Tag Archives: Esa Saarinen

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!


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.


Systems Intelligence, Serendipity and Listening for the Better Decisions

A beautiful moment I managed to capture in the Helsinki summer!

I’ve earlier blogged about how I find intuition and seeing the value of the tacit knowledge as very interesting perspectives for the decision-making. As social business and new ways of working are now changing the organizations and the entire business landscape, and further adding to the complexity I’ll find it even more interesting to study decision-making and how understanding is created.

I was looking for something else from my bookshelf and found the good old book by Stephen P. Robbins “Essentials of Organizational Behavior”, and randomly checked out the chapter about individual differences in decision-making.  What I found was an interesting quadrant that describes the leadership styles related to the decision-making, it has two axes: Way of Thinking and Tolerance for Ambiguity. The four styles of decision-making are:  Directive, Analytical, Conceptual, and Behavioral.

Decision-Style Model. Source: A.J. Rowe and J.D. Boulgarides, Managerial Decision Making (Prentice Hall 1992)

So here’s a quick go-though of this model, followed by my free associations from it.

  • Way of Thinking, very simplified: Logical, analytical leaders are processing information serially versus intuitive and creative ones perceiving things as a whole.
  • Tolerance for Ambiguity, again simplified: some of us have a high need to structure information in order to minimize ambiguity, while others can process many ideas and thoughts simultaneously.

A very quick comparison of the types (yes, pretty obvious ones, you can hop over to my associations if you like):

  • Analytical types have a better tolerance for ambiguity than the “traditional” directive decision-makers. An analytical type of leader usually search for more information and alternatives than directive ones.
  • Leaders applying the conceptual style in decision-making are often considering many alternatives out of broad perspective. Additionally they take a longer term perspective. This style gives most room for creativity, the authors claim.
  • The forth style, behavioral style, is the most receptive for suggestions from others, peers and subordinates, and leaders of this style love the meetings! They are also trying to avoid conflicts and find a consensus.

In Finland we call the behavioral style as a Swedish leadership style: it is based on utterly politeness and caution, and taking ages to get any decisions. Meanwhile the traditional Finnish way has been the opposite; very direct, focused on the matter (seeing people as resources, no space for feelings here) and with low tolerance of ambiguity. The formal business education in Finland has a long time emphasized the rational analysis and thinking which have led to this ‘inflexible’ style. Naturally leadership styles are developing here in the Nordics too. But I think we Finns have much more home work to do than our friends in Sweden.

An essential perspective to this very topic comes from the always inspiring Rachel Happe who recently blogged about decision-making in the networked world, here’s a quote from her excellent post:

“We need to move forward boldly and make decisions despite incomplete information… but also be prepared to change our path. It’s easy to just shut down when faced with an environment in which you can never be certain or absorb all the information available. But if you are a leader, you need to accept the uncertainty and move forward anyway. “

I very much agree with her and that is exactly why I wanted to look at the model, via three associations I spontaneously got.

My three spontaneous associations on the model

This decision-style model gave me the following associations:

  1. Systems Intelligence Theory of Esa Saarinen,
  2. Value and Importance of Serendipity (the weak links and the edges),
  3. Value and Importance of Listening.

Firstly, this decision-making style model and its division associated with the Finnish philosopher Esa Saarinen and his research of Systems Intelligence. 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 better understanding and decision-making.

Being strictly rational in your work role is not working anymore. We need utilize our full potential. I have blogged about this earlier e.g. in posts “Mental Bodybuilding for Knowledge Workers” and “Are You Systems Intelligent?” featuring my favorites Hagel and Saarinen.

Secondly, I thought of the on-going lovely discussion about serendipity, a discussion where John Hagel, Luis Suarez and Ana Silva are the ones I love to follow, to interact with and listen to. When I saw the decision-style model I was right-away thinking about replacing the Tolerance of Ambiguity into the Level of Embracing Serendipity.

It would broaden the model towards the thinking of the “Power of Pull model” (by John Hagel, Lang Davison & John Seely Brown). 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, and this helps us to be more creative and also broaden the basis we rely on when making decisions. The edges are fruitful places for the innovation, to help us to make innovative decisions, but also for supporting a better understanding.

