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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 sure path to failure.

Hey guys! Today’s post is a summary of this week’s 逻辑思维–a wildly popular online series on Chinese history and politics.

This series was initially introduced to me by my friend and business mentor Raymond Ng–and I can’t thank him enough for it!🙂 Raymond would sometimes share his reflections of this series with all of us in the whatsapp group conversation, and I benefitted a lot from the discussions. This week’s episode was so good that I’d decided to do an English summary to share with my readers.

The episode’s theme is about “目标感”–which I will translate as “a sense of exactly what do I want out of this transaction/ project?” Most people don’t know exactly what they want when they do something, including myself.

Using the elaborate example of the second opium war, the host Luo Pang argues that if you want to definitely get into trouble, simply do things without a sense of “目标感”, i.e. be reactive or passive aggressive in everything you do. Intention in that aspect, is irrelevant. Conversely, if you want sure success, simply have a sense of what you are doing, and the world will be your oyster.

Official definition of “目标感”:


Translated as:

“The highest form of goal, the biggest and most noble form of personal aspiration. This goal can never be fully achieved. However, one places himself on the road to be closer to this dream, this goal–even though it’s tiring, it’s a happy place to be.”

There’s another concept in this episode, known as “博弈论”. This is defined as:

Basically the term means “A theory of interaction for respective parties to get what they want”.

In this episode, Luo Pang posits that the sure path to failure is to NOT take a clear stand in whatever you do.

He referred to the Second Opium War. For, Out of the four biggest wars in China’s recent history, the second opium war was the most absurd because–

  • First opium war: The Chinese fought because they did not know that they would lose. And they lost.
  • Battle of Shiminoseki: The Chinese fought because they thought they would win. But they lost.
  • Battle of Beijing: Empress Dowager Cixi knew that China could not win the war, but in order to protect her reign, she had to continue fighting.
  • Second opium war: No reason. None!

He then points out that the absurd war happened as a result of the Chinese people doing things without a sense of purpose.

That is to say, whenever the British or the French made a move, the Chinese people then merely reacted or dragged their decision process. Or, they simply didn’t react.

Luo Pang then made a list of events in the second opium war that described in detail what the Chinese folks did. In essence, every interaction with the British was either reactive or passive aggressive. The British wanted to go into China then due to the huge Chinese market–they wanted to do business and expand their business bases. The Chinese people however, have no such intention of opening their borders and still had a mightier-than-thou attitude then (Since China is so huge and rich), so they thought they could be benevolent.

So, whenever the British made a first move, the Chinese would simply react in a lukewarm manner, simply to avoid trouble and to delay making a stand. There isn’t a decisive, progressive action or intention to advance their own interests: All moves made by the Chinese was to avoid or delay certain consequences X by the British.

And such lukewarm behavior, regardless of intention, is disastrous. So it led to the second opium war.

In closing, Luo Pang gave two examples which I found really useful:

  • Let’s say your friend wants to borrow USD10,000 from you. You are really reluctant to lend him the sum because he’s not that close, but at the same time you do not want to offend him.

If you respond in a lukewarm manner– giving tons of excuses and in the end still not lend him the money, you basically would run into a situation whereby you will lose the friend even if you do lend the money. This is because your friend will sense your reluctance.

Therefore, Luo Pang suggests to make a stand right from the start. If you decide to lend your friend the money, go as far as to even ask him “Just ask if you ever need my help in any other way?” This will make your friend really grateful to you for life.

If you decide to not lend the friend the money and keep the friendship, simply make it clear from the start, and then treat your friend to the meal sometime next week or sorts. This would allow you to keep the friendship while not lending the money.

  • The next example is on a larger scale. Let’s say you’re working for a company and your boss is doing a grand total of zero work. He however, takes all the credit. You feel that it’s super unfair.

However, because you have this sense of exactly what you want out of the transaction, you still continue to do your best. One day, the field will change, and then you can start to redefine the “benefits interaction game”.

  • Luo Pang also referred to China. In the past 30 years, the Chinese have been working so hard for foreign direct investment from the Western world.

In this short span of 30 years, they got whatever they wanted, elevated their own statuses, and built their own world. Chinese technology is now one of the top in the world. Can anyone say that the Chinese got an “unfair” deal out of being the “factory of the world”? Of course not–because the Chinese knew what they were doing from the start, even though the Western world might see it as “unfair” or “exploitative”. They started somewhere, and elevated themselves–and they are now the world’s number two economy.

In conclusion, Luo Pang therefore says that if you have this sense of exactly knowing what you want out of each transaction, you will be successful even if you start with zero. If you don’t have a sense of knowing exactly what you want out of each transaction, you will not be successful even if you start with a lot.

This “sense of knowing exactly what you want” is paramount to success.

“Is it so simple?” Some might ask.

Luo Pang answers, “Yes, it is really so simple”.

Interesting right! Such food for thought!!😀

To end this post, I want to share a song that my friend Yeow An did, which also illuminates this point that being lukewarm is terribad.

For…you might even lose a pretty girl😮 Fuck. 

Okay, got to run, bye!


4 simple steps to troll and be trolled.

Today we have another expert digital marketer Rachel from UnderSGsun to teach us the four simple steps of becoming a damn good troll.+ the four simple steps to be offended by a troll.

We hope that this piece will help you troll and be trolled in a tasteful manner. Do get a life soon though, and enjoy!~

~Four simple steps to troll~

1. Be smart, or at least, a smartass.

If you can’t comeback with a comeback days later, that’s not very smart.

If you can’t comeback immediately, then perhaps consider being an internet troll as you will have plenty of time to research and sculpt your insults.

2. Have a very sarcastic and negative view on life…

…And turn all that frustration onto your subject.

