Today, as part of The Hieno! “What is Finnish-ness” series celebrating Suomi 100 in 2017, we feature Saku Tuominen. Saku is an idealist, entrepreneur, innovator, creative director, executive producer, author, keynote speaker, curator, olive oil producer… etc.

Watch this before you read the interview! 

Personally,  Juha and I have been talking about this awesome initiative HundrED helmed by Saku since October last year, and it’s totally amazing to find out that HundrED is part of the Suomi 100 official programme too!!~~

Enjoy the interview! ♡

WW: Hello Saku! Can you tell us more about yourself and what you are currently doing?

Saku: I am entrepreneur who has founded several companies and written 10 books.

At the moment I am concentrating only on the future of K12 education and HundrED is a my main project.

WW: Who is an idealist?

Saku: For me an idealist is a person who genuinely believes that every problem in the world can be solved with great ideas that are executed well.

WW: What is the one thing you are most proud of as a Finnish citizen?

Saku: I like the fact that even though we are among the best ones in the world in so many areas and measurements, we are never satisfied or happy but strive to improve.

WW: What is the one thing you are not so proud of as a Finnish citizen, and how do you think this can change?

Saku: I hate the fact that even though we are among the best ones in the world in so many areas and measurements, we are never proud about it.

But I am not certain it should change because it has its pros and cons.

WW: What are the three most innovative inventions from Finland? Do tell us more! 🙂

Saku: For me by far the best one is Santa Claus.

A fictional character that brings happiness to every human being in the world annually.

It is something that not even the most innovative companies like Pixar or Disney have been able to come up with.

The second one is karjalanpiirakka/ the Carelian pie.

Amazingly delicious, perfect snack, especially with munavoi/ eggbutter.

And finally, sauna.

I love it.

It is something I enjoy almost daily and so should everyone else.

However, the common denominator with all three is that we Finns have been extremely lousy in branding them or claiming the global ownership.

All three should be massive global hits and known as Finnish innovations – which they are.

WW: Finland is commonly said to have the world’s best education system. How do you define “best”? Next, how do you measure the “world’s best”? Does this set of measurement and definition only apply to primary education system, or does it also apply to Finnish universities?

Saku: This notion is based on some credible global studies, like PISA by OECD or the global competitiveness report by World Economic Forum.

Having said that, the quality of any education system is really difficult to define because some of the most important things in tomorrow´s schools are hard to measure.

For example, how well do schools educate growth mindset, skills of lifelong learning or thinking skills and creativity?

But I think it is fair to say that equality is on a high level in Finnish schools in general and our teachers are among the best ones in the world.

But I would say this is mainly true for K12 education, not for our universities that are having hard time at the moment.

WW: The concept of “skills of lifelong learning” is fascinating! Talking about “lifelong learning”, what are your thoughts about calls to privatise Finnish universities and eventually charging fees to students?

Saku: My strict principle is not to comment on things where I am not an expert and my focus is really strongly on K12.

In K12, I love our public school system and our country´s mission that instead of having special schools for very talented kids, every school should be a great one.

But in general, I try to be open for every new proposal and don´t say an absolute no to anything, even though things has been taken for granted for a long time.

So, not charging fees has been one of them. But for me, it is an option I think we have to consider in the future.

WW: What are your thoughts on certain Finnish political parties which went ahead to cut the university budgets, using “austerity” as a justification?

Saku: I have been an entrepreneur all my life. I understand that in difficult times you have to do things everyone hates if you don´t have the money.

But at the same time, I think it would have been a bold and an important message if the government would have said that education is so crucial for the future of Finland.

And that it will be the only area where we don´t make any cuts, and on the contrary, invest more on it.

WW: Saku, you once commented that more ambition is needed in the sphere of Finnish primary education. Do you seriously think this would happen, and what makes you think you’re not deluded?

As you said, most Finns believe “if it is not broken, don’t fix it”. Why should they listen to you and innovate in this ever-changing world to risk failure if the current system is seemingly so great?

Saku: There is a classic innovation problem & challenge called ”innovation paradox” in innovation theory.

It means this : how do you become successful? By taking risks.

What happens when you are successful? You start avoiding them.

This is something that can happen also to Finnish education as well if we are not open and willing to improve.

The world is changing so fast that education has to change as well. If your attitude is “if it is not broken, don’t fix it”, you end up in a situation, when you start fixing things when it is too late.

My attitude is ”even if it´s not broken, improve it”.

WW: Can you tell us 3 ways Finnish schools can be more ambitious, and why should they?

Saku: If you want to be the best one in the world, you have to keep improving. You have to stay open, curious and hungry.

Three areas that are really important for me are these:

1. Our education system should be the most child centric in the world. All the development should start from child´s interest and viewpoint.

2. Teachers. We should have the best teachers in the world also in the future.

3. Co-operation. Instead of fierce competition, there should be a lot of co-operation between schools, both in domestic and in international level.

We are not bad in these areas but we can be a lot better as well.

WW: What are the three things/ traits you would consider as uniquely “Finnish”, and why?

Saku: I have been working so long in multinational environments that I would love to say none.

But maybe there is one.

The fact we are so silent and shy means that we can do most of the work much faster than other people – which is understandable because they socialize so much more.

I don´t know whether that is a good thing, though.

WW: Against the context of globalisation, who do you think can and should define “Finnish-ness”?

Saku: We should be agile, ambitious and liberal.

Fast moving, bold and effective – all the things we are not at the moment.

We should be like the special force of the world, being the most dynamic country in the world, always testing new things, making rest of the world jealous.

WW: What are three popular misconceptions about Finland/ Finns that you would consider as far from the truth?

Saku: Of the positive ones, we Finns like to think that we are especially creative or hardworking.

I don´t think that is the case.

And of the negative ones, the fact that we think that we are not good in communication or drink too much.

I think we can be really clear and precise in delivering our message and the good old drinking days are history.

WW: “Finns overly care about how the world sees them”. Do you think this statement is true? Do tell us more!

Saku: I think that is very much the case since we are a county that has spent most of its history under other countries, first Sweden and then Russia.

Caring a lot about what others think is rooted in our DNA.

WW: Who inspires you, and why?

Saku: People who can combine bold thinking and bold doing inspire me.

Anyone from entrepreneur Elon Musk to Supercell´s game wizard Ilkka Paananen, from Noma´s chef Rene Rezepi to architect Bjarke Ingels.

But I also get inspired by people who do great things daily without any fuss, like most of the Finnish teachers for example.

WW: What is the one 100 year-old birthday wish you would make for Finland, since 2017 is Finland’s 100 years of independence?

Saku: Let´s be 100 times bolder in our thinking and doing.

Being a small, homogenous and rich country we could and should be a global opinion leader in so many areas – but that requires visionary leaders who can take action.

There is a room for them in Finland.

WW: On a parting note, do you have anything else to add?

Saku: The more I travel and spend time abroad, the more I love Finland.

Even though it could be so much bolder and visionary, it is quite a cool country already.

We hope you have enjoyed this interview with Saku Tuominen!

The Hieno! is the official partner of the Finland 100 independence programme.This series  “What is Finnish-ness”? is endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Office. Photographs courtesy of Saku, taken by Tuukka Koski.🙂 Feel free to follow Saku on twitter @sakuidealist or visit his website . ♡