Brewing coffee and tea at the pulsing heart of the work site


© Kiti Müller

You, my dear reader may have noticed that there has been a bit of a dry spell in my blogging. Also the next chapter of my diary “The adventures of a neurologist at Nokia” has been in waiting. I’ve been busy exploring my new working environment, finding my feet in my new work role; getting a hang of things.

I decided to take a new road in my career at a phase where I was already so into things that nothing really surprised me. I had the feeling that I am in charge no matter what – almost. I knew how to pull the ropes and make things happen. So when leaving FIOH (Finnish Institute of Occupational Health) I took a deep breath and jumped into unknown waters with butterflies fluttering in my stomach. Of course I had a general idea of what I will be doing and what is expected of me. At the same time I was a pioneer – the first MD working full-time at Nokia Technologies. Will I stay afloat? Can I swim? I was entering (for me) uncharted waters with a cultural map with only a few beacons to aid in navigating. So I really felt like an explorer ready to meet and discover the unknown. I have now sailed these new seas for nine months. It’s finally time to share.

I’ll start with a couple of memories from my first week: I am thankful for the old-style espresso coffee machine pictured in this blog. It sat proudly in the center of the Otaniemi site 4th floor open space office facilities. On my first workday I noticed a small group of people hovering around something. Curiosity walked me there. I smelled the aroma of coffee, saw the funny gadget and asked the guys what it is. “An old style multifunctional espresso gadget”, was the proud answer. The ice was broken. A conversation on the eccentric inner life of this coffee machine and how to keep it happily brewing led to introductions both ways and exchange of information also on what kind work different people are doing. So a big thank you to shared “coffee-break” spaces. Now, at Karaportti site I miss this machine, but have – with my left-handed coffee cup – found my way to the new get-together areas.

The cool magical coffee machine. © Kiti Müller

The cool magical coffee machine. © Kiti Müller

On that same week, TBD was indicated as the meeting room for my first group working session. Considering myself a person with good info-tech skills, I decided to be self-sufficient. So I logged into intra and started my “learning-by-doing” session. Click, click, I jumped from page to page and back trying to locate this TBD room. Being a neurologist my mind re-played over and over: TBD – Traumatic Brain Disease, even though I knew that is now not the solution to this three-letter-riddle. Maybe keywords would come to my rescue? They didn’t.

Time was running short for figuring out where to go. First impressions are important. Wondering helplessly around in look for the TBD -room and arriving late was not an option. So finally – after an hour or so of intra-hunting – I asked my new team-mate sitting next to me: “Do you know where this TBD room is?” “It’s not a room”, he answered and continued: “It means To Be Determined”. The guy organizing the meeting is sitting over there, just walk up to him and ask where you’re going”. Asking is smart. Being shy about not knowing in-house jargon is not. One would think I had in my life learned this by now.

In the hospital, as a young doctor on call at the ER, I often literally felt like having a person’s life in my hands and was grateful for the possibility to consult and share the burden of decisions with those clinically more experienced. Also during my PhD research I sometimes found myself at a dead end and learned with the help and example of my supervisor and others that there is always an alternative, a way forward. And at the end of the path you may find something truly amazing that boosts the research in a new way. As a senior doctor and leader of research groups I hopefully have given something back and have also discovered how consultation and mentoring often also was a learning process for me.

So at this ripe age of sixty, I am rather well marinated both career- and otherwise. I have been there, done that, and have encountered the unexpected and predictable. I have had to improvise and give structure. I have made decisions that have been sometimes easy; as a leader often the harder ones. I have had to find space and give space, show where boundaries lie. I’ve been the messenger of good and bad news. I’ve also been at the receiving end of emotional outbursts of frustration, but have also had the privilege to share peoples’ joys.

As you can read, during this new work phase I have also taken trips in my mind on memory lanes as far as my first jobs as a medical doctor in different hospitals and care centers. For fifteen years I jumped from workplace to another while treating patients. I then had the opportunity to pursue a career of 25 years at FIOH, of which the last ten years as the director of the BrainWork Research Center. Then as a next step I joined Nokia where I have now reached the young nine-month old age as a Nokia Tech person.

As a summary of my journey so far I claim: Ultimately it’s all about people and communication.

People build the working culture. Their ways of working define how things are in reality done. People are responsible for the flavor of dialog: Is there freedom of speech, courage to speak up? People decide what type of leaders are just tolerated and who are the leaders worthy of one’s commitment. From this human-centered viewpoint I claim with my nearly 45 years of experience that the private and public sector work places do not differ in things that really matter.

In every work place there are people who say everything is possible and some who are afraid of making mistakes and decide “better not to do anything”. There are those who speak their mind openly, but constructively and those who criticize for the sake of opposing. There are workers that are quiet when asked to respond and challenge, but enthusiastically give pointers unofficially – too often finding fault. There are those individuals that constantly voice new ideas that just seem to pop up randomly in their minds but which, in their hands, rarely mature to a riper stage because these idea-generators have become thrilled by a yet new idea. The idea catchers that make dreams come true are often the more quiet doers who are really good at coming up with solutions while working on a problem. In this noisy I-me-myself world these doers, not just talkers, are really valuable. They keep the wheels running.

People have different unofficial roles and different styles of communicating as well as doing. From this flowers the shared working culture. It thrives or withers depending on how people do the gardening. Success comes with people who are willing to share ideas and work loads. I also hold onto my belief that freedom of speech for all at the work place is important. A company with a working culture that does not foster this is not worth working for. So far during my career this, for me a fundamentally important aspect of wellbeing at work, has not been challenged in a negative way. This blog is one testament of this.

In all work places, also now at Nokia, I have mainly encountered people willing to help. People who like to pitch ideas and solve wicked problems together. In energetic, inspiring working cultures coffee and tea areas are in some sense the pulsing heart, core and soul of the work site. It is by the coffee machine and tea pot that magic happens: ideas see light and people spontaneously find common interests and goals. Even in this era of working remotely and globally and coming together in teleconferences from different time zones and continents, face-to-face meeting and sharing a common space and time, hanging around, talking about this and that, is important.

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