2020 was a year from hell - and then came 2021. In this post, I’m going to reflect on what happened this challenging year (and partly the year before), what I did, and what I’ve learned.
The COVID-19 pandemic in Sweden
It’s impossible to talk about 2021 without COVID-19, so let’s start with that. Observing the fatalist, irrational, illogical, ignorant, arrogant, overconfident, unscientific, stubborn, egocentric, narcissist and national-chauvinist behaviour from the Public Health Agency of Sweden (Folkhälsomyndigheten) and the Swedish government has been deeply demoralizing on a personal level—not to mention its negative effect on public health. It’s outside my circle of influence—other than leading by example—but it’s well worth examining for what it reveals about Sweden.
A country is only as strong as its weakest link. The goal of Sweden’s too little, too late pandemic response was to try to achieve herd immunity through infection, in other words exposing the population to the disease. This is scientifically problematic and unethical, and would result in unnecessary cases and deaths, according to the WHO. Yet that was exactly what Sweden stubbornly kept doing, despite the UK reversing its similar strategy already in 2020.
Sweden didn’t hesitate to throw its elderly and vulnerable people, and people with disabilities under the bus, completely dismissing the precautionary principle in the face of a novel virus. Economy first, the Swedes thought.
The result in Sweden so far:
- 10 times as many COVID-19 deaths as Finland (or 5.5 times as many, if measured relative to population).
- More COVID-19 deaths in Sweden alone than the rest of the Nordic countries combined (relative to population).
- Tens of thousands of people in Sweden affected by Long COVID.
- Sweden becoming a net exporter of the COVID-19 virus to its Nordic neighbours, mostly to Finland.
- Sweden having the lowest share of people vaccinated against COVID-19 in the Nordics.
Hardly a successful strategy.
Leadership and responsibility
The most destructive part has been Sweden’s political leaders’ and Folkhälsomyndigheten’s unwillingness to learn from their own mistakes and from international research. Folkhälsomyndigheten hid behing vague recommendations that they themselves didn’t follow, let alone the general public. In the absence of opposition, they have not only denied all responsibility for the repeated failures and deaths, but also arrogantly blamed others: the regions, the immigrants, and so on.
Folkhälsomyndigheten and the mainstream media chose to actively spread disinformation and even lie to the public with impunity, for example dismissing the important and well-proven role of face masks in preventing airborne transmission and asymptomatic infection. Sweden is pretty much alone in the world in this regard.
If Sweden has crisis leadership and change management capabilities, it certainly hasn’t demonstrated any of that during this pandemic. In a democracy people get the leaders they deserve.
As Ed Catmull writes in Creativity, Inc.:
The person who can’t change his or her mind is dangerous.
Consensus culture vs. learning culture
Those few brave rebel souls, including scientists, researchers and concerned citizens who disagreed with Sweden’s dangerous coronavirus gamble, faced bullying and abuse online. As for me, I haven’t kept (and won’t keep) silent about my disagreement about Folkhälsomyndigheten’s lethal experiment. In Sweden’s consensus culture, difficult topics are often swept under the carpet and different viewpoints get a passive-aggressive, or even hostile response. By disagreeing you become part of the problem, as happened to those who dared to question Sweden’s pandemic response.
I firmly reject this way of thinking and want to advocate a learning culture instead. Health shouldn’t be political like it is in Sweden, and in many other countries. I care about people’s health, safety and wellbeing, and to that end, I’m interested in inspecting and adapting the process or system to improve the outcome—I’m an Agile Practitioner after all!
Because of all this, Sweden’s image has sustained heavy, perhaps irreparable damage internationally. I now realise how out of touch “sverigebilden” is with reality. Gina Gustavsson’s fantastic new book Du stolta, du fria helps in understanding what really happened in Sweden in 2020–21, and why and how the country became this extreme and arrogant with its self-perceived superiority and exceptionalism.
So how did I cope with Sweden’s apathetic and fact-resistant herd mentality, where one of people’s biggest fears is wearing a face mask? How did I cope with living in one of the last remaining anti-mask countries in the world—a country where the pandemic politics of the Swedish Left is ironically and sadly hailed by right-wing extremists and anti-vaxxers around the globe? Regarding masks, Minister for Health and Social Affairs, Lena Hallengren, even went on record to ignorantly announce that “Sweden doesn’t have that culture”.
Well, I survived the year by reading, educating myself, rethinking things, talking with my family and friends, working with great colleagues, and going for a walk—one day at a time. We owe a really big shoutout to all healthcare workers for their invaluable work!
Personal highlights of 2021 (partial list)
- Read 80+ books, mostly about agile, team dynamics and development, organizational psychology, leadership, change management, facilitation, coaching, product management, mountaineering, but also some novels and countless articles online in multiple languages.
- Turned 50.
- Acquired the Professional Scrum Product Owner (PSPO I) certification at Scrum.org.
- Created a series of Instagram posts about the six European countries and places I’ve lived during my life, sharing some stories and reflections about them.
- Walked 2200+ km (according to Google Fit).
- Experienced the magic of Finnish Lapland in August 2021, and saw my sisters and elderly parents in Finland twice during the year.
- Continued working remotely as consulting Scrum Master with my awesome team that we started up in 2019. This year we started a transition from component team to feature team in a new SAFe Release Train, in a new business domain. We’ve made good progress and look forward to delivering even more value in 2022! I’m very happy for this chance to work with this team: they’re experienced, committed and funny people. And as if further proof is needed, we’ve shown to the organisation that working 100% remotely works really well.
- Participated in interviewing candidates for developer roles.
- Discussed various topics of agile leadership in recorded internal podcasts with my super friendly and wise colleagues at my consultant home, One Agency.
- Inspiration: Winter K2 in January 2021—the final eight-thousander to be summited in the winter. It’s an absolutely amazing example of what a team can achieve together when it has a shared, elevating goal! Watch a team of Nepalese climbers, led by Nirmal Purja and Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, reach the top of K2 (8611m).
My goals for 2022
Next year looks tricky for many reasons, not least due to the ongoing pandemic. Here are a few goals, from concrete to more fuzzy:
- Bag my fourth 4000-meter peak in the Alps
- Walk 3000+ km :)
- Read 60–80 books—including more novels than in 2021
- Learn more on my journey as Scrum Master, Agile Coach and Change Agent
- Focus on leadership, communication, and remote international teams
- Support my local restaurants more in Malmö area
- Find new ways of reducing my environmental impact, in addition to my earlier efforts: I don't eat meat, and I don't have a car for example
- Continue being useful for others.
In general, in 2022 and onwards I want to see less individualism and polarisation, and more empathy and solidarity. If we can think again like a scientist—and less like a preacher, prosecutor, or politician—we can better solve the big and small problems we humans have created.
And that’s a wrap! Thanks for reading. Hopefully we’ve learned something so 2022 doesn’t become “2020 too”.
Bring on 2022, let’s see what you’ve got!