Tag Archives: Leadership Styles

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!

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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.


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