What can we learn from J.C. Jacobsen’s TEDx Talk?
1. You don’t have to be alive to give life advice.
J.C. Jacobsen died in 1887. 130 years later, he appeared on stage at TEDx Copenhagen to share his life philosophy with the world. Now you might be thinking, ‘what can I possibly learn from a guy who lived in the 1880’s?’ Well, society may have changed, human nature didn’t. Respect your elders, they told you as a child. Well then…
2. Dying in a fire is not a learning opportunity.
We all know them. Those excessively optimistic people who throw one-liners like ‘It’s not a problem, it’s a learning opportunity’, and ‘it’s not a problem, it’s a challenge.’ Well, in 1867, J.C.’s brewery burned down. Calling that a learning opportunity makes you sound like a mad primary school teacher but J.C. used the incident to modernise the brewery, installing a cooling system that improved product quality, leading to a dramatic increase in sales, and later pays for his Carlsberg Research Laboratory. Problems can be bad, and we should treat them with due seriousness. Beware of excessive optimism. If your answer to everything is ‘yes’, you confuse being enthusiastic with being factually correct. The real answer is ‘probably’.
3. Don’t eat people. That’s not how the sun works.
J.C. Jacobsen lived in a period of rapid change, the Second Industrial Revolution. We now live in the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. And, as change makes people worried, they often retreat into fantastical beliefs: Extreme religion and extreme politics. Something that seems not to have changed that much 130 years later. But he told that propitiating crazy gods in the hope of restoring order is a bad habit to get into.
The Aztecs made human sacrifices on the tops of their temples, allowed the blood to flow down the sides, then ate the bodies, because they thought it would keep the sun in position to the sky. Now that might be a good story to share on a first date, but don’t eat people. That’s not how the sun works. Allow that things are uncertain, and don’t start propitiating crazy gods to give you a sense of false certainty.
4. Pessimism predicts the future correctly by making its own dark future.
The mind is a powerful thing. Pessimists are often right, mostly because their pessimism causes things to fail. If you think you won’t do something well, you probably won’t do it well. But on the contrary, if you think you will do something well, your chances to succeed rise. Your mind can make your future fail. Think about that when you want to breakdance at a party. Or when you want to impress that girl with a backflip.
5. Embrace conflict at work.
We need conflict in business because so many things are uncertain. One person, however hard working, however far-sighted can’t foresee everything. Conflict is often when you learn what you’ve missed. Conflict gets you to better yourself. Conflict is a good thing. But no, we’re not talking about fighting Jeff from accounting for the last tuna sandwich during lunch. That might be a bridge too far.
6. The world cannot be made to fit neatly like a jigsaw.
We’re sorry to disappoint you. The world isn’t a Hollywood romantic comedy in which you can predict the ending from the first 5 minutes in the movie. The future is uncertain. We don’t know what will happen, and that’s very much ok. Your life will never be a Hollywood movie. Sorry. Who wants to see a movie like that, anyway?
7. You don’t always have to present a status report to the middle manager in your head.
Now this is nice: Sometimes you can do things just because they feel right. If you add emotions to the balance sheet, you embrace uncertainty, and you’ll probably break new grounds. Just looking at the economics of a situation is just another way to hide in certainty. Embrace the fact that you don’t know what the outcome will be. Ever. So go on and follow your heart, follow your feelings. This might be the ideal excuse to convince your partner you really should buy that convertible. No thanks!
8. Treat your life as a series of little scientific experiments.
Don’t get stuck in a static mindset. A static mindset says you’ve worked everything out and it’s done and you’re sticking. What a boring way to live. Accept that you never arrive at perfection, and that there’s always something better to achieve. Approach your life as a series of scientific experiments: Let’s see what happens if you get up an hour earlier every morning; what would be the outcome of talking to that handsome man or woman you see on the train every morning; let’s run the data on taking up singing lessons.
9. Give away your yeast, whatever the yeast is in your life.
J.C. Jacobsen shared his pure yeast with rival brewers. Maybe that was bad move. A sharper businessman may have pounced when his rivals were out of yeast. J.C. Jacobsen however, looked at the broader picture here. Improving the art of brewing – for everyone. Open Source 101 – and a sharing economist pur sang.
You can only keep what you have by giving it away. Be generous. Don’t live life for your own profits, share them with the world. These are the sorts of decisions that make the world a better place.
Short bio: J.C. Jacobsen was a philanthropist and an innovative business man. He founded the Carlsberg Brewery 170 years ago. J.C. Jacobsen was a man of his time. But he was also a man who gave thought to the future. That is why he set up the Carlsberg Laboratory, which would become one of the world’s most pioneering research institutions. That is why he engaged fully with society and made available to the public his know-how, art and wealth. And that is why he established the Carlsberg Foundation. J.C. Jacobsen’s life was impressive and inspiring. He started out as a brewer in a cellar with the most basic set-up and ended up as a prosperous man and founder of what is now the world’s third largest brewer. That’s why he was the ideal candidate for the stage of the latest TEDxCopenhagen ‘Trust Uncertainty’ event.