Ex-Nokia innovation chief: Today’s labour policies are ill-adapted to the Y generation

Present-day labour policies reflect an “outdated command and control culture” to employment that no longer fits with the younger generation, says Juhani Risku, former innovation director at Nokia, who has elaborated a different approach to work.

Juhani Risku is chief creative officer (CCO) at Divalo Ltd. He was in charge of innovation and user experience design at Nokia from 2001 to 2009. He spoke to EURACTIV’s publisher and editor Frédéric Simon.

You were innovation director at Nokia but left four years ago. Why?

As innovation director, in 2009 I had a large internal community and some 5,000 innovations in my portfolio, but not a single one of them was taken into the pipeline to get them into the phone.

Too many people could say no, and only a few could say yes, to the new conceptual ideas we had in the innovation pipeline, for example. Innovations were a bit too slow to implement for my speed. But, from Nokia I got a global view to work, business and entrepreneurship, as it was still a start-up type of business back in 2001, when I joined the company.

I am an architect, acoustician, designer and scenographer and had an architectural office for 15 years in Finland and in France before joining Nokia. After Nokia I came here in Lapland in 2009 to write and think. I namely wrote a book about how Nokia should be restructured. My idea of Wikimploi was also born from my wish to find a way to employ the 10,000 Nokia professionals who have lost their job. I believe Wikimploi type of big innovations only happen in the tranquillity of peripheries, where people become more courageous. Wikimploi would have never been invented in MIT, EIT, Oxford or Silicon Valley.

‘Wikimploi’ claims to be a model for a new type of work community, which connects professionals between themselves. Is Wikimploi a social network like Facebook or LinkedIn?

Of course it is a social network and partly virtual – but it is also very practical, and the main part of the work happens face-to-face with all kinds of professionals in a physical place called Wikimplace.

Wikimplace is a new era’s work and innovation marketplace and office environment located at the very heart of a city or a local community. In there, Wikimployees, citizens and other stakeholders like investors, headhunters and companies looking for some serious brainpower meet.

Localised Wikimplaces around the world form a dynamic global work community. Wikimploi is an open-source, non-profit framework – that’s why everybody fits in.

So Wikimploi is not just a virtual workplace – it also has offices and face-to-face meetings?

Absolutely. Wikimploi combines four things: unemployed people, empty work spaces (for example, in Finland we have currently 1 million square metres of empty office space), work and new ways of working (ethical, ecological and economical work).

A Wikimployee has a low threshold to take his place in a Wikimplace the very first day – he just needs to take his own computer, phone, pen and paper along, grab an access card at the reception desk and go occupy his new desk – work and network.

Enthusiastic and skilled Wikimployees form cross-professional multi-talented teams at these centrally located Wikimplaces to tackle even the most complex topics with new design, algorithms, patterns, design patterns, codes and creativity.

A team of 12 people can, for example, through consulting 10,000 professionals of the Wikimploi global network for one day, solve basically any problem let’s say within seven days – such as creating a scenario for transforming containerships to run with wind power, upgrade an existing student exchange programme to a global one concerning all young people or help households shop economically.

The brainpower of the community will be something unforeseen.

You seek to match people who are looking for work with people who would be interested in employing them. This is typically what government unemployment agencies do. Do you think governments are not doing their part of the job correctly?

In fact, governments and unemployment agencies are just collecting lists of vacant positions and passively distributing addresses of workplaces to potential jobseekers. Meanwhile, basically all job postings can already be found and are directly put on line by companies themselves – we don’t need unemployment agencies to do that.

We need to get rid of the present day labour policy because it represents an outdated ‘control and command’ employment culture. Current government policies do not organise work either, nor do we have any research or development on employment innovation. We simply need another kind of system – and that’s what we have created.

Does Wikimploi come as a complement to what the government agencies are doing?

No, not really. Wikimploi is a totally different thing. Unemployment agencies merely provide people with lists of potential jobs and wish them good luck with no guarantee for the person to find anything meaningful to do.

Wikimploi envisions, restructures and plans real, existing work and people can directly join on-going projects, or alternatively bring in or create their own within the Wikimploi community. So, everybody joining Wikimploi gets a flying start.

Are you looking for funding from local governments, municipalities or the EU?

The funding is quite special because you don’t need that much hard money – Wikimploi as a framework does not need money – what we need are resources.

We don’t need money for salaries as Wikimployees come to Wikimplace and start their work with either their unemployment benefit, redundancy payment package or their own company money. Turnover and profit-balance of Wikimployee’s work might well be zero at the beginning, but will turn into positive as projects evolve and she gets more business and contacts on her area, most likely also in other countries.

We have all around the world millions of square metres of empty office and other workspace as well as empty production, storage and market space. These must be put into use so that empty spaces and production facilities get business – this is crucial. It is possible that the owners of these empty spaces give them to Wikimploi at first for free in an initial sponsor-type agreement in which they get visibility in return. However, soon after initial sponsorship cooperation, these real estate arrangements can be turned into profitable business for their owners.

In addition to sponsoring production space, Wikimploi needs in particular sponsors and partnerships in the logistics area – for example airlines, car brands, hotel industry, shipping and rail, but also catering, ICT, etc. Logistics sponsors would support transport and work of Wikimployees through provision of, at first, free tickets in exchange of visibility. But then when sponsorship turns into partnership, they also get Wikimploi brainpower in use to improve their business. It is important to stress that the first and quickest companies to sponsor the establishment of Wikimploi will get the biggest benefits!

