Tag Archives: Helsinki Times

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.


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