Nokia or the dark side of being Finnish

Why is Finland so famous for its design? Whether we talk about furniture, glass work, cutlery, textile or ceramics, the Fins haven’t stopped amazing us. The other day I was talking about another famous Finnish company, Nokia. How did this nr. 1 cell phone designer end up getting in trouble? Did it sleep while the competition worked hard to come up front? Had the world become too comfortable after all these years of success? Or was something else going on? Back to the question: why Finland? Why all these bright colours, happy cushions, wild cups and pans in a country so far from Rome, Paris and London, where design is supposed to happen? Well, exactly because Finland is almost at the end of the Western world, closer to Murmansk than to Milano, so close to the North Pole that it is fighting darkness half of the year, that it needs to compensate. Fins love bright colours and daring designs which help them to survive the long winters. The ideas are original because they’ve been thought of in solitude, with less outside influence and therefore more independence. But there is another side of the medal: if you are unprepared, isolation means disconnection. Nokia’s case? Maybe. Being nr. 1 means that you need to understand where the next competitor will come from. It means that you need antenna’s everywhere, empathy and sensitivity being the other key ingredients. These are not very developped talents in Finland, as far as I know. So here we go: Nokia lost touch with global reality and turned out to be more isolated than it thought possible. Working from the dark may bring surprises (Nokia did!) but it can also mean lack of enlightment. To innovate is not enough. Understanding of the real dreams and needs out there is the answer if Nokia wants to come back as a leader in its trade. It could if it just wasn’t that Finnish. Here’s the dilemma: if you keep your design teams in the cold, they will stay unique but naive. If you set up a lab in Silicon Valley, the designers may find it uneasy and their creativity will sweat away. They will know and see more, but this may threaten their focus. Best is to travel, collect observations, open up to real light and then go back to the ice fields and translate. And then, surprise us once again!

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