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[The Hieno! Suomi 100 series] Interview with Professor Alf Rehn, an accomplished academic and internationally ranked thought-leader in innovation and creativity.

The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme:What is “Finnish-ness”? endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Today we have Professor Alf Rehn with us to discuss about this topic. Professor Rehn is an accomplished academic and an internationally ranked thought-leader in innovation and creativity, and active all over the globe as a keynote speaker and a strategic advisor. He is also a ginthusiast and a lover of trashy popular culture.

For more information on Professor Rehn, please visit his website. Enjoy the interview!

TH: Hello Professor Rehn! Can you tell us more about yourself?

Alf: Well hello there. Now, you should know better than asking an academic to say more about themselves – we never shut up when given that kind of a chance!

But if you want the capsule bio: I’m an academic, more precisely an organizational theorist who is also the chair of management and organisation at Åbo Akademi University. That’s the bit most people find boring.

However, in addition to this I’m a strategic advisor, a relatively popular speaker, and a board professional who works globally and spends a lot of time writing and commenting on stuff on social media. I also really like coffee, rap music and gin, but not necessarily in that order. You can follow me online at places like my website or on twitter.

TH: In your book “dangerous ideas”, you defined a “dangerous idea” as one that challenges the very identity of the context within it emerges.”

What is the one idea you would consider as “dangerous” to Finland today–and is that good or bad?

Alf: That’s a good question.

I think one of the things we may need to challenge, and one of the things that would be a “dangerous idea” in Finland, is our attachment to getting things right. For whatever reason – our love of technology, our culture of honor, our protestant ethic – we Finns have a tendency towards perfectionism.

We don’t really like experiments, but instead want to create big, safe systems. We’re also very uncomfortable when forced to try out something new which hasn’t really gotten properly standardized yet – which makes us slow to adopt new things.

So in a sense, “the experimental” and “the emerging” are dangerous ideas in Finnish culture, and this can have negative consequences. For instance, Finnish companies have a tendency to turn to new ways of working when they’ve been properly tested elsewhere, at which point they’re no longer as valuable…

TH: In one of your TED talks, you mentioned that “to lead is to have a vision, yet love change”. Do you think this applies to Finnish politics today?

Alf: Well, it applies in the negative sense, insofar as I really cannot see what the vision would be in most Finnish politics today, and at the same time politicians show a great aversion to change.

I don’t see us having much in the way of leadership in Finnish politics today. There are exceptions, of course, but a scary amount of our political discourse is one of protecting existing structures and maintaining the status quo.

TH: I am puzzled by Finnish politicans who can blatantly promise “no cuts to education”, be photographed with signs saying that, and then eat their words once they are elected into power.

You have been vocal about your stand against funding cuts to universities in Finland. Do you think the protests by key opinion leaders like yourself and the student unions have actual power to impact current and future university funding, or can the politicians simply do whatever they want?

Alf: I have voiced my opinion, yes, and I guess the thing you’re referring to is an impromptu speech I gave at a student event and which oddly became something of a viral video (it even made some news programs).

However, I don’t really think it had any impact at all, unless you count the fact that other people who were against the cuts seemed happy I’d spoken out. We often over-estimate the influence of “opinion leaders”, and I think it’s very rare that a single individual can really affect the decision-making processes of the government.

Still, if enough people make enough noise, even politicians will listen!

TH: What are the 3 things/ traits you would consider as uniquely “Finnish”, and why?

Alf: I’m not all that comfortable declaring anything uniquely Finnish, but if pressed I can list a few things:

  • Makkaraperunat. This is a grill delicacy, consisting of awful French fries combined with low-grade sausage, dripping in fat and condiments. Finland extolls this, as it is basic, simple, and unashamedly awful.
  • Cheerfully bad comedy. Finland desperately wants to prove that it can outdo Germany in clumsy, hackneyed, slapdash comedy. So we glorify repeated catch-phrases, men dressing up as women (badly), and cheap double entendres. Kummeli, Turhapuro, and Putous are prime examples of how Finland glorifies just how tacky and tawdry we can be.
  • Pride and honor. Although we rarely talk about this, Finns are an immensely proud people. We cannot stand being talked down to, or questioned, or challenged. Also, we are the only people in the world who are allowed to say bad things about our comedy and our makkaraperunat. We don’t want much, but we demand respect, and the right to not be patronized.

TH: Finland has always ranked high globally on innovation and press freedom. Do you think there is a positive correlation between “innovation” and “press freedom”?

Alf: I’m a little uncomfortable with this question, as we often confuse correlation and causation.

Is there a correlation? Sure, absolutely. Countries with a lot of freedom, including freedom of the press, tend to be more innovative than more restricted countries.

But that doesn’t automatically mean that one leads to the other. Sure, freedom of the press may be part of the general innovation culture of the country, but at the same time innovative countries are more likely to grant freedom of expression.

The two are, to me, intertwined and reinforcing.

TH: Finland seems to be a society where people don’t really like to stick out of the crowd, or say things that invite controversy and strong opposition. Yet, you seem to be both “dangerous” and “popular” at the same time. How do you do it?

Alf: Well, to begin, one has to realize that whilst Finnish society appreciates discretion, humility and not making a fuss, it is also a culture that appreciates straight talk and which has always celebrated its oddballs.

Throughout the years, Finland has always celebrated the ones who walk their own path, as long as they do it in a self-assured way. Armi Ratia was adored, and Jörn Donner has always been celebrated. Everyone loved Spede Pasanen, and noted weirdo Esa Saarinen is cherished.

So I think it’s a myth that Finland doesn’t appreciate people sticking out. The thing, though, is that Finns demand that you stick out properly, and put yourself on the line.