3. Know the subject that u want to troll…

…and hate it with the depths of your cold dark being.

4. Never give up. Practice makes perfect.

Remember trolling is an art. Ranting isn’t.

Even if you are banned, create another account so that you can continue blaming your life’s inadequacies on others.

~Four simple steps to be trolled. ~

1. Exercise your freedom of speech and voice your opinions.

Especially on the Internet like in blogposts and forums.

2. When someone replies to your comment, respond IMMEDIATELY.

Thinking is not required.

3. Have a fragile ego.

Assume everyone is out to make your life miserable and take advantage of you.

4. Find supporters to soothe your bruised confidence.

Do this by going on other web articles/posts/threads that discusses the same topic and voice your opinions there.

Continue until you see results.

Have fun trolling and getting offended!🙂


Singaporeans: Let’s move towards the “growth mindset”.

I took some time this weekend to do some catch up over current affairs in Singapore, and was deeply saddened to find out that a 11-year-old boy just killed himself. I also read this piece by our NCMP Shiao-yin Kuik.

It’s heartbreaking.

Every year without fail, that will be some students who choose to kill themselves over “bad” grades. I personally know one lady who committed suicide because she faced stress as a student. Every time I think of her I tear.

Every time a student jumps off the building, the media narrative would be sort of the same. “Parents shouldn’t be so harsh on the kids, blablabla“, or “Kids shouldn’t be so harsh on themselves, grades is not everything, blablablabla“.

Yes–grades are not everything, but they are everything to the student then. Students imagine judgement. They imagine the harsh, condescending tones of their parents. They imagine their parents saying–“I spent so much money on your education and this is what you get? Can you be more hardworking, or are you stupid?” They imagine the mocking tones and voices of their teachers and friends. “Haha, lousy.”

I know, because I was once a student who was very harsh on myself. Whenever I get a grade below my expectations, I’d get really upset. And it doesn’t matter what other people tell me, because I would think they are lying or trying to console me.

It seems so unfair, callous even– to say so easily, so carelessly that “grades are not everything”. And then have some authority preach to parents or kids “you shouldn’t blablabla” or “you should blablabla”.

So today, I want to talk about the growth mindset.

What is the “growth mindset”? Researcher Carol Dweck explains:

“For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value. How does this happen? How can a simple belief have the power to transform your psychology and, as a result, your life?

Believing that your qualities are carved in stone — the fixed mindset — creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character — well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.

I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves — in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated:Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser? . . .

There’s another mindset in which these traits are not simply a hand you’re dealt and have to live with, always trying to convince yourself and others that you have a royal flush when you’re secretly worried it’s a pair of tens. In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.

Do people with this mindset believe that anyone can be anything, that anyone with proper motivation or education can become Einstein or Beethoven? No, but they believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.

(emphasis in bold are mine.)

In Singapore, we do a lot of things with a “fixed” mindset. If there is a sub-par performance in school, we say “Eh can you be more hardworking?” or “Why are you so stupid/ lazy/ unmotivated! Do you know how expensive it is to pay for your school fees and various private tuitions?”

Of course Singaporean kids feel the pressure and stress! This sort of phrasing by parents however, is a result of having a “fixed mindset”.

To promote the “growth mindset”, I learnt a trick from Researcher Carol Dweck. And it is to use the word “yet”. Dweck posits that this word “yet” is one of the most powerful word ever that gives a sense of purpose to students and empowers them deeply.

So instead of saying “Why are you so stupid” to your kid when he comes home with a “B” grade and not an “A”, parents start to say– “It’s okay, you just haven’t gotten an A grade yet. We’re one step towards the goal, great job!”

Do you see how a difference in the construction of sentences can help reframe thought and therefore actions?

Can teachers, parents and students start to use the word “yet” more? Everybody has their shit days and nobody can be perfect all the time. Surely, we can’t let just one performance define our entire being. We can always get better, stronger, more excellent.

My dear fellow Singaporeans: Let’s focus on a passion of learning rather than on social approval.

The growth mentality encourages excitement in learning, improvement and the pursuit of excellence. It encourages the student to find out and pursue what excites him the most.

The fixed mentality on the other hand encourages social approval, and the direct consequence might be that the student starts to pursue social approval at the expense of his personal growth and interest. Along the way, he might not even know what he wants anymore.

Let’s really go for the “growth mentality”, my friends. Just think about it. 


3 sure-fire ways to get Singaporeans riled up.

Today we were so bored that we sought the expertise of professional troll Shaun Richard Verghese. In this post, Shaun graciously teaches us three sure-fire ways to insult Singaporeans effortlessly.

Shaun is definitely a friendly expert troll! He has an unprecedented number of bans by Facebook because people LOVE reporting his profile and comments as “offensive”. When I first got acquainted with Shaun, I used to wonder why his profile kept disappearing and re-appearing. Later I realised it is because Facebook bans him periodically for 30-days each time the masses report him.

Anyway, Shaun’s trolling remarks have the ability to really fuck up a Singaporean’s mind. He gets our pain points, sore spots, and insecurities. Shaun usually charges USD$1,000 an hour to coach American trolls on how to be more productive online, so we are really grateful that he is sharing with us his top expertise F.O.C as part of nation building today.

Why insult Singaporeans? 

Insulting people is fun if you can bear the consequences. Historically, intelligent people have been insulting the less intelligent just to see what happens. Take for instance, Shakespeare:


(Source: Buzzfeed)

Yeah, Shakespeare’s character Titus Andronicus actually said the above, and his characters also say a lot of other offensive things too. Jokes aside, knowing what triggers our anger as Singaporeans will also help us identify and subsequently learn to ignore trolls.

