Lessons I learnt from Ragnar Lothbrok – Part 1

September 12, 2016 | #ReIgnite

I did not start binge-watching with Netflix, but Netflix has surely become a regular pastime for me, regrettably. I have never been one to watch an episode and wait a whole week for the next episode – where’s the fun in that? So I’d rather skip the spoilers and wait until I could watch all of a season. So you must understand why Netflix works for me. I have loved watching the 4 seasons of Ray Donovan, the 3 seasons of House of Cards, the 4 seasons of Game of Thrones, the 4 seasons of Tudor and and and (one other thing I have learnt recently to mean etcetera etcetera etcetera – I always wanted to say that in the same manner as Mongkut, King of Siam in The King and I).

Enough of my digression and back to the subject at hand. Ragnar Lothbrok.

I got interested in Ragnar following a post by a dear friend quoting one of the famous sayings of Ragnar – “Why does your God need silver and gold, hmm? He must be greedy. Like Loki! We have greedy gods too.” That made for an interesting debate on Facebook. In any case, it made me interested in learning about this character. I’d always seen the Vikings title on my Netflix recommendations (another post about that next week), but it never caught my interest in that sense. But when it did, did I binge-watch the first two seasons! And following an email alert from Netflix in the afternoon at work, I couldn’t wait to get home to settle into Season 3. I say without shame that I watched all of Season 3 within the next 24 hours.

Ragnar Lothbrok was a legendary Viking farmer turned ruler, king, and hero from the Viking Age described in Old Norse poetry and several sagas the story of which is told by the 3 seasons Netflix title, Vikings. Ragnar believes he is destined for greatness and is driven by his thirst for battle and glory only second to his thirst for knowledge and pushing the boundaries.

Once merely a farmer and a frequent member of the sea raiders along with his fellow Norsemen, Ragnar mostly by his inquisitive nature rose to power, beginning with his successful and infamous raids of the west, later becoming the Earl of Kattegat and eventually even King of Denmark. Ragnar’s adventuring spirit brings him into conflict with powerful men who try to block his ascent, from farmer to leader—to untold heights.

1. Family comes first: Despite his qualities all pointing him as a fearsome warrior and bloodthirsty conqueror, Ragnar is a devoted family man as well. Despite his many marriages, he demonstrated love and commitment to his family (wives, brother and sons) at all times. His love for his daughter was prominent as can be gleaned from his saying “Dear child, Gyda, you are not gone because you are always in my heart. They say that a man must love his sons more, but a man can be jealous of his sons, and his daughter can always be the light in his life.”

2. He was showing that you don’t need a title to be a leader: Ragnar responded to Lagertha (his first wife and mother to Bjorn Ironside) when she questioned him about letting Bjorn go up in the assault on Paris. Bjorn was fatally injured but managed to survive. Ragnar demonstrated a gnawing sense of humour (some would say sarcasm) proving that a sense of humour is absolutely essential. One must never take him/herself too seriously.

3. A farmer can become a King if he seeks the common good: “Power is always dangerous. It attracts the worst and corrupts the best. I never asked for power. Power is only given to those who are prepared to lower themselves to pick it up”. Ragnar demonstrated a great quest for knowledge, always questioning the status quo. But much of that was borne from seeking the common good. His rise from farmer to earl was on account of challenging the earl who felt threatened and unleashed violence on Ragnar’s family after a failed attempt to murder Ragnar.

4. Test everything: “I learned from my father the only way to tell if something is real, is to sail there.” – Bjorn Ironside, It’s easy to accept what anyone says especially when you consider them to be an authority in that field. more often than not, certain details might have been skipped or lost in translation. As a trainer, I encourage delegates in my class to make every effort to complete practice exercises because I know that is how the lessons stick. The concepts help foster understanding, but the doing is what is absolutely important. Never be afraid to question anything or anyone.

5. Don’t be an ass. Ask.: “You’re a brave man, Athelstan. I always respected you for that. You taught me so much. You saw yourself as weak and conflicted, but to me, you were fearless because you dared to question.” – Ragnar

I had a dear friend and colleague a couple of years back who made it a point of duty to ask even the most mundane of questions. His excuse was that he did not want to make an ass of himself by ‘ass-uming’.

Ragnar embodied the Norse ideals of devotion to the gods. This devotion bordered on ancestor worship and in the case of Ragnar featured as claims of kinship with the All-Father, Odin. But that, to the chagrin and utter hatred of Floki and his brethren, was no reason for him to avoid the God of Athelstan. Ragnar questioned and sought to know. His intent and objectives might have been self-serving but his openness to contradictory and even heretic points of view served him well as a leader.

This is even more interesting listening to Fela Kuti’s Zombie :-).

6. Never underestimate what doors trust will open for you: Faced with certain death and shame if they failed to breach the walls of Paris, Ragnar managed to convince the ‘Franks’ to baptize him before he died. Now considered repentant and a Christian, they acceded to opening their gates to have his corpse blessed before burial. By earning their trust, Ragnar engineered the defeat of a people that were otherwise assured of victory.

Also noteworthy is the fact that he trusted no one but Bjorn Ironside (his son) with this secret. It is important to know who to trust and with what.

7. Adapt or Die: “The world is changing and we must change with it.” – Ragnar (to his kinsmen prior to invading the West).

A few years ago during the making of I-Robot, we were made to think that robots were good enough only for taking over the menial tasks performed by unskilled labour. Time has shown that to be so off the mark. In 2016, boardrooms are occupied by robots that process much larger volumes of data at much faster speeds than humanly possible to assist businesses with decision making. Bond markets and exchange-traded funds are advised on deals worth billions of dollars by algorithms. Driver-less cars are statistically safer than ones manned by persons. We have moved beyond the generation of data to what value can be created from it. This is the age of virtual and augmented reality and connected everything.

The dinosaurs are extinct because they failed to adapt. Learn new skills. Make new friends. Push the boundaries. Take nothing for granted. The world is changing and we must change with it. Or Die.

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