Erik Korsvik Østergaard

Don’t be afraid to be different and hold on to your ideas, however odd they may seem in the eyes of others. There will always be a place where you and your ideas are welcome.


Erik Korsvik Østergaard (M.Sc.) is a trusted advisor and has worked as a manager, project manager, and consultant for nearly 20 years, focusing on leadership, change management, and organizational development. He has a burning passion for the future of work and the ongoing paradigm shift in leadership. He has specific experience with new leadership practices in daily life and cross-cultural setups, and has developed several tools to implement them—with strong, measurable results. Østergaard acts as a keynote speaker, change driver, mentor, and guest lecturer at Copenhagen Business School. Additionally, he’s a keen jazz pianist.

Where did the idea for your company come from?

Since the mid-90s, I’ve been working as an advisor and manager in various industries and positions within the melting pot of IT, business strategy, organizational change management, and people leadership. I was enlightened by a handful of people in the mid-00s when new ideas from new organizations were emerging; a new mindset of freedom at work and a deliberate way of embracing experimentation, technology, and humanism.

I started seeing that the existing command-and-control structures were about to be replaced by something new, and I began experimenting with meaningfulness, distributed leadership, transparency, agility, internal social media, and organizational structure with a stronger focus on emotional intelligence and relationships. It worked tremendously well and I started giving keynotes about it. From there, interest grew and we’re now close to celebrating our fifth birthday as a company. Not only do we focus on research, we also provide inspiration, drive transformation, and enable leaders to be self-propelled.

Our vision is to create organizations where people want to show up — now and in the future. We want to make an impact for a million leaders globally.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I have a strict morning routine: The alarm sounds at 6am. Coffee and breakfast. Arrive at either the office or at a customer at about 8am. We always say “good morning” to each other on Slack, with a picture of where we are.

The next six to eight hours consist of producing materials for upcoming courses or keynotes, helping colleagues, or serving customers, whether a leadership team or an individual leader.

I leave work at approximately 5pm, head home, and have dinner with my wife and teenage kids (when they’re home). We both like cooking, so we typically share the task.

After dinner, I spend two to three hours learning stuff on YouTube, reading, or answering a few emails… unless it’s Monday! On Mondays, I play keyboard and sing lead vocal in our band.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I get inspired by what I read online and offline, and by people’s behavior.

I experiment a lot. I’m good at brainstorming ideas and voicing them internally to my colleagues. “Should we do this? Is that great? How about this?” It’s a useful method of testing.

Then, I take the idea to a customer and get them in on it as an experiment. After testing several formats, we decide when we’re ready to publish it as a blog post, podcast, or as a LinkedIn feature. We strive to publish all of our tools as Common Creatives.

What’s one trend that excites you?

AI and robotics in leadership, also known as social robotics. It creates the possibility of using software for automation, decision support, and predictability in leadership. This is not digital management or digitization, but something more disruptive — somethings that’s going to change the way we learn and act as leaders.

We’re experimenting with a tool that creates weekly surveys for all employees and then provides suggestions to the leader about what is happening and what to focus on. It’s a very interesting area that begs two other questions: What are we allowed to know? And what should we morally do? We’re planning to publish a paper on that in the fall.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Strict time management. I use my calendar for managing my activities, and for blocking time for production and preparation. This is key for me.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t be afraid to be different and hold on to your ideas, however odd they may seem in the eyes of others. There will always be a place where you and your ideas are welcome.

That, and travel more.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Playing jazz music will make you a better leader, as you learn teamwork, feedback, improvisation, and how to make a mistake without making a fuss about it.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I focus on the problems we’re solving, not the products we’re selling.

It makes a huge difference in mindset and communication when you keep the energy on problem-solving and value creation, and not on delivering a service. This means that you need to understand your purpose and the value you’re creating for those you are helping.

As an entrepreneur, focus on WHY and HOW you do business, and be ready to change WHAT you do often.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Growth to us has nothing to do with money, or how many employees we have (we’re five at the moment, by the way).

Growth is about impact. We want to help as many leaders as possible, and this is how we measure success. Not in cash, but in smiles and positive emotions.

This mindset has helped us create a strong brand and a financially healthy business.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

We’ve facilitated full day workshops where we got the context of the workshop wrong. The outcome was not good.

We overcame that by taking responsibility and activating the lifelong guarantee that we have on all our services, thereby staying with the customer and employees until we’re back on track with them. Also, we’ve improved on aligning our approach with the stakeholders from the start.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Create a solution that can help you as a leader to better understand how to create and coach teams so that they are engaged and perform well. Data should come from behavior, surveys, and physical surroundings (IoT).

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Books! I spend $100-$200 on books monthly. Mostly leadership books, but also philosophy, science, jazz composition, and cookbooks.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

Slack and LinkedIn. We cannot run our business without them. And the Office 365 suite is great for us.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

“The Neo-Generalist” by Kenneth Mikkelsen and Richard Martin. They explain why humans of the future should know at least two trades.

“Reinventing Organizations” by Frederic Laloux who lays out a five-step model for understanding your organization and what you want to redesign.

“Joy, Inc.” by Richard Sheridan who offers a real life example on how to do it.

What is your favorite quote?

“Shut up and listen, THEN speak,” said by Peter Skjødt one of the best Directors/COOs I’ve ever met.

Key learnings:

-Focus on the problems you’re solving, not the products you’re delivering.
-Success is about impact, not money.
-Time management is key.
-Read a lot. Learn a lot. Experiment a lot.
Inspire others.
-Play jazz to be a better leader and team member.


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