Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Well, I never. It looks like we may well be becoming an "Internet company" after all...

I've just returned from what what should have by rights been a tedious day, holed up in a subterranean convention bunker on the outskirts of a blizzard ensconced Helsinki, participating in a strategy meeting of our HR group. This kind of stuff, I thought to myself through gritted teeth, was what I get paid to do. Fair 'nuff.

However, after a 13 hour day brimming with powerpoints I've returned bounding with renewed energy for my job, and belief in this very Finnish, very unique company. The day was dominated by discussions around the transformation that our CEO has, with his characteristic bluntness put as "we're a mobility company, now we're also going to become an Internet company". (As to what this means exactly, for our purposes it is closely tied up with the shift to services, and in general, like porn, you know it when you see it.) The fact that Internet issues pervaded our discussions is no great surprise - what gave me the shot in the arm was the universally positive attitude in the room of appx. 100 people - almost by definition not the early technology adopters in the company - that major change was inevitable, we were going to deal with it like we had dealt with other major issues in the past, and we were going to do it damn well.

Letting go of control, embracing uncertainty, welcoming failure, sharing not hoarding, external openness, beta-level iteration, understanding and innovating together with end-users: these were all alien concepts to this company when I joined 3 years ago, and I felt out of place in an environment of highly skilled, disciplined, telecom enginneers, who designed complex solutions to complex problems. Before this gig, I had been coordinating trade policy networks in Brussels where the only way to get things done was informal collaboration, and I knew nothing of telco technologies (and, as a edge-ist didn't want to learn). Now, even in the 12 months that I've been working on these 2.0 and innovation related issues I've seen a major change of approach, both at the top and increasingly in the all-important middle layer. And today I felt on the same wavelength as most of the HR management, who have their tentacles in every nook of the company, and hold the levers to change that all important 'mindset'.

So, will it work? Who knows. It's certainly going to be a long journey as we start to roll out our consumer internet services and explore new business models and partnerships. However, the real sense I've got from today is that we're reached the crest of an uphill struggle for hearts and minds to focus on this issue, and the long winding road of Internet transformation is now looking that bit less daunting. Am looking forward to sharing more specifics as they emerge.

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