If you’re seen as fake or half-ass, Finns won’t stand for this. If you go full-on, apeshit crazy, like a Jouko Turkka, a Juice Leskinen, or a Jorma Uotinen, Finns will consider you a legend.

TH: In Finland, Swedish is a mandatory school subject for Finnish-speaking students from grades 7 to 9. Do you think Swedish should continue to be a compulsory language for these students in Finland today, even if they show no interest?

Alf: Ah, language politics, one of my least favourite subjects… I don’t have a strong position with regards to this. Finland has always had two official languages, and I don’t really see the justification to change this. But does this mean that both need to be taught in school, and to what extent? I don’t know.

On the one hand I’m very much in favour of freedom of choice. On the other, I think that Finnish should be taught at least to some extent in Finnish schools – for your question contains an error! [TH: Opps!]

Sure, we may go for a system in which you do not need to study both the official languages in school, but that then means that Finnish wouldn’t be a compulsory language either. I guess what this means is that I’m open to ideas.

Maybe we should have more freedom, but keep some kind of “Finnish/Swedish basics” in the curriculum, i.e. a system like today but with a cut-down compulsory bit. Maybe there should be total freedom. Maybe things are pretty OK as they are.

Overall I don’t think this is the most pressing issue we have, even in the education system… It’s more of a populist issue, easy to parade out for some less than surprising outrage. It’s Trumpism, avant la lettre…

TH: Against the context of globalisation, who do you think can and should define “Finnish-ness”?

Alf: I have nothing very intelligent to say here, as I don’t think there’s any one group who should be allowed to define Finnishness – including the Finns.

I think we need a more diverse conversation, one that accepts that there are many ways of understanding Finland and the Finns, and which is mindful of the fact that any one such will always be limited.

So I don’t think Finnishness should be defined. It should be a topic of conversation, but never enshrined in a definition.

TH: What is the one popular misconception about Finland/ Finns that you would consider as far from the truth?

Alf: Now this is a question I love! I think a key problem in Finland is the manner in which we work so hard to keep a series of myths about ourselves.

It’s tricky to pick one of these misconceptions, but I’ll go with a classic. Finns are said to be a quiet lot, who don’t really like to talk that much, and who can sit silent for hours.

Now this is just bullshit. Sure, Finns can be careful about not speaking out of turn, but the fact is that Finns can be quite garrulous. I’ve sometimes jokingly said that Finns are defined as being the one nationality on Earth that uses the greatest number of words to explain that they are very quiet.

Finns yammer on endlessly in social media, will talk for hours as long as they feel they’re in a safe place, and smalltalk incessantly about how Finns can’t small talk.

TH: I’d heard a popular perception about Finns being “jealous” whenever a peer is successful. How do you feel about your success and being looked up to by so many? Are there downsides to being successful in Finland, and how do you cope with it?

Alf: This is a notion that Finns seem quite fond of, that Finland would have a particularly envious culture.

I think it’s a flawed assumption. Every time a Finn has the tiniest success, papers write it up as a massive achievement, and I’ve often found Finns to be quite supportive of each other’s successes.

Sure, there might be envy directed at neighbours, and villages where you’re not supposed to have dreams above your station, but this is true in many, if not most cultures.

As for me, I really don’t think I’m all that looked up to – I hope I’m not! Sure, I have people who say they appreciate my writings or liking my little rants in the media, and that’s nice. An author writes to be read, after all. But I’m not that famous, nor that successful, that I feel it has impacted my life greatly.

As for downsides, there have been very few. Sure, I’ve gotten the occasional threatening letter, email and internet comment, as well as having been accosted in the street by people with delusions, but nothing major or too aggravating.

Overall I feel I’ve gotten a tremendous amount of support in Finland, and far, far more positive feedback than ever negative. The fact that there are a few people who think it is unfair that I get more attention than they do is part of the game, and true everywhere in the world.

TH: What is the happiest moment of your life in Finland?

Alf: I guess I’m supposed to answer something simple along the lines of “the birth of my children” or “the day I got my professorship”. That’d be a lie, though. They were days filled with joy, but also days filled with apprehension and confusion.

Looking back, one of the happiest moments of my life was celebrating my son finishing what goes for high school in Finland. A big party, lots of his friends in attendance, I stayed out far too late and missed my flight to London the following day. Not my proudest hour, but a happy time celebrating a child of mine.

TH: Who inspires you in Finland, and why?

Alf: There’s quite a few people, actually.

I love the way Nina Ignatius fights for her dream. I love the way Matti Lievonen at Neste runs a “boring” business whilst changing the world. I love the way Anna Pylkkänen fight for pride in old age. I love the energy with which Saku Tuominen wants to revolutionize schools. I love how we have engaged chefs and designers and advertising agencies.

Oh, and my kids of course – big love to Line and Sean.

TH: What are your personal dreams and vision for the future?

Alf: These are things I prefer to keep private. Not least because I have literally no idea about them. I don’t know where I’ll be in five days, let alone in five years.

TH: I am sure some young people in Finland regard you as a role model, since you are so confident, charismatic, vocal and sometimes provocative! How do you feel about this?

Alf: Well, I am Finnish enough for that question to be more than a little uncomfortable… I don’t always feel very confident, and I damn sure do not think of myself as charismatic!

But sure, I guess that there are those who think I have a pretty cool job, and who appreciate having the freedom to speak ones mind and the position to make ones voice heard.

Lord knows if anyone sees me as a role model, but I do hope that I’ve at least shown some young person that you do not need to conform to get ahead, that you can keep dressing in sneakers and still be listened to.

Too many young people in Finland learn to not speak their minds, to be in a specific way, and to aim for conformity rather than creativity. That’s pretty sad.

TH: What is the one advice you have for aspiring young Finns who want to become a “dangerous” academic and skilled practitioner like yourself?

