Taking business lessons from a country famous for cross-eyed birds and Moomins might seem eccentric.
But four years on from Nokia’s sale to Microsoft and 100 years after gaining independence, Finland’s fortunes are improving. Here are three business lessons we learnt along the way:
The importance of “sisu” in overcoming adversity
In 1939, Finland - population 4m - successfully held off Stalin’s army of 810,000 an achievement which The New York Times attributed to “sisu” or grit in the face of adversity. Seventy years on, “sisu” played a role in transforming the decline of Nokia, which contributed a quarter of Finnish growth between 1998 and 2007, into an accelerator of Finland's thriving tech startup scene.
Post Nokia, government, universities and businesses came together to fill the economic and jobs vacuum. Government tech investment funds, “Tekes” were launched to support entrepreneurship in “ex-Nokia” cities Tampere and Oulu, while initiatives such as Aalto University’s Startup Sauna accelerator and events like entrepreneur festival Slush, helped create a Finnish start-up ecosystem. Meanwhile a network of angel investors funded a business renaissance – last year €383m (£338m) was invested into more than 400 Finnish companies - €53bn from business angels.
“Computer nerds” help drive our economy
It’s no coincidence that Finland is the birthplace of Rovio, Nokia and Supercell or that key open source technologies including Linux, MySQL, SSH, originated here. We celebrate computer nerds and we top world rankings for availability of engineers and scientists. Movements like Assembly, a huge gathering of people and computers, helped create a world-famous gaming industry and spawned many skilled developers. Thanks to Nokia, thousands of Finnish professionals developed mobile skills and global business mindsets Consequently our tech startup scene is thriving: last year start-up funding grew 42 per cent year on year, with international investors more than doubling their investments to €216m. Several international accelerators have launched here including digital health innovation hub GE Health Village and Chinese Tech Code, which opened its first Nordics incubator in Helsinki.
“Radical empowerment” creates an entrepreneurial mindset
Finland’s workforce was ranked second in the world in a recent World Economic Forum Report, and Finland also scores highly for innovation and competitiveness in the latest Global Competitiveness Index. Finnish work culture combines mutual trust with an unconventional, non-hierarchical way of solving problems, qualities which helped drive an agile, more entrepreneurial mindset post-Nokia. Delegating decision-making to people on the front line, within clear limits, is known as “radical empowerment” and is an approach evident in famously agile companies like Spotify.
Big corporations keen to adopt an innovation culture and “leaner” ways of working can learn a lot from Finnish business’ emphasis on trust and radical empowerment as a formula for rapid growth and happier, more fulfilled teams.