day living, and such is the case today. It seems to me that many managers these days lack the necessary focus and drive to command the respect of their underlings and to effectively get things done. Looking back through history, the people who stick out as the real doers, the guys who really got things done, are, of course, the Vikings. I know. You were just thinking the same thing yourself.

The Vikings, of course, were the great attackers and pillagers of the ancient world, travelling far and wide from their homeland of modern-day Denmark to strike at lands all the way from the Iberian Penninsula to Constantinople. Of course, they didn't live in modern-day Denmark, they lived in medieval Denmark, before the people there even knew their country was called Denmark. The frustration of having an unnamed country eventually drove the Vikings to put horned helmets on their heads, climb into unprotected and leaky boats, and attack anyone and everyone they could reach by sea in order to carry away anything that wasn't nailed down. The Danes have mellowed a great deal over the years, of course, and hardly ever pillage any more, though nobody will sit next to their ambassador at the U.N.

My picture nameThe Vikings weren't confined to the Old World. In fact, they were the first Europeans to reach the New World, setting up a colony in L'Anse aux Meadows, in what is now Newfoundland. (Wikipedia helpfully reports that the colony is located at 51°35'49"N, 55°31'58"W. I cannot for the life of me imagine why anyone would want to know this information, but there it is, nonetheless.) Of course, it wasn't called Newfoundland then, because they didn't realise they'd been found yet. But the shared frustration of not having a name for their country was only part of what drew the Vikings to Newfoundland. They also came for the beets. Yes, they did. Eventually, the Vikings left Newfoundland because they found it nearly impossible to get things done there, because Newfoundland contains large amounts of rum. This is still a problem today. Consult your travel agent.

But returning to today's topic, we find that the ancient Vikings had a great deal to teach us about efficiency, organization and getting things done. The first thing the Vikings did was to give themselves cool names, for example Ingvar The Far-Travelled and Styrbjörn Sterki, Conqueror of Jomsborg. Nobody would have taken Ingvar The Far Travelled seriously if he was Bob Smith, Junior Assistant Accountant in the Department of Redundancy Department. It's all in a name. Remember, medieval Englishmen used to pray to be delivered from the "fierce and wild-eyed Saxons." This is the sort of respect and fear you want to inspire in your underlings. If possible, have your underlings refer to you as the "fierce and wild-eyed Dave." That's Viking Business Lesson #1.

Viking Business Lesson #2 can be taken from the Viking habit of leaving on a high note; they knew how not to overstay their welcome. They were, for all intents and purposes, the business world's first consultants. They would appear unasked and unwanted, tell everyone what to do, and run off with all the money. To be fair, business in the Middle Ages was pretty thin. It might be a bit of a stretch to consider being wretched and having hopelessly ineffective farming practices as business, per se, but the Vikings saw their market, moved in quickly, and took over what they wanted, making them not only history's first business consultants, but also history's first proponants of business travel and hostile takeovers.

Viking Business Lesson #3 is to wear a helmet with horns on it and spend a great deal of time in a long, scary-looking wooden ship. This may seem culturally specific to the ancient Viking era, but it has important business applications today. Imagine the impact it would have on your workers if they came into your office, pausing to look with curiosity at your name on your door ("Slick Elmont, Defender Of The Northern Kingdom"), and then they find you, sitting in a miniature Viking longship, clad in animal furs and a horned helmet, asking for the Winter Sales Projections. You don't tell this sort person that they'll be ready by the end of the week. One has to be serious to achieve serious results.

In summary, the lessons we can take from the Vikings are as follows: Wear horns on your head, because it makes you look crazy; be hard-working and extremely focused; don't be afraid of business travel; spend limited time in Newfoundland; and kill a lot of people for no reason at all. This is, perhaps, a heavy-handed approach, but it would certainly be effective.

That concludes this week's lesson. Until next time, keep your pen on the page and your history applicable.