Alf: Well, that one is easy, and I can just copy the great advice of Steve Martin: “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

Work smart at building your foundation, and once you’ve reached a position from where you can start hitting harder, use the opportunity. I worked hard at academic things when I was quite young, and I got my chair (i.e. tenured professorship) when I was 31.

I realized then and there that I’d been given one of the most valuable things in the world – freedom. I no longer had a direct boss, and I was free to speak out, write about things I thought were important, and do what I felt meaningful.

I also realized that having been given this freedom was a great responsibility.

TH: What is the one 100 year-old birthday wish you would make for Finland, since 2017 is Finland’s 100 years of independence?

Alf: If there’s one wish I have for Finland 100, it is that it won’t be about the last 100 years, but the 100 years to come.

That is, I appreciate that we celebrate our history, and we should look at our achievements with pride, but we can’t just look backwards.

I prefer thinking about the future rather than obsessing about the past.

TH: On a parting note, do you have anything else to add?

Alf: I’ll just end with a quote from Quentin Crisp: “Never keep up with the Joneses. Drag them down to your level.”

We hope you have enjoyed Professor Alf Rehn’s interview! The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme: What is “Finnish-ness”? endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Feel free to follow Professor Alf on twitter @alfrehn or visit his website. Cover photo courtesy of Professor Alf Rehn’s strikingly page.


[The Hieno! Suomi 100] Interview with Michaela Istokova, a super talented visual creative.

Today, as part of The Hieno! “What is Finnish-ness” series celebrating Suomi 100, we have the huge privilege of featuring Michaela Istokova.

Michaela is our amazingly talented designer-cum-illustrator for the The Hieno! Suomi 100 official e-book. You can view her portfolio here and here.

Enjoy this interview! 🙂

TH: Hello Michaela! Can you tell us more about yourself and what you are doing in Finland?

Michaela: Hello Wan Wei, or should I rather say “Moikka”? 🙂

I am a graphic designer and illustrator from Bratislava in Slovakia, and I am now working in an international development X design agency M4ID as a Visual Creative.

I moved to Finland about five years ago when I found a part-time job and a Finnish boyfriend Esa.

Since then I’ve been here sort of on and off, employed, unemployed, freelancing, everything.

TH: What are the three things you appreciate most about Finland?

Michaela: I am comparing Finland to what I had experienced in the three countries where I lived (Slovakia, Czechia and Malaysia). These three things stand out for me:

  • The way this country is governed and Finland’s admirable lack of scandalous corruption.
  • Quality of living in terms of the high quality of apartments and the services they offer. For example, there are communal washing and drying rooms, communal saunas, tables outside houses, etc…
  • Gender equality that I feel the most when wearing shapeless, potato bag dresses and nobody is judging me!

In my home country I would be definitely judged, most women there strive to look very feminine…Here in Finland it’s alright to look whatever way you want to look, and not just in the cosmopolitan Helsinki, but even in the countryside.

This may be different for, for example, Muslim women that are veiled, but in my case of a ¼ Asian white person, nobody judges my questionable fashion choices and the ways I choose to present myself as a woman. 😀

TH: Who inspires you the most? 

Michaela: I am inspired by people who do their own thing and create something amazing and beneficial.

For example, in Slovakia I have two friends – Miska from Puojd and Janka from Froggywear – who both create clothes but each has their own target audience. They are both successful at basically, being themselves and executing their vision and that is very inspirational to me!

So, generally I like fearless people who are going after their goal. 🙂

TH: What do you think are the unique aspects of Finnish design?

Michaela: Finland has a lot of textile design brands that create patterns that are mostly very bold, big and very bright.

Mostly it’s very graphic, maybe just Pentik does a bit softer, gentler design from the well-known brands.

Then I have also noticed that Finns like contrasting black lines, like you can see in the designs of Finlayson and the Arabia Moomin mugs for example – but obviously, Tove Jansson drew Moomins like that, and so it’s a wonderful established style.

I also like the Finnish designers’ use of motifs from the nature and Finnish cities (again, Finlayson) and their nice sense of humour evident in many designs. For example in Lapuan Kankurit’s design with many naked men in sauna!

Excellent stuff, I bought it for my mom.

TH: Ohhhhh many, many naked Finnish men!! *pervs* That being said, if Finland were a person, how would he or she look like?

Michaela: The illustration you see here is actually something I did as a personal project for the 99th birthday of independent Finland, just recently.


I decided to illustrate a lady, let’s call her Marja Lumi [which means Berry Snow :)]. This is because it’s good to be a woman in Finland. She is also blonde, because once I read somewhere that Finland has the highest percentage of blonde people in the world.

Marja Lumi is enjoying a bit of löyly in sauna, having her saunakalja nearby and wearing a wreath made of flora commonly found in Finland, including the national flower, lily of the valley.

She has hairy legs, because really, people don’t care much and that’s great!

Be hairy here, my friend, it’s alright – we are all equal in sauna. 😀

TH: Haha, and who would her enemies be?

Michaela: I think my Marja Lumi would be very annoyed at sexist, patriarchal idiots who are intolerant to her freedom, her beer drinking, her meh attitude towards shaving, her general independence and high level of attained education.

TH: What do you think are some of the popular misconceptions of Finland that foreigners might have?

Michaela: A lot of people seems to think that Finns are introverted metal lovers with alcohol abuse problems that sit in sauna all day and then swim in icy lakes.

I find that kind of funny, especially the alcohol and metal part – at least in my circles not so many people drink too much or listen to metal!

Finland is also associated with suicidal behaviour, and sadly here I actually know several Finnish people who either had someone close to them commit a suicide. Or, in one case, one friend of mine did it a couple of years ago too.

I guess mental health is not in so much in focus here, and people are just encouraged to “have sisu” but that’s not always cutting it. :/

TH: Can you share some of the most memorable experiences you have in Finland? They could be funny, weird, offensive or out-of-the-world.

