While living in Finland, I learned of some of the Finnish idioms that give a wonderful glimpse into the Finnish mind & culture. Here are some of my favorites.
juosten kustu translates literally as, “pissing while running” which, if you’re a man and have ever had to do this, results in a wavy line in the snow. It means something done half-assed. Related but different is kusee hunajaa which means that you’re happy because you are “pissing honey.”
laittaa hanskat naulaan translates as, “hang up your mittens” which means you give up or, more specifically, are quitting your job. Because we all know that if you’re not wearing your mittens in sub-zero weather, you’re not going to be working.
irtoaa kuin mummon hammas or “comes loose like a grandmother’s tooth” is something that goes very easily. This is the opposite of kiven alla which is difficult to obtain because it is, “under a stone.”
joka kumartaa yhdelle, pyllistää toisille “when bowing to one person you show your ass to those behind you” could be cynically translated as standing on other peoples heads to get to the top.
juopon napit when you mis-match the buttons on your shirt, you have “drunkard’s buttons”
lukea kuin piru Raamattua translates as, “like the devil reads the Bible” or someone who reads something carefully to look for a loophole.
Tomorrow I leave Finland, our home for the last two years. It’s always bittersweet packing up, leaving behind an empty apartment, and closing the door on a phase of your life. Today, on my last night, I am philosophical. To be honest, it was a bit rough and it’s probably best to reserve judgement on this period of my life for a few years when I’ll have a better perspective. When I left Alameda for Finland I wrote, “What we do with this experience and what we make of it is up to us.” Returning to Alameda and re-adjusting to life back in America will be a continuation of our experience in Finland. It is only when you see the familiar changed around you, when you return, that you can reflect on a journey and see how it has changed you.
I think my two kids grew up faster than they might have if we stayed put. On the flip, they experienced things that they would have never, had we not taken the chance. Izumi was ever the trooper throughout. She swam in the frozen ocean and made great friends from around the world. As is often the case, the best in everyone comes out in the final weeks before you have to leave. It was a gamble to bring the family with me. My only wish is that sometime they will look back and say it was worth it.
Push play on both objects below for a homemade music video which takes you through our two years in Finland, from Summer 2009 – Summer 2011.
I’ve always loved the simplicity of early music and Gregorian chants and plainsong. There is just this austere simplicity that I find really comforting. So I was listening to this Trio Mediaeval record and I basically wrote a bunch of string arrangements around their acapella recording and then went to the woman who sang it and said, ‘Oh, is it possible for you to re-sing it to this arrangement that I’ve written’.
I think she was eight and a half month pregnant. So she has this little studio in her garage in Norway, she recorded the vocals, handed the recording off to her husband and then went and gave birth.
The inevitable layoffs announced today at Nokia (where I work) were not as bad as expected. The trick of how to keep the Symbian development teams churning away when you’ve already announced that you’ll be ramping it down was solved by shifting a block of 3,000 employees over to Accenture where they can continue to work or re-deploy their talents on to other Accenture projects.
Nokia CEO Stephen Elop did an great job on Finnish TV this evening easing worries, popping conspiracy theory bubbles, and boosting confidence. The entire 20-minute interview is on the YLE site. YLE is the state-funded broadcast network, similar to Japan’s NHK or the BBC in the UK.
Addressing dead on the nagging concern Symbian engineers had about future employment is a brilliant tactical move. This takes the wind out of Finnish employees and press who were bracing for bad news or worse, something suspiciously too optimistic. This keeps the teams’ eye on the ball which is to ship 150 million devices, not look for work elsewhere.
Finns love to rally around stories of the bleakness and unfairness of life. This is something Jim Jarmusch nailed in his 1991 movie Night on Earth clipped below. I encourage you to watch both parts if you want to get an insight into Finnish culture.
Back in 1997, when Apple was $4 a share, the CEO at the time, Gil Amelio, left journalists unsatisfied with his half-answers to their burning questions. It took Apple years to find it’s way again and only then, with the return of their iconic co-founder. Hopefully Mr. Elop’s transparency and directness will shortcut the process for Nokia’s return.
4Nature is a Finnish company that makes modular homes that are easy to construct, giving people in disaster zones long term shelter, getting them out of tents or other short term shelters. A 55-square meter house can be built by three people in 48 hours using simple tools without electricity. I met Mikael Arpiainen, the CEO of 4Nature, several months back and he explained to me the concept and the good work they were doing for the people of Haiti and refugee camps in Africa. Shortly after the earthquake in Japan, I reached him via email and he sent on some more information about his company which I summarize below.
The idea is to start with a basic “module” of 18-square meters which can be combined with other modules to make any structure you need. Pieces can be added on or removed easily and because the modules are built ahead of time in quantities, they are cheap and easy to ship and handle. It’s like Lego. Once a shelter is no longer needed, they can be disassembled and re-used again and again, cutting down on waste and saving on the initial investment.