The approach both Esa Saarinen and John Hagel & his fellows suggest helps us in achieving our full potential as individuals, and the same applies to our organizations, via the people in it. In addition, serendipity can be shaped, and utilized in decision-making.

The third association I got is the value and importance of listening in decision-making, and in life in general. I serendipitously bumped into a beautiful TED Talk by Julian Treasure (what a lovely last name he has) about the importance of listening.

I warmly recommend you to listen to his talk (7:50 min), very inspiring.

Yes indeed, active listening deserves our attention in the chaotic and changing environment, too often forgotten. In his talk Julian shares 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 and these four verbs should be part of our personal decision-making, learning processes, and leadership.

Julian says aptly: Conscious listening creates understanding. I’d like to add that listen not only your peers, colleagues, family members and friends, but listen to yourself too.

I believe that better decisions and shared understanding are both enabled by these notions we associate with the social business:

Genuine interaction, collaboration, learning, openness, sharing, trust, P2P instead of B2B & B2C, living network instead of stiff hierarchies, listening, intuition, passionate creativity, and embracing serendipity.

All these leading to not only learning and better understanding but also to better decision-making, and success in whatever you are doing.

Personally I have so many things that I need to do differently. Starting today.

–Riitta

Related reading:
Rachel Happe’s beautiful post: A Vision of The Social Organization
Dave Gray in Dachis blog: The Connected Company
Christoph Schmaltz  in Dachis blog:  From traditional business to social business
John Hagel’s grain of gold: Reshaping Relationships through Passion

EDIT 2011-08-02: Professor Esa Saarinen’s research can be found here.


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]


Mental Bodybuilding for Knowledge Workers

These two beauties live with me: the one on the left have managed to develop quite good muscles, the one on the right side have a style of her own, a bit Picasso-like shape. She's a creation by my talented ex-father-in-law Georg Korolkoff.

I stumbled upon a beautiful video about Michael Wolff, an acknowledged British graphic designer. I am not a part of the design professionals’ clan, but his message touched me. I think his way of thinking is applicable to all of us knowledge workers who are trying to cope with the changing work environment.

In this lovely video (see below) Michael Wolff shortly describes the three muscles he needs in his design work. These are very much needed in the knowledge work too:

  1. The Muscle of Curiosity
  2. The Muscle of Appreciation
  3. The Muscle of Imagination

According to Wolff the first muscle, the Muscle of Curiosity, enables him to notice things in an active way and to ask the key question ‘why’ more often. He sees ‘seeing’ things as a muscular exercise, a way being open. He claims:

You walk around head full of preoccupations; you’re not going to notice anything, in your visual life.

As a busy entrepreneur I find this interesting. During a work day, full of meetings and tasks, this muscle can easily weaken. However I think I’ve managed to strengthen this muscle via social media, especially via Twitter. The people I follow in Twitter are amazing; they share the most interesting thoughts and articles, and write wonderful blog posts. These active, wise and open-minded persons form my “Serendipity Heaven” in Twitter, and elsewhere in the social media communities, help me to notice things and pick up ideas I’d never found without them. They exercise my muscle of curiosity. Thank you, you know who you are!

The second muscle, the Muscle of Appreciation, is the one that interests me most. I do agree with Michael Wolff, it is the attitude that is crucial: our attitude and the level of interest towards other people – and further to learn from them.

To support innovation and creativity, it is also important to not only notice the obvious (things) around you, but to take it further. Look around, ask, listen, and take all the wonderful opportunities to learn more. You will be able to understand a bit better, and nourish your imagination.

I’ve always been interested in people – their stories and experiences, their hopes and fears, their values – and can’t get enough of that. However in my work life this skill hasn’t always been considered as strength. Sadly enough, way too many bosses, even in the personnel departments, still see people as ‘resources’, like movable parts of a machine. With no interest of their thoughts. Luckily the signs for the change are here.