Remember: Whenever you feel insulted, the way to respond is not with greater insults, because the troll gets a sick pleasure out of it. I’d teach you how to respond to trolls in the next post.

Ready for more insults? Let’s go!

Insult No.#1. Get a white guy to tell a Singaporean guy that his girlfriend is “easy”.

Screenshot 2016-10-22 22.36.44.png

This is sure to get Singaporean guys riled up.

Don’t believe? Try it out! We don’t take responsibilities for the consequences though.

Insult No. #2. Call a Singaporean an HDB scum, and then proceed to insult his empty bank account.

Screenshot 2016-10-22 22.38.06.png

Basically, pick on how poor or not rich the Singaporean is.

In particular, comment how ugly his bag/ car/ girlfriend/ phone/ pet is.

“Can’t afford nicer things? Oh, poor thing.”

Insult No. #3. Complain about anything in Singapore.

Screenshot 2016-10-22 22.39.04.png

Basically, foreigners are not allowed to complain about anything in Singapore. Singaporeans will ask you to “eat shit and die”, or “go back to your own country”, or “Why are you still here?”

There would also be comments such as “ungrateful foreigner” which will then escalate into a Singapore government bashing post.

Feel free to test out the above insults and let us know what happens!

P.S. In our opinion, Singaporeans tend respond to insults with rage because they are usually very stressed-out and overworked in their daily lives. Therefore, use the above tips with caution. Have fun insulting!


Let’s bring the Finnish baby box to Singapore!

I LOVE this Design Finland 100–what a brilliant idea! A huge congratulations to their successful seminar at the Singapore Management University yesterday. =)


How can Finnish design thinking help Singaporean new mummies feel that the larger community actually does care for their well-being? In our blog, we invite visiting writers to share their ideas of how Singapore can take a leaf out of certain areas of Finnish design. Today, we are delighted to introduce Soh Wan Wei, a PR practitioner with a heart for pretty things. Formally trained in public relations from Aalto University at the Masters Level and quantitative economics at the bachelor level from the National University of Singapore, Wan Wei also blogs actively at The Hieno. The Hieno has an average of 20,000 unique readers every month and has been featured on both the Singaporean and Finnish media including The Straits Times, The Women’s Weekly and Helsingin Sanomat.

Have you read about the controversy caused by our Member of Parliament Josephine Teo recently when she said “You do not need too much space to…

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sph retrenchment

What happened to Singapore Press Holdings? (Part II)

This afternoon I wrote part of my reflections on what happened to Singapore Press Holdings. After that post was published, some of my readers sent me great articles related to SPH’s declining bottom line and retrenchment (read: this and this).

Then I reflected and realised that actually…SPH is indeed pretty behind in its digitalisation processes. In addition, consumers were clearly not as engaged as they are  vis-a-vis other online news or entertainment portals. By entertainment portals I also mean New Nation, lol!~

So I’d decided to write Part II to give a perspective about how other media companies in the world cope with declining print revenues. For convenience’s sake, I will analyse Finnish media houses since I’m currently based in Helsinki. I will first list the strategies of the top four Finnish media houses: Sanoma Group (which is easily the most influential media house in Finland), Yle (the public broadcasting house in Finland), The Bonnier Group (More of a publishing house) and Alma Media. Subsequently, I will highlight some common trends in their 5-year strategies with a focus on media digitalisation that SPH can consider adopting so that they don’t have to fire their employees.

What is immediately striking, however, is that all four Finnish media houses don’t base any of their revenue streams on properties or REITs!😀 That to me is so fascinating. Also, in Finland if you want to retrench staffs, you have to inform the labour unions 3 months in advance, not 30minutes!:/ No wonder the local Singaporean union is irritated–they have all grounds to be.

All emphasis in Italics are mine.

(A) Sanoma Group’s strategy to deal with digitalization.

As I have written in Part I:

Could SPH consider not retrenching its journalists by adopting multi-channel strategies instead?

Recently I’d been doing a lot of reading on the Sanoma Group in Finland. I can see a stark difference in strategy that SPH and the Sanoma Group are adopting to cope with the various challenges of digitalization.

Established in 1889, the Sanoma Group brands itself as a media and learning company. They have two divisions. The first division is Sanoma Media, which involves magazine publishing, TV, radio, print, digital reading, online gaming. The second division is Sanoma Learning, which involves digital education, business information, educational learning and services.

Previously there was also a third trade division but Sanoma Group has since sold the R-kioski brand and press distribution to a Norwegian public-listed company.

Different from SPH, the Sanoma Group focuses strongly on a multi-channel strategy. That is to say, it does not shift its business operations towards digitalisation like SPH does to cope with declining print revenues. Instead, it considers how different platforms can be used together to give the consumer different experiences.

For example, in the area of home décor, The Sanoma Group intends to show TV programmes on home décor, feature the same content on related home decor magazines and then run an e-commerce platform to drive sales for its represented home decor brands. Therefore, its combined media networks can create traffic and drive sales for its home decor clients.

The implication then is that unlike SPH, the Sanoma Group will not divert resources into completely non-media revenue-driving areas like property, but instead invest them across various media channels and platforms.”

(B) Yle’s strategy, with a focus on digitalization.

As a public broadcasting company, Yle has come up with a 5-year strategic plan from 2016 to 2020 to deal with the challenges that come with digitalization

This strategy includes 8 points:

  1. Yle will focus on the quality of content and programme for TV, instead of quantity.
  2. Yle will strive to renew television, and make television relevant again for the public.
  3. Especially for digital purposes, Yle will take radio online and do archival services. In particular they aim to develop easy-to-use audio services, particularly for portable and in-car devices.
  4. Yle intends to develop its online services and video content to be used anytime and anywhere. They aim to have a million users of Yle ID by the end of 2017 as their online database.
  5. Yle will focus on partnerships that enhances education and learning.
  6. Yle will also broadcast important sporting events online and on TV.
  7. To reach out to younger people, Yle will find out about their online consumption habits and react accordingly.
  8. Yle will promote and increase partnerships and collaborations.