Steve Sharam
For more insightful insights: www.whenrealityknocks.com

Syndicate content

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.


"travelling far and wide from their homeland of modern-day Denmark to strike at lands all the way from the Iberian Penninsula to Constantinople."

Uhm...? As far as I know the Vikings came from Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Denmark.


Delightful! Worth a whole

Delightful! Worth a whole year's collection of Hagar the Horrible strips.

Whoops, sorry!

Sorry about that. I got that piece of historical info from my historical consultant, Douglas The Unreliable:)


Steve Sharam

Sharam the Unasking

Hey, hey, hey... I don't recall being consulted about historical facts here. I have a reputation as a medievalist to uphold -- I would have told you enough about the Vikings to make your ears bleed. ;-)


Gosh and I would have enjoyed that too 8-)

It is true what this Douglas has told you. In point of fact, I did not ask for his expertise in this endevour, but only, and I want to be clear on this, because I didn't care. But even if we weren't on opposite sides of the country, I think I might not have asked him, out of fear that he might pull a William Tell. Doug does have considerable knowledge about the medieval period, but I'd be scared that he would want to demonstrate his passion for medieval longbow archery by shooting a copy of the Kalevala off my head. Patently not worth the risk.

Steve Sharam

Swedish meatballs...

Having been attacked by a helmet wearing Ikea 'Flatpack' I can confirm the existence of Swedish Vikings. :O

Yes, they were merciless

Yes, they were merciless raiders, but they had nifty lamps;)

Steve Sharam

Historical Inaccuracies Abound

Using http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vikings as an easy attainable source

"the great attackers and pillagers of the ancient world, travelling far and wide from their homeland of modern-day Denmark"

There's some confusion over the term Viking. It was originally meant to mean just the pirates and raiders however since then it's grown to encompass the whole society.

They were also farmers, traders, and scientists. They were able to travel around the world because their ships were very technologically advanced and their system for tracking position was state of the art. I remember reading somewhere that it is nearly as accurate as modern-day GPS.

"horned helmets on their heads, climb into unprotected and leaky boats, and attack anyone and everyone they could reach by sea in order to carry away anything that wasn't nailed down"

The horned helmets are a historical inaccuracy ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vikings#Horned_helmets ) that actually come from a society 2000 years before.

The Vikings colonized many places, like Ireland, and brought civilization to these areas. Dublin is a Viking settlement. Before the Vikings arrived the Irish were a biligerant people who were continually at war with each other.

Judging by the tone of the article, this is meant to be humourous, but it does nothing more than reinforce bad stereotypes and perpetuate ignorance.

I wish I could have a sense of humour about this, but it's just so totally wrong that it's hard to find it entertaining.

To go a-viking...

Far be it from me to hurtle myself in front of any bullet destined for Steve (after all, he can deflect such projectiles with his patented Wonder Woman bracelets), but I think a sense of humour is important when dealing with any scholarly subject, and especially history.

As an example, almost all the dedicated Arthurians I know (including myself) love to flock together, pour a pint of stout, and watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail. True, we tend to cringe when we hear folks refer to films like First Knight or the new King Arthur as "historically accurate", but Python reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously.

While we *can* get worked up about various historical figures being portrayed as anachronistic stereotypes, well... they're all dead, aren't they? They're not likely to care, so why should we?

On a related note, I once worked with a major advertising company looking to become the agency of record for our province's tourism department. It was a *big* contract, and plenty of resources were devoted to it over two months to ensure winning the contract, whose focus was to be "The Year of the Vikings". (The province being the aforementioned Newfoundland, where the Vikings set up their first North American community just before the turn of the millenium.) A beautiful hand-crafted wooden "aged" trunk was produced, and all our marketing plans were bound in hand-tooled leather. It was all quite authentic, based on designs of the period. (Being the resident medievalist, I could help with the research.) For the coup de grace, the company needed two large and somewhat dramatically-inclined long-haired men to deliver the trunk and recite a speech in costume. You can probably guess who was one of them (although I now have short hair).

