Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

Trust-based Collaboration and Cultural Differences

Being silent isn't being strong. A wall sign I saw in a pub in Liverpool earlier this year.

This is a summary post of the topics I have been writing about during 2011. This has been an amazing year of social networks for me. I have learned a lot from hundreds of people around the globe. I highly value the network of the brilliant, talented, and trustworthy people I have the pleasure to collaborate with.

Thank you all for 2011, you know who you are!  

As more social business environment and the new ways of working are changing the organizations and reforming the entire business landscape  I’ll find it important and very interesting to study how we create and innovate, make decisions, and further how better mutual understanding can be created. We all know that the existing organizational structures needs a refresh, and that we, knowledge workers, should be passionate about helping our organizations to be more open, learning organizations.

One among many answers to this challenge is to focus on recognizing the value of ‘discovering’ people in your global network and further interacting and connecting with them on new levels. Naturally, different cultures and communication styles can then collide, softly or sometimes violently. Let me share a story about the Finnish way.

The Finnish Habit of Positive Silence

We Finns can easily be silent in company with other people. It’s natural to us. Before the social media we used to love text messages, a Finnish innovation by the way, as you could express yourself shortly and efficiently. Foreigners find our momentarily silence odd – or fascinating. Professor of Communication Donal Carbaugh, from University of Massachusetts at Amherst, have written an excellent paper about this – Silence and Quietude as a Finnish“Natural Way of Being” [pdf], with the following description:

“A Finnish communication code that structures some cultural scenes as occasions for positive silence, exhibiting a social model of personhood for which this is a valued, respected, and natural practice.”

Another expression on this topic is this short article of the Helsinki Times – No small talk please, we’re Finnish, in which freelance journalist Susan Fourtané describes her experiences:

“I particularly enjoyed the thoughtfulness and the moments of silence in between, giving space for observing our own thoughts before speaking. Yes, you have heard it right. Finns don’t do small talk. They don’t think a moment of shared silence is awkward. On the contrary, it is part of the conversation. A direct question gets a direct answer. There is no nonsense talk about nothing. There is no asking “How are you?” ten times until someone says something else, or stating the obvious. Finns are more interested in how you think, how you perceive Finland or what keeps you in this small and cold country, as they refer to beautiful and peaceful Finland.”

We Finns definitely do have lots to learn about the more social and collaborative way of work, but I think we also have something valuable to share with our fellow citizens from other cultures and nations. The habit of small talk is a part of Anglo-American cultural sphere, and please note that I am not saying that there is something wrong with it. Our different habit, the positive silence, is as strange for foreigners as the excessive small talk is to many of us. All in all, what is needed is openness and curiosity in front of the different communication habits.

My interpretation of Professor Carbaugh’s great notion of positive silence is: we are taking time for thinking and reflecting. It is basically about respect towards your discussion partner. I do believe that occasionally ‘shutting up our mouths’ enables better listening, which in the best case this can lead to better understanding. Naturally, being too silent (also typical here) or silent in the wrong situations is nothing to recommend.

The Wrong Kind of Silence

Nilofer Merchant has marvelously described the wrong kind of silence. She tells a story when she was working at Apple: when she saw the problem clearly and others didn’t, she didn’t think she had the right or the capabilities to speak out – she was too worried about being wrong. This kind of ‘wrong’ silence is hurting the outcome, she continues, and emphasizes the importance of thinking together:

“…minority viewpoints have been proven to aid the quality of decision making in juries, by teams and for the purpose of innovation. Research proves then even when the different points of view are wrong, they cause people to think better, to create more solutions and to improve the creativity of problem solving.”

She calls after courage to speak and to take risks. “Enthusiasm, naïveté, fear of repercussions, conformity to the group norms, and even wisdom are all things that can influence whether someone speaks up or not.”

Her thinking inspires me to researching this topic of encouragement, listening, and mutual respect for better outcome and understanding.

The Culture of Curiosity, Listening and Respect

As an entrepreneur I highly value discussions where there are no pre-set ‘rights and wrongs’, where openness and curiosity are self-evident, and where mutual respect gives room for different kinds of thinking and thoughts. If ever now we need this kind of approach. And if in any organization it is in a startup or growth company that this is vital. There must be a place for expressing our ideas freely and also to take the time for reflection.

I truly believe that creativity, innovation, and better decision-making, both in startups and in established organizations, require at least some investments in these three capabilities:

  1. Applying so-called Systems Intelligence,
  2. Recognition of the value and importance of Serendipity (the weak links and the edges),
  3. Recognition of the value and importance Listening.

