Reijo Karhinen: Even the strongest must reinvent themselves
To commemorate the Finland 100 centenary year, our family resolved to move a log inn built in 1917 from the Härkälä village of Juva to the picturesque shores of Lake Pihlajavesi in Savonlinna. This challenge requires a great deal of time and resources, and now at the beginning of October 2017, the roof of the log building is being raised at the new location.
The history of this particular inn is well-documented. In 1917, it was moved about one kilometre to the immediate vicinity of the main road between Mikkeli and Savonlinna. At the time, no one could foresee how regular bus traffic from 1925 onwards would impact the inn business, which was primarily based on passing horse traffic – to use modern terms, the development disrupted the market.
There are lessons we can learn from the inn’s story even now, a century later. The decline in income had fatal impacts. Moreover, it bears to note that stubbornly clinging to the building’s original purpose of use almost led to its demise.
Solid foundation for change
In this celebratory year, we are right to highlight Finland’s many strengths and remind each other of the things of which we should be proud. Globally and historically speaking, Finland is a one-of-a-kind society – all things considered, I find it hard to think of a better country.
For me, Finland’s greatest strengths and points of pride include social integrity, a reliable government that supports it and a robust infrastructure. Previous generations have bestowed upon us a unique society and strong foundation that has carried us through trying times and enabled us to build a century-spanning success story. Our affluent and safe nation has been much more successful in keeping everyone in the same boat than many other countries. We should cherish and further develop all of these aspects.
However, we are now in a situation where even the strongest of us must reinvent themselves. The forces of change brought about by the fourth industrial revolution are shaking the very structures of our society and income distribution. Accelerating technological development, globalisation and tectonic shifts in employment are changing the principles of our operating environments, blurring the boundaries between nations and business sectors. In this world of escalating change, our old strengths and competencies are no longer enough to keep us afloat, but they do provide a solid foundation for responsible reinvention. For us, too, clinging to the old would prove fateful, which is why it is time to take an open mind and begin building something new on our strong foundation.
Young Finns take the lead
In my view, at 100 years of age Finland has once again reached a significant turning point in its history. As before, the only way forward through these tumultuous times is to reinvent ourselves and rely on our agility as a small country. I firmly believe that Finland as a small and agile nation could punch far above its weight in the digital world.
Thanks to a vast pool of strong expertise, Finland is poised to take the lead for the first time in the history of industrial revolutions. Yet, we are at risk of failing to seize this opportunity due to the structural rigidity of our society. Many of our operating models, structures and norms were created and formed in a Finland that no longer exists. In other words, the normative basis of our society must be readjusted to enable us to fully exploit the opportunities of digitalisation.
Future successes will be reached by opening new avenues and learning new things. Since the main victims of a society’s stagnation are, without fail, the coming generations, we should keep a particularly keen ear to the prevailing views among young people. They will live the future we build now, which is why we must include the new generations in the process of forging a society of the future and the success story of the next century.
Confidence in the future
At this point in time, we should reshape our society faster and through bolder actions. What we need is a deeper mutual understanding of the scope and rate of the change, along with better discussion between people. However, Finland as a country and nation lacks a shared view of the future – the future success story that everyone can relate to and that includes every single one of us.
The successful reinvention of Finnish society will also require the ability to build bridges over social and generational gaps. In order to build the appropriate vision for the future, we need a solid foundation of confidence moulded through healthy and efficient interaction. Only through bold, passionate and creative efforts to reshape our country and ourselves can we leave a better Finland for our children.
Reijo Karhinen is President and CEO of OP Financial Group, M.Sc. (Econ. & Bus. Adm.), vuorineuvos (Finnish honorary title granted by the President) and Honorary Doctor of the University of Turku, University of Eastern Finland and Lappeenranta University of Technology. During his career, Karhinen has held and still holds numerous positions of trust in business and the third sector. In his spare time, he relaxes through forestry and golf.