Unfortunately, the authenticity ended with the trunk, and my colleague and I went into our crowded provincial government building on a late Friday afternoon clad in bright orange polyester furs and --yes-- huge horned helmets, trailed by a camera crew, while we delivered the goods and acted out our little play.

Yes, I cringed at having to wear such patently absurd unhistorical garments, but I grit my teeth and bore it with a smile. In the end, we were awarded the contract, so it was worth it.

all my best,

Wow, tough room

Ya know, I woke up this morning, ready for my first shift at a new job and I got thinking about what clothes I should wear. It's a temporary job, just over the Easter holiday at a chocholate shop, but I forgot to ask what the dress code is. I mean, casual certainly, but how casual? Too casual looks unprofessional and too dressed up looks inappropriate. The question, as I framed it to myself, was: "Should I wear my Shingdig Pants or my Hootinanny Pants?" Clearly, I was concentrating on the wrong questions entirely.

Well Rob W (not verified), I'm not going to beat a dead horse to death here and I considered not even responding to your comment, since it was such a serious comment to what was so obviously a silly post, but you put so much work into crafting your comment, I felt that I should say a few words.

You say "I wish I could have a sense of humour about this...". Yeah Rob, me too:P You're quite right to point out that wikipedia has a good, solid history of the Vikings. I used it for my article, actually, though only in a loose way. I did get a few pieces of historical data from it, though mainly I just looked at the pretty pictures. What can I say? This is what happens when you write a post at 12:30 a.m. To be fair, though, I didn't consider the norse etymology of the word Viking to be an especially hilarious subject, so I edited for content. Ya know, MTV Generation and all.

Quite right about the horned helmet, I stand corrected, though, if I had to do it all over again, I'd likely still make fun of the horns. You have to understand Rob, that without resorting to making fun of poorly researched cultural stereotypes, it's awfully difficult to be funny.

And finally there is one piece of information here which I do feel is innacurate. "The Irish were a biligerant people who were continually at war with each other." Um, yeah. Although I've recently moved to Vancouver, land of lattes and mellow fruitfullness, I'm from Halifax, Nova Scotia, a small city on the Canadian East coast which, by all accounts, is as Irish as anywhere, including Dublin. New Scotland is basically an Irish/Scotish colony and I'd say that whatever the Vikings tried to do didn't take, 'cause if you want to see random craziness, try going downtown in Halifax on a Friday night. May I suggest O'Carroll's, where you can see Paddy O'Furniture And His Sounds Of Undirected Emotional Outburst.

Steve Sharam

Written with my trustee soy latte by my side...

"Vancouver, land of lattes and mellow fruitfullness"

I'm not actually going to add anything useful to this discussion, so if that's what you're looking for, quit reading.

But Steve, I've got to tell you that we Vancouverites are quite lucky to have you and your sense of humour amidst our mists. (For all you non-Vancourites, that's we call the rain 'round here).

Keep it coming.

See, THAT''S what I've been saying!

Thanks, it's good to be here. I just have to get used to getting a bi-monthly de-mossing:P

Steve Sharam

viking gtd; read the Havamal

Read the Havamal in english translation to understand the Viking GTD techniques.


best regards

"Viking" from Norway

Vil noen ha te?

Thanks Haward, great link. Any chance of a Viking D*I*Y Planner template to go with it? 9.5cm x 17.5cm of course. ;)

Goodness, I didn't expect this passionate response

"Never a whit should one blame another
whom love hath brought into bonds"

Does this mean that my girlfriend can't get mad at me for forgetting to pay the phone bill?

