Welcome to the second edition of the Mix – an aggressively moderate blend of things worth thinking about, from the deeply insightful to the indulgently ridiculous. Here’s what’s in the Mix:
PLEASE STOP STEPPING ON RAKES
A tech journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle sits in his local coffee shop, struggling to find the words to fill the blank screen staring back at him. He turns to his friend, an engineer at Apple, to brainstorm.
TECH JOURNALIST: I’m trying to find some kind of real-world example or metaphor that captures the current challenges in the tech industry. Any ideas?
APPLE ENGINEER: That’s tough, man. Not sure how much help I’ll be today. My head is killing me!
TECH JOURNALIST: You have a headache?
APPLE ENGINEER: Oh yeah. All week. Apple’s new headquarters is filled with these “pods” meant to facilitate collaboration, but the walls are all glass. People can’t stop walking into the freaking walls! Doesn’t help that we’re buried in our iPhones all the time either. I’ve done it twice this week, and my head is absolutely killing me.
TECH JOURNALIST: Wait, what?
APPLE ENGINEER: Crazy right? People started putting post-its on the walls so we would stop crashing into them, but kind of defeats the purpose of building a sleek new office if we have to slap cheap paper all over it to stop it from hurting people.
TECH JOURNALIST: Are you trying to tell me that one of the leading innovators in the tech industry created a cutting-edge new facility, but the unforeseen consequences are literally smashing people in the face? And any attempt to fix the problem feels wildly insufficient and fails to address the underlying issue?
APPLE ENGINEER: Pretty much, yeah. Sorry I’m not more help.
TECH JOURNALIST: Don’t worry about it – metaphors don’t usually write themselves.
TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK
The top story from the Winter Olympics wasn’t the dude who won the skeleton wearing an Iron Man helmet or Adam Rippon’s Twitter account. The real story was Norway channeling it’s inner Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and unleashing a can of whoop-ass on the rest of the world.
Despite sending less than half as many athletes to Pyeongchang as the US, Norway left with more total medals (39) and gold medals (14) than any nation. That success is startling when you consider the country’s size relative to the competition. Norway’s population of 5.2 million is roughly equal to that of Minnesota and less than the population of the Atlanta metro area, yet Norwegian athletes vastly outperformed the best the US could muster from across all 50 states. This was no one-year anomaly; Norway leads the all-time medal count by 63.
How does this tiny country keep dominating? One possible contributor to Norwegian success is a sporting culture very different from what we have in the United States.
For starters, youth sports in Norway aren’t allowed to keep score until the players are 13. Tore Ovrebo, director of elite sport for the Olympiatoppen, says “We want to leave the kids alone… We want them to develop, and be focused on social skills… They learn a lot from not being judged. And they feel better.”1 Not keeping score may feel deeply un-American, but there could be value in saving kids from cutthroat parents and intense pressure at a young age. Norwegian skier Ragnhild Mowinckel believes that ”the environment we grow up in, it’s great for us.” Mowinckel won 2 silver medals in Pyeongchang.
In addition to the unique youth experience, the Norwegian Olympic team prioritizes the social fabric of the team above talent. “We have a saying,” says veteran skier Askel Lund Svindal.2 “There is almost no skill or ability you can have that is so good it allows you to ruin the social qualities of the team.”3 All team members are equals – the LeBron of Norwegian skiing sits right next to the last man on the roster. No special treatment and no jerks allowed.
Kjetil Jansrud, another skier who medaled in Pyeongchang, insists that this team-first environment leads to real results. “There are no secrets in terms of individual tactics or techniques on the team,” says Jansrud. “If you have teammates who consistently lift you up, then the environment will make you happy. You’ll work harder and stay motivated. You’re giving yourself the best chance to win.”
Norway’s final secret is a delicious one: tacos. Every Friday night is taco night for the Norwegian ski team, with cooking duties rotating throughout the roster and family always invited. The team dinners help build the social cohesion and camaraderie that the athletes believe critical to their success.
Sounds touchy-feely? Type “crazy sports parents” into YouTube and tell me we don’t have room for improvement.
None of this would work in America? The Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles attribute weekly team dinners (with a no-phone policy) as critical to building the unity and cohesion that helped them succeed on the field.
Norway’s “team-first” culture isn’t the only reason for the country’s Olympic success. Talent, strategy, and abundant snow can’t be overlooked. On the other hand, is Norway the only nation with a solid infrastructure to support the winter games? Think Lindsey Vonn or Shaun White struggled to find places to train? There’s a valuable lesson in Norway’s emphasis on teamwork and cohesion even if culture isn’t the sole cause for the country’s dominance.
Plus, who doesn’t love taco night?
LIVE FROM THE ARTILLERY CENTER IN FLAVORTOWN
Guy Fieri is an easy punch line. He looks like the “after” in a demonstration of the weaponized effects of radioactive Mountain Dew. I will never be convinced that Guy Fieri, the guy from Smashmouth, and the guy from Insane Clown Posse aren’t the same person. Guy’s Vegas restaurant serves “GUY-TALIAN FONDUE DIPPERS,” which are pepperoni breadsticks served with a sausage-cheese dip.4
But let’s take a moment to appreciate Fieri for what he is: a constant source of light and joy in a world filled with darkness.
Bring your passport – we’re boarding the freight train to Flavortown.
Guy Fieri is an American treasure. Never change, sweet prince.
That’s it for the Mix – if you need me, I’ll be panning for dinner in Flavortown river.
- The Olympiatoppen is the organization in charge of training and nutrition for the Norwegian Olympic team.
- Svindal won gold in the men’s downhill.
- I appreciate the sentiment, but that may be the least catchy saying of all time. The Norwegians are awesome skiers, but they do not appear to be the most eloquent bunch.
- Oh, beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain… also, I get how we lost to the Norwegians now.