After Nokia…and After the Internet (3rd in the GRLI Series)

Technology has been a key theme at the Globally Responsible Leadership General Assembly – no accident since we are located in a major hub for the Finnish electronics industry. Our discussions have focused on the ways in which Finland, and Oulu in particular, is recovering from a very tough recession and “life after Nokia” which has left over 3000 highly qualified former Nokia professionals in Oulu looking for their next opportunity.

What’s interesting is how this tremendous resource of talent is re-emerging in myriad of new ways. One such way is the creation the Business Kitchen: http://www.businesskitchen.fi/, described as an innovation and entrepreneurial hub, a learning and research ecosystem, and a 24/7 working space for entrepreneurs. We had the opportunity to visit twice. A few highlights:

  • Innovative methods of “pitching” new business ideas to potential investors included the “Midnight Pitch Fest” and the quintessential Finnish “Polar Bear Pitch” which requires entrepreneurs to pitch their idea standing in a hole in the ice. As you can imagine, this means they are in bathing suits, standing in icy water up to their chests. Apparently no pitch exceeds 5 minutes. If you don’t believe it, Google “Polar Bear Pitching” on YouTube.
  • We met with several entrepreneurs to hear about their companies. This included an e-health start-up who is collaborating with seven other small businesses across the spectrum of chronic disease management; an ex-Nokia team of engineers (with psychology & coaching backgrounds) who are developing a method to gather just-in-time, continuous employee feedback using phone technology; and an entrepreneur with a language background who has developed an online, interactive, voice activated learning program for business English.

We also heard several intriguing presentations on the theme of “New Technologies and Digitalization as a Driver for Structural Change in the Global Economy.” Here are some highlights:

  • Marko Ahtisaari, former head of product design at Nokia and now a Fellow at MIT’s media lab shared these 9 principles for “AI” (After the Internet). For further explanations on each of these, see this recent TED talk presented by the head of the media lab, Joichi Ito: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jbkc9I4wX64
  1. Resilience over strength
  2. Systems over objects
  3. Disobedience over compliance
  4. Pull over push
  5. Compasses over maps
  6. Emergence over authority
  7. Risk over safety
  8. Practice over theory
  9. Learning over education
  • One fundamental implication for business, Ahtisaari says, is that “the cost of planning and assessing risks now exceeds the cost of trying and building. Why do we spend the time planning? Instead, innovators have moved from planning to trying. It’s easier to build something and learn from it.”
  • The Finnish scholar Esko Kilpi (see his blogs: http://eskokilpi.blogging.fi/ ) began his presentation by discussing why the industrial system is an outdated, if not immoral, model for thinking. Reliance on factory production, division of labor, efficiency, individual job definitions, have resulted in a reductionist, cause and effect model of management. Of course, he’s not the first to make these observations, but he is contributing to the dialogue in many valuable ways. A few quotes:
      • “Human systems are always connected…connected systems cannot be understood in terms of isolated parts”; “Communication is not talking about work, work is communication between people”; “Instead of cause and effect, we must talk about co-action; any high value activity involves parallel and complementary interaction.”
      • “Networks are the architecture of work and are valuable as shared resources…Networks are the new commons”; “What’s shared today is much more valuable than what’s not shared; shared resources are public goods. Note how media is trying to restrict access which only reduces the value.”
      • “The most disturbing thing I’m researching is network inequality which reinforce inequality of opportunity.”
      • “The company as we know it today is an answer to a problem that does not exist anymore. We had a system that was highly capital intensive. For the first time today we can distribute the capital load…meaning we can own our own tools.  We lost ownership during the industrial era when tools could no longer fit into our bedroom. Now we have our tools back. We still are lacking the morals to understand this new distributed capital. We still use morals from industrial error that are wrong.”
  • Sasu Ristimaki is an equity analyst at Merrill Lynch interested in network economics, or the study of value creation and value measurement of networks. He contends that historical models of value creation based on the ability to command and allocate resources are obsolete. He says, “Mark Zuckerberg is correct – networks of 1 million members are incredibly valuable. There is no equation for capturing this value today, which leads people to say if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist…this is the wrong conclusion.” As networks expand and as telecom, media and other companies seek to monetize these relationships, “we will run into more and more questions about what is acceptable. For example, as a broadband customer I have to pay a lot for high speed connection and I don’t expect to have the access to other services restricted just because the content provider doesn’t pay the cable company for it.” He predicts that companies with these outdated mindsets will struggle to make ends meet. He also wonders if these systems that are now private are going to become public, which raises the difficult question of whether or not networks, such as Facebook, should be regulated.

More blogs to come as I begin to integrate and summarize these past few days!