Steve Sharam

More Viking silliness

... to be found in a song by Atlantic Union called "Vikings", from The Whole Dance:

"there are Vikings living in my shed these days....
When you’re laughing, drinking, cursing and fighting
Picking on the little people
Isn’t that the way of the world of today?
That’s what the Vikings say"


Interesting ^o)

Thanks Heather:) I had no idea that Vikings had so permeated our modern culture:)

Steve Sharam



It's good to know we can

It's good to know we can rely on spam to bring up past subjects. Great article Steve!

Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job- Douglas Adams


Hi Steve ~

Having come from Norway many years ago as a child at the tender age of 6 and speaking as a modern-day Viking who last year left a high-paying Executive Assistant's position after one of my three executives popped a handful of pills and committed suicide because of the stress (no joke) and who's trying to identify my true calling .. the vocation for which I'm most suited .... I found your article above very interesting, as well as very amusing.

It reminds me of my roots.

My relatives are all extremely hard-working and focused self-starters that usually work independently, many having their own businesses or working from home.

Of Note: Being modern-day Vikings, they don't ravage or pillage anymore, but they still don't put up with any kind of garbage from anyone. I can tell you that none of my uncles, aunts & cousins in either Norway or Canada (including Nova Scotia) would put up with the crap I did while I was still at that office (paying one's bills has it's place you know).

When I first started there 5 1/2 years earlier, my happiest day was my first day there. Over time, as things changed, my 2nd happiest day was the day I eventually left the place.

I can, however, confirm that my modern-day Viking relatives are still serious about their work and always strive for excellence.

Now I just need to find a way to make a living doing something that I really enjoy in an environment where I can (at least generally-speaking) actually respect the people for and with whom I work.

Thanks again for the interesting and inspiring article,

Anne Kristin

Wow, heavy

My article was inspiring? Really?! Hmm, didn't see that coming:P

I think you've said some really important stuff here and I thank you for saying it. It's clearly important that you've learned from someone else's pain, seeing the positive solution they were unable to see. My old English teacher used to say that you don't have to make all the mistakes yourself. Having just moved from Nova Scotia, where ambition is almost considered rude, to Vancouver, where there are many people who are frantically grasping and striving, I'm seeing the mind-set difference you're describing every day. I read a few years ago that in Vancouver there was a small but committed bunch trying to start a Workaholics Anonymous group, but there were only a few regular members, because everybody else was working late. Notice the point.

"Now I just need to find a way to make a living doing something that I really enjoy in an environment where I can (at least generally-speaking) actually respect the people for and with whom I work." Hey, I hear ya sister. Look at the bunch of degenerates I'm associated with;)

As your Viking ancestors proved many years ago, always pillage before you burn:)

Steve Sharam



I have a couple of long-haired Vikings in my family ... namely my brother Jon, to whom I lovingly refer to as "Jon, The Tempramental Artist", and cousin Ronny, in Norway, referred to by me as "The Pavarotti of the Viking World" ... but not because of his musical talents (he's more into fishing), but because he looks like Pavarotti ... when he's got his hair in a ponytail!

After reading everyone else's comments, I realize I should have signed mine:

"Anne Kristin, Modern-Day Viking and Direct Descendent of Halvard Gråtopp" ('tis true!)

Gråtopp translates to "Gray on top". Turns out he was prematurely gray, but ... over 550 years ago, was known and revered throughout the entire region which now surrounds our modern-day Oslo.)

can anyone tell me

can anyone tell me about viking farming practices quickly plzplzplz

Boy have you come to the right place

I believe that you may indeed find a few people on this site, including it's administrator, who have amassed a fair store of knowledge about all things Viking and lack a suitable outlet. Good luck on, what I assume is a last-minute term paper:)

Steve Sharam

Not so fast...

...I'm curious about the repayment bit. ;-)

Seriously, though, a good Googling on "viking farm techniques" and a browse through the Wikipedia topic mentioned above is a good start, and suitable for what I'm assuming to be a short history assignment.

If you need any more information, Jake, feel free to contact me personally through my contact form, and I'll be happy to help off-site.

all my best,