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How To Think Like a Viking in the Age of COVID

Viking ship in Norway (Unsplash)
Viking ship in Norway (Unsplash)

The COVID pandemic has been the great tragedy of our time, not just for America but for the world. In America’s case, however, the pandemic’s wake has exposed a landscape overflowing with other toxins, from mindless lockdowns and defunding the police to Antifa, critical race theory, social media censorship, Big Lies, and fake news.

Americans are ready to hit the reset button. But how? 

We find ourselves in a chaotic and uncertain world from our city streets and schools to the Delta variant. The old rules no longer apply -- the new rules have yet to be written. We navigate these dangerous and volatile seas at our own risk.

It’s time to think like Vikings. Those formidable sea warriors from Scandinavia learned how to not only survive but thrive in the chaos of Dark Age Europe. They offer us some powerful lessons on how to navigate our post-COVID rapids, and how to renew the American experiment in a fast-moving high-tech age.  

1. Learn to see chaos and disruption as opportunity. While Europe was dissolving into chaos after the death of the emperor Charlemagne in 814, the Vikings sought out their enemies’ weaknesses and exploited them to the full.

Their seaborne approach to warfare was entirely non-linear and seemingly random. This allowed them to take advantage of uncertainty in order to strike where they were least expected, with the force necessary to decide the issue.

In other words, the Vikings’ shock and awe tactics relied on the volatility of the Dark Age ecosystem to generate opportunities: first to raid and plunder, eventually to trade and exchange goods with their former enemies.

The relentless rollout of new technologies from AI and machine learning to quantum and nanotechnology, for example, offers myriad opportunities for today’s Viking-minded American entrepreneurs: but only if we give up thinking that stability is safety, or that uncertainty will be the exception not the rule.

2. Stop worrying about past mistakes and errors. It didn’t matter how many battles the Vikings lost, what mattered was winning the final one. Failure only made them stronger and wiser.

The Norse sagas are filled with characters who make bad choices such as choosing the wrong spouse (like Sigurd spurning the vengeful Brynhild in "The Volsung Saga") or antagonizing the wrong king or fighting on the losing side but who live (and sometimes die) with the consequences.

Human beings are made to fail, and to learn from their mistakes. The secret is keeping the mistakes small and reversible; then opportunities to renew our fortunes present themselves as the tempting booty for the future.

3. Keep it small and agile: be "the tip of the spear." Probably no military in history had a shorter logistical chain; a longship with 20 or 40 warriors on board was all it took for a Danish or Norwegian or Swedish chieftain to "go Viking."

The first significant Viking raid on the English coast at Portland in 783 consisted of only three ships. But because the Norsemen were non-linear in their planning and operations; and because they were free to appear suddenly wherever they pleased and where their opponents never imagined they could strike (like deep upriver from the sea) until it was too late; the Vikings were able to turn their relatively small numbers into a powerful advantage.

The same will be true in post-COVID America. We’ve learned "too big to fail" is the formula for catastrophic failure. The key to success is staying lean but scalable, so that a series of agile wins can open new opportunities and horizons.

4. Build the team you can rely on and reward them accordingly. Viking raids were "friends and family" affairs, in which the chieftain loaded his long ships with kith and kin whose loyalty was unquestioned while both men and women shared the risks but also shared the plunder (recent DNA evidence shows that Viking women sometimes even led expeditions).

That’s why Vikings were willing to sail to the unknown corners of the earth including America: they were surrounded by people they knew they could count on.

Whether it’s founding a business, a restaurant, a church, or an advocacy group fighting CRT, find your own loyal and trustworthy team, people with whom you’d be ready to row across the Atlantic—and who understand there’s no real success unless everyone shares in the rewards.

5. Leadership belongs to the strong. In the Viking world strong meant those who were proven in battle. Credentials and inherited status counted for little; big promises even less.

Loyalty devolved on those who were able to deliver tangible success whether it was on the battlefield, in trade deals with Greeks or Arabs or Frenchmen, or later replacing the discredited pagan gods of old with the new creed of Christianity.

Leadership in our post-COVID world will likewise gravitate to those strong enough to point America in new directions, with proven results. Whether it’s politics or business or renewing our schools and our culture, the Vikings can put us on the right path to making America strong again, and ready for the next great venture into the unknown.

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