Luckily many of these are a natural part of the startup DNA. A startup company benefits from an open and cooperative style; we need use both sides of our brains and become better listeners. Let me explain.

Firstly, the Systems Intelligence Theory by Finnish Philosopher and Professor Esa Saarinen and his fellow researchers describe the two ‘thinking systems’ we all have: System 1 thinking as automatic, associative, and intuitive. System 2 thinking is dominating in the work places: you better be strictly rational. In every day work situations the System 2 thinking is active and often unintentionally blocking System 1 thinking – and therefore narrowing the possibilities at hands. When both systems are active, there’s a room for intuition, interaction and emotions – and for innovation, decision-making, and shared understanding. Being strictly rational in your work role is not working anymore. We need to utilize our full potential.

Secondly, it is important to realize the value of serendipity and of being active ‘on the edges’, as John Hagel, Lang Davison & John Seely Brown describe in the Power of Pull model. I agree with them that the cloud-enabled new platforms for serendipitous encounters lead to new kind of innovation, decision-making and leadership. We can now easily meet companies and people we did not know existed, curious expedition is needed. We gather around ‘social objects’ and connect, and build relationships for mutual learning and helping.

The third capability is about the value and importance of listening. I serendipitously bumped into a beautiful TED Talk by Julian Treasure. In his talk Julian presents the filters that we use when listening and through which the reality is created for us: culture, language, values, beliefs, attitudes, expectations, and intentions. He also shares his five tips for better listening. I found the fifth one, his RASA model, beautiful and absolutely something every one of us should apply in our daily life and the decision-making situations. Acronym RASA comes from Receive, Appreciate, Summarise, Ask these four verbs should be part of our personal decision-making, learning processes, and leadership. Julian says aptly: Conscious listening creates understanding. This is not too far away from the positive silence thinking.

The discussion around topic of listening is not a new one; see this excellent old article published in Harvard Business Review in 1957: Listening to People. The article states that “the effectiveness of the spoken word hinges not so much on how people talk as on how they listen.” There are several gold grains in it, as for example “when people talk, they want listeners to understand their ideas.“ Touche!

Trust-based Collaboration

What it is I mean with all this talk about Finnish traits and the social business? Let me sum it up with three examples, all originated from Finland; Linus Torvalds of Linux Foundation, Mårten Mickos of MySQL/Eucalyptus Cloud, and the newcomer Peter Vesterbacka of Rovio/Angry Birds. I personally experience all three fellow entrepreneurs as great examples of appliers of the communication style and culture that have deep origins in the ‘Finnish way’. All of them are successful in their businesses and more or less global citizens, but none of them have entirely thrown away their Finnish roots and foundation.

It’s not only about the substance, their wide knowledge, experience, and creativity, but also about their specific networking and collaboration skills which could be described as trust-based collaboration (and I am pretty sure that some positive silence is included). The fruitful network of relationships can be based on acknowledging, helping, and appreciation of the people you meet and work with which in turn create trust between individuals. Linus, Mårten and Peter are mastering is this. And they are passionately curious.

On top of all this we have now the various social communities which are the true leverage points of the cultural transformation, both inside and outside of the organization, between the organizations, individuals, and nationalities.  Trust and successes can be built on this.

Happy New Year 2012! Let your year be filled with happiness, health, serendipity, and love!


Innovation and Social Leadership

Mårten Mickos - and some source code - on the stage @ TEDxHelsinki

My brain is bubbling after the TEDxHelsinki event – a creatively built lineup of innovative speakers. The themes were exactly those I’ve been working on lately: Entrepreneurship, innovation, age & generations, and leadership. So here are random thoughts I’d like to share.

Entrepreneurship & Social Leadership

Thanks to Aalto Entrepreneurship Society‘s team entrepreneurship has been in headlines during the last couple of months. (Oh, it feels like it was only yesterday when the founder of F-Secure Risto Siilasmaa was the only entrepreneur media was interested in…) AaltoES team have some secret superpower as they have managed to bring legendary startup gurus and leaders to Finland, to coach and to support Finnish startups and to boost the entire startup scene – even our political leaders are becoming curious about this.

To name a few events, firstly, the epic Steve Blank week (I’ve blogged about it here), secondly several politicians have now visited Otaniemi in order to learn what is going on, for example, recently our Minister for European Affairs and Foreign Trade of Finland Alexander Stubb visited the ‘sauna’.

