2023 - Another Tough Year

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One iteration ends, the next begins. Photo by Aki Kärkkäinen.


In 2023, as every year (see 2022, 2021, 2020), I’ve tried to focus on things I can affect and improve—including self-improvement. However, this year was mixed with grief, sorrow, and splashes of joy. At the same time, I focused on working remotely with my two distributed agile teams. Everything affects everything else, so I’ll start with the bigger picture: war, pandemic and climate crisis. I’ll follow up with what I did, what I learnt, and conclude with my goals for 2024.

2023—The Big Picture

The world is changing very fast now; it feels like it’s boiling over, with polarisation and several proxy world wars going on. It’s easy to pick a side in Russia’s war with the West, but I won’t go into the Israeli–Palestinian conflict here (other than to say that it’s a catastrophic failure on the part of the international community).

Russia’s war and terrorism

Reacting to Russian terrorist state’s senseless and brutal meat grinder war in Ukraine, Finland not only joined NATO in 2023, but also negotiated a new bilateral DCA with the United States. At the time of writing, Finland’s entire eastern border—NATO’s and the European Union’s northeastern border with Russia—is closed, due to a Russian hybrid attack against Finland and the West.

This is obviously something I can’t affect. However, I seek to understand (not approve) Russia’s frame of reference. I want to see where their imperialist ambitions, constant bullying, and total disregard for human life comes from. In 2023 I read the following books, which I consider required reading for everyone living anywhere near the Russians:

Russia’s War, by Jade McGlynn, should also be good. I haven’t read it yet, which is why it’s not included in the list.

Russia’s one thousand years of hallucination, propaganda, chauvinism, paranoia, assassinations, war, terror and hybrid operations in the world.

I’m aware of not only classic Russian literature and classical music, but also Russian atrocities throughout history. However, these books made me realise how hopeless Russia’s future looks, for as long as Russians refuse to confront and accept their collective guilt for their past and present crimes. The world would be a much better place if Russians looked in the mirror even once in a generation. Nazi Germany did that after WWII. I’m not hopeful, so until that happens, we’ll continue to suffer from Russian fascism (Ruscism), imperialism and terror—or “Russian World” (Russkiy Mir) as they call it.

Vladimir “Putler” even has a European authoritarian puppet at his disposal: Hungary’s Viktor Orbán (and probably others too). But make no mistake: when Putin falls, Russia is still Russia—if it doesn’t break up. Any Finn or Ukrainian will tell you this: Russia can only be stopped by force. In fact, a recent poll suggested that half of Finns say Finland should prepare for war in coming years. I think that tells a lot about Finland: Finns like to be prepared (and they are), and that’s a very good thing. Now we just need to get Sweden in NATO as well.

COVID-19 Pandemic

2023 was the year when COVID-19 became a taboo. Having been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease back in 2012, I’ve been genuinely shocked by people’s laissez-faire attitude to the COVID-19 pandemic during the last 3-4 years. In 2023 I was still trying to recover—not from the pandemic itself, but from many people’s nonchalant reaction to it. This behaviour includes disregard, science denial, ableism, and lack of empathy, compassion and solidarity for vulnerable people.

With this observation, I can imagine what happens when the next—perhaps even deadlier—pandemic occurs. Secondly, I was surprised to see what the pandemic revealed about crisis management, communication and nationalism in Sweden. Thirdly, I was disappointed by how little we learnt collectively.

A couple in face masks riding the subway in Rome, Italy during the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo by Gabriella Clare Marino on Unsplash.

Climate Crisis

2023 was the warmest year on record. The COP28 in December 2023 agreed on a roadmap for transitioning away from fossil fuel. However, while it’s a step in the right direction, it’s too little, too late. Nature has the final say in all climate negotiations—it’s arrogant to think otherwise.

I’ll do whatever I can to reduce my carbon footprint: I don’t eat meat, and I don’t own a car, for example. While I try to live by my values and principles, I do realise my actions are just a drop in the ocean. A wider systemic change is required, and the book Earth for All: A Survival Guide for Humanity aims to explain how.