Michaela: My boyfriend Esa and I went on an extended business trip (for him) and a totally cool roadtrip (for me) to Lapland last summer and that was just wonderful.

My home country is small, hilly and rather crowded, so when I experienced the vast taigas of Lapland, I was in love. In particular, approaching Kemijärvi (the town) on the bridge above Kemijärvi (the lake) was a total highlight and now I platonically love this town!

I also had a nice experience last summer in Joensuu when I was buying two woven baskets from a lady on the market. I speak (badly) in Finnish. However, she didn’t mind and she was really curious about me and very delighted that we can talk together in Finnish. Somehow that made me feel quite integrated and accepted in this often puzzling society haha 😀

Oh and one last experience – when we lived in Tampere, there was a totally enchanted forest behind our apartment where excellent mushrooms grew in unbelievable quantities. We were picking them and drying them and at one point we had so much that we had to dry them in our apartment sauna…oh, what a dream!

TH: What is the one birthday wish you have for Finland this year, since it is its 100th birthday? 

Michaela: I wish Finland to loosen up a bit in certain aspects.

Namely, the hostile attitude towards street art and the severely restricted sale of alcohol in grocery stores.

I also wish Finland can keep up its excellent work in many other aspects.

And I wish that more people would visit here and beyond just Helsinki and Rovaniemi, because Finland has a lot of lovely places to offer!

TH: On a parting note, do you have anything else to add?

Michaela: If you can, visit Northern Karelia, it’s wonderful.

Swimming in Lake Pielinen, picking blueberries and cranberries in the big Karelian forests and admiring the view from Koli National Park should be a must for every visitor to Finland.  =)

The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme: What is “Finnish-ness”? endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office. Feature photo by Jenni Aho. We hope you have enjoyed reading this interview as much as we did!🙂 Feel free to connect with Michaela on LinkedIn or view her portfolio here and here.


[Guest post] Book Review: The Helsinki Book, by Marc Aulén.

Today we have a book review of “The Helsinki Book”, written by our lovely guest writer Sarah Laaru Mwaawaaru. Images are by Jaeseong Park and Marc Aulén. Enjoy! =)


Text by Sarah Laaru Mwaawaaru, images by Jaeseong Park and Marc Aulén.

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

One thing is for sure: when visiting or moving into a new city in a foreign country, we all want to make the most of our stay. Hence there is a need to ask a local for pointers.


So, you look to a city handbook or travel guidebook for a glimpse of your new city/country. There are other sources of information, also.

However, while there are many travel guidebooks and handbooks of great cities that promise you a good time during your stay, I have come to find most of them either too “touristic” for my taste or just lacking that interesting-factor for me to stay clued.

But hey, that’s just me.

Some of these travel guidebooks/handbooks are either too exhausting a read, or may not excite your senses. The obvious fact being that some of these traditional travel handbooks are a battle of “the must-dos and must-sees”, and they can leave you disappointed, since you miss a few important details.

Some of them lack one thing–the insight of a local who is so passionate about his/her city, urging you to check out all the cool, indigenous and inexpensive spots in town, museums, art places, market squares, festivals and other fun activities in hopes of their beautiful city taking your breath away and leaving you with wonderful memories and a priceless experience for a lifetime.

Of course, there are those unconventional guidebooks out there; edgy, straight to the point, contemporary if you like but none compares to the brilliance, humorous, and informative fun of Marc Aulén’s The Helsinki Book.

The list can go on…

But in a city, that is reinventing itself and constantly changing, how can one encapsulate the beauty of a city, yet be modest and edgy in just a book?

Yes, there is. Behold The Helsinki Book by Marc Aulén, photos by Jaeseong Park.

What is the Helsinki Book?

CAUTION: The Helsinki Book is not your traditional, the top “must-do, must-see, must-try and must-eat” guidebook.

Nope! It is even better.

The Helsinki Book gives you the entire “download” on what you need when and should you ever visit Finland’s capital city Helsinki.

Marc Aulén’s The Helsinki Book is a fun and easy-to-read illustrated book introducing Finland’s capital Helsinki, with beautiful pictures captured by the camera lens of his friend Jaeseong Park.


The book also features some personalised autographs and notes from some of Finland’s familiar names like Sunrise Avenue’s songwriter Sam Huber, Tove Jansson and amongst others. It also includes over 10,000+ pictures and is a project that took a year and a half to complete.

I must say this book is a real beauty that will put a smile on your face.

Why “The Helsinki Book”?

Why not? This book…

  • …doesn’t bore you with an overload of familiar tourist pictures, leaving you wondering if you conquered the city or not.
  • …is vibrant in enriching you with either that familiarity or urge to explore more.
  • …adds to the already information you might have on Finland or Helsinki.

It is funny, descriptive and has done a wonderful job of marketing Helsinki and Finland at large.


The Helsinki Book tells you nothing but the truth in an entertaining way. It amicably prepares you, for a bit of “strangeness” like why Finns might go to the sauna naked with strangers yet some have a hard time holding down “small talk”.

The book clearly outlines some of the brilliant achievements of the nation of Finland in a fun and accurate manner. It hasn’t left out weather tips, what to expect in summer and winter and some few Finnish humor.


This book contains topics on famous places in Helsinki to go for a drink, best restaurants to eat, and some famous cafés where Finns enjoy their famous beverage; coffee. One of my favorite places is the Café Regatta just located by the sea. To explore town and enjoy a drink or two, you could ride around in the finest pub-tram, the Spårakoff.

And also remember to check out some of the important happenings in Helsinki like SLUSH, music festivals, concerts and the myriad summer activities that make the city, the best place to be in.


