Great Business Ideas: Learning together

Great Small Business Ideas to Start: Learning together

Responding to changes in business markets is best achieved with a willingness to learn and develop ideas as part of a group, creating an “intensive learning culture.”

The idea

Nokia, the world-renowned cellphone technology company, was, in the late 1980s, a nearly defunct diversified conglomerate, mostly known for its rubber and tissue products. The decision to put all the energy and remaining resources behind a minuscule (by industry standards) telecommunications activity, more specifically an emerging cellphone technology sector, triggered an intensive learning culture and period of business growth.

By the end of 1996 Nokia Group was the global market leader in digital cellphones, and one of the two largest suppliers of GSM networks.

In just a few years, this resilient Finnish business had learned enough to become the trendsetter in cellphone design, making its product a high-tech lifestyle attribute that many fashion products could envy.

On the cellular network side, Nokia was also setting the pace with solution-oriented customer services, thus raising the competitive threshold.

Most companies, having achieved this level of success in such a short time, could be expected to miss the next industry turn if there ever was one—and there was: the rise of the internet.

However, Nokia kept pace with this change, creating phones that were internet-ready, and helped create the now ubiquitous mobile information culture.

Commenting on Nokia’s “thinking process,” CEO Jorma Ollila noted:

Of course, we get masses of information, but what is important is that we discuss it a lot among ourselves, kicking it around, looking at it from different perspectives. It is a collective learning process and the key point is whom we should discuss a new piece of information with, to augment it and give it more meaning than it had originally. Then, we make some choices, try them out, listen to the feedback and redirect as needed.

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With this collective learning process we are all on the same wavelength and we can act very fast when needed.

Nokia has certainly suffered its share of setbacks, but to successfully make a journey from near disaster to world domination in less than ten years shows a sustained flexibility and desire to learn at all levels.

Clearly this is vital for a business in an industry as new and fast moving as cellphone technology, but the Nokia approach—applied throughout the business—highlights the value of moving from information to knowledge.

In practice

  • Capture, disseminate, share, analyze, and discuss information and insights.
  • Hold regular discussion groups consisting of people working at all levels inside the company as well as external experts.
  • Discuss the significance of developments in the market, as well as possible future trends and scenarios.
  • If it is decided that the company should bring in new policies or move in a different direction, then brainstorm the workability and practicality of these changes. Decide who will implement them, and how.