Earth for All: A Survival Guide for Humanity. A report to the Club of Rome, 2022.

My 2023

Work Life

In 2023 I continued working as consultant Scrum Master at the insurance company Trygg-Hansa. With my two internationally distributed agile teams I’m regularly trying out ideas from what I read, from my daily walks, or from my colleagues, considering the context at the time. To visualise both the work and how we work together, we’ve created and use several information radiators, such as the team working agreement, gap analysis, market of skills, daily kata, and team canvas. I feel privileged for this opportunity to work and learn together with my wise and fun colleagues and teams. Thank you everyone! 🙏

Some visualisation tools we used in 2023: Team Canvas and Improvement Kata.

Working remotely helps expose any communication or collaboration issues in an organisation. Sounds familiar? Yes, that’s what Scrum does too. It’s not remote work or Scrum that causes these potential issues. Instead, see these issues as an opportunity to improve your culture, organisational agility, psychological safety, discovery, and time-to-market capacity. It’s up to you to decide how inclusive and effective you want your distributed teams and organisation to be.

After working almost fully remotely since 2020 for two different organisations (and partly remotely already since 2007), I firmly believe that the future of knowledge work is flexible and remote-first. Knowledge work is social, but it isn’t a family, and it certainly isn’t a place. We’ve demonstrated that working remotely from anywhere, across multiple countries, cultures and time zones can work well. I do my best to connect with the people I work with, and commit to contributing to clarity, focus, openness, creativity, healthy culture, and better ways of working. I’ve written more about this in my Distributed Agile Teams article.

Private Life

Outside of work, I helped take care of my elderly parents who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and became a guardian for my mother. That created lots of paperwork as well. The ongoing challenge is to find a care home for both. All this is mentally very taxing, but at the same time, I’m grateful that I’ve been able to spend some time with my parents and help them, both remote and onsite. On top of that, several of my relatives passed away this year 😢 🤍

What Gave Me Energy

Against this background and with all the emotional baggage it generated, 2023 was both very hard and rewarding. The Portuguese word Saudade perhaps best describes it. So, how did I recharge, and gain positive energy? In short, by trying to take care of my physical and mental health so that I can keep becoming better, and help others do the same.

Here are some examples of how I did just that:

The books I read in 2023. See my 2023 reading challenge on Goodreads.

My Goals for 2024

My goals for 2024 remain quite similar to last year. Some of these have become my new habits now.

  • Help my parents find a care home, run errands related to guardianship etc.
  • Become better in my role as Scrum Master.
  • Continue supporting Ukraine. One way to show your support is to use the Sign My Rocket artillery mailing service.
  • Climb my fifth 4000-metre peak in the Alps by Autumn 2024.
  • Walk eight kilometres (8000 steps) every day.
  • Do 2–3 workouts each week.
  • Read or listen at least one book every week.
  • Write one article every month.
  • Continue producing photo and video content on my social media channels.
  • Reduce my carbon footprint with at least three new ways.
  • Continue being useful for others.

Some of the goals above may sound more like tasks. I see them as actions that support my many interests. Here are some of them:

  • Agile methods vs. our habits (change!)
  • AI tools
  • Belonging, diversity & inclusion
  • Communication & creativity
  • Distributed team development
  • Facilitation
  • Leadership
  • Psychological safety
  • Sustainable development
  • Systems thinking

That’s a lot! 😅 The key is to focus on a few areas and continue (un)learning, while keeping an open mind about the rest. All the areas above boil down to the same thing: uncovering better ways of creating value together.

In Closing

I can clearly recognise my own seven-year cycles of change. Understanding what I can influence and affect is another matter. We live in a nonlinear world where small local changes can have big consequences on the system level. And that system feels very unstable at the moment. Agility, systems thinking and modern leadership will remain key skills tackling the challenges of our times. We just need to stop sleepwalking—Europe especially.

I closed my previous end-of-year reflection in 2022 with the words I’m afraid things might get worse before they get better. I stand by those words, and add this: think globally, act locally.

Thanks for reading. Here’s to 2024! Stay safe. Slava Ukraini! 🌻 🇪🇺