Out of these three muscles the third one, the Muscle of Imagination, is enabled by the two other muscles: curiosity and appreciation. I think that something else is required here too; read further and I’ll explain what I mean.

Now enjoy the video, I find it beautiful both visually and verbally:

What can I learn from Michael Wolff?

Michael Wolff encourages me to compare his profession to mine: what can I, as an entrepreneur and a knowledge worker, learn from this legendary graphics designer and brand guru?  Probably a lot, but I chose two aspects that I wish to look at with fresh eyes. Neither of these two aspects is new, but I try to see a new facet in these:

Firstly, he speaks about the power of the parts for the success of the whole.

From his video we learned that not only knowledge workers in the technology industry but also the different kinds of designers are working in the silos. And hindering the best results to come out.

Michael Wolff uses a meal as a simple metaphor. He says “it’s only through the parts that the dinner gets delivered”, and “you never cook the same meal twice”. I think in my industry – software & service business – we do this often, time and time again, totally unnecessary. Is it out of laziness or due to a lack of perception? I don’t know. But I do agree with Michael that the role of the details is important, of a single tiny part of the equation has to be seen. And for that we need to develop our ‘seeing’ muscles and attitudes.

I’ve earlier written about the on-going change and the silos in the work places, silos that lead to idea poverty and ineffectiveness. As a remedy for this our existing organizational structures needs a refresh, and we knowledge workers, should become more passionate about helping our organizations to be open, learning organizations. Mr. Wolff’s thinking helps us in this as both the acknowledgment and appreciation are the key ingredients in this.

Secondly, Michael Wolff states the kind of obvious but easily ignored idea: Emotion is most important component in graphics design.

In line with Michael I do believe that active observations combined with having our emotions ‘open’, is an essential fuel for our creativity, for better thinking and for the innovation.

I find here a clear connection to Esa Saarinen’s theory of Systems Intelligence about which I’ve blogged earlier:

We all have two different thinking systems, so-called System 1 and 2: 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.

An interesting connection between the System 1 thinking and the Muscles of Curiosity and Appreciation. Genuine two-way engagement with other people enables us to better co-create and develop ideas.

Systems Intelligence & the Three Muscles Combined

The unpredictable, more global, mobile and social business environment brings tough challenges for the areas of communication, coordination, learning, and leadership.

I believe that acknowledging the role of Esa Saarinen’s Systems Intelligence theory in the knowledge work and combining it with Michael Wolff’s idea of exercising these three muscles – Curiosity, Appreciation, Imagination – takes us a step closer to a more creative, productive and human working environment.

Do you think there is a need for a mental bodybuilding for us knowledge workers?

Related reading:

PS. My long-time motto is “Always in Beta. And passionately so”. I think I’ll modify it with Michael’s wonderful motto, which is: Obsessively Interested in Everything.


Yrittäjä, riko sääntö ja ota riski

Vertti Kiven motto muistikirjani sivulla @ Pafos 2010

 

Yrittäjä ja sisutusarkkitehti Vertti Kivi pokkasi tammikuussa Vuoden Sisustusarkkitehti 2011 -palkinnon. Minulla oli ilo viettää kokonainen viikko Vertin seurassa Esa Saarisen Pafos-seminaarissa. Vertti jakoi viikon aikana monia hyviä ajatuksia ja pyysin häntä kirjoittamaan seminaarivihkooni yhden niistä, hän kirjoitti siihen seuraavat mielenpainuvat sanat:

Siellä missä sääntö huomataan – se rikotaan
Siellä missä riski havaitaan – se otetaan

Tämä ajatukset liikkeelle laittava lausepari on Vertin suunnittelutoimiston motto. Uuden suunnittelussa tarvitaan näkemystä, mutta myös uskallusta ja innostusta. En ihmettele, että mies palkittiin – mainiota ajatuksia päänsä pullollaan. Vertti on harmissaan siitä, että liian moni toimisto muistuttaa peruskoulun ruokalaa, eli ”linoa lattiaan ja loisteputket kattoon”, kuten hän Talouselämän (3/2011) jutussa lausuu. ”Epämiellyttävään tilaan meneminen vaikuttaa ajatuksiin uskomattoman paljon. Tila virittää ihmiset”.  En voisi olla enempää samaa mieltä!