As a nice follow-up for the AaltoES wonders, TEDxHelsinki team had asked three (originally) Finnish entrepreneurs to share their stories with us: William Wolfram, Pekka Viljakainen, and Mårten Mickos. Interesting stories from all three of them.

The youngest of them, 19-year-old William Wolfram shared his story about becoming an entrepreneur at his age, how he dropped the school and now runs a successful online business in the US.  William’s motto is: “Don’t get a job. Get a mission. Entrepreneurs change the world.” Good one. A funny fact of William: he was a school mate of my daughter, the previous time I saw him on stage was at my daughter’s graduation, William’s (vocalist) band played at Brändö gymnasium.

The awesome duo then, Pekka “the Bulldozer” Viljakainen and Mårten Mickos, they have both achieved a lot during their careers. Their speeches at TEDxHelsinki were both very personal, genuine & open. The style I like a lot. Pekka told not only about his leadership style (and mistakes) but also about his new ‘No Fear’ book project on which he has worked together with 100+ top leaders around the world. The first reactions towards Pekka’s book idea and its new kind of leadership thinking were: don’t do it, it is impossible, cannot be done. But Pekka stubbornly continued with the project and in the end got most of the leaders to admit that his vision and concept works – and they wanted to join the movement. I recommend you to check out the No Fear Community site and the videos. A funny fact about Pekka: Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer has given Pekka his nickname, the Bulldozer, which must refer to his persistence and diligence.

Mårten’s key message was about outside of the box thinking. He spoke beautifully about our fear towards the new and unknown and respectively about our willingness to rely on our existing problem/solution models that we have stored in our brains. He says: “We are slaves of our habits. Too often we do not recognize the enormous potential around us. That is why we need to re-program, re-wire our brains.” According to him one of biggest challenges of the innovation is however “the big egos” that prevent fruitful collaboration and new kind of business development. I think we’ve all met them…

Interestingly Pekka and Mårten shared two key messages.  Firstly, Pekka’s idea on how the fear is killing the opportunities for innovation, and his personal story of the instant resistance for his idea by the top leaders. Exactly the same in Mårten’s story, fear and bad leadership are killing the innovation. As is the big fat obstacle for innovation, our habit of sticking to the models we are familiar with, and neglecting the possibility that “whatever truth you have, the opposite might be possible”, as one of my favorite TEDster, entrepreneur Derek Sivers says in this 6-minutes video.

Secondly, they share the idea of ‘how you can lead’ and ‘who can be the leader’, I am referring Pekka’s words for this: “It’s difficult to lead if nobody wants to follow”. Can you say it more clearly, I doubt that. Mårten had chosen to put it as: “the winner is the one who makes other people to want to follow him/her”.

A leader has to earn it. It is time for social leadership.

It’s also time for More Social Business

The social leadership style that my entrepreneurship idols described, and that is needed right now in the changing business environment, could be crystallized as follows:

It’s all about the people, respect, openness and transparency, shared understanding and responsibility, and about a great amount of courage and hard work. The courage to unlearn from old ways of doing business and leading people.

I find Bulldozers principles of social risk taking quite fitting, see here below in the picture:

Pekka Viljakainen's principles of social risk taking.

I like the ‘value base’ Pekka has built this on. Pekka also describes how young generations see and think the leadership (and often us middle-aged):

“You need to prove your value to the team. You need to earn the right to be their leader. These Digital Cowboys either see you as someone who can help them get things done or an idiot who stands in their way.”

Simultaneously with the new leadership styles and the way of working, we have the new tools that are enabling us to be more social and collaborative than ever before. But that is a topic for another blog post – More Social Business.

Knowledge Workers of the Different Generations

I see, among many others, the field of entrepreneurship and innovation free from any age limits. Yes, the media often prefers to write about the young generation, but I believe that there’s a room for more ageless approach for entrepreneurship, and innovation.

A good example is CEO of StoraEnso, Member of the Board of Nokia, Mr. Jouko Karvinen (54 years old) who was just chosen as The Director of Innovation Year 2011 (a Finnish competition where the three other great nominees were from startup world). Karvinen’s answer to the question ‘how innovations can be led?’ was: “it is a team sport, that must be led from the field, not from the outside of the rink, nor from the stand”. Further Jouko Karvinen explains his 80/20 rule: the ratio of questions and answers by CEO must be 80/20, in that order.  Mårten Mickos highlighted exactly the same, more questions needed.