Marc is a restaurant owner, so he has taken the patience to check out and list some of the familiar and interesting places to grab a bite. And to top it off, he adds a couple of his own recipes at the end.


When it comes to travel guidebooks about Finland, irrespective of the city of choice, the lack of insight of a passionate storyteller pointing you in the right direction can be difficult.

Finland is home to some of the most amazing lakes, rivers, sights, sounds and beautiful spots, but then again which city do you travel to? If you pick Finland’s capital Helsinki, this city is beautiful and vast—and so you will need a navigating guide and a friendly hand.

Who is Marc Aulén?


Marc Aulen is a storyteller and restaurant owner of a wonderful place called Qulma in Kruununhaka district. Upon visiting his restaurant Qulma, you can’t help but leave with a full tummy and a content smile. A food and a music lover, he also sings in a band called Seven Mugs, a cover band focusing on The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Pink Floyd just to mention a few.

The Helsinki Book has sold over 2,000 copies so far and is not Marc’s only book. His first book is a collection of some of his best soup recipes called Sopat! (Soups), which turned out to be a good seller in Finland.

Who should get this?

Whether you are a newcomer or a local like myself looking for new adventures in Helsinki city, this book offers you a piece of Helsinki.

In my opinion, this will forever be a perfect gift. Better yet, just visit Marc in Qulma, enjoy a meal, have a chat and get a signed copy of The Helsinki Book.

An online version of “The Helsinki Book” is upcoming.

For more info, do visit Marc Aulén’s website.  =)

-Sarah Laaru Mwaawaaru


The emergence of the “so what” influencers.

Have you noticed that NOBODY cares about the truth these days?

What people seem to care about are:

  1. What is likely to be the truth;
  2. What “feels right”; or
  3. Stuff that reinforces their existing beliefs.

You see, the media landscape has evolved dramatically over the past 25 years. Traditionally we have publishers as gatekeepers–now, with social media and blogging platforms, everyone can write whatever they want.

Suddenly, everyone has a voice–people with power are not people who are working at newspaper agencies or publishing companies. Power is now defined by viral-ity and the number of people who know about you AND agree with you.

And, there seems to be a positive correlation with viral stuff and people who read your work and will support you. For example, why will you as a reader want to read something that is the truth, when it feels better to read something that feels good and probably feels like the truth?

This brings me to write about the emergence of the “so what” influencers. I probably did just coin this term, hmm–this term basically refers to people who do whatever they want, say “so what?” to their distractors, and are widely popular. 

The “perfect” persona Vs The “so-what” persona.

I sense fear when some leaders want their personas to be perceived as perfect…and then they screw up.

Fear. It’s then too easy to influence their next course of actions. People who go for perfection fear being judged. And they also fear their weaknesses eventually being used against them.

For perfection is a function of consent of certain social groups.

Yet, what if your weaknesses can be used to make your personal brand stronger?

So let’s introduce two concepts here: Fragility, and Antifragility.  Nassim Taleb defines both terms as follow:

  • Fragility: The state of being vulnerable or easily broken.
  • Antifragility: Antifragility goes beyond robustness; it means that something does not merely withstand a shock but actually improves because of it.

We know that most great brands ideally include aspirational features.

Personal branding however, relates to human beings. Human beings change, products don’t. You can have close to perfect control over the branding of products and goods–but not over human beings, including yourself.

And all human beings make mistakes from time to time.

Therefore, if we were to compare a leader/ executive who wants to keep a “perfect” image VS a leader/ executive who is says “so what?” whenever he makes a mistake–which person will seem more human?

The leader who wishes to keep a perfect image will most likely be pushing blame to his/her subordinates in order to keep the perfect image of say…a Semi-Godly person, which is a lie. This implies that any leader who goes for a blemish-free image will inevitably be easily manipulated.

The leader who says “so what?” to an embarrassing mistake however, can complement his perfect/ beautiful/ charismatic visuals to being human. So this leader can own everything good and bad about his leadership. After saying “So what?” he can work at fixing the issues.

And I guess, saying “So what?” is how people don’t feel cheated whenever they see a perfect image. And perhaps, authenticity will almost always lead to an antifragile persona.

So don’t go for a “perfect” personal brand. Instead, go for a humane one which gives you space to admit and own your mistakes. Start by saying, “I’d made this mistake and so what?”

For, nobody can fight against something that is antifragile–all stress and chaos make the system stronger.

Screenshot 2016-07-27 02.09.55

Trump’s framing of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.

Today I watched this:

What a classy attempt at public shaming! ❤

Then, there are really stupid responses to this video. Check comments.

And then there’s this:

Super funny!

LOGIC: Because Trump’s framing of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” totally works!!!

What excellent positioning! 😀 Relate the CAUSE of the pain points of the masses to your enemy’s actions!!!

Then you can do whatever and your followers will side with you, because attention is on the enemy. You can even go full narcs and nobody will cares.

This is really the ultimate validation that nobody cares about what you stand for. What they care about is what pains themselves. In other words, self-interest.

Genius, this Trump.



This morning, a 2hour flight was delayed by 2 hours at Helsinki airport. I had originally intended to visit a museum in London on transit, and because the damn flight was delayed, I couldn’t really leave the airport.

So I’m stuck at Heathrow Airport drinking matcha latte now, super sleepy, and I started thinking of the conversation I had with my Finnish girlfriends yesterday. It was on the topic of what we all want to do with our lives.

I don’t know why. Talking about “purpose” reminds me of how I had consistently denied myself of my own strengths when I was in NUS. Many people said I can go to business school; yet I opted for Economics. Many people said I like to choose the more difficult path, when all I wanted was to learn and to challenge boundaries.

It was only so recently that I realised that it is possible to grow, be happy, have tons of fun doing something I’m naturally good at. In other words choose the easier way and sweep the market. Which is Public Relations. I guess I really like PR-related stuff because it’s all about human nature.

