How Iceland Has Turned Misfortune Into Opportunity

How Iceland Has Turned Misfortune Into Opportunity

PSFK travels to Iceland to see how the country's creative economy is rebounding from the financial collapse.

Laura Feinstein
  • 7 december 2011

Back in 2009, Monocle Magazine ran a cover story hypothesizing what’s next for Iceland. Less than half a year after a spectacular economic crash, the country was still reeling from its highly-public fall from its perch as one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and grappling with an ultimately uncertain future. While Monocle suggested the embattled country should turn to abundant locally-generated sources of revenue, like geothermal energy and other agricultural assets, two and half years later it appears Iceland has decided to place its bets on its most reliable resource yet: the Icelandic people.

On PSFK’s recent trip to the country, we were tasked with a mission — aided by the Icelandic Tourism Board and government — to discover how the small island nation’s design and creative economy is inspired by their traditional past, and what effect the events of the last few years have had on its culture and the innovators of tomorrow? Sure to be a hefty assignment, we reached out to some of the country’s most prolific tastemakers to see how Iceland has not just rebounded, but–in several unexpected ways–flourished since their 2008 brush with doom.

Inspired by Iceland 
Our initial investigations led us to research Inspired by Iceland, a groundbreaking new campaign created out of a broader message of international goodwill, and meant to combat the excess of negative press caused by the Mt. Eyjafjallajökull eruption last year. The almost unpronounceable volcanic disaster, which sent sub-particle ash throughout the north Atlantic, grounding flights across Europe and the US for weeks, proved cause for a massive PR makeover- out of which Inspired by Iceland was conceived. As part of a digital experiment initially created by the President, Inspired lets visitors use Facebook to turn the entire country into a virtual tour guide. Containing almost daily offerings by local Icelanders, the site allows the public to “sign up” and inquire about ongoing events, which can include anything from photographing the northern lights, to scouting glaciers and Icebergs, to meeting with the President of Iceland himself. The last of these PSFK was actually able to take part in during the Have Pancakes with the President  invitation.

President Grimsson, himself no stranger to social media, recently flew to Camden, Maine, to give a standing-ovation worthy lecture on the state of Iceland’s economy at this year’s PopTech conference. Showing a keen awareness of how the country is viewed both at-home and internationally, he has, in effect, become one of the country’s most savvy and engaging PR men. Going as part of a group of twenty or so visitors (all tourists, and most coming from the US and UK), we were able to dine with the President and his wife in what could only be described as the Icelandic version of the White House.

Though the photographers and press on hand let us know this wasn’t exactly an everyday occurrence, there was still the sincere feeling amongst guests that the government of Iceland does in fact have an unusually high level of transparency; showing that it’s taking an active role in both sustaining and promoting the country, rather than merely acting as figureheads. For those who watched President Grimsson’s speech at PopTech, there is no doubt that the Icelandic government is not just aware of its flaws and shortcomings, but with a humility uncharacteristic of most nations, has a flexibility and communal spirit that has allowed it to roll with the punches through this tumultuous period.

Though on the whole, our travels through Iceland let us become better acquainted with this intimate nation, getting to know the “real Iceland” would not have been possible without the help of Inspired by Iceland. For those of you planning a trip there in the near future, be sure to check out their offering calender. And even if you don’t end up meeting the president, chances are you’ll meet someone who grew up with him: The country currently boasts a population of less than 400,000 people, many of whom can even trace their lineage back to Viking times.

Below are some of our favorite Inspired by Iceland videos, as well as some pics of our visits, and check back soon for our upcoming posts on design, fashion, and tourism in Iceland.


Viggo Mortensen is inspired by Iceland from Inspired By Iceland on Vimeo.

Yoko Ono is inspired by Iceland from Inspired By Iceland on Vimeo.

Inspired by Iceland


Gilt's Pop-Up House Is The Kind Of Store You'll Want To Live In

Op-Ed Today

The Future Of The American Workforce Requires Unbundling College Education

President of JetBlue Technology Ventures: developing corporate education programs for non-traditional students

Advertising Today

The Hottest Chip In The World Comes Packed In A Coffin-Shaped Box

The individually wrapped snack is made from the spiciest known chili


Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Automotive

See All
Mobile Today

Registering To Vote Is Now Just A Text Away

A new bot aims to mobilize underrepresented groups this election season through SMS and Facebook Messenger

Related Expert

Grace Choi

Beauty Entrepreneur

Luxury Today

Shoe Repair Has Moved Onto Your Phone

Cobbler Concierge is an on-demand service to get your footwear fixed online

Work Today

Microsoft Wants To Help Workers Better Communicate With Their Coworkers

Project Sonoma is a new app designed to help employees chat and coordinate shifts with their associates

Advertising Today

Real-Time Data Used To Calculate The Brand Power Of Athletes

Brandtix has develope a digital platform with a complex algorithm that combines social media variables with player performance to predict the next A-list pros


Future Of Automotive
Scenarios Driving The Digital Transformation Of An Industry

PSFK Op-Ed september 28, 2016

Energy Expert: How American Consumers Are Taking Control Of Their Power Use

Jennifer Tuohy, green tech expert at The Home Depot, discusses green home technologies and developments for renewable technologies in US homes

PSFK Labs Yesterday

The 10 Steps To Discover, Hire, Develop Your Next Leader

PSFK's Future of Work report outlines key steps in the employee development path to empower next-gen leaders

Automotive Yesterday

Toyota Is Using Sewage To Power Its New Electric Car

A new hydrogen-fueled vehicle is driven by what we flush away

Culture Yesterday

Catch A Concert On This Small Floating Island

A man-made archipelago in Italy is hosting music and art performances

Design & Architecture Yesterday

DIY Kit Lets You Build Your Own Wooden Bike, Boat Or Caravan

Woodenwidget says its detailed guides are suitable for beginners and experienced woodworkers alike

Social Media Yesterday

The United Nations Has Launched Its Own Social Media Platform

A new app aims to get younger audiences more involved in sustainable development goals

Design Yesterday

Crash-Friendly Drone Made From LEGOs Is Completely Rebuildable

The clever device offers games, education and the uniquely rewarding experience of destroying your high-flying airship


Future Of Work
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Leaders

Fitness / Sport Yesterday

Free Sneakers Given Out To Motivated Marathon Runners

Strava will give the shoes to athletes who run the second half of their race faster than the first

Culture Yesterday

Someone Invented A Robot Just To Serve Trays Of Beef Jerky

Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz, in partnership with Chef's Cut Real Jerky, creates an automated snack delivery system

Millennials Yesterday

Why A Social Networking Site Decided To Rebrand

Meetup, a platform that connects like-minded individuals, has taken steps to stay relevant amongst millennials

No search results found.