Portrait of Linus Karlsson.

Linus on creativity and the importance of being an underdog

An ad stating, “The brain wants to have fun”, has influenced Linus Karlsson in more ways than he could foresee when he saw the ad some 30 years ago. We talked to Linus about his new role as Chief Creative Officer for IKEA, about athletes being super creatives and his secret goal for creativity.

Every morning, Linus takes an hour-long walk with his dog Peach, a Border Collie Shepherd mix that used to be a stray in Georgia, before Linus rescued her and gave her all the love that she deserved. Her name is inspired by Georgia, the US state renowned for its peaches and often called the Peach State. Every night he takes another long walk with Peach.

“I’ve never told anyone this, but for the past ten years, I’ve had a secret goal to come up with one really good idea every day. That often happens when I take those long walks with Peach”, Linus says.

Creativity is a team sport. If you really want to achieve extraordinary results, togetherness is critical.

Creativity has been at the centre of Linus career since 1990, when he graduated from Berghs School of Communication in Stockholm and got his first job at an agency. Since then, he has taken on challenges after challenges connected to creativity and communication and is today one of the advertising industry’s most respected and honoured creative executives. But he is just as humble as he is honoured and respected.

“Creativity is a team sport. If you really want to achieve extraordinary results, togetherness is critical. To feel part of a bigger context than ourselves, with seemingly impossible goals, is very important. Creativity and ideas love that environment.”

Portrait of Linus Karlsson in a blue shirt.

A German shepherd on a black leash, sitting on a lawn with trees shrouded in fog in the background.

Linus Karlsson and Peach, on one of the morning walks. 

He was born in Sätra, just half a mile from the biggest IKEA store in Sweden and believes that he belongs to a generation that are children of IKEA. Linus did his first IKEA brand research as a toddler, mainly through playing among thousands of colourful plastic balls while his mom and dad were shopping.

“IKEA became a natural part of my life, and early on, I realised that IKEA had a vision that was bigger than just selling furniture. IKEA represents another way forward, and Democratic Design directly contributes to equality in everyday life between the have and the have nots.”

As the Chief Creative Officer for IKEA, Linus aspires to promote and make use of the co-workers’ creativity in the best possible way.

“Creativity lives in the DNA of IKEA and in everyone who works here. My job is to be an accelerator and enabler so that all the fantastic ideas, thoughts, knowledge and creativity inside all of us can come out somehow. That’s my job.”

Linus says that creativity is ultimately about solving problems. It’s about connecting dots in a new way to create something new and better, for example, a better life at home.

“I once saw an ad in a newspaper that said, ‘The brain wants to have fun’ and I have carried that inside me ever since. The brain thinks that it’s fun to solve problems, and the fun then also applies to creativity.”

Combining creativity and imagination can give you an actual super power. Some of the best athletes knows this.

For Linus, creativity is tightly connected to imagination and the ability to see what is happening around the corner.

“Combining creativity and imagination can give you an actual super power. Some of the best athletes knows this. They have already thought of what to do if they get the chance to do it. A football player has already imagined scoring from half the field, and when you get the chance, you take it, and you score that beautiful goal you always wanted to do. At that point is not impossible to actually do it, it’s understanding opportunity that’s key. This embodies the saying ‘everything is impossible until someone made it’,” Linus says.

Portrait of Linus Karlsson on a beige sofa with a dog.

What will you bring to IKEA?

“The short answer is ‘inspiration’. The more personal answer is that I want be part and contribute to this crazy idea called IKEA, which has proven every single business book wrong and continue the journey together to make life at home better for the many people – by going our own way, and do it in a more sustainable and a more inclusive way.”

When was the last time you felt creative?

“My mornings are most creative. I do the most and best thinking before lunch.”

What inspires you the most?

“Real life. I’m interested in people, and I’m interested in understanding how things work. Keeping your feet on the ground doesn’t mean that you can’t come up with spectacular ideas. On the contrary, that’s often when the best ideas are born.”

Where in your home do you feel the most creative?

“In the kitchen. You don’t spend time in the kitchen unless you plan to do something, and I’m the most creative when I do something. If I need to think, I cook, do the dishes or take a walk. Distractions are often the most effective way to focus on a completely different task.”

How has your view of creativity changed over the last year?

“The past year has been hard and challenging in so many ways, but I think there is a silver lining. Our natural creativity and survival instinct come out when we are scared and threatened. So, I hope that we come out of this pandemic more real, more grateful, more tolerant, more clear-headed and with a new mindset for new solutions to take on challenges ahead.”

What are you missing to be able to unleash your full creativity?

“The one thing I have been missing is what I’ll get at IKEA – a progressive context. My new job at IKEA will give me a new context and belonging, and that gives me a lot of energy.”

Linus will join IKEA as Chief Creative Officer on 1 April.