(C) Bonnier Group’s strategy, with a focus on digitalisation.

Bonnier Group’s strategy is to commit to producing high quality content.

By high quality content they mean upholding high standards in storytelling, journalism and promoting freedom of speech. Bonnier Groups’s goal is to quickly increase the share of their revenues coming from digital sources, from today’s 20 percent to 50 percent by the year 2020.

These are the business areas that Bonnier Group is targetting: Book publishing, broadcasting, growth media, magazines, business-to-business, news.

From 2015-2020, Bonnier Group’s plan is to make more investment into technology and move more aggressively into the digitalization of media. They also want to go into the e-learning business.

One of their editors-in-chief described a period of poor results in a journalism business as a “wet blanket” over the news desk, and this is only reflective of the urgency faced by Bonnier Group to digitalize their operations, content and services even further.

(D) Alma Media’s strategy, with a focus on digitalisation.

From 2016-2020, Alma Media will focus their operations very much on expanding their existing products and services via digitalisation.

Also, they intend to restructure their business model to strengthen existing brands and also acquire new markets. Using their strong base in Finland, they also intend to reinvest their profits into international expansion. The focus however is strongly on digitalisation of media services in both local and global areas.

In order to do that, they intend to balance out the drop in print media with the rise in digital content sales. They want to increase their profits while maintaining a high level of quality content, as well as user experience.

In addition, they want to make use of user’s data analytics to better inform advertising behavior and ROI.

For digital services, they want to go into marketplace business operations, printing, training and marketing services not just in Finland but globally. operations according to need.

The focus is also on strategic partnerships and brand visibility in and outside of Finland.

Analysis: Common trends of coping strategies by all four Finnish media houses.

  • High quality content. It is very clear that all four media houses pride themselves on high quality content, something that is not surprising considering that Finland ranks number #1 on the Reporter’s Without Borders index. This however does not mean that reporters in Finland say whatever they want–far from it! Reporters do self-censor to avoid unnecessary trouble, and there is consensus that there IS a lack of investigative journalism in Finland.

The significant difference here however is that all four companies seek to improve quality of content, instead of retrenching their staffs. Yle for example, even spoke about doing less work, so that the media company can focus on producing higher quality content. Bonnier Group spoke about doing more projects that have the potential to engage the audience on a deeper level, such as storytelling about interesting cultures and people. All these are strategies SPH can consider.

  • E-learning, partnerships and collaboration. Now this is an interesting point, because all four media houses have the intent to go into the e-learning industry. What on earth does this mean? This means that the media houses  want to use their networks to benefit students, learning institutions, and make a profitable business out of co-creating information with educational institutions in the process.

With the intellectual property generated from the research process, it can then be exported as products or services to the rest of the world. It is truly interesting that these media houses see more collaboration within Finland as a potential competitive edge to being special outside of Finland.

Imagine this: If you are a media house and you can work together with educational institutions to do research and strategy together, would it not result in win-win situations in which the unique know-how can then act as the differentiating factor of Singaporean media in the Asian region?

Anyway, I am personally convinced that the Finnish success in media business is not due to Finns being more hardworking. That’s far from the truth! Finnish media works because the average Finn collaborate more than the average Singaporeans does. In general, Singaporeans seem to value competition at all costs.

If only if our media industry can collaborate more within the country in order to be a greater competing force in the region–I am sure SPH will go far. Imagine SPH collaborating and forming partnerships with our top Singaporean universities and exporting the IPs to the rest of the world–isn’t that a great form of revenue?

  • A strategic building of online database and focus on online user’s experience. 

All four media houses focus on building their online database and focusing on improving the online user’s experience as well. What this means is more beautiful visual designs, greater personalisation, more compelling content that resonates with the reader on a deep, intellectual level.

That is to say, Finnish media houses also make efforts to nurture their readers. 

Great content takes time to produce, and I suspect that SPH reporters are usually on a tight timeline, on top of having to subscribe to certain censorship guidelines. Therefore, perhaps SPH’s quality of content is suspect.

Ultimately, perhaps we need to ask ourselves the following questions: Is freedom of expression affecting SPH’s credibility and trustworthiness, hence affecting its profitability? Can our SPH journalists be trusted with the greater responsibility that comes with greater freedom of speech?

And more importantly, how can SPH collaborate more with our excellent education institutions and form partnerships with the entrepreneurship ecosystem to restructure its business model, such that it can export more IPs and services to the world? So that competition is not within but outside of Singapore, ensuring that we invest in and benefit Singaporeans in the process?

I think all these are important questions that can be raised at the retrenchment negotiations that the union will be holding with SPH. I don’t think “retrenchment” is the “only” solution to the dipping bottom line, to be honest. Staffs can always be retrained with a revamped business model.


After much careful thought, I really do sincerely believe that SPH can consider creating more revenue streams via collaboration with excellent local networks. Related to training services for example, can SPH staffs hold writing/ presentation workshops in schools, and profit from the services? For one, I would definitely send my future kid to a SPH-owned training centre to give him/her the additional edge to writing well. Can we as a highly-educated workforce create more IP with globally-renounced NUS and NTU to earn big time from export revenue?

I think we can, and it will pay off very well.


What happened to Singapore Press Holdings? (Part I)

UPDATE 18/10: I wrote a Part II to this topic here, on alternative strategies to increase revenue streams the Singapore Press Holding can consider, as opposed to retrenchment

This morning, I read with interest the news that the Singapore Press Holding (SPH) is retrenching journalists, and also the report that SPH only informed the Journalist Union half an hour prior to the announcement.