The structures are designed to be built quickly, without the need of a foundation. They can be built on corkscrew like pillars so the height of the home can be adjusted as necessary. The philosophy behind these homes is that they can be built by anyone so that people begin to rebuild their lives and help each other while helping themselves and not have to wait for specialized crews. The point is to get people back on their feet and out of temporary shelters and into homes that they can call their own so they can begin to re-build their lives.
These homes are not trailer homes like the ones that were provided for the Kobe earthquake victims. These are simple but durable structures that can support long term occupancy. They are built to withstand hurricane force winds, are flame retardant, and are built to be comfortable in all seasons.
Most affordable long-term residency solution available on the market
Easy to assemble – a standard house can be erected without any machinery
Extremely short building time – significant savings in building costs
Inhabitants can move in the same day – optimal for crisis situations
Reusable – Can be assembled and disassembled several times
Adaptable to any need – private house, hospital, school, office, warehouse..
Fireproof, water-resistant, resistant to insects and termites
Withstands winds of up to 100 mph, up to 8.9 Richter earthquakes
Built out of environmentally friendly materials
Easy installation of solar panels and other amenities
4Nature says they have over 50 units at the factory ready to go today and can begin ramping up production if large orders are necessary. Pricing from the factory starts at 2,500 euros for their basic 18 square meter home. If anyone reading this is interested in contacting 4Nature, please visit their website or leave a comment below and I will pass on your contact details.
As the search and rescue operations wind down, it’s vital to get the survivors out of the tents, cars, and gymnasiums where they have been living and into places where they have privacy so they can get their life together again. These homes by 4Nature are one way to do it.
UPDATE: According to this article (in Japanese) there are still only 36 units of temporary housing have been built in the three weeks since the earthquake.
Wireless charging technology has been around since Nikola Tesla came up with the idea. In that sense, Finland startup PowerKiss is no different. Put the receiver (the Ring) into your phone and then place it on top of the power transmitter (the Heart) which is designed to be attached or built into furniture.
But unlike Powermat, which markets itself as an end-to-end solution that you buy for yourself and keep in your home, the folks at PowerKiss are marketing themselves to cafes, hotels, and airline lounges as a service that they can offer their customers. Power as a service, elegant battery top-up as a value add.
The idea is that the traveler borrows a receiver from the business when they walk in (the receivers cost about 10 EUR each) and plugs it into their mobile device and places it on a table that has the transmitter built in. No wires to trip up other customers, no crouching around looking for a spare outlet.
Clean, elegant, utterly Finnish. The PowerKiss chargers currently support Nokia phone 2mm jack, the microUSB, and the iPhone/iPad format too. Their site also says they have a laptop charger in the works.
Launched last year, the company now has 15 employees in Helsinki situated in the Aalto design factory. Here’s a video interview with the founder, Maija Itkonen.
During the Winter in Finland the ocean freezes over. Highways that normally twist around the lakes in the warmer months are re-routed to cut straight across, efficiently. GPS vendors offer Winter Packs to take advantage of these new routes, cutting Winter travel times considerably.
But this is Finland. Not only do they keep driving at normal speeds, studded tires helping keep traction on icy roads, they also have world records to break. Which brings me to today’s headline.
I didn’t know much about tires to begin with, nor anything about Nokian Tyres except that they are one of the original business lines for the company I work for, Nokia. The news story was interesting, bits of trivia on the challenges of designing tires for sub-zero temperatures, but what was really interesting was the section on the Nokian site which described their working spirit.
Nokian Tyres employs over 3700 people, who have their own joys and sorrows, dreams and values. These is something that we all share: solid faith in our competence and skills, confidence in finding answers together, respect for hands-on hard work. We are there for those in need, and we never give up. This is what we call the Hakkapeliitta Spirit. it is something very tangible yet difficult to define, still natural, genuine, real. Frighteningly simple. And impossible to imitate.
“Joys and sorrows?” This passage seemed so utterly Finnish. What American company would admit their employees are anything but joyful? My Finnish colleagues here at Nokia have tried to describe to me this acknowledgement that an honest life is a struggle.
This is something that existed in the early days of Nokia when young Finnish engineers were sent to Singapore with a suitcase of phones and a bag of cash and asked to “set something up.” The goal of work, for these Nokia old timers, was less about waving your flag at the top of some mountain and more about the struggle (sisu) it took to get there and how that struggle brings people together.
Broken out into sections, the Nokian site goes on to give you a little thumbnail what it’s like to work at Nokian. Sections are titled things like, Together we can achieve more and include phrases such as, “We support each other and never leave a colleague in a pinch.” All of this comes under the header, the Hakkapeliitta spirit.
The Hakkapeliitta were well-trained Finnish light cavalrymen who excelled in sudden and savage attacks, raiding and reconnaissance. The greatest advantage of the fast and lightly-armored Hakkapeliitta cavalry was its charge. They typically had a sword, a helmet, and leather armor or a breastplate of steel. They would attack at a full gallop, fire the first pistol at twenty paces and the second at five paces, and then draw the sword. The horse itself was used like another weapon, as it was used to trample enemy infantry.
If I’m going to be driving at top speeds on the ice, I know who I want making my tires!