Breaking down the mind barriers

Sweden's Internet wizard explains how to be a master of change. Interview by Victor Anderson

Sweden's Internet wizard explains how to be a master of change. Interview by Victor Anderson

Lars Marelius has been innovating all his life. Morre (pronounced 'Moray'), as he is known in the industry, was responsible for the co-launch of Sweden's first, and the world's 10th, ever Internet site.

Since vacating the CEO's post at Roxen Internet Software last August, Morre has represented Roxen's interests by investigating business opportunities around the world. B&T caught up with the Swedish Internet wizard in Stockholm and asked him about his thoughts on innovation and his expectations for 2001.

How did you get into the IT industry?

I'm lazy! I figured out that computers could save me time, so I had more time to spend on other things.

I started working with computers back in 1991 when I quit my job. I spent six months sleeping on the floor of a friend's flat and running a mobile bar. One of the guys in the flat had an Apple Mac on which I kept a database on pricing, cocktail recipes and purchases.

Tell me about your IT education.

Simple: learning by doing.

I started studying IT at Linkšping University in 1991. The following year I rewrote the Industrial Management and Engineering course material, which has now become the IT green card [industry standard] in Sweden.

The original material concentrated too much on programming and not enough on how you can use the technology for business purposes.

I also did courses in cognitive psychology and human decision making.

So you have an IT-related degree?

Sort of, but it doesn't really count. As I said, I was responsible for generating the course content.

What makes an innovator?

That's a hard question. Often there are similarities in totally different areas of life. You can find similarities between technology, business and the way people work. By breaking down the barriers in your mind, you are able to find solutions to problems.

What do you think sets the innovative process in motion?

It's only by stepping out of the frame that you're able to see the whole picture. You're never more intelligent than the system you're in. Often, when you're faced with a problem, you also possess the solution. It's about being receptive to solutions. Usually, if you can't find a solution, then you aren't looking hard enough. My gut feel guides me.

In business, what turns you on?

[Laughs] Two things. First, it's trying to makes things better - sounds like I work for Phillips! The second thing is working with brilliant people.

What have you done in the industry that has pleased you the most?

If I had to tick something off I was most proud of, I'd have to say I was pleased to be partly responsible for the lifting of restrictions affecting the export of software via the Internet in Sweden and globally. Confirmation that the Waffenaar Agreement had been abolished came last December.

How were you involved?

I was involved in discussions with the Inspector for Strategic Products, and later the Swedish government, about the encryption of information and the export of software. From there, the ball just started rolling.

In a sentence, what does your organisation do?

We make it easy for people to add value to their organisations through the Internet.

What was your worst idea?

I don't know about my worst idea, but my biggest business mistake was studying and reading all the material a CEO is expected to. I found that that was a dead role in a small start-up. It's right for multinationals but for a start-up, if you're not focusing on sales from the first minute as the CEO, or anyone else for that matter, you're dead. That took a while for me to understand.

What in your opinion establishes an organisational culture where innovation is fostered?

I believe it's two things: breaking down an organisation's hierarchical structure and establishing ease of communication. When we started out, we were in a small room where communication was easy because you just had to look up and the person you wanted to speak to was there. There was no running around in corridors, which saved us a lot of time. Innovative ideas start to flow when the sales guy is sitting next to the 'techie', who's sitting next to the CEO. That's the type of situation where you get a very free flow of ideas.

If an IT director asked you to recommend a book that could change the way they and their organisation did business, what would you say?

Read the manual [laughs]! If they're able to understand how they could and should use their programs, they could save their organisations a lot of time.

What will the year 2001 be remembered for?

I'll pick a good issue and a bad one. I think there will be a super-virus, probably worse than the Melissa strain, and online security issues will become crucial, especially for e-commerce.

From a positive perspective, I believe many start-ups that find themselves in trouble but have sound business plans and objectives will be absorbed into larger organisations, rather than simply going belly-up. This will help satisfy investors.

Is the traditional role of the IT director set to change?

The title 'IT director' isn't important any more. Once again, it's what you do with the information technology that's important.

How will the Internet influence future business models?

I don't believe in revolution, but evolution. It's not so much the economy and the way business models will change, but the way individuals can work and act within an organisation. It will become easier to be a free agent and deliver work for three companies instead of one. The execution of business will change but not necessarily the models per se.

What effect will the RIP Act and the installation of black boxes have on IT organisations in the UK?

It will pass. You can't control the flow of information in that way - it's ridiculous to try. Is this 1984? It won't be around in 10 years' time.

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