Incorporated in 1984, SPH is still Asia’s leading media organisation. So I was actually rather surprised that they are doing an retrenchment exercise!

On the one hand, Singapore ranks really low at the 154th position according to the Reporters’ without borders research. The logical conclusion is then that in the first place, people won’t be reading highly self-censored news. This is because the internet makes perceived “non-censored” news so easily accessible and free, especially via alternative news portals.

On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder if SPH’s finances is really that bad? Afterall, its other other significant “competitor” in Singapore is Mediacorp, and both groups don’t even compete that much with each other, if at all.

Or is it a case that SPH is going after higher returns for its shareholders, which is also a perfectly legitimate goal?

The various revenue sources of SPH.

SPH generates revenue from three sources: Media, Properties (via SPH REIT) and other businesses that includes online classifieds, events and exhibitions, and education.

In recent years, there is a strategic shift in investment and resources towards other revenue areas such as property to diversify its operations. You can see the operating revenue and the profit before tax margin from the following chart:


(Image Source: SPH 2015 annual reports)

And do you know Paragon, the upscale shopping mall, is part of SPH REIT’s portfolio?😀 I was pretty surprised to discover that because I always thought SPH was a strictly media company.

It’s great to know that SPH actively diversifies its business.

So, perhaps the retrenchment also results from a demand-side issue.

In the practical world, a lot of the media business is about “following the money”. So let’s take a moment to think: Exactly what do Singaporeans want to read?

Click baits, half-truth and controversy do sell, because people want to believe in whatever they already believe in/ feel for. If a media group were to want to profit maximise, they will probably have to cater to what appeals most to the masses, not always to the “truth”.

Knowing exactly who owns and influences the particular media will affect the version of truth (product) we consume. SPH for example, is regulated by the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act of 1974, and even though it is a public-listed company, any transfers of management shares have to be approved by the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts.

So, …what types of articles tend to go viral in the Singaporean context?

I think we can always refer to the types of articles on Stomp, Mothership, The Smart Local, anything political, anything xenophobic, and anything with pretty girls (boobs+ legs a definite draw). For example, according to SimiliarWeb, Stomp has a monthly viewership of 1.5million a month.

Perhaps, SPH is facing declining profits not only due to digitalisation, but also due to high online competition. Perhaps too, journalistic quality isn’t that highly demanded anymore–Even though The Middle Ground has good curated news,  their stats are nowhere as high as Stomp’s 1.5million views a month.

Could SPH consider not retrenching its journalists by adopting multi-channel strategies instead?

Recently I’d been doing a lot of reading on the Sanoma Group in Finland. I can see a stark difference in strategy that SPH and the Sanoma Group are adopting to cope with the various challenges of digitalization.

Established in 1889, the Sanoma Group brands itself as a media and learning company. They have two divisions. The first division is Sanoma Media, which involves magazine publishing, TV, radio, print, digital reading, online gaming. The second division is Sanoma Learning, which involves digital education, business information, educational learning and services.

Previously there was also a third trade division but Sanoma Group has since sold the R-kioski brand and press distribution to a Norwegian public-listed company.

Different from SPH, the Sanoma Group focuses strongly on a multi-channel strategy. That is to say, it does not shift its business operations towards digitalisation like SPH does to cope with declining print revenues. Instead, it considers how different platforms can be used together to give the consumer different experiences.

For example, in the area of home décor, The Sanoma Group intends to show TV programmes on home décor, feature the same content on related home decor magazines and then run an e-commerce platform to drive sales for its represented home decor brands. Therefore, its combined media networks can create traffic and drive sales for its home decor clients.

The implication then is that unlike SPH, the Sanomat Group will not divert resources into completely non-media revenue-driving areas like property, but instead invest them across various media channels and platforms.

Some concluding thoughts.

In conclusion, what happened to SPH? Why does SPH need to retrench some of its journalists?

Perhaps it all boils down to two factors.

One, the challenges of digitalization. These challenges affect most media houses worldwide.

Two, perhaps SPH’s retrenchment and perceived disrespect towards the Journalist’s union is an indication that an increasing number of (young) Singaporeans don’t actually read “serious” news that frequently anymore.

Consequently, there is therefore no demand for “high quality journalism”, which leads to actual journalists being retrenched. And those who do read news:

  1. Don’t really care about”serious” news;
  2. Could easily get “serious” news from media houses elsewhere; or
  3. Could get “serious” local news free.

Food for thought, no? 


3 reasons to permanently delete the word “should” from your vocabulary.

Today I want to write a quick post on the three reasons as to why we can immediately delete the word “should” from our vocabularies.

Ready? Here goes!

Reason #1: The word “should” deludes.


It’s very clear that everyone has different value systems.

For example, when you meet someone at work or in school, that person will have a different value system and therefore priorities vis-a-vis yourself.

Let’s say you have this narcissistic head who happens to be totally irresponsible, backing out of tasks that are agreed upon prior. This narcissism happens to also be verifiable. For instance, when she gives interviews, she will accept interviews that credits the success of the particular event all about herself and say absolutely nothing about the hardworking team. She will also reject interviews that are about her team so that the limelight is entirely onto herself.

In short, she’s seems to be a narcissistic lady, and you only unfortunately realised it after the event is done. And yes, I’m talking about a real person and a recent event..

So, post-event, instead of saying “She’s so irresponsible because she should have done A, B, C, D, which was as promised”, we could consider rephrasing it to “She’s so irresponsible in this project because she did not do A, B, C, D as mutually agreed upon in black and white.”