Human beings are so deluded, subjective, and we all think we know.


How to set up a system such that people copy and die.

Copycats and leeches are everywhere. Leeching is not something I was used to in Singapore. I’d only experienced leeching while living in Japan and Finland.

Copying and leeching are so common practices in Finland that it’s insane!

It’s even freaking embedded into their “social welfare system”. EMBEDDED. How is that even possible that people don’t work for extended periods of time and get free money?? So I started to wonder if leeching is especially a communist thing. Because, how does one even leech in Singapore? Singaporeans will be sooooo irritated and start scolding you!

Obviously, it takes two hands to clap–if there is a leech, there must be a willing party who is willing to be leeched on. Leeches use emotional blackmail BIG TIME.

Here are the 5 traits that make people prone to emotional blackmail:

1. Excessive need for approval.
2. An intense fear of anger.
3. A need for peace at any price.
4. A tendency to take too much responsibility for other people’s lives.
5. A high level of self doubt.

So…if a person cannot leech because the other person doesn’t allow, what will they do?

They’d start to copy what works.

Because copying does not require the use of a brain and there is no need to fear failure.

Therefore, if the original creator cannot protect his/her ideas/projects from being copied, there is a risk that the returns will be “stolen”. I used the word “stolen” because it is obvious that the original creator had invested a disproportionately high amount of effort into the idea and project.

However, if due to some carelessness or unknown-unknowns that results in certain information being leaked, then it’s easy for copycats to “take”/ “steal”/ “be inspired by” and then act as though these stolen ideas are their own.

Therefore, this post is about how to set up a system such as leeches will copy and die. lololol~

In general, there are three ways to protect your ideas/ projects from being copied:

  1. “Loose lips sink ships”: Know what is sensitive information and what is not. If something is sensitive information, keep quiet at all costs. Act dumb if needed. Usually spies don’t look like spies, and you really don’t know what you don’t know. So just keep quiet. Some information are time-sensitive and will make all the difference to the success of any given project because of the first-mover advantage. If you need to talk, talk nonsense. Defined as “non-sensitive information”.
  2. Branding. Branding is such a powerful tool that a great brand can copy other people’s idea, and people will think that they are the ones being copied. This works conversely too. If you are a great brand, it is easier to protect your original ideas from being copied. Because people already like you and ascribe positive emotions to your brand.
  3. Invisible systems and visible smokescreens. So many people use this!! What this means is that unless you are an insider, all you will see is the visible smokescreen and not the invisible system. The real invisible system requires time and effort to observe, dig and it is necessary to have “insiders’ information”. So when lazy “outsiders” copy, they copy the smokescreen, and they die because they don’t have the invisible system/ foundation to support them.

Have you been a smokescreen before? Most likely you won’t even realise that you are one, and that’s the genius of the total system.

So how do you set up this invisible system and make sure all your copycats die?

  1. Plan the system first and tell nobody about it, unless the person can help you make the system better;
  2. Work on the system quietly and attract no attention to it. If needed, use one or many smokescreens yourself to divert attention;
  3. After this invisible system is relatively stable and well built up, then attract attention to it. Of course, never reveal the “secret sauce” to success. Be humble and don’t’ draw unnecessary attention to yourself.
  4. Therefore, because the attention is only focused on yourself after the invisible system is built up, outsiders will severely underestimate the time you spent on your project/ ideas. If they are copycats, they will then just copy the smokescreen. Without the system/ invisible structure’s support, they’d then die.

Well–so do consider this method! I think it works and I’d seen it so many people doing it already LOL~~ 😀


The concept of social proof.

It seems to me that social proof is a function of “consent”.

For example, any subjective ideal is always a “social construct”. This means that as long as majority of the people in the society agree to it, it becomes the norm and will influence you.

So when we think about the concept of social proof, this applies:

Screenshot 2017-01-05 23.37.32.png

So, to get masses to consent, use emotions.

To get individuals to consent, use verifiables.


PR that is productive is always backed by a sales funnel.

I’m quite shocked to realise recently that quite a lot of people are doing public relations as a short-term activity, instead of a tool to complement their sales funnel.

Some people don’t even have a solid sales funnel, and they want to do PR! How incredibly insane is that?! Even non-profit PR has a clear sales funnel.

Because if the PR is not for money, then it is for ego. And that is not necessarily good if you are thinking long term.

For long term activities need to be sustained by a system, if not a clarity of what you stand for. Money is the fuel–not some voodoo concept like passion. 





[Book Review] The Thank You Economy, by Gary Vaynerchuck.

Today I’m also going to do a really short book review on The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuck. There’s actually an online copy here.:D This book kind of reminds me a little of Meatball Sundae by Seth Godin, another classic on the topic of new media marketing.

What is a Thank you Economy? Gary Vee defines it this way:

“We’re living in what I like to call the ‘Thank You Economy,’ because only the companies that can figure out how to mind their manners in a very old-fashioned way – and do it authentically – are going to have a prayer of competing.”

The Thank You Economy is interesting because it points out that consumers had been sick and tired of being sold to in the traditional business model. With new media, businesses provide what consumers want, instead of having to convince consumers to buy. This of course has huge implications on the power of strong brands (= defined as brands with polarise the market).

Therefore, if the business can deeply care about its consumers and give them what they want and more, this will result in loyalty and longevity of the organisation. It’s almost akin to consumers being happy, grateful and relieved that AT LAST their needs and wants are listened to, and met.

