Finland could be the next Silicon Valley: Lessons from Silicon Valley – speed, flexibility and boldness


Silicon Valley is a great place to see first-hand how technology can be turned into success stories. As a small, pilot-scale country and a pioneer in digitalisation, Finland is in an excellent position to take advantage of the growth opportunities presented by technological development.

I had the pleasure of attending the Silicon Valley Experience 2017 event in September. The momentum there is certainly mind-blowing. And thankfully also inspiring. I want to take this opportunity to share my experience with you and draw a few comparisons between the atmosphere in Silicon Valley and Finland’s current situation and possibilities.

Time is not your friend in innovation

Are we quick enough and does our culture encourage experimentation?

Finland has given birth to a wonderful start-up culture, with organisations such as Aalto University leading the way through the transformation. Thumbs up to them. We are on the right track. However, we need to be bolder and throw ourselves into new things even faster and on a more international scale.

How can we inject this same enthusiasm into larger corporations as well?

We were introduced to the philosophy and business of two Silicon Valley enterprises that still consider themselves start-ups. Google and Facebook are both growing at a rate of tens of thousands of employees per year. However, their corporate cultures are firmly rooted in open-minded experimentation, and the staff are led on the basis of targets and results, not procedures.

In our own work community, we made a decision to devote even more energy to the cultural transformation:

  • Setting ambitious goals and making sure that they are reached, but with freedom in the implementation.
  • Fewer written plans and reports.
  • More flexibility, learning and choices.
  • The first step was a decision taken by VTT’s management team there and then to radically revise the way we approach innovative research.

Thumbs up to us! 🙂

I am personally very keen on the idea that you need to be leaning forward by so much that you have no choice but to run. Otherwise you fall flat on your face.

Pay it forward

Would we Finns be able to work together in a new way?

In Silicon Valley they believe that altruistic good deeds come back to you when needed.

We know that there is immense potential in new ecosystems, i.e. organisations’ partnership networks, and their disruptive value networks. This refers to new technology that transforms business and markets by making old technology, techniques or business models redundant. As a small, pilot-scale country and a pioneer in digitalisation, Finland is in an excellent position to take advantage of these opportunities. This requires the courage to put enough data into circulation.Think about all the new start-ups and services that could be found in the gaps! Surely everyone, or at least enough people, would ultimately win. I cannot see anyone suffering great losses in any case.

Are we bold enough to throw ourselves in with different partners and see what happens? Without demanding too linear and short-term a return – paying it forward.

Artificial intelligence changes everything: “50% taking action”

Artificial intelligence, machine learning and virtual reality. Almost every message centred around these concepts. Silicon Valley is a firm believer in the role of new technologies in bringing about the next big transformation since the internet.  This is evident in absolutely everywhere.

To summarise a lesson from Google: 1.7 megabytes of new data are created every second for every person on the planet. By 2020, the speed of data creation will be 44 times greater than in 2007. While today the focus between data accumulation, reporting and analysis is split at a ratio of 50/40/10, in the very near future “taking action” will account for 50% and data accumulation and reporting for only 20%.

Finland’s big chance definitely lies in applying artificial intelligence. Google alone spends more than Finland’s national budget on the development of core artificial intelligence technologies. We have strong domain know-how (e.g. autonomous systems, smart energy, health, the forest value chain). We are top experts and users of digital technology, and we have a culture that fosters broad-based cooperation.

How could we create an opportunity for world-class innovation ecosystems that are carried by a culture of experimentation to be born in Finland? How could we give just enough support to networks to overcome the initial friction and get moving? We already have the building blocks. Innovation ecosystems are practice platforms. Now is the time to launch them!

The focus of Silicon Valley has widened, and the cost of being based there has got out of control. This could be a sign of an approaching Big Bang. How about we get our hooks in now? And not wait until tomorrow. Finland could be the next Silicon Valley!

A big thank you to Boardman and #SVExperience17 for the wonderful Silicon Valley 2017 experience!

Erja Turunen VTTErja Turunen
Executive Vice President, Smart Industry and Energy Systems
Cell +358 50 380 9671
Twitter @turunen_erja

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