Tag Archives: John Hagel

Social Business, Power Balance and Trust

A 360 degree attitude on social business and networking gives you wings. Photo credit goes to my friend Esa Aarnio. All rights reserved.

I had the pleasure to be one of the guest speakers at the International Woman’s Day breakfast organised by “The Federation of Finnish Technology Industries“.

As I was speaking on that special day, I chose this topic “Woman, networking and the social technology”.  I started my presentation by making a confession: about five years ago I was pretty close to becoming a software business professional who enjoys a good flow, best practices and nice control, meaning I was stuck in my comfort zone.

I had a great team, processes in place, supporting tools implemented, and lots of ideas. I lived in a lovely illusion of control. Indeed it was working well at the time, but now afterwards it’s easy to say that for a little bit too long I overlooked one thing: huge, disruptive changes that were already in sight.

Luckily I was curious enough and started to follow some of the trends, mostly via research articles and blogosphere: cloud computing, social media and mobility. It soon started my personal transformation process: I realised that I needed urgently to both unlearn and learn.

The topics I briefly covered in my speech were Social Business, Networking 2.0, the power balance between the organisational units, and the triangle of “People, Process, Technology.”  And finally, the role women have in the social business context.

Here’s a short summary of the key topics of my speech.

Networking 2.0

Inspired by my friend Harri Lakkala’s dichotomy Leader 1.0 & 2.0, I composed a simple comparison of Networker 1.0 & 2.0.  Here we go:

Networker 1.0

  • Internally networked, sharing knowledge carefully thinking what can/cannot be shared, choices often led by the process and strict professional roles
  • Externally networked via traditional ways, as e.g. participating in conferences home and abroad
  • The verb to describe interaction is ‘to exchange’ knowledge, meaning “if I give you this piece of information, you’ll give me that information”
  • Heavy carbon footprint (lots of flying and red wine included in the network building)

Networker 2.0

  • Internally and externally networked, via a combination of the traditional, digital and social channels and means
  • Active sharing inside firewall, over the organisation silos. More holistic view on the value creation. Externally embracing serendipity by being active and open in various communities.
  • The verbs to describe interaction is ’to share and give’, sharing knowledge in an altruistic manner, receiving and finding information and knowledge from unexpected directions. Genuine collaboration.
  • Instead of heavy carbon footprint, Networking 2.0 creates a heavy digital footprint which further enhances the possibilities

My message for the audience was this:

For a knowledge worker, it is no longer enough to be a good team player, you have to be a good network player.

Collaboration is the new black and as professionals we need to have both new kinds of skills and more open attitude. “Knowledge alone does no longer give you the power, sharing of knowledge does”, as my friend Teemu Arina says.

Social technology and Innovation

Social technology is an essential enabler for the comprehensive, almost limitless networking and collaboration. Serendipity boosted, open networking is a must for a vivid idea flow and further for innovation. I just cannot believe that the traditional way of having brainstorming sessions with the same people, in the same meeting room, using the same methods, leads to shiny ideas and sparkling innovations.

On the personal level we need better muscles for curiosity, listening, openness, and ‘go over the borders and outside of your comfort zone’ attitude. The edges are fruitful places for the innovation and also for supporting a better common understanding. The “Power of Pull” thinking (by John Hagel, Lang Davison & John Seely Brown) is one of my favorites.

Additionally, to cope with this change, we need higher tolerance for ambiguity. The networked business environment is increasingly complex, sometimes even a bit chaotic. Some of us have a high need to structure information in order to minimize ambiguity, while others can process many ideas and thoughts simultaneously. I believe we need more of the latter. I have earlier blogged about this topic, “Systems Intelligence, Serendipity and Listening for the Better Decisions”.

What does the new kind of networking and social technology has to do with women?

That was the final question I chose cover in my speech. Out of the support functions in organizations, women are usually well represented in the Human Resources (actually I’d like to call it for Human Capital), Corporate Communications and Marketing. Unluckily these three functions are often in competition about who ‘owns’ social media initiatives and projects. And if you add the IT department to this palette, misunderstandings and inefficiencies are easy to create.

One reason for the poor situation is the unequal power balance between departments when it comes to decision-making in the social business initiatives. This must be changed. The HR department is too often a “Careful Out There Department”, meaning they are too insecure and scared to take the lead in the social technology initiatives.  Also way too many times I have seen that the so-called ‘power departments’ as Legal and IT, stop or slow down the social initiatives started by Communications and Marketing.