The message of Karvinen, Mickos, and Viljakainen is very clear: leadership must be earned and it must develop very soon, preferably now. Finland and many other nations desperately need innovation as a driver for our success, and outdated leadership must not prohibit that.

My idea is that it requires not only rethinking and learning, but also great deal of unlearning. Despite of the age.

Another personal addition to this topic is that I believe that “for a knowledge worker it is not enough to be a team player, you must be a network player“. I believe that innovation is best nourished “in the edges”, as John Hagel & co describe it in the book The Power of Pull. Serendipitous encounters in the wide network are needed for innovation.

Another great example of innovation and entrepreneurship I’d like to mention here is Mr. Jukka Jokiniemi, born 1962, one of the most touching and amazing speakers at the TEDxHelsinki. He is successfully running his own company Innojok, despite of the fact that he became blind about 20 years ago. He has a great entrepreneurial attitude and he never let his blindness to come in the way. Amazing person, he must be the only blind Design Director in the world! An awesome Rethink Attitude we can all learn from. Lots of respect.

So our chronological age does not matter, our attitude does. Anybody from 19-year-old William Wolfram and the young AaltoES startup teams, to the middle-aged entrepreneurs, as Mårten, Pekka and many others, can be and should be part of the entrepreneurial movement. I am very proud to be one, deeply middle-aged but eager and curious. (I am asked to visit Startup Sauna at the Aalto Venture Garage, and I am excited about it.)

There’s a one more thing I especially liked at TEDxHelsinki: the organizers chose to start the event with young William and close it with an insightful presentation by 85-years old graphic designer and artist Erik Bruun. What a wonderful bridge between the two different generations! The clear common nominator was innovativeness, seeing the opportunity and believing in your own vision, focusing on that and persistently going towards the vision.

Task for myself

After my valuable experiences and discussions in the AaltoES organized events and now in TEDxHelsinki a thought started to spin around in my mind: what else – than talk & blog – can do for the development of the entrepreneurial scene of Finland?

Here’s my idea and its background: I was recently appointed to the Board of the Finnish Software Entrepreneurs. Very glad and proud of it. It is a non-profit association for the entrepreneurs of the Finnish growth companies, a great group of talented people of whom many have already reached a good growing path for their businesses – and yes, there are some startup companies too.

However, a notion of ‘association’ might not sound very compelling for a young entrepreneur…something steel and old-fashioned…but it doesn’t have to be so. I have been active member of it for a few years and many great things are happening there. Those are not getting that kind of publicity as the AaltoES activities, but I believe this will change. So, the next step could be ‘the crossing of chasm’ between the young and the more mature software companies. I believe both would benefit from it.

Accordingly, the task for myself (and for any of you) is to think and act on this: how could we support, stimulate and create the discussions between “the digital cowboys” and people in the more mature software companies? Resulting in fruitful discussions and ideas about the new ways of working together, solving problems, and to innovate. There’s many shared interests and topics here, and of course, a huge learning-from-each-other-potential. We are all swimming in the blue ocean of tacit knowledge.

No fear, but lots of curiosity and open mind, anyone with me?

Thank you – and apologies for the long-ish post…

PS. Cisco Finland’s CEO Esa Korvenmaa blogged about this topic too (in Finnish), read it here.
PS2. I think I must buy Pekka’s book now….
PS3. Startup Sauna already does have a great team of coaches from the more mature companies, sharing their knowledge and helping the teams. A good start indeed but not enough for the whole of Finland. Huge respect for the coaches and the team Ville, Antti, Miki, Krista, Linda & co. Special greetings to Aape Pohjavirta!
PS4. I have no funny fact of Mårten!


The Finnish Awesomeness and Entrepreneurship

Picture credit: AaltoES

Something exceptional is happening here in Finland. However I think that the foundation for that has existed a long time, only to wait its time to come. And it seems that the time is here and now. Let me explain.

I am a startup entrepreneur and I am considering myself very lucky that I have had the opportunity to follow somewhat amazing chain of events happening in the startup scene of Finland. The young crew from the Aalto University, so-called Aalto Entrepreneurship Society, has worked hard for two and half years, and finally this week they publicly proved that their vision and the actions taken truly are a very powerful force.

I am not describing here in detail what has happened during the past weeks; actually you’ll get the picture of that easily by checking out their blog . This great team managed, together with the legendary Steve Blank himself, to initiate many important discussions and processes – and I do believe that they managed to make a difference.