Here are three of my inspirations from the book:

  1. Out-care your competition. Essentially, an intimate understanding of the pain points of your consumers is essential. Make your consumers happy and delight them with details. Capture hearts and minds.
  2. Complement your use of social media with traditional media. One of the strategies cited in the book is to use topic or trends mentioned in traditional media to generate conversations online. The idea is that traditional media is still considered “legit” in the minds of the masses, even though it is rapidly changing. A physical book for example, still has the oomph effect and leads to credibility.
  3. For social media content, it is not the middle ground but the heart of the matter that counts. Go for what your readers/fans deeply care about instead of something that is mild and “politically correct”. This is being authentic.

Pretty fascinating book on general new media marketing principles, human nature, and the importance of being authentic! No point lying or being politically correct, because people probably need to be entertained, coaxed, convinced, or alternatively, they can sense bullshit from afar very well!


[Book Review] Building Strategic Service Leadership: Titans of Service.

Hey guys! Happy 2017 once again!

Today I will write a book review on the book “Building Strategic Service Leadership: Titans of Service” with a focus on my interpretation of the implications on the evolution of the conceptualisation of”services” in recent years.

This book is written by Professor Kirsti Lindberg-Repo and Apramey Dube. It is targetted at a wide audience ranging from managers to students and service providers. Divided into nine themes/ chapters, each chapter discusses a specific service management that enables growth for a company:

  1. Evolution of services;
  2. Service Quality;
  3. Relationship Marketing;
  4. Internal Branding;
  5. Service Design;
  6. Service Experiences;
  7. Service Innovations;
  8. Service as Business Logic;
  9. B2B Services.

I can’t agree more with Professor Don E. Schultz when he writes–“This text is about people, not product or models or pricing schemes” (p.5). That’s why I had been pretty excited to read this book.

For, if a book is about people, then it will illuminate the the understanding of human nature, won’t it? That is, this book comes with a promise of how an understanding of human nature results in higher sustainable profits for the service provider.

Personally I think this book is awesome because it defines service as “the way in which business is conducted, i.e. service is conceptualised as a business logic” (P.12) If you view this from the context set by Singapore Management University’s Professor Rajendra K. Srivastava, that–

“We can pinpoint three major disruptive innovations. They are the Internet, search engine capabilities and smartphones. Disrupt to grow!”

–then you’d see why it is so exciting to be reading this book today. Because the internet, search engine and smartphones radically disrupt how you do branding and service!

So for this book review, I’d be writing some of my inspirations:

  1. The evolution of services

The Introduction chapter states that there are three phrases in the conceptualisation of the “evolution of services”.

  • Phase #1: Services are considered as invisible “extra-goods”. This reveals the heart of the business people then who are doing trade: The emphasis is on “goods” (the visible), not on some voodoo concept of “services” (the unseen).

Logically, this probably implies that the concept of branding probably wasn’t too strong during Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” era. Because if you can’t see something and value what you don’t see as necessarily lower than what you can see, how can you brand service? LOL. People then seem to purchase goods based on utility and practical function, not for unicorns and glitter effects.

At any rate, I just want to point out that during Adam Smith’s era, the concept of the labour theory of value applies. The labour theory of value is defined as:

“…a heterodox economic theory of value that argues that the economic value of a good or service is determined by the total amount of socially necessary labor required to produce it, rather than by the use or pleasure its owner gets from it.”

In simple language: Let’s say you use 1hour of your time to do something. Then you charge X. If you use 2hours of your time to do something, you charge 2X. The Labour Theory of Value is a theory that is based on linear thinking–that pricing should be directly proportionate to the number of man-hours put in.

A higher pricing otherwise = exploitation of labour by the evil capitalists.

Now, this implication on service is VERY BAD. It must have sucked very much to be a service provider during that era, because it seems that if you attempt to do personal branding then, people would think that you’re being exploitative.

Firstly, because service is already invisible and people probably cannot conceptualise paying extra for something they cannot see. Secondly, it is terrible to think about “value” in linear terms, especially for services. Assume that you are a factory worker producing scissors during that era–if you produce one pair of scissors, it takes X hours. If you produces 2 pairs, it probably takes 2X hours.

Does this theory necessarily apply for design or services? Assume that you’re a designer hired to make the design of the scissors better–Does it mean that you will produce a great, unique design in 2 hours consistently?

NO! Sometimes a designer can get great design done in 2 minutes, if he/she is inspired. Sometimes with 20hours, the designer might not even be able to get his great design done. Service providers are humans, and that is what makes the whole difference in the creation process.

How is it fair then, to pay designers based on hours like a worker who is making goods?

This reminds me of a quote by Warren Buffet–that “Price is what you pay, value is what you get”. I think Warren Buffet must have really scoffed at that the idea of the labour theory of value. Or maybe he simply kept quiet and exploited this loophole haha!

  • Phase #2: Services are considered invisible and unique “offerings”.
  • Phase #3: Services as the “way” in which business is conducted.

Now, fast forward to Phase #3 today, as we define “services” as the way in which business is conducted. Here, I’d expound on two inspirations I’d derived from the book.

Inspiration #1: The juxtaposition of Singapore Airlines and Finnair.

I LOVE the use of the examples of both Singapore Airlines and Finnair (pp.31-32) because it illuminates what it means by service as “the way of doing business”. For services is now not just “a person”, just an interaction between the provider and the consumer, but “the way”.

  • Singapore Airlines is argued to enrich the service experience of each individual consumer through efficient management of service quality dimensions.

This is true based on what I’d observed–I have a few friends my age working in Singapore Airlines as air stewardesses, and they have to go through several rounds of interviews and training to be able to get the job. SIA is positioned as an innovative and luxurious brand with everything that is of super high quality and standards.

In common language: Hiring pretty, well-poised and young ladies who wear the exotic Sarong Kebaya and training them to make customers feel consistently safe and comfortable seems to be really effective! Also, if you can create a flight experience that equates luxury, you win in service!

This IS the SIA way of doing business.

  • Finnair is positioned in a radically different manner. You definitely would NEVER associate Finnair with “luxury”.