The reasons are often related to the data security. Of course security is an important issue, but too often that is used as a bad excuse. The real reasons are confusion and lack of knowledge, hesitance to learn what social business is about, narrow silo perspective meaning not seeing the big picture, and strong professional roles that restrict your thinking.

What I wish to see is more healthy approach to risks and control. We need to have a better balance between risk-taking and the possibilities. If you aim at zero risks, you narrow down your possibilities as well.

My wish is that women would embrace the social technology in the sense of opening wider possibilities and developing new skills. Understanding the technology, networking and people skills have a central role in the social business design thinking. If the organizational and social change is led by the technologists alone, the results will be formed accordingly.

We should focus more on possibilities and opportunities, rather than worry about the loss of 100% control.

My message is especially targeted for all the talented HR women. You have the notion ‘human’ in everything you do now, and that is desperately needed in the on-going change. You should take one of the leading positions now: don’t stand by, take the lead.

Time for de-centralised and humanised IT  

New technology, the cloud-enabled new platforms for serendipitous encounters, lead not only to new kind of innovation and leadership, but also to new kind of organisational structures. Away from the silos, forward to co-creation and building of trust-based relationships, both internally and externally.

Dion Hinchcliffe of Dachis Group speaks for decentralized IT support and says:

“It now seems more likely that the transformation to social business is going to significantly rewire the org chart.  […] the urgency and tech-centricity of digital engagement is creating an irresistible need for strong technical and implementation leadership under not just within marketing, but other key business functions as well. Just not in the faraway centralized support group represented by traditional IT.”

Decentralizing the CIO, picture credit: Dion Hinchcliffe, Dachis Group

Quite an interesting vision. Dion Hinchcliffe further explains:

“So, to my mind, this is the coming decentralization of IT that I’ve been predicted will be the inevitable consequence of 1) nearly everything becoming digital, social, mobile, etc. and 2) much savvier workers that can and will feel more comfortable locally enabling new IT that works best for their part of the business.”

I had the pleasure of meeting one of Dion’s colleagues Lee Bryant while he was recently visiting Finland. He gave us an excellent speech about Social Business with many great insights on organisational change. He also described the “one-size fits all, top-down, command & control, no choice” type of corporate IT services, and he said something that stuck in to my mind:

Corporate IT is ripe for re-invention and humanisation.

Humanisation, what a big lovely word.

But here’s a word of comfort for IT professionals. I do know that there are lots of IT people who are awake and understand that the social change must be on the top of the minds of IT leaders.  There has been a discussion about “People, Process, Tools” triangle for a long time, where the people part is getting a lot of attention.

The next discussion topic will be more social IT. Already seeing signs of it. And I am sure more social IT will result in less hated IT as well.

Naturally, we need humanisation of all business units, not only IT, in order to cope with the disruptive technological and social change.

Social Business, Trust and Social Capital

Dachis Group describe Social Business Design as follows:

The intentional creation of dynamic and socially calibrated systems, process, and culture.

They further state that “technology, society, and work are all changing at breakneck speeds, but businesses are not keeping pace. When these emerging trends work together, they call for a new kind of business – one that is distributed, collaborative, agile, and better positioned to succeed.”

Well put. They know what they are speaking about.

I’d like to add a short discussion of my favorite aspect of social business: trust.

I do believe that successful social business must be built on trust. Social Business is about collaboration, engagement, sharing knowledge and experiences, capturing tacit knowledge, creating value, and with all this enhancing creativity, productivity, and innovation. Therefore I often use the notion of trust-based collaboration (with some inspiration from John Hagel).  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.

Trust is a powerful fuel for the relationships between employees, leaders, organisations, departments, and of all social interactions. And social technology is a key enabler in this.

A recent Fast Company article “Community Revival: How Technology Is Reconstructing Our Shared Lives” said:

“Modern day social capital is increasingly associated with technology-facilitated trust.”

Such a brilliant crystallisation. Social technology enabled social communities are the true leverage points of the cultural transformation, both inside and outside of the organisation, between the organisations, individuals, and even nations.

Success, growth of social capital and trust can be built on this.

Thank you all of you who attended the Woman’s Day event with me and our lovely hosts, Jukka Viitasaari, Teemu Arina, and Sam Inkinen!

Related reading:

Dion Hinchcliffe: The architecture of Social Business
Are you Systems Intelligent?


