Why is it that Helsinki is hosting all those amazing events that rock the world with innovation, badassness, creativity and the best speakers? Why is it such a popular place for start-ups? An analysis.
Slush, PING Helsinki, Nordic Business Forum – you name it – the worlds’ most remarkable events all share their home base, the Finnish Capital city of Helsinki. But how come? I’m extremely happy and proud to be a part of the industry but especially after feeling the buzz of inspiration at this years’ PING Helsinki Business Festival, I wondered why all these big names are located just right here. I took the thought to a conversation with some people to elaborate a bit on what makes the event and business environment here so special. Here’s what we came up with.
1 – Business is more comfortable
No executive floors really, talking to each other on a first-name-basis, sharing personal things – all of this is pretty natural in a Finnish work setting, which is known for having flat hierarchies. We asked ourselves, did we ever have to go through a secretary to speak to someone we needed to catch on the phone? Not really. If you wanna reach the CEO of a company you want to get in touch with, you can probably find his phone number on the website and just ring as you please. Even people in higher positions tend to take matters into their own hands, and the assistant position in Finland is really an own actual profession that includes exclusive tasks and not being the person that takes the boss’ calls and schedules their appointments. Flat hierarchies are no news to Finland or the Nordics in general, but thinking about this still felt like a new revelation.
2- You have trust that you can ruin, but you don’t have to work to get it
For me, this point was probably the most striking one as I started my career in Finland. Whenever I started working with a company or a client, I was given full trust and confidence, without having to prove myself in the beginning. Finns are extremely trustful and open in work relations. Compared to other countries I worked in, I felt like I had to work hard and long to gain people’s trust and confidence, instead of working with somewhat unconditional confidence as it should be – because I was already there for a reason that then wasn’t questioned anymore. In Finland I always felt like you’re always accommodated with a “clean slate” and if you mess up, you lose people’s trust – but you don’t have to start building it up and work again distrust and general judgment.
3- You don’t have colleagues
This relates strongly to the previous point, but here in Finland, you don’t have colleagues. You have work-friends (työkaveri) – which strongly shows that your work relationship can often be taken further to a more personal level. This enables a more open workflow and also strengthens your common understanding (we all have bad days, and sometimes life happens, you know). You’re probably also Facebook friends with all your work-friends.
4 – Work-life balance has meaning
Regular working hours in Finland are from 8am – 4pm, although many companies are flexible with that. Often, there’s a set time frame in which you’re required to be present or reachable, but as long as you get your tasks done, no questions are asked.
Working time and crunching happens, but it’s definitely not the rule. Whereas people in other working cultures brag with the time and hours they spend at the office and it almost becomes a (really unhealthy) competition, Finns value their time much more. If anything, working harder or longer on something than you should is almost a little bit frowned upon. Be honest and open, if you have trouble with your workload, you shouldn’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help or amend your schedule. Staying in the office longer than you’re required and sacrificing your personal life is not expected nor encouraged.
5 – Personality matters
What immediately came to my mind when thinking about how business culture differs from many other countries, was the way that people live up to their own standards and personality. Where it says “dress to impress” elsewhere, it’s more like “dress to express” in Finland – because people’s true nature and the importance of self-expression still seems to be more important here than suits or uniforms. Sure, there’s banks, hotels and some places where you still find this, but in general? Suiting up is not really the standard thing to do, ties are not part of the everyday dress code and neither is a certain requirement of heel height or skirt length.
The “standardised” Finnish personality is also something I feel like is something that is becoming more of a trait that’s valued internationally as well. When thinking of a Finnish person, people start to have an image in their head. The certain straight forward “bluntness” and the ability to have meaningful conversations in Finland are all components that lead to more recognition and acceptance of this in business values generally; as well as having the strength to work independently and effective, but also being supportive and competent team players. In summary, I guess we could all need some sisu.
6 – Smaller circles = greater significance
Fewer people and less events give even greater meaning to the ones you have. Personal and professional networks are tightly knit and share a similar importance. Even though there’s a significant number of events, the “radiance” and impact of each and every single one of them is far more impressive and far-reaching than of many others. This is obviously a clear advantage to bigger cities and more populated countries, but finding your circles and being known within your field is a goal easier or faster to achieve than in other places.
When we project this onto the international business community, I feel like this general atmosphere and familiarity transfers immediately to the vibe at these kinds of events as well. The certain peaceful and laid-back mindset is present at all sorts of happenings, and lay out a comfortable base for attendees from all around the world, enabling a more natural way of networking and connecting. And that’s what it’s all about, right?
7 – Finns are just “innovative as fuck”
Conference planners and Event marketers in Helsinki are just totally on top of their game. Why that is? People here are more daring to trying new things – from abandoning dress codes and turning a business event into a festival (PING Helsinki) to creating an atmosphere that’s unique (Slush) and visually just on another level. Here also design plays an important role and the whole understanding of all the elements that make an event successful, are a crucial factor that leads these events to their remarkable success.
Around here, there’s a great understanding of what events and what people need, in order to drive them and move forward – and – to do business. Whereas events such as the Web Summit lack inspiration and the love for detail, Helsinki shines with commitment and creativity. The core to an event are not just the right people, but the setting, environment and the feeling. Have you ever enjoyed networking in a dull meeting room? Nope.
8 – Practically speaking, Helsinki just has it all
The city is easy to get to, transport within the Capital region is easy and effective, which is time-saving and also puts visitors and business travelers immediately in a different mindset compared to cities where you have to spend an hour on crowded public transport and then you still have to walk for 30 minutes. It’s safe – these days a factor that’s only growing in importance. Anybody can be perfectly safe and carefree with basic common sense – both day and night. Helsinki also appeals to many also through its proximity to nature, city escapes for prolonging your visit are just a stone’s throw away, you don’t even have to leave the city even. Design elements are present in accommodation and overall city image, which makes a pretty big part of Nordic lifestyle, and naturally fits in without even trying. People are friendly and welcoming, and visitors are often stunned by pretty much everything I listed above.
If Finland can emerge fro the shadows then it wil offer itself as a credible EU competitor and if it aspirations are matched by motivation then they will do it. It is about time tgey started to market themselves outwardly, they have a good story to tell.