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Paradox CEO shows how to lead change even when you're new to the culture

Paradox CEO shows how to lead change even when you're new to the culture

February 12, 2019 | By Bryant Francis

During today's DICE sessions, Paradox CEO Ebba Ljungerud took the stage to share her perspective on assuming leadership of Paradox Interactive, a company known for its niche gameplay and dedicated fanbase. 

In a talk that was relevant to new leaders and Paradox fans alike, Ljungerud argued that even though people say "the only constant is change," the only change people enjoy is the change they direct themselves. It's an insight that's helped her win over wary coworkers and players, but also helps her brace the company for changes she said are necessary for the future. 

Stepping into a new role

In case you're wondering why anyone at Paradox would be wary of Ljungerud as a CEO, she pointed out the key reasons herself during the talk. Before taking the role in 2017, she'd been a non-executive member of Paradox's board, but previously also was an executive for online gambling company Kindred Group. 

Ljungerund joked about joining Paradox as a non-executive board member in 2014 and struggling to keep up with the games being produced, since they were niche games all operating under code names based on '80s TV shows. 

When joining Paradox, Ljungerud said she remembered her mother advising her to "eat the elephant in small pieces," which is to say she viewed the task that would only be complete by processing it in small parts. This meant her early leadership wouldn't be marked by dramatic changes for the team, but she said "keeping the direction and energy going."

First, Ljungerud said she sought senior employees at the company who could help drive the company change she'd been hired to direct. Next, she created a space to talk with Paradox's fans, who she said helped motivate the company's methodology and mindset behind the 2016 IPO offering on the Swedish stock market. 

During this time, Ljungerud said she gained an intense appreciation for the long-term development strategies that drive Paradox, but also realized the company needs to make inroads on making games that are accessible to new players. In one (simple) example, she highlighted that Paradox's 2016 hit Stellaris drops players right into a verdant galaxy to explore without so much as a tip for where they should point their rockets. 

Where's Paradox headed?

Making more accessible games and partnering with companies as a publisher means Ljungerud said that as CEO, she needs to stop projects as early as she can. But in that process, she doesn't want stopped projects to be gravestones, but learning opportunities. "It's key for us that you're allowed to make mistakes, you have to learn from there. We see canceling projects as part of the process."

"It's not a failure, but it does mean that the sooner we cancel something the better," Ljungerud said ."And canceling projects shouldn't mean canceling teams or canceling jobs." 

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