We need real money and funding at the very initial phase, to build Wikimploi from its current 0.8 version into 1.0 version. This can be done through, for example, an EU-funded pilot project to support the development work of some 30-odd people, who would very quickly design and upgrade our concept and procedures to the version 1.0. Once mature, the pilot project would continue with localisation work – a phase during which a Wikimplace is created and its concept adapted to a certain number of countries with the help of people from the EU, universities and local governments. It is also very important to include the young ones into Wikimploi already at this pilot phase.

After such a pilot project, it is possible to clone the concept and establish new Wikimplaces wherever you want – and the pilot country Wikimplaces will act as the messengers.

In Europe, youth unemployment is becoming a major source of worry, with more than 60% young people unemployed in countries like Greece, for instance. Yet, employers often complain about a skills mismatch – young people do not seem to be interested in scientific or technical jobs which are in high demand. How do you see this problem – is the younger generation not adapted to the current working environment?

I’d say that there is also a mismatch of employers’ needs and young people’s interest.

And the problem is even worse if you think of those young people that really need special measures and funding – they form a very asymmetrical section of young people. The majority, the most active ones get education and jobs after their graduation, but then we have these other youngsters that are very challenging for us.

The much-talked Youth Guarantee Scheme, for example, is only meant to help the drop-outs, the asymmetrical section of youth, and does not concern the majority which manages to find a position.

For these drop-outs you can’t just give money alone or beg companies to hire them. We need a kind of a framework to which young people can come under professional supervision. They can start from arts, music, social sciences or whatever gets them interested and excited – and as they work with senior professionals in an inspiring framework they can then move on, study more and eventually end up working on a totally different field, such science and technology.

What we need in the future are multitalented professionals who will lead the way to the abstraction shift of work. Drop-outs are changemakers.

What we have here is the change in attitude to work. We try to combine and use all the same things as the best companies on earth – like Apple and Google, which are really nice places to work in, but we also put a bit more brainpower into this Wikimploi framework and team.

This sounds a lot like an apprenticeship or a traineeship

I think that apprenticeship is a very good word here but Wikimploi is even more. It is a framework to give young people tasks and projects they can do independently and this way give them responsibility and a sense of doing something productive.

You seem to be describing what is often referred to as the Y Generation – young people who were born around the turn of the century, who value their social life, are very connected to social media and are often quite hostile to authority. I guess Wikimploi is a way of addressing the needs of that generation, right?

The Y Generation is a very demanding in their way of thinking. The previous generation has a hard time understanding today’s young people – and vice-versa. Meanwhile, these two generations need to be brought together and forced to cooperate – the outcome of that collaboration can create the abstraction shift on several fields in our society.

The Wikimploi model brings the adults and the young ones to work on same things in a common framework. I think the Y Generation will love Wikimploi’s Occupy and Woodstock stuff.

EU leaders gather for a summit at the end of this month where youth unemployment will feature high on the agenda. Would you have any particular advice on the subject for politicians?

I think that it is good that we have this focus on trying to employ young people but I think that for example the Youth Guarantee Scheme is a bit random, passive and temporary solution to a problem that urgently needs concrete actions. 

As for commonly used measures to tackle unemployment, such as tax relief to companies, they are obviously not working either. Companies are not employing more than they need despite how much money you give them – and tax relief, for example, are being used for R&D, company expansion and marketing, not for employing more people. So it looks like they don’t need extra people – in particular under the age of 25 young uneducated, untalented or unmotivated workforce – which governments push them to hire. A private company has a business to run – it is no social services office.

In this context, the upcoming Hollande-Merkel New Deal seems doomed – encouraging SMEs to take loans to hire young people they don’t need. Are they actually serious with this?

We can’t keep on spending productive taxpayers’ money into random, inefficient and temporary measures hoping the problem will go away.

When addressing unemployment, young people should not be considered as a separate group but we need to integrate all – young ones, professionals, seniors – and deal with the idea of work holistically.

The German finance minister just recently admitted that “there is no quick fix” or “grand plan” to solve the problem. Meanwhile, for the €6 billion pledged in, for example, the Youth Guarantee Scheme – I guess you’d better have a grand plan. The grand plan is structure, methods, creativity, skills, brainpower and leadership – this is where Wikimploi comes in.

The abstraction shift of work is an essential part of Wikimploi grand plan – doing the current work and production more ecologically, ethically and economically.

Isn’t that a bit too idealistic? Can you give any example of such type of work?

Restructuring local market chains, such as the one on food, is an obvious one. Redefining journalism and planning, designing and realising eco-cities and better homes for people are other examples. The next level of libraries must also be planned to adapt their function and structure to virtual culture and turn them into tomorrow’s cultural meeting places.

The new work relations you describe rely on people acting like entrepreneurs leading their own projects. But a lot of people actually don’t want this and prefer having a pre-defined set of tasks to perform. How does your model deal with people who want to work from 9 to 5 and go home afterwards?

You can come to a Wikimplace with either your own ideas and projects and turn them into business, join on-going projects as an employee for others or for the Wikimploi’s grand abstraction shift projects. Private companies can also join the Wikimploi, but the very big ones might only want to join the community with their R&D and innovation section.

Wikimplace is the best place for companies to recruit the brightest professionals on all areas and the best place for investors to find projects to invest in, as the concentrated brainpower of a global Wikimploi community is such that investors will have lesser risk to invest in them.

You can be an entrepreneur, but you don’t have to know everything about running a business as each Wikimplace will have professionals from all fields and everyone will have the chance to concentrate on their real profession.

An engineer can concentrate on his work, knowing that bookkeeping and marketing is done by professionals. This is the idea of Wikimploi’s collaborative work.

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