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.


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.


Embracing Chaos with a Little Help from My Friends

In a recent blog post Harold Jarche – a great knowledge source for smart work and learning – described his view on how real value creation happens at the edge of organizations and requires different management and communications practices.

Here below Harold’s wonderful visualization of how and where value is being created: the chaotic edge, complex and complicated, and the automated parts of the business ecosystem. He states:

“I think the edge will be where almost all high value work gets done in organizations. Core activities will be increasingly automated or outsourced. Most of the people in an organization will be on the edge. The core will be managed by very few internal staff.”

Emergent Value by Harold Jarche (see licensing at http://www.jarche.com)

The aspects he has included into his picture are very much like how I see the changing environment for the most businesses. However this wasn’t the case few years back. Ten years ago I did some research on the same topic, in an entirely different business environment.

Harold’s visualization reminded me of my 10-years old Analyzing Framework for Value Creation. It was a part of my Master’s thesis (anno 2001) in which I researched how organizations (at that time) tried to create value by enhancing their supply chain processes, and finding new ways for cooperation within their business network.

The leading discussion topic was process automation; it all was very transaction-oriented. And instead of the notion social, it was all about virtual. Yes, it was the golden time of ERP’s and Business Process Management.

My idea and approach was to study how value was created in our common business processes, and how those could be developed towards more collaborative and ‘virtual’ ones, and especially what aspects have an effect on the value-creation in these processes. Here below my framework from 2001.

Analyzing Framework for Value Creation from my thesis "Value Creation in Integrated and Collaborative Business Processes".

On the outer circle a blend of soft and hard elements: Culture, Commitment, Leadership, and Strategy. The middle circle represents the two main tasks associated with managing business processes: Coordination and Integration. On the inner circle I’ve chosen three set of pairs: Infrastructure & Architecture, Relations & Processes, and Information & Knowledge. All these further having an effect on the ultimate target in the middle – Value innovation and Creation.

Kind of Social Business 1.0, or Enterprise 1.0 or what do you say; some of the aspects are quite close to the today’s key topics social and social business?

All the elements are still valid but clearly my framework needs re-structuring and refreshing. When I now look at Harold Jarche’s model and my old framework, I see clearly three things:

  1. Firstly, business development people at that time were stuck at the process automation hype, in the name of cost and time savings. Both good targets, however people and innovation (other than process innovation) were neglected. The same applies to organizational learning. These were not in the core focus for most organizations.
  2. Secondly (ok, this is obvious); the speed by which the level complexity has grown is huge. Change and complexity are becoming a norm. As Harold Jarche says: “Any work where complexity is not the norm will be of diminishing value.” In my model, I see it all too simplified.
  3. Thirdly, I was on the right track but missing some adjectives – especially the social. And I was stuck to the processes too much; the physical process (distribution of goods) and the related information processes.

Summarized it can be said that from the people and innovation perspective, my model is indeed missing some width and depth.

When value creation and innovation is discussed, a notion of the ‘edges’ Harold referred to, is an interesting one. The idea of ‘edges’ was presented by two of my favorite thinkers John HagelJohn Seely Brown, and can be associated into this discussion. Here’s a snippet from HBR article few years back:

“Edges within firms represent early stage business initiatives with high growth potential, whether new market-oriented initiatives or new work practices, often generated by the born-digital generation entering the workforce. Edges at the individual level represent the weak ties in our social networks that quicken personal growth by connecting us with experiences and resources we might not have otherwise encountered.”

The book of the above-mentioned talent duo – Power of Pull – presents The Pull approach which enables organizations to learn faster and translate what we’ve learned into improved performance and customer value. Warmly recommended book, it gives many valuable ideas of how to succeed in the world where value is created in a very complex environment; on the edge, in the interactions, in the trust-based relationships. Within and outside the organization.

Yes, I’ll very much agree with Harold’s wise words:

“Social networks, collaboration and cooperation must be the norm when dealing with complex or chaotic situations.”

Changes in the organizational culture, more open attitudes and behavior, together with social media tools and services, are altering the landscape of human connectedness and the ways of value creation.

I’ll end this post by quoting The Beatles: With a Little Help from My Friends!

Welcome, Renaissance of Relationships!

PS. Check out the recent video by John Seely Brown: Collaborative Innovation and a Pull Economy
PS2. If somebody would like to refresh my old framework, feel free to do so : )


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.


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