En kuitenkaan kirjoita nyt sisustamisesta (enpä siitä juuri mitään tiedäkään), vaan jäin miettimään Vertin mottoa ja suunnitteluideologiaa. En voi olla vertaamatta sitä startup-yrittäjän toimintaan: Säännöt ja riskit, miten ne kohtaa ja miten niihin asennoituu.

On paljon asioita, joissa sääntöjä tarvitaan. Mutta on myös sääntöjä, jotka aivan suotta rajoittavat ajatteluamme. Nämä, usein kirjoittamattomat, säännöt ohjaavat toimintaamme. Esimerkkinä vaikkapa TEKESin, rahoittajien ja muiden yrittäjille osviittaa antavien hyvät, keskinkertaiset tai huonot neuvot sekä ’Näin-meillä-on-aina-tehty’ -koulukunnan jumiutunut gramofoni. Jälkimmäisen edustajia löytyy sekä yrittäjäpiireistä, mediasta että viranomaisista.

Olen innokkaasti tutkinut yrittäjien menestystarinoita (sain hiljattain luettua opukset Rework ja Behind the Cloud). Niitä lukiessa pidin mielessä, että osa menestystarinoista on syntynyt erilaisessa markkinatilanteessa, ja siksi eivät ole suoraan sovellettavissa. Samasta syystä olemme turhaan toistelleet mantraa “uusinokia”. Silti olen saanut kirjoista monia ajatuksia pohdittavaksi ja yrittäjäkollegoiden kanssa jaettavaksi. Selkeitä, useampia toimijoita yhdistäviä sääntöjä on vaikea löytää.

Yksi selkeä “sääntö” tai pikemminkin ominaisuus löytyy kuitenkin lähes aina: korkea riskinottokyky, uskallus sekä palava innostus ja intohimo omaa ideaa kohtaan. Kuvaavaa on määrätietoinen eteneminen visiota kohti, sinnikkyys ja vahva tahtotila. Usein halutaan muuttaa maailmaa.

Intohimoa löytyy kotimaastakin: haluan mainita esimerkkinä ystäväni Janne Ruohiston, jonka yritys haluaa muuttaa tapaa, jolla osaamista haetaan, jaetaan ja löydetään yli organisaatiorajojen. Ja tietty oma yritykseni: haluamme muuttaa tapaa, jolla yritysten välillä sovitaan. Ei ihan helppoja nakkeja kohderyhmissä, joilla on pitkät traditiot, paljon sääntöjä ja joissa muutos on iso peikko.

Startup-yrittäjyys on sellaisenaan jo melkoista riskinottoa verrattuna kuukausiliksalla pakertavaan yrityksen työntekijään, virkamiehestä puhumattakaan. Uskon kuitenkin, että työn – ja erityisesti tietotyön saralla – käynnissä oleva voimakas muutos tekee tulevaisuudessa kaikista työntekijöistä yrittäjiä. Eli yrityksen sisälläkin on jatkossa jokaisen toimittava yrittäjän lailla. Olen miettinyt tätä aihetta paljon ja bloggaan tästä lähiaikoina.

Ei ole uutinen, että riskit kuuluvat yritystoimintaan. Käynnissä oleva yritysympäristön muutos tuo kuitenkin aivan uudenlaisia tilanteita ja niihin liittyviä riskejä. Sopivasti riskejä ottamalla jokaisella startup-yrittäjäkollegallani on mahdollisuus löytää jotakin, johon muut eivät ole huomanneet tarttua ja luoda uutta. Lisäboostia tähän tulee uudenlaisesta yrittäjäyhteistyöstä sosiaalisen median mahdollistama.

Toisinaan tulee stipluja, mutta useimmiten niistä selvää ehjin nahoin, ja voi jatkaa uutta oppineena – ja ennen kaikkea jostakin poisoppineena!

