Swedes are an indeed an inventive bunch having patented the likes of the safety match and pacemaker, to name a few discoveries, over time.
These days Swedes are more closely associated with IT innovations such as Spotify and Skype – both inventions in their way just as transformative as fire-making and maintaining a heart beat.
“Every creative agency in California wants to have a Swede because of our reputation,” according to Bärstad. Or at least that’s what his friends Stateside tell him.
“I’m not sure if that is justified but Swedish people are creative because we have a very open mindset.”
It was whilst studying the heavyweight subject of industrial engineering that Bärstad surprisingly found his calling.
“While involved in something very theoretical and inapplicable I realised that I needed to have more room for creative expression,” he adds.
“I’ve always loved science and I’ve been very easily fascinated by technology and where we are heading as a society and special – that’s why I love TED.”
The global conference arena (Technology, Entertainment, Design) that began in California was formed to disseminate ‘ideas worth spreading’. The format has grown internationally and independent TEDx events started up in Stockholm in 2012.
So far, the TEDxStockholm team have explored the innovative nature of the capital’s mindset.
“The people I have met through TEDx have the ability to think creatively and can then apply that in a more analytical-scientific setting.”
This kind of meeting place is also reminiscent of the maker and hackerspace movement of which Bärstad is a keen advocate.
The philosophy provides physical spaces to encourage creativity through exploration, experimentation with a good dose of trial and error thrown in.
“There have always been garage inventors but now through the internet and people being more connected, there is a new wave of makers that prefer doing things together,” he adds.
“They gather all their resources into one space and where they play around with technology and crafts and anything you can imagine.”
It has also been an inspiration for Bärstad’s Sparkling Science project, an initiative that has a two-fold objective.
Working with schools, it encourages kids to give the subject a bigger chance through experiential learning. Meanwhile, in the business world, colleagues are coached on the benefits of thinking ‘inside’ the box.
The play on words is used to promote Sparkling Science’s “think inside the box” workshop, which Bärstad is hosting when we meet, along with a mix of enthusiastic professionals in his makeshift laboratory.
It’s a chance to see first-hand what happens when you give an accountant, a management consultant, a travel agent and a web designer the task of building an interactive music room.
Two teams are given little instruction but instead a black box of electronic gadgets, overflowing with wires, tapes, batteries, connectors and clamps.
“It’s a balance between the creative, intuitive mind and the rational, analytical mind,” Bärstad says.
“You need both in order to invent and create – the maker movement is all about that balance. It’s a whole different approach to learning so when you participate in our workshops – you get a feel for that mindset.”
Far from a textbook guide to technology, on-demand learning means you discover just enough to get you to the next step but not more, building creative confidence and learning with a more playful and non-judgemental outlook.
For kids this hands-on approach makes learning a very natural process. “That’s why kids tend to be more creative than adults,” Bärstad says. “And we believe that making learning fun again is the key to unlocking creativity at the workplace.”
At the end of the workshop, the participants have built a simple floor piano that lights up when played with their feet.
From the starting point of puzzlement, the foursome can been seen bounding round the room barefoot in their lunchbreak in tune with their tailor-made instrument.
Bärstad is now taking this concept further into Swedish schools by way of introducing semester-long science projects. He also sees big opportunity in the corporate world.
“To quote IBM, creativity is the most valued trait of the 21st century,” he says. “Companies want to be more innovative but you’re not a creative company by simply having fatboy sofas in a corner or an office that looks like Google.”
Rather than luring a token Swede to California on reputation alone, Bärstad believes that Sweden has the talent to produce more of the serial entrepreneurial spirit that could result in the next Skype or Spotify.
“What’s lacking in Sweden is a relationship to failure,” he says. “We have a lot of patents and inventions that never make it to the market – if you’re afraid to be wrong it’s very hard to come up with anything original.”
“I think it’s changing so I’d like to hope Sweden is becoming a bit more like Silicon Valley.”
Bärstad is currently planning his first two workshops in San Francisco at the renowned hackerspace Noisebridge with founder Mitch Altman.
“It’s a place where failure is an integral part of life, not some separate condition to constantly be avoided,” he adds.
Article in partnership with TEDxStockholm
TED is a global non-profit devoted to ideas worth spreading. TEDx Stockholm is a program of local, self-organized events held in English in the Swedish capital.
The Local will be looking at some of the best ideas worth spreading from TEDx Stockholm over the coming weeks and months.