Tuija: Growing up from corporate to creating opportunities

For 15 years I lived through my childhood dream of working as expat executive, most part of it with Nokia. I was a ´power woman´ controlling my life and many others´ too. I lived and worked in exciting places like New Delhi, Singapore, Barcelona, Madrid, Budapest.

In 2009 the global recession pulled my plug out and switched off the power. For a while I tried to get my career back using all traditional job search methods. I sent applications, I had a career coach, I discussed with headhunters, tried volunteering work to network and feel relevant. Despite all this my efforts did not work out – hardly anybody hired, and I was often pigeonholed as “too experienced” and labelled as “Sales only”.


Fine. Time for testing something else.

So I decided to escape from Finland to Barcelona, my home city of early 2000´s, to seek new inspiration and networks. In Barcelona I tested different project ideas, even started writing a book (which was never finished), which kept me busy and triggered to read many books about future and creativity.

One of the books was Lynda Gratton´s The Shift – the future of work is already here. And what a book it was! Gratton´s book made me wake up to the reality: to succeed in the future I wanted to to re-tool myself to be competitive on the markets with the massive oversupply of the talent and also “become part of a Big Ideas Crowd, where we can all buzz with energy and ideas”. Lynda Gratton has inspired my thinking till today.

With this new insight I decided to get back to school but I wanted to go to a new type of school. Luckily I found one. In 2011 I enrolled in the THNK – the Amsterdam School of Creative Leadership executive program to study design and innovation thinking. The THNK program was, and is, very experiential. Being one of the Founding Participants gave an opportunity to experience what it feels, and means, to build the plane when flying. For a grownup like me, until then with a strong corporate identity and thinking patterns, it was a revolutionary reframing experience – in all aspects.

The program sent me from Barcelona back to Helsinki to try another project: a startup concept development that I conducted as the accelerator project of my THNK studies. I started sensing and testing possibilities for the idea of Grownups for Startups (the name co-created with some highly creative fellow THNK participants). I had thought Helsinki and Finland would be ready for my idea but I really did not know how wrong I was.

Nevertheless, this startup – where I have prototyped myself as a grownup – has opened up so many new possibilities, networks, and experiences. I have pitched my idea to many audiences in Helsinki, and spontaneously in the Africa Startup 2.0 event in Cape Town; have worked on a project with a well-known social business Shonaquip in Cape Town; have volunteered in Slush – the biggest startup event in the Nordics -, have attended startup events in Berlin and Helsinki, have conducted a pilot for grownups in Helsinki, have mentored grownups, and so on. This may sound exciting startup life, but oh dear I have struggled with bigger and smaller things. Different types of fears (money, failure) have of course been there. But also trivial questions such as whether I will be the only grownup attending a Startup Weekend event and what is the dress code for startup events. This question is not a minor issue for a grownup woman. I think hoodies are far from elegant, on the other hand, who wants to look like a mom of the rest of the audience.

By doing all this I have invested my time and my money to re-tool myself to be an innovative connector, entrepreneur or intrapreneur, whatever the future will require. I will switch the power on.

Learnings I´d like to share:

• Read Lynda Gratton´s book Shift – the Future of Work Is Already Here.

* My advice is: start preparing for the future of work. Transitions take time, may take 3-4 years as in my case. Sooner you start exposing yourself to new networks and possibilities, better positioned you will be in the new game of disruption.

• The best unlearning and re-tooling process for me has been to try and do several startup idea projects, with different people. In those projects you learn so much about new tools but particularly about yourself, about your thinking patterns, fears and self-limiting beliefs. A startup can be the best source for latest market insights and knowledge. And a great live course to stay curious and humble.

• Startup events are ideal places to sense new possibilities, learn about startup models, build new connections, and test stepping out of your comfort zone (particularly if you dare to pitch;).

• Trying and doing projects you gradually create a new story for yourself.

Tuija Pulkkinen, Helsinki



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