We will certainly hear more about startups in the Finnish media and we now expect more from our decision-makers too. Hopefully we will also see actions based on the ideas born during this week’s ‘revolution’.

The Helsinki Spring is here, as Steve so nicely put it. I am optimistic; the fruits of this week will be many. I am very proud of this young crew, Finnish Awesomeness at its best.

The Finnish Way of Being

Serendipitously I happened to bump into another type of Finnish awesomeness.  I listened to Senior VP of Design at Nokia Marko Ahtisaari’s presentation at the Copenhagen Design Week.

The first 12 minutes (the rest of it is mostly about Nokia design and future development, interesting as well) of his speech ‘Patterns of Human Interaction’ had an effect on me. His humble way of speaking about how better design can help us to make each other feel that we are welcome, is just awesome. A beautiful perspective!

Another observation I made is his style of speaking, it is very Finnish (read: very non-American). He is not shouting and feverishly waving his hands – no, instead he applies the traditional Finnish style: he is calm, speaks very softly and is overall adorable and kind. And all that without being boring. It kind of reminds me of the way Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg speaks. Or Alex Osterwalder, or Aalto Entrepreneurship Society’s president Miki Kuusi. So I warmly recommend you to listen to Marko, at least the first 12 minutes.

Small Talk and Positive Silence

These great people and the two events – AaltoES with Steve Blank & Marko Ahtisaari and his talk about more human design principles – made me think about what is “Finnishness”, and why I’ll find it awesome and full of possibilities for the entrepreneurship too.

The Finnishness?, you may ask. Yes, we do have some national characteristics that can be more rare among other nationalities, we can be seen as very shy, but on the other hand our curiosity and creativity makes it easy for us to connect and share. To connect and share, and most importantly to listen. On top of that we are very persistent and diligent; we don’t like to give in. Except in football.

We Finns can easily be silent in company with other people. It’s natural. Foreigners often find our silence odd, or fascinating. Professor of Communication Donal Carbaugh, from University of Massachusetts at Amherst, have written an excellent paper about this – Silence and Quietude as a Finnish“Natural Way of Being” [pdf], with the following description:

“A Finnish communication code that structures some cultural scenes as occasions for positive silence, exhibiting a social model of personhood for which this is a valued, respected, and natural practice.”

I just love this expression, positive silence. Please consider positive silence as time for thinking, reflecting, and listening. The paper explains the Finnish way of communication with many good example stories; it can truly help in understanding us Finns…

Another great read is this short article of the Helsinki Times – No small talk please, we’re Finnish, in which freelance journalist Susan Fourtané describes her experiences:

“I particularly enjoyed the thoughtfulness and the moments of silence in between, giving space for observing our own thoughts before speaking. Yes, you have heard it right. Finns don’t do small talk. They don’t think a moment of shared silence is awkward. On the contrary, it is part of the conversation. A direct question gets a direct answer. There is no nonsense talk about nothing. There is no asking “How are you?” ten times until someone says something else, or stating the obvious. Finns are more interested in how you think, how you perceive Finland or what keeps you in this small and cold country, as they refer to beautiful and peaceful Finland.”

Less small talk and more positive silence, I believe that this enables better listening, and further better understanding.

What “the Finnish way of being” has to do with the Finnish startup ecosystem success?

Let me explain. I have blogged a lot about my three favorite topics. And I truly believe that creativity, innovation, and better decision-making, in startups too, require at least some investments and understanding in these areas:

  1. Systems Intelligence (theory by my friend Professor Esa Saarinen),
  2. Recognition of the value and importance of serendipity (the weak links and the edges, re: John Hagel),
  3. Recognition of the value and importance listening.

These three capabilities require a certain attitude, an attitude of respect, with a touch of trust.

Luckily many of these are a natural part of the startup DNA. We need to be open and cooperative; we need use both sides of our brains and become better listeners.

In his excellent presentation at the Aalto University Steve Blank touched on these topics in his own creative way. A startup entrepreneur is living on the edge with all senses open. An ability to observe, discover, pivot, adapt and finally to adopt is crucial. On top of his great experiences that Steve shared with us, I enjoyed his attitude, very refreshing. And I especially loved Steve’s analog of startup entrepreneur as a fighter pilot! I feel like Maverick quite often.

