Wednesday, June 20, 2007

There's more in us than you think

I received a few weeks back by post Finnish philosopher Pekka Himanen’s latest publication called The Finnish Dream (Suomalainen unelma). The report written by the innovation specialist still suffering from being branded in the beginning as a wunderkind was commissioned by the Finnish technology industry to outline new visions for the future of the country’s information society. Himanen made his name some years back by researching the Finnish Wirtschaftswunder of the 1990s together with leftish sociologist Manuel Castells. With Finnish Dream he attempts to shift the focus from historical analysis to bold visions. Himanen’s task is not easy: he tries to tell a prosperous country with a growing economy that it needs to change.

I have met Himanen several times in the course of the last five years. The more I have heard him speak, the more I think he makes sense. The fact that he stresses that models from one country cannot just be copy-pasted to another is a valuable reminder for policymakers hungry for snappy solutions. The stumbling start of Dutch innovation policy based on the Finnish model is a good example of the complexity.

Pekka's lectures have also gotten a softer and softer tone which I value highly. His latest booklet continues on this path. I must confess that I was somewhat surprised when realising that his main message in Finnish Dream seems to be that the key to success is fairness, openness, trust and encouragement. Through analysing success stories such as Plato’s Academy, Cambridge, Kone, Google and Silicon Valley he concludes that the key to success is an enriching but competitive community of empowered individuals. Size does not matter, Himanen says, and therefore says that by focusing remote regions like the Helsinki region could be global players. A spirit of sharing in order to succeed is much more important than sheer size. He points out that people are willing to go further if their primary needs are fulfilled which makes him an advocate for a welfare state based on equality.

Pekka makes it very easy for me to support his notions. He takes the discussions – rare in the Nordic context – of society back to the individual. His way of asking the reader to think when you perform at your best is convincing. Clear goals, recognition of individual needs and encouragement make all of us succeed which ought to be the dominant approach both in schools, offices as well as in universities. Stressing the role of the individual as the starting point makes his argument for a just and fair welfare state even stronger: idealism and equality should not be used as an excuse for not working hard. Being brilliant is hard work but it can be fun.

1 comment:

Jussi said...

Pekka Himanen usurped Esa Saarinen as the nation´s hottest philosopher. He is unquestionably a great scholar, but unlike the elusive Saarinen, a true bore as a speaker.

I´ve heard his presentations a couple of times, on both occasions I caucht myself searching for the nearest exit and free drinks.