This subtle rephrasing removes all value-judgements, and forces the brain to reframe the context into one that is focused on reality. Basically, the second structure allows one to be able to verify and check if A,B,C,D is (1) indeed promised, and (2) indeed done, whereas the former structure forces one to judge the narcissistic lady.

Therefore, in future working “opportunities” with this lady, one can rationally evaluate whether to collaborate with her based on the experience of this first event, instead of keeping the paradigm to a subjective, condemning one.

Reason #2: The word “should” kills all possibilities.


The word “should” actually takes your focus away on what is.

And this is very limiting.

For example, if the society values say…financial wealth, and your parents preach “You should be rich if not you are a downright failure”, then you might start to condemn yourself even if you are doing much good deeds without proportionate financial compensation. These works can include volunteering, serving the community pro bono, etc.

When you use the word “should”, it kills of all personal possibilities of doing the above mentioned meaningful but lowly compensated jobs.

In addition, using the word “should” in your conversations kills possibilities with the person you are talking to. You’d stop listening and seeing the person for who he/she is.

Even if something is part of the official responsibility of the person, and it is reasonable for one to assume that he or she “should” do something since it is part of the job scope, get rid of the word anyway.

Because life is not a blame game. If you want to work effectively with someone, it is important to listen well and adapt your working style to the other person. Focus on reality constantly.

For focusing on what is will empower you to work well with more types of people and stay constantly in tuned with what is verifiable.

Reason #3: The word “should” makes you lose focus on what you truly want.


It’s important to live life on your terms. I’m sure this is something most people agree on.

If you find that there are too many “should”s used in your vocabulary, speech and thoughts, it’s likely that you don’t really know what you really want, or don’t really prioritise your well-being.

If that is the case, is this a life really lived on your terms? I know some Singaporeans who don’t even know what they personally want in life, and that’s really something quite scary.

So instead of using “I should have been more hardworking”, change the phrasing to “I want to be more hardworking because…” If you can’t find an authentic, compelling reason to follow “because”, then strike that “should” off your to-do list.


Well, this is again a post inspired from a lengthy conversation with my wise business mentors. Take the wealth creation blueprint now!

Have a great week ahead~


CommaCon 2016: Some discussion notes.

(Image courtesy of the Lovely Singapore team)

I want to write about the excellent  CommaCon 2016 that concluded at Suntec City today.


Organised by the Association of Muslim Professionals in Singapore and supported by the NYC, the main objective of this ground-up initiated conference is to create a stronger Singaporean national identity.

The Vision of CommaCon 2016

“We need to support and create more awareness for youth-led initiatives in order to strengthen social cohesion in Singapore. It’s madness what’s happening in the US, Europe and Middle East; with the racial tension, xenophobic comments and terrorist attacks.

This convention, in fact, this entire campaign from 2016-2017, is a first in many respects. We’ve never had a public discourse on such contentious issues because they’re deemed too sensitive. We need to change that mindset.

And this will be the biggest youth convention ever held to achieve that.

The campaign starts now.”

The team at Lovely Singapore also shared some discussion questions with me, which I found to be extremely smart and insightful.

Segment 1: Is this home truly?

• What have we done to build our identity as a nation? • What have we done successfully as a nation as a people?• What are you proud of/ What are you not proud of.

Segment 2: Who are we?

• What if Singapore were a person–What would he or she be like? • What would this person’s appearance be like? • What personality would this person have? • What mannerisms? • What would be prominent about this person?

• How about the hidden side of this person/ what lies there?

• Which parts of this identify do you agree with? • Which parts of this identify do you not agree with? • What do you think should be different?

Segment 3: Who are we not?

• Create another character: ○ A different/disruptive person.

• Who are such persons who are different from us? ○ Are we xenophobic? ○ Do we alienate those who would be different from us? ○ Should we embrace those who are different? What happen if we do? ○ Do we fear those who are so different that embracing them could disrupt where we intend to head? (E.g. Those with extreme viewpoints)

Segment 4: Who do we want to become?

• What is the ideal identity we want to become? Draw out a new character which represents the ideal identity the group envisions that would be able to successfully navigate the future. • What might happen in the future that might disrupt your ideal identity? • What needs to change so that it is truly robust to disruption?

Interesting right? Singapore probably needs to have more events like Comma Convention to foster a stronger sense of togetherness, and I am heartened that sensitive stuffs like racism, terrorism and income-gap disparity are discussed in a high-level, intelligent and open manner. It bodes well for nation-building and gives young Singaporeans a greater sense of belonging and stake in Singapore.

Hope there are events when I’m back in SG so that I can attend!~🙂


[The Hieno! Suomi 100 Series] Interview with Matti William Karinen, a young Finnish researcher!

Today, as part of The Hieno! “What is Finnish-ness” series celebrating Suomi 100 in 2017, we feature Matti William Karinen.

Matti was born in the UK, grew up mostly in Southeast Asia and is currently working as a research assistant based at the Entrepreneurship unit of the Turku School of Economics. Currently, he is part of the Academy of Finland project SWiPE. In this interview, he speaks of life as an ex-Ulkosuomalainen, globalization, Finnish-ness and the future of work.

Enjoy the interview! ♡

TH: Hi Matti! Can you tell us more about yourself? What are you doing in Finland?

Matti: Hi there WW!

Sure thing; I’m a research assistant at the Entrepreneurship Unit of the Turku School of Economics, University of Turku. That’s what I do for work, and yes, it is a part of who I am, but of course not everything!

Unlike many of the people you’ve interviewed I’m not any great personality, and not (yet) a leader in any important field. But like them, I suppose I’ve also got my story to tell and this is a part.

