What you can learn from IKEA that will make you better at your job

Say the brand name Ikea to just about anyone and you’ll likely be greeted with a sigh of pure ecstasy or barely muttered curses.

Love them or hate them, chances are extremely good that at some point in your life you’ve bought, assembled or hacked a piece of Ikea furniture. While I’m not suggesting you change your name to Poäng, Malm or Ektorp, or that you keep a handy supply of Swedish meatballs on your desk, there is a lot to be learned from Ikea.

Give people incentive to unpack

Ikea’s flat-pack products mean that there’s almost always some assembly required. Yet there’s also enough of a hint as to what the end product will be that keeps people coming back time and time again. Instead of the slightly hoary notion of an elevator speech, maybe update your intro so that you’re giving something away immediately. A hook, an intro, a punchline that encourages people to want to know more about you or what you’re working on. In the immediate gratification era, you want to attract people and encourage them to stick around.

Leave room for improvement and customization

Sure that dresser is perfect on its own, but imagine how fantastic it would look with asymmetrical striping to match the carpet. There’s an entire Ikea subculture dedicated to ways to hack the classic products and make them better or more stylish. Even if your work style is perfect as is, leave a bit of wiggle room for someone else to get involved. Mentors or partners need to feel needed and as though their input will make a difference and have an impact. And if you’re too perfect, there’s nowhere to go but sideways, never a great career direction.

About those 10-minute units

It’s said that Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad believed “we should all divide our lives into 10-minute units, and sacrifice as few of them as possible in meaningless activity.” Let’s hack that concept for a moment, shall we? I’ve recently adopted the 10-minute unit notion to straightening up when I’m feeling overwhelmed; I don’t get to tackle everything, but I get to conquer something- and that’s a great start. The same is true with projects that feel too big, or documents that seem incoherent. I give myself 10 minutes to start and then go onto something else. It chips away at the panic and sense that something is too big or complicated to ever complete.

The service of others

According to the official website for the country of Sweden, Kamprad had a somewhat circuitous business path, but never veered from his ultimate goal of the service of others. In the beginning, Ikea prices were so cheap that manufacturers boycotted the brand leading Kamprad to create the in-house production. Kamprad’s ultimate goal was to bring style to the masses, and along the way, he became a kazillionaire. If you know what you want or need professionally, you can pretty much see even huge obstacles as simply temporary blips.

Keep them coming back for more

Your bed. Your bureau. Your dresser and coffee table and kitchen island. If you’re a sucker for Ikea, you’re far from alone. According to Statista.com, more than 780 million customers visit Ikea each year. That’s a lot of satisfied customers. What are your best qualities? What about your personal brand makes you stand out from anyone else in your office or industry? Remind people that you’re the reason they love working with you. Sure you produce great work consistently, but try to find the things that set you apart so that when people in your office or industry need what you’re selling — from consulting to information to widgets — they’ll always come to you first.