“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”

The AaltoES team is showing a great deal of creativity, persistence, and most importantly the ability to get things done with the help of the surrounding ecosystem. They managed to activate all of us, followers and fans, to participate. This is priceless and I do believe that “this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” (couldn’t help myself quoting one of the most memorable exit lines in movie history, from Casablanca).

The Finnish Awesomeness is something very genuine. Let us be proud of it. I wish that we don’t have to start to act entirely differently in order to be able to make a difference. We have all we need to become a vibrant startup hub in Europe, and in the World.

I wish that the Finnish Awesomeness could be something that other people can learn from.

Thank you AaltoES Team (Kristo, Linda, Antti, Miki, Ville, Lauri, Henrietta, Charlotta, Krista, Jose Pablo & co), Steve Blank and Marko Ahtisaari for the inspiration you have given me!

–Riitta

Related read:

Everything in Steve Blank’s brilliant blog http://steveblank.com/
Prof. Osmo Wiio’s law on how all human communication fails, except by accident. My all-time favorite.


Decision-making: Flipism, Gut Feeling, and Systems Intelligence

Dan Ariely knows all about our irrationality.

There’s a sea of different theories on decision-making. Most recently I’ve read Dan Ariely‘s Predictably Irrational, a very good read.

A Disney version of decision-making is flipism. It is a pseudophilosophy under which all decisions are made by flipping a coin.

In this 4-minute video Henry Mintzberg explains his theory of management and also speaks about decision-making, presenting these three paths: Thinking first, Seeing first, and Doing first.
I recognize them all.

I personally find intuition and seeing the value of the tacit knowledge in decision-making is one of the most interesting options. I often believe in my gut feeling and I am not alone: “Gut feel” or “intuition” is popular and being used by many. Professor Weston Agor states that every one of us use tacit knowledge in our decision making process, at least to some degree.  Agor also argues that “it is perhaps best to think of intuition as being a highly rational decision making skill – one that is logical for managers to use”.

Check out this 5-minute video interview of Professor Agor where he describes the importance of intuition in business.

According to Agor intuition is a brain skill that organizations must learn to tap in order to remain competitive. Professor Agor speaks about experience-based intuition and he lists situations where intuition is used:

  • when there is a high level of uncertainty,
  • when facts are limited, ambiguous or incongruent with events,
  • when variables are not scientifically predictable,
  • when time is limited,
  • when several alternatives seems plausible, and
  • when cost of failure is large.

The situational facts listed above match perfectly with the life of the startup entrepreneurs: living and working in uncertainly, with time limitations both financially and commercially, and all that in a complex environment with huge numbers of variables.

What else than intuitive power does it take to be creative and successful in the rapidly changing environment?

Firstly, the equation must include a certain degree of healthy curiosity and stamina, but also risk-taking capabilities and on top of that some sweet serendipity.

Secondly, this becomes easier if you’re using your thinking and perception capacity more widely. In a complex environment Systems Intelligence approach is one of the methods that might help you. I am very fond of it. Professor Esa Saarinen describes Systems Intelligence as follows:

“Systems Intelligence (SI) involves the ability to use the human sensibilities of systems and reasoning about systems in order to adaptively carry out productive actions within and with respect to systems.”

Far too often we are having a surprisingly narrow sense of ourselves! When both systems – the rational & analytical and the intuitive & associative – are active, there’s a room for intuition, interaction and emotions which in turn nourish and create the trust-based relationships – which in turn helps us in decision-making.

What is Strategic Intuition?

I often act intuitively in the daily decision-making situations and I have been able to recognize situations of different nature. I was glad to find a good classification by Columbia professor William Duggan. He writes about three kinds of intuition: ordinary, expert, and strategic. He explains these nicely:

Ordinary intuition is just a feeling, a gut instinct. Expert intuition is snap judgments, when you instantly recognize something familiar, the way tennis pro knows where the ball will go from the arc and speed of the opponent’s racket. (Malcolm Gladwell wrote about this kind of intuition in Blink.) The third kind, strategic intuition, is not a vague feeling, like ordinary intuition. Strategic intuition is a clear thought. And it’s not fast, like expert intuition. It’s slow. That flash of insight you had last night might solve a problem that’s been on your mind for a month. And it doesn’t happen in familiar situations, like a tennis match. Strategic intuition works in new situations. That’s when you need it most.”

Most interesting!