I’m a Londoner by birth, from near Stockholm by the place I started day-care and at home in Jakarta where I started school. I used to be a permanent resident in Singapore – to the extent that I even got the initial call up notice for army conscription just before my residency expired. Oh, and my parents are both Finnish.

I’m also a Finn, now living in Finland and thus an ex-ulkosuomalainen; a paluumuuttaja if we want to be specific. A paluumuuttaja is loosely translated a “return mover”, an ulkosuomalainen that moves back to Finland, if you will.

I’ve been here for quite a while now – 11 years or so. I read, lots. And don’t let me spec a computer – it’ll be overkill.

TH: What does “ulko-suomalainen” mean? How is it different from “Suomalainen”? Can you explain the difference with one anecdote?

Matti: An Ulkosuomalainen, is not an “outdoor finn” as Google-translate would have us believe, but a Finnish national or person of Finnish decent who lives outside of Finland.

The distinction to Suomalainen is quite direct in many ways: when you move a Suomalainen out of Suomi with any degree of permanence, they become an Ulkosuomalainen.

An anecdote? Well to me, Finland was for a long time the “passport country” – Ask me where I’m from and if we’d not be in Finland my answer would be “Finland”, now that I’m here, the honest answer is “You know… I don’t really know”.

When pressed I’d mention the born in London part and see where the conversation goes from there.

TH: Can you tell us what are the top 3 challenges you have faced in Finland?


  • The first is integration; Finland is a remarkably easy country to live in, but not an easy place to fit in.

Especially not for a teenager as I was when we moved here. We arrived in a countryside town where nearly everyone had known each other, often quite literally, since birth. In that town people were always known quantities, you knew their relatives, their family histories and what their families did. You could be categorised and put into the proper box.

It seemed to me, coming from abroad, with only the most tenuous connection to the area, that the only category that I fit in was that of “unknown”. Not a good place to be.

  • Next comes Language; Finnish is a wonderful tongue that skilled users can twist and turn to make spellbinding sentences.

Even with Finnish parents, Aku Ankka, and Finnish supplementary school in Asia, it’s very hard to get right. For my part, I’ve given up hope of putting commas in the right place!

As for speaking, my accent’s off and I am routinely asked about it. Nowadays, that’s not a problem as I’m among adults in an open, accepting environment, but when I was younger it mattered.

  • Third. And this is a bit abstract maybe, but bear with me: being Finnish. What I think I mean is having some hidden executable code that tells one when, where and how things are supposed to happen.

I don’t mean knowing, which one can manage with learning, I mean understanding. I suppose this what I should be calling culture. And since culture evolves over time… I don’t think I got all the updates.

Though occasionally some parts of the code still function, some weeks back I was on a forest trail and I think I may have got that Finnish appreciation for true, encompassing, environmental, quiet-thing figured out.

TH: Do you think there are solutions or better alternatives as to how we think about these three challenges?

Matti: Tough one WW. I suppose yes and no. I’ll take the above point by point and give it a go.

  • Integration. My feeling is that integration is a two-way street where both sides need to learn to understand the other. To adjust points of view, and to take people as people and not as the “other from elsewhere”.

I suppose this calls for more openness regarding identities; if we were all to tell more about our views of self, then being and thinking different would perhaps not be quite so hard.

  • Language. One area where we might move forward is in our thinking on what is enough regarding language. This in particular regarding persons from abroad who live in Finland, and in my view, especially students who’d like to work in the country after their studies. Perfect isn’t necessary. In Finnish or for that matter English.

As they can communicate well enough to get their message through, I don’t think it should matter if for example an automation engineer has a good grasp of the tenses.

  • Culture. Immersion and ties to Finns – over time this will help. Some of the ways things are done here boggle the mind but ultimately work.

Some things of course could be different, but luckily societies evolve. Generally, for the better.

TH: How do you reconcile being “Finnish” and “foreign” at the same time?

Matti: Mostly by just being me instead of being either “Finnish” or “foreign”. So I suppose I’m both, either and neither.

Nowadays, don’t really define myself as being anything other than, well, me. And for as long as I can remember I’ve been bloody-mindedly myself and like any person I’ve learned and changed along the way.

Sorry WW, I don’t really have examples for you… Of course it has sometimes been difficult to be who I am – not being accepted because you’re different is hard – but I’ve never seen reason to conform to the expectations of any particular group.

Often this meant being good at withdrawing into books for example. Nowadays my feeling is that as long as I do my best to be a good person to those around me I’m satisfied.

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


  • Trust. Trustworthiness is still assumed almost generally. We can largely trust our state to run things properly, we can mostly trust the people in our building (although we never see them).

This I feel is something we need to hold on to. It’s a rare place where automatic suspicion of the motives of others isn’t engraved into our spines.

  • Peace and Stability. Goes together with the above. Finland is mostly the same year in and year out. This is both a blessing and problem. We may not be keeping up with the times as we ought to.

Then again, perhaps we should as, as we’ve often done, just go our own way. Evolution rather than revolution.

  • Things just work. Minor issues aside, and unfortunately this applies mainly to people holding Finnish citizenship, systems exist that cover very nearly every potentiality and for the most part work properly.

We may still complain of bureaucracy, but here it is comparably painless. The only other country that I’ve lived in where this is the case is Singapore. It might sound boring, but it does help quality of life.

TH: What do you think are some of the popular misconceptions of Finland and Finns?


  • That we don’t talk – we do actually, and are often happy to, sometimes at great length.
  • That it’s dark and cold – only two thirds of the year, the other third is (well… can be) pretty bright and warm.

TH: What are the three things that are definitely “Finnish”?


