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Editor’s note: This is written by a Finnish entrepreneur Riitta Raesmaa, who wanted to cast her voice about her home country. We’re glad to publish similar articles from any other country in our region – please get in touch with us, if you’d like to get your content published. This post was originally published at Riitta Raesmaa’s personal blog.

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.

Soon after “the Steve Blank Week” Arctic Startup team continued to set sparks in the European startup scene by organizing the very 1st Arctic15 event. Entrepreneurs all over Europe, together with some top level guests, especially Jens Begemann of Wooga and Steve Huffman of Reddit/Hipmunk, created another small miracle.

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 the last few 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 the young crew creating all this, 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 three events – AaltoES with Steve Blank, Arctic15 & 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 & Arctic Startup teams are 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), Arctic Startup Team Antti & Anna, Steve Blank and Marko Ahtisaari for the inspiration you have given me!

Special thank you for Antti for inventing the notion Arctic Valley!


About the author – Riitta Raesmaa
I’m a startup entrepreneur, who lives in Helsinki, Finland.

Background in B2B Software Business (ERP, Business Intelligence, IT Service Management/IT Operations Management), now building Online Contract Management service in the cloud with my entrepreneur friends. M.Sc. (Econ.) with computer science twist (Stockholm University/KTH Royal Institute of Technology).

My professional interests at the moment are Entrepreneurship, Cloud Computing, SaaS business model, SCRM and Enterprise 2.0. Other topics of interest are design, innovation, and books.

More about Riitta on her blog.

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