I regularly fly by Finnair, and I remembered my 2nd flight when I had to walk down the aisle to request for hot water, simply because I couldn’t get the attention of the air stewardess.

Can you because of this experience, say that Finnair’s level of services pales in comparison to SIA? Actually no, because Finnair’s positioning is different. I agree with this book that Finnair’s strength is in its “timeliness”.

Now here, it is very important to consider the service design of Finnair, Helsinki airport and Finavia COMBINED. In other words, service can always be enhanced with close collaboration amongst entities, and when we think about service we can consider it in the larger system. This book says that there are “self-service check-in kiosks” at the Helsinki airport, which is done to increase the convenience and timeliness aspect.

I think this is important, because if you just talk about “Finnair” as an airline, you’d miss out on the underlying service STRUCTURE by the whole ecosystem. It is this ecosystem’s structure which dramatically improves customer’s happiness via self-service check-in kiosks and the super-fast wireless service (try using WIFI in the Turkish Airport to see how bad it is). Therefore, excellent service by a particular company cannot be considered in isolation with the supportive ecosystem.

And because of this excellent airport infrastructure which supports Finnair, the national carrier, it is fair to say that Finnair has excellent service, since service here is defined as “the way of doing business”. This “excellent service” however, is very very different from the SIA positioning of “excellent service”.

I guess in many ways, the differences in the positioning of Singapore Airlines and Finnair also reveal the differences in priorities of the people from Singapore and Finland.

Inspiration #2: Service as business logic–how the internet, search engine and mobile phone radically change business models.

On page 122 a quote by Stephen Vargo is mentioned, that–

“People don’t buy stuff because of stuff, but because of the service it provides. So think about the business models that we can create where you sell service.”

Okay let’s go back to the labour theory of value in phase #1. Now with the internet, boundaries related to space and time are broken down.

My suspicion is that most people simply don’t see that yet. They are still stuck with the mentality of the labour theory of value, that if I work 1 hour, I should charge X, and if I work 2 hours, I should charge 2X.

This is a toxic service framework for service-provider that does nobody any good. Because it seems that the service-provider will suffer from burn-out under this mental framework.

I love how this book is customer-centric– putting the emphasis on the perspective of the customer. If the average customer values your one product at 100X and you take 1 hour to produce that one product, should you charge X or 100X?

And with the internet, at any given time, you have access to many many customers without having to put in the additional time to pitch to them.

And because “service” is about humans–is this 100X negotiable? Of course it is. 😀

So all in all, it is very exciting to think about what “business logic” entails with the very exciting search engine, mobile phone and internet.

Mikko Hypponen, one of the tech guys I totally fangirl about, once said that the search engine’s history reveals a person’s heart. Which is true! If you want to find out more about a person’s heart, check his/her search engine history–it never lies. :DDDDD

I’d probably re-read this book again one month later and think more in the direction of the implications of the internet on the scalability of business model and “business logic”. Business logic is fascinating!

Parting Notes and Next-Steps

I like this book a lot–it’s a really exciting book with a lot of industry inputs!

I personally find this book exciting due to its implications, though at times I find some industry inputs as slightly “politically correct”, such as Case Digita (p.144).

What I mean by “politically correct” is the emphasis on “what should be” instead of “what is”. For example, in Case Digita, I felt that a historical context is needed, for Digita used to be a state-owned monopoly until it was sold to investors. IF your company used to be a state-owned monopoly, naturally you have more resources to build infrastructure and not care so much about branding. Simply because competition= zero and barrier to entry is high! 😀 Understanding this context will probably make the case study less “politically correct”–I did wonder about why Digita “suddenly” decided to care about their end consumers. Knowing their economic history and “following the money and change in ownership from public to private” would have helped illuminate the reality.

Overall this book is fascinating because of its emphasis on “co-creation” of service with the customers. One emphasis is on “listening” (p. 28) to the customers so that you can co-create exciting stuff with them, including manufacturing and execution of ideas.

So my next step is precisely to find out how to listen ACCURATELY to customers. I’m actually insanely into this activity because of my natural curiosity towards human nature and mass psychology.

For, how are you so sure that your customers won’t lie due to for instance, the Hawthorne effect? How are you sure that your most detailed business surveys won’t be outdated by the time you launch the said product, given that technology changes are so rapid these days?

Human nature can be fickle and unpredictable. I think the most reliable and easiest sort of business to do is when you can identify the “pain points” that are society-specific. This comes only after a period of time observing the social constructs/ contracts in any given society and being acutely aware of pain, ego and emotions.

The problem with human beings is that they don’t know what they don’t know, but they think they know. Most people lie without even knowing that they are lying, and most people don’t know their own hearts. If you simply observe based on reality and verifiable facts, you’d really observe a lot of contradictions in human behavior, myself included.

As my wise friend recently said, “Anything that is not verifiable and therefore not based on “reality” is ‘nonsense’.” 😀 Nonsense can sometimes be very good though, if it makes one happy. Unicorns 🦄 and glitter make people happy and they are really nonsense, for example.

And sometimes in service, unicorns and glitter and ribbons make all the difference.

I think this realization of how to systematically analyse human nature to increase and sustain the sales of a service-provider is the most exciting and fun part, which this book has highlighted very effectively. I would personally jot down the assumptions underlying each system and recommended process/ procedures so that they are clear to myself, which I’d probably do on the second reading of this book. And when a “disruption” happens, I can mark down which assumption(s) is/are violated and consider how to change my business model accordingly.

Yes, I’d recommend you get this book from Booky if you’re interested in reading it! 🙂 Or you can just borrow from me, lah, if you don’t mind my scribbles on the book.

Hope you’d enjoyed this review and have a great day ahead! Happy 2017 once again! ^_^