  • Asunto-osakeyhtiö – our peculiar building-cooperatives/condominiums where we don’t actually own our apartments, but rather own the shares that allow us to live in the particular apartment. Where even the toilet bowl is collective property and any changes beyond the most minor subject to approval by the board. And it works! Mostly!
  • Planning your life months and years ahead and in great detail. I’m not one to make definite plans, other than for flights, more than a few weeks ahead whereas some Finns I know schedule meeting up with friends’ half a year into the future.
  • Jokamiehen-oikeus – our everyman’s’ rights to move in nature and pick berries. This combined with mökki culture.

TH: With regards to integration, do you have some tips for ulko-suomalainen to integrate back into suomalainen, or is this a non-issue?

Matti: These are my personal pointers. And perhaps they won’t help or aren’t needed.

First off, come back when you’re very young (before school age) or when you’re about to go to university (when the people you meet are at their most open and are also entering a new environment).

If you fall into the first category or anywhere in between, it’s likely your parents reading this, and its mostly up to them to decide based on their views, values and situation. It’s not always possible to avoid coming.

But bear in mind that your child will need a lot of support – and would probably be best off in an international school.

Expat kids are mostly ok with changing international schools, after all most of their peers also move from place to place. Coming to the place that “should be” your home is the hard part.

If you’re older, and e.g. coming back for work, things will be more context sensitive. You might or might not be close with your relatives, your workplace may or may not be open. It depends. It can be hard to come back, but I can understand that it can also be a relief for some.

I suppose my final tip is be the person you are, and not to try and be something you expect others to expect you to be.

TH: The project you are in, SWiPE sounds super interesting! Can you tell us more about it and why you joined it?

Matti: Sure! SWiPE stands for Smart Work in Platform Economy and we study how work, entrepreneurship and education are changing as a part of societal change linked to globalisation, digitalisation and technological platforms.

Now what does that mean?

Take the smartphone; that’s a platform. And through it you can consume information and entertainment in addition to services. Your phone, and through it, algorithms residing in a server farm somewhere in Utah may also be your boss, deciding when you are paid and how much.

Now is that employment or is it entrepreneurship? Uber might say that it’s entrepreneurship – and defines its drivers thus as independent contractors; effectively entrepreneurs. Then again, Uber’s algorithms make decisions on their behalf as if they were employees. Both are forms of work but they fit into how our society is structured differently.

How should these relationships be treated in policymaking? How do we reconcile the flexibility and utility of some of these platforms, with the need to make sure that responsibility and accountability for and to customers, employees and contractors is safeguarded? And how about the people writing those algorithms? What happens when the workers themselves participate in changing their work?

Another aspect of societal change and technology relates to education – how might we prepare students for jobs that don’t exist yet? How do we educate students to innovate in work as well as outside normal employment? How do we prepare them for a time when they may be competing with AI for the same tasks? What skills do the workers of the future need? And how do we design systems that will help them acquire those skills?

This is where the entrepreneurial university comes in – which doesn’t just mean the university being a start-up generator, but rather is about contributing to and creating an atmosphere where people work openly together across disciplinary boundaries to address vexing problems and learn to prepare to meet problems that may lie around the corner. This is only part of what the University of Turku is aiming towards with its entrepreneurial university strategy.

For my part, I joined SWiPE through the Knowledge Governance project that is figuring out how we might measure the “entreprenuriality” of universities among a number of other topics that are now also part of the SWiPE project.

If you’re interested in following our work head to our website or look for @swipe_STN, #alustatalous and #Swipefi on Twitter.

TH: What do you think about the future of work? Would it mostly be remote?

Matti: I think there’ll still be a place for working together in offices.

But, agreed, a lot of the new forms of work look to being remote to some extent. Remote I’d say from the coordination of the work – not necessarily from where the work is being done. Consulting is one thing, though it seems most new jobs will be in service provision; be that in healthcare or through delivery services such as Foodora and Wolt.

There are legitimate worries that the job security – and thus income security – will become much more precarious in a number of fields. In a way this might be thought of as a return to the 19th century when a lot of work, especially in cities, was done on a piece by piece basis with little certainty that there would be work tomorrow.

Of course, because of digitalisation and globalisation the dynamics are different this time around. Also, this possible scenario is not limited to front-end services, but can also touch management tasks as they are devolved onto algorithms or more prosaically: flattened out of existence.

If I had to use two words to describe the future of work, I’d say: constant change. And to live with that one needs at least two things: constant learning and adaptability.

TH: What are your dreams and visions for the future?

Matti: A good family life. Also, I’d like to combine work in academia with entrepreneurship and work for a multinational organisation.

I intend to live by what I suggest: I will keep learning, and I will adapt myself to circumstances and the futures that I expect – indeed I would shape them for myself as much as I am able to.

TH: Finland would be celebrating its 100 years of independence next year. What are your dreams and visions for Finland’s future?

Matti: Finland has changed beyond all recognition in 100 years – I don’t expect that change to stop any time soon. Nor would I wish it to. We need to keep going forward and we need to keep learning and building our society for the better.

I’m not a great believer in tough choices – to have something is to cut from something else. I believe in making a bigger cake. To my reading, which is admittedly not as broad as I would like, we’ve done rather well in doing that over the past 100 years. And done that through much tougher times than the ones we as a society are going through now.

I believe that Finland will change for the better, and hope that as it changes, the essentials that make it a great place to live will remain the same. I believe that we will continue to have an equitable society where we are yet able to make the best ourselves that we can.

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

Matti: I feel in my heart that Finland is my country, and as long as that is the case, I don’t think I’m any less Finnish than anyone else.

And to me, this is irrespective of whether I live here or not. Although I can’t describe it any better than that… that is what to me is to be Finnish.

We hope you have enjoyed this interview with Matti William Karinen. The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme.This series  “What is Finnish-ness”? is endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office. Feature photograph courtesy of Matti.