I cannot resist thinking about Mikael Granlund’s incredible goal against Russia in IIHF World Cup semi-finals in Ice Hockey – he did indeed use his expert intuition and had the extreme courage when he made this absolutely amazing trick and the winning goal for Finland! Check out this video (with crazy Finnish announcer Antero Mertaranta shouting wildly in Finnish):

When you look at the Finnish ice hockey team this year and especially the young talents, as this goal wizard 19-year-old Mikael Granlund, I cannot help thinking what kind of role intuition plays in the fast “the decision-making game” in the digital, creative startup sphere, and further in helping us (and them) to reach our goals and success?

I strongly feel that the ‘trial and error’ culture and mentality among entrepreneurs does – at least partly – rely on this kind of intuitive power, and as a bi-product it does make the entire ecosystem buzzing and high-spirited. I am lucky to be part of it.

Long live the gut feeling!

PS. Here’s some related reading:
My recent post about Mental Bodybuilding for Knowledge Workers
Harvard Business Review blogs: Intuition Isn’t Just about Trusting your Gut
Henry Mintzberg: Patterns in Strategy Formation [pdf]


Entrepreneur: An Adventurer with Inbuilt Crap Detector

Guy Kawasaki's Note to Me @ Paris 2010

Inspired by an interview of Francis Ford Coppola and by an old article about Ernest Hemingway, I compared their advice to my experiences as an entrepreneur.

I’ve blogged earlier about my favorite topic, tacit knowledge and its role in personal and organizational learning. Francis Ford Coppola’s words took me back to these thoughts. In the web magazine The 99 Percent’s interview  ‘On Risk, Money, Craft & Collaboration’ he describes his working methods and techniques, for example how making notes, e.g. writing down the first impressions of a novel, helps him to find what’s essential in it.

I have a habit of making notes all the time, not only in work related meetings and workshops, but also of novels, TV programs, movies, and discussions. When I look back at my notes I often find a new angle to the subject at hands, and realize that often my notes are implying something tacit, a piece of knowledge, an idea based on the quick unconscious association.

In the beginning of interview Mr. Coppola presents his code of ethics that directs his filmmaking. I’ll find it very interesting:

  1. Write and direct original screenplays
  2. Make them with the most modern technology available, and
  3. Self-finance them.

With little bit of imagination I dare to compare this to mine and my friends’ situation as entrepreneurs. These points tickle my thinking: Firstly, for an entrepreneur it is important to have a clear vision based on your big idea, which in turn should be based on the real customer need you’ve seen, maybe based the weak-ish signals you’ve seen before others have. Anyways, your basic idea must be robust. It is your original screenplay, your starting point.

Secondly, Coppola’s request for the most modern technology: that’s an easy one. In my case it is about utilizing Cloud Computing and during the coming months I need better understanding what part Social Technology have in my business. I have no clear picture of it yet. There’s luckily a very interesting discussion on-going (in Twitter) about social business. Just search #socbiz or #e20 in Twitter, and you’ll see what I mean. Learning new things daily!

Francis Ford Coppola’s third point about financing is one of the key (worrying) issues for an entrepreneur. As both in filmmaking and for entrepreneurship, it is a question about how much independence you have. For Coppola financing must be easy nowadays, but for young entrepreneurs it is often a major pain. It takes a lot of energy and time, which temporarily can cut off some of the enthusiasm.

Learning, Risk Taking and Collaboration as Key Capabilities

All these essential issues points at learning, our capability to unlearn and learn is central. To change and to be able to see what is not visible: the tacit things, the weak signals. One sentence in Coppola’s interview shows how important learning is even with 45 years successful career, he says:

I just finished a film a few days ago, and I came home and said I learned so much today. So if I can come home from working on a little film after doing it for 45 years and say, “I learned so much today,” that shows something about the cinema. Because the cinema is very young. It’s only 100 years old.

His humble quote is very true in any business. As our business environment is in huge change, we need to see it as new every day. For an entrepreneur this means making best guesses and taking risks. Francis Ford Coppola asks a striking question to which every entrepreneur can relate to:

If you don’t take a risk then how are you going to make something really beautiful, that hasn’t been seen before?

Indeed. Further Mr. Coppola shares his idea of collaboration and his role as a director, with wise words:

You must never be the kind of director, I think maybe I was when I was 18, “No, no, no, I know best.” That’s not good. You can make the decision that you feel is best, but listen to everyone, because cinema is collaboration. I always like to say that collaboration is the sex of art because you take from everyone you’re working with.

His words remind me of Mitch Joel’s recent post ‘Market of One’, where he writes:

Just because you do something (or don’t do something) is no indication of how the market actually is and reacts.