Taidanpa laittaa Vertin moton itselleni johonkin sopivaan paikkaan näkyville, muistuttamaan ja innostamaan.

PS. Omistan tämän kirjoituksen syntymäpäiväsankarille, rakkaalle ystäväyrittäjälle Eero Leppäselle!


I am a Knowledge Worker and a Serendipity Hippie

My Serendipity Hippie T-shirt! | Copyright Serendipiteettihipit 2010

 

Last weekend I attended Professor Esa Saarinen’s seminar, and as always I was touched and inspired by his thinking. Few days earlier futurist Jarno M. Koponen wrote a beautiful blog post about creative future thinking. Both of these gentlemen touched on a question I’ve been thinking lately:

How to be creative in a hectic entrepreneur/knowledge worker life?

I’ve earlier blogged about Esa Saarinen’s theory of Systems Intelligence and the two thinking systems that we all have: the automatic, associative, and intuitive, and rational, systematical one. This theory of Saarinen’s emphasizes how we often have a surprisingly narrow sense of ourselves – meaning that we seldom utilize our associative, intuitive System 1 in our work life, instead we are blocking it by System 2 kind of rational thinking.

Futurist and designer Jarno M. Koponen brought up an interesting topic in his Futureful blog: the role of reading and writing in a creative process and future thinking. For him, written words lead to constructive reflection and reflection leads to action. Further he describes how everyone’s creativity is different, how we all have our own ways of nourishing our creative thinking.

Touché! These two gentlemen made me look closer at my mental habits: how do I approach challenges and act in various business situations.

I recognize the need to mix the associative and intuitive with the Rational Riitta. As a knowledge worker I need to be more open and creative in order to find solutions that are not the obvious ones. One of my methods is to imagine the present situation couple of years ahead from now. Often this opens up a couple of new doors for thoughts.

Other means I often turn to are writing (not always publicly as now), reading (The Power of Pull is waiting for me), mindmapping, enjoying visual beauty in form of photographs and movies from different decades, and listening to the music. I am letting System 1 to have a proper leg room during the flight. There’s one more thing empowering me: positivity.

The Power of Positivity

Esa Saarinen discusses positivity in a wonderfully inspiring way. Most of us easily understand the value of the positive emotions; still we systematically understate the long term effect of positivity. This is what Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, Saarinen’s research partner, claims. Similarly to Saarinen’s thoughts, Fredrickson says: we can expand our awareness, by taking in from all of our senses. Fredrickson’s urges us to invest in things that bring us positive emotions; music, dance, books, walk in the woods, a hobby you love.

Fredrickson also speaks about 3-to-1 tipping point ratio meaning that we need three positive emotions to lift us up for every negative emotion that drags us down. Further she states “in the long term, our positive emotions broaden and build, and therefore result in more resilience and life satisfaction.” If you became curious, read more about Fredrickson’s thoughts in her research paper “The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotion” (pdf).

I found this lovely video (6 min) by Barbara Fredrickson, warmly recommended:

My favorite part of the video is her recommendation: create the mindset of positivity by being open, appreciative, curious, kind, and most of all, real. Very beautiful and doable!

A Serendipity Hippie

Inspired by these ideas I recently named a group of my friends, including myself, as ‘Serendipity Hippies’. I think the name describes quite well the attitude and spirit I wish to nurture.  As a startup entrepreneur and a knowledge worker I need to be a Serendipity Hippie too – I need to keep my both ‘systems’ active, let intuition, interaction and positive emotions affect my actions and decisions, which in turn hopefully nourishes my creativity, and also help me to develop ‘Hagelian’ trust-based relationships.

Via all these means and with help of my social (media) interactions I wish to give creativity and serendipity a chance, every day.

Finally, I would like to share a story Barbara Fredrickson told her audience during one of her lectures:

“One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, ‘My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is Negativity. It’s anger, sadness, stress, contempt, disgust, fear, embarrassment, guilt, shame, and hate. The other is Positivity. It’s joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and above all, love.’ The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf wins?’ The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed’.”

We can become better versions of ourselves.


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