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THE ESSENCE OF THE NORDIC SCHOOL

Christian Grnroos, Catharina von Koskull, Johanna Gummerus

In this chapter, we introduce the reader to the key dimensions of the Nordic School. In addition
to our own reflections, we have interviewed three front figures of the Nordic School, Professor
Evert Gummesson from Stockholm Business School, Professor Bo Edvardsson from Karlstad
University/CTF Service Research Center and Professor Tore Strandvik from Hanken School of
Economics/ CERS Centre for Relationship Marketing and Service Management.
Although originally, the Nordic School was established as a conscious brand to make a
difference within the international marketing research community, it has evolved into an anchor
for like-minded people. The Nordic School entails a way to do research in the service and
relationship field, although it extends to other related areas, such as value formation, customer
experience and activities, internal marketing, markets or ecosystems and branding. In fact, the
most typical characteristic of the Nordic School is that it does not exclude an area of research
automatically rather, the ideology of the Nordic School is to look at phenomena holistically,
and/or from different viewpoints.
The common goal of the Nordic School is, according to Gummesson: the development of the
field [service thinking] --- moving the field forward. Another commonality is the openness to
different types of ideas, theories, and methods. As Evert Gummesson describes it: we shall not
force [researchers] in a certain direction. Similarly, according to Christian Grnroos, the Nordic
School is not one way to do research, nor is it a framework. There is no ideological requirement
to think or do according to an accepted format. The guideline is to step aside and confront what
you do not agree with, and never be restricted by existing theories, frameworks, models or
concepts, nor by dominant scientific approaches and methods. Consequently, the guiding
principles for Nordic School research are: Think for yourself, step aside from the mainstream,
do what you think is best in any given situation, be original, but be valid is the guiding
principle. These principles are reflected in Christian Grnroos reflections on his own career
path: quoting Frank Sinatra, I have formulated as a motto for my scientific work: I did it my
way.
In a sense, the Nordic School can be described through its attitude towards research. Professor
Tore Strandvik suggests that it is about questioning old, established truths, but also new truths
that become favored. Methodologically speaking, the Nordic School urges the researcher to
reflect and at the same time be pragmatic: Strandvik suggests that the best way to choose a
method is to reflect: what would be a sound way to go about this problem in this context? In
conclusion, then, Nordic School research is not constrained by certain methods or rules, although
it often employs qualitative methods that allow researchers to investigate phenomena in depth.

Because of its boundary-spanning and boundary-breaking traditions, the Nordic School


approach differs from mainstream approaches. It urges researchers to dig where no one else has
dug before, where no one has even seen the possibility of discovery. This way, researchers may
find something truly new and interesting. In the early days of service marketing research, the
researchers found the marketing mix unsuitable as a starting point for developing knowledge in
service firms. Instead of developing service marketing as an adaptation or extension of existing
marketing mix representations, the focus was shifted outside this mainstream model.
Consequently, a totally different process-based view of marketing that emphasizes customer-firm
interactions, later termed the service encounter, was found to serve marketing in service firms
better. Soon it was realized among Nordic School researchers that marketing as a separate
function did not enable marketing to make the firm relevant to its customers. Instead the view of
marketing as market-oriented/customer-focused management of all relevant business functions
evolved. This new understanding of marketing was labelled service management.
The notion that it is more productive from a scientific point of view to step aside is often stressed
within the Nordic School. It is argued that when you do that, there is a fair chance that you will
see things, and opportunities that no one else have seen before (Professor Christian Grnroos).
Then, you can make a mark in the scientific development of your field.
In a similar vein, Professor Strandvik states that he does not believe in the principle-of
-cumulative-research, meaning that to make a tiny, tiny contribution to mainstream research is
not worth striving for. Rather, researchers ought to dig in various places rather than at the same
place or even in the same hole. The cumulative research principle is built on a belief that the
world is status quo and unchangeable, but that is really not the case when it comes to social
sciences, Strandvik argues. On the contrary, there are constantly new situations evolving, we are
dealing with customers and markets so there are changes happening all the time, in several
dimensions, simultaneously. Gummesson takes an even more condemning approach to current
career pressures that researchers phase: The problem with these impact factors is that they want
to standardize researchers into tin soldiers, how can you innovate if you standardize? Innovation
is something new and creative, and there you must have your own freedom so to me, its
belonging informally to a community, a branded community, but still have a lot of freedom
inside it and not be forced into anything.
The Nordic School research approach is also holistic. This is visible in the aim of theoretical and
practical relevance, use of case studies and goal to understand various contexts, for example,
relationships, interactions, practices, systems, and the use of this understanding as a basis for
developing conceptual models and theories. Professor Edvardsson argues that there are also
quantitatively oriented research with for example hypotheses testing studies, but that the key
essence of Nordic School research is more exploratory with an inductive focus on relevance for
business and to use this as a starting point for developing concepts, frameworks and theories.

Grnroos suggests that the Nordic School characteristic of theory development, rather than
theory testing, is a result of the stepping aside attitude. Not being restricted by dominating
theoretical models and empirical methods changes the way a phenomenon is approached. For
example, existing marketing models and concepts are not the starting point for research. The
question that most researchers ask, how do services fit the existing body of knowledge, such as
marketing mix, the 4 P model, the marketing function, the marketing department, etc.? allows
them seldom or never to make any quantum leaps, where totally knew knowledge and
understanding about a phenomenon emerge. Existing frameworks are expected to fit service as
well. In the Nordic School approach the question is reversed: How could concepts and models
look like to fit service as a phenomenon? This makes you think differently, see new avenues to
explore, and look for new solutions, he argues. Gummesson emphasizes that a researcher may
find that not everybody is appreciative of deviating from the norm, but his advice is that if you
truly believe in your approach, do it anyway --- dont be a victim of the system.
Because of this approach to scholarly research, theory development is often considered more
important and interesting than theory testing, although the latter type of research of course also
exists. The basic argument here is that one cannot test a theory before the theory exists. Theory
development means that conceptual research and the use of case studies and other qualitative
methods are often favored over conventional mainstream methodological approaches.
Quantitative methods based on large-scale samples cannot be used until there is a solid enough
understanding of what to test. Conventional research approaches tend to jump too quickly into
theory testing, and when there is only limited understanding of the phenomenon to be tested,
much has to be left outside the scope of a study and the result is questionable. In addition we
should realize that some phenomena are too complicated to lend themselves to quantitative
survey-based methods.
Representative for the Nordic School is also a relatively high tolerance for differences. This may
also be related to the fact that when approaching phenomena Nordic School researchers tend to
search for and draw on theories in different disciplines, not only sticking to the ones in
marketing, says Edvardsson.
In conclusion, the Nordic School approach can be summarized in the following way:
-

The Nordic School is not normative in the sense that it tells you that this is the way to
do research. Rather, there are many ways of looking at a phenomenon and many
scientific approaches that may fit knowledge development and testing.

Listen to others, there are underlying reasons why they believe as they do, try to
discover what these beliefs are and whether you can learn something from them.

Never be restricted by existing theories, frameworks, models or concepts or by


dominant scientific approaches and methods.

Step aside, and if you find it promising, dig where no one even has thought of digging
before.

Be logical and grounded in what you do.

Believe in yourself and in your idea, and unless you yourself realize that you should
drop it, do not let anyone talk you out of it.

REFERENCES
Grnroos, C. (2007). In Search of a New Logic for Marketing. Foundations of Contemporary
Theory. Chichester: John Wiley & Co.
Gummesson, E. and Grnroos, C. (2012). The emergence of the new marketing: Nordic School
perspectives. Journal of Service Management, 23(4), 479-497.