A recommended read, you may recognize the pattern in your business environment, among partners, business angels, VCs. For an entrepreneur it is vital to listen to everyone, be curious, to truly collaborate, and not make assumptions based on your personal opinion only.

To me entrepreneurship is about learning, experimenting, collaborating, and taking risks. It is an adventure. And I feel like an adventurer.

We all have our own personal methods and tools to manage the adventure. For me it is a cocktail of many things, the base on my beloved Systems Thinking, but to name one thing that has changed my way of working: social media. After I’ve managed to find ‘my people’, especially in Twitter, social media has opened a new world of knowledge sharing and valuable, most interesting global network of smart people. Whenever I have time to participate I learn.

Another result of intense learning and studying within social media sphere is this blog. I started blogging as I felt that I need to write down the (often unstructured) ideas and thoughts, and get feedback from my network of smart people. The feedback is very valuable for the learning process: when I write I am often developing an ad hoc idea and the feedback makes me think and rethink. I do need that.

Related to this experience of making notes and blogging too, I share a wonderful old article of Hemingway in Cuba (The Atlantic, 1965) which partly inspired me to write this post. Hemingway experienced writing as inventing. Here’s a quote by him which I like very much:

Fiction-writing, Hemingway felt, was to invent out of knowledge. “To invent out of knowledge means to produce inventions that are true. Every man should have a built-in automatic crap detector operating inside him. It also should have a manual drill and a crank handle in case the machine breaks down. If you’re going to write, you have to find out what’s bad for you. Part of that you learn fast, and then you learn what’s good for you.”

That’s basically what every entrepreneur needs too: Knowledge (network) out of which to invent, and a curious, open mind with a built-in crap detector.

I believe I don’t have to explain that.


Entrepreneur again. How did it happen?

I wrote this piece, describing my background, already a couple of months ago…when I first tried to start blogging. However, I was then too busy to do it. But finally, the blog is now out – and here are the few lines I wrote about my entrepreneur background.

I like the word entrepreneur. Many associations come to my mind. What is an entrepreneur? Wikipedia defines it as: “…the type of personality who is willing to take upon himself a new venture or enterprise and accepts full responsibility for the outcome” and “a person who has possession of a new enterprise, venture or idea and assumes significant accountability for the inherent risks and the outcome”.

I wasn’t born in a family of entrepreneurs, but I suppose that some of my basic characteristics fit in with the requirements. I love to research and build, I am strongly for genuine team work, and I love to see a clear connection between the sweaty moments and the results, very rewarding. The continuous idea creation & iteration is fun. On top of that, the struggle on how to succeed in the execution is a challenge I’m willing to take – definitely the hardest part.

Entrepreneur x 4

This is the fourth time I am an entrepreneur. My first time in the 80’s was related to after-marketing of the IBM hardware (!), kind of recycling business for those huge equipments, mainframes & storage units – very international environment and me being very young at the time I learned a lot from my colleagues around the globe.

The second time for an entrepreneurial move was when I lived in Sweden. Year was 1997, me, my ex-husband and our two children moved to Stockholm. At that time I worked for an international software company IBS, but very soon I decided to study instead. So I combined both, started my M.Sc. studies at Stockholm University & Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan – and ran my own company aside.

The third time was in 2003. I had moved back to Finland from Sweden and started to work for a Finnish software company Efecte. I was fully acting like an entrepreneur even if I was just a minor shareholder. The team spirit was exceptional and I fell in love with IT Service Management (ITSM). How normal is that can be discussed! Almost six years of hard work and great moments. The company grew a lot and very fast, and as very often it was time for major changes which led further to the fact that it was time to start something new.

The end of the year 2008 was a major decision point for me. I traveled to Thailand all by myself, in order to do some thinking. Wonderful country & trip. The very day I came back I got a call from the founder of Efecte, Jaan Apajalahti , and very soon all was set. This time I would build something new together with Jaan and the loveliest of all business angels, Jukka Kosonen. In April we had the entire founding team setup ready, and the work really could start.

My new baby

Our new start up, Sopima, was founded in early 2009. A lot of excitement and a wonderful feeling of being along from the very beginning! And I made this decision in a minute – no, 30 seconds – with no hesitation. We are building something very special, with the latest technology, with the greatest of partners.

So this is what I’m doing at the moment. In this blog I will write about the road trip I have just started. Among other stories of my daily life and interests.


%d bloggers like this: