Not one, but two Finnish finalists

Finland always finds itself in one the jumbo positions in the Eurovision Song Contest (with just one exception fortifying the rule, Lordi).

Comforting, then, that at least the country seems to punch above its weight in urban innovation. Latest recognition comes from the European Commission, which has not one, but two Finnish cities among the finalists for the next iCapital, European Innovation Capital. Both Helsinki and Tampere are on the shortlist of ten cities – established national capital vs. frantically growing regional capital. The other eight cities are Aarhus, Berlin, Copenhagen, Nice, Paris, Tallinn, Tel Aviv and Toulouse (tellingly, no UK cities), so it is going to be a tough battle.

The current iCapital, class of 2016, is Amsterdam. I was in the Charles Landry -led selection jury back then. The Finnish applicant was Espoo, whose hermetically inward-looking application did its best to hide the fact that Espoo is one of the three cities forming the Helsinki metropolitan region (sorry, Espoo). In general, cities were yawningly citizen-driven, best of this and that (with varying amount of proof), oh so international, and all over the place.

The shortlisted ones were able to prioritise, concretise and resource their ideas, balancing the big picture with realistic plans – after all, the iCapital award is just a million, and a year is a short time. In the last round the finalists presented their cases to the jury. Best cities managed to tell a believable and genuine story, adding colour to their written proposals and convincing the jury that they do master the content behind the buzzwords. They had also rehearsed their presentations well – an obvious thing, except it wasn’t.

Tampere and Helsinki are driving forces in the pioneering Six City Strategy, one of the last large projects I won while still in Forum Virium Helsinki. I know well the folks from both cities – rather happy to not to be in the jury this time.  Will just put my money on the Finns, either of the two. May the best city win.



Old Culture vs. New Culture

Finnish speed skier Häkä Häkkinen told in a recent interview, that the Finnish cross-country-ski-obsessed Olympic Committee prevented his participation in the Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck in 1964, because “downhill is not a real sport” – even though he was then one of the fastest skiers in the world.

We’ve had the same question asked even in 2013, when the TV hosts of the Finnish Independence Day gala asked the old cross-country hero Eero Mäntyranta, “if he considers snowboarding as a real sport” (after quite a few World Championships won for Finns). Of course he did, thank god.

The same attitude seems to apply for culture – there’s the “real culture”, and then the suspicious new stuff, which probably is not real culture.

Tove Jansson, the creator of the Moomins, was born a 100 years ago, 1914, and was remembered in the Finnish MTV3 news on January 10. The newsflash told us, that Moomins are the biggest Finnish copyright-based export ever.

Well, Moomin Characters made a 6 million € turnover last year. The biggest Finnish game companies made 153 M€ (Rovio) and 78 M€ (Supercell) – and that was before Supercell went really through the roof. Currently, Supercell makes in each week the same amount in profit than the whole turnover of the Moomin Characters in a year. Rovio – the owner of the Angry Birds brand – makes half of their turnover through licensing, just like the Moomins.

But I guess games don’t count, because they are not real culture.

I'm bigger than any birds, I am!

I’m bigger than any birds, I am!

The ABCs of the land of the Horseshoe

I was driving around Helsinki the other day, doing my favorite holiday activity, hardware store hopping. The ring roads of Helsinki, like most cities, are lined with car retailers and a chain of familiar brands; IKEA, Biltema, Plantagen, Bauhaus, Gigant, etc., and an occasional Lidl.

Most of the shops are from abroad. Especially the Swedes are very capable of building retail brands with a unique approach, with the capacity to make it in the international market. Besides on-line shopping, I would name the flat boxes of IKEA as the biggest innovation in recent retail history.

When I stopped for a cup of java in the ABC service station, it struck me that I was having my coffee in one of the only such unique products in the Finnish retail. Generally speaking the Finnish retail landscape is depressing. As Saku Tuominen put it, “Swedes made the biggest furniture chain in the world, Finns made the biggest horseshoe“. The way Finns have tried to battle the pressure of low-cost products from the globalized market has been to cut costs, save in design and diminish the quality, which is a losing fight in a country with the most expensive workforce in the world.


But ABC’s are different. The Finnish consumer market is really centralized, with two massive chains dominating in retail. Fueled by the power of the largest of the two, the S Group, these huge centers packing together supermarkets, restaurants and activity parks (oh yes, almost forgot, you can buy gas too) are spreading along the highways of the country at the speed (and tactics) of Starbucks cafes.

People tend to hate them, because they are all similar and they kill the local business. But they are a unique concept. Besides Rautakirja kiosks (which are also omnipresent in the Finnish towns and villages) it is the only such innovation in Finnish retail. Shouldn’t we love it and be proud of it, instead of loathing?

ABC’s could go international. The duopoly status of the S Group and the other retail giant, Kesko tends to make them slowish for taking risks, especially when you have to be a challenger instead of the dominatrix. But then again, there is nowhere else to grow anymore for these chains, so they are both already active in for example Russia and the Baltic countries. Let’s hope they cross the borders with ABC’s as well – that might also save the business of a few independent gas station owners along the Finnish roads.


ISPIM Conference Comes To Town

The International Society for Professional Innovation Management – ISPIM – are starting their annual conference in Helsinki today.

I am the first one in the line of fire, as I will be doing THE most frightening speaking task: give a dinner speech. DInner speech sums up the basic fact of performing: the shorter the time, the harder the task. While performing, people build barricades of powerpoint slides or umpteen words (messing upo event schedules). None of that for a dinner speech. It should also be funny. So the task is close to stand-up-comedy, actually. Maybe I should grab a trick or two from Louis C.K.?

I will be speaking about TRUST, STEALING and FORGETTING. More specifically, about trust as the basis for being innovative – for an individual, for a company, and for a nation; about stealing (ideas) as the fundamental way we innovate; and about forgetting (what you think you know) as the core ingredient of learning.

Tomorrow there will be a Living Lab session (session 1.5, 2 pm)  where I will be speaking too. There are great people in the session, like Pieter Ballon of iMinds and Petra Turkama of Aalto CKIR who will be hosting the session. And thank god, there I can hide behing my slides. Tonight, it’s just me (and the flu).