Grow brave - in conversation with Katriina Juntunen

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Bravery is commendable — but how can we grow it and where does it come from? We sit down with Katriina Juntunen, CEO of Growth Collective Finland, to talk about success, failure and the importance of having that little twinkle in your eye even when it all goes a bit sideways.

What exactly is Growth Collective ­Finland and how does it work?

The story of the Growth Collective (Kasvuryhmä) starts from the 29 founding members’ dream to create hunger for growth. Today, it is a community of 200 growth captains from 150 mid-sized companies who are looking to grow and renew themselves ­continuously. In practice, to be a member, a company’s turnover should be between 10 million to 1 billion euros. The core of the collective is peer-to-peer sparring. The founders recognised that an entrepreneur is more likely to listen to another entrepreneur. This kind of community is apt at accelerating growth, sharing bravery and sharing stories.

You mentioned bravery and sharing stories; what are the community’s ­values and how are they reflected in the things you do?

Our values are bravery, a twinkle in the eye, a volunteer spirit and experience. The collective is founded on openness, trust and confidentiality. That’s where everything else grows from. It’s a community of brave people and, in my opinion, bravery is the main thing that unites all of the members of the collective. They set brave goals, face the world with an immense amount of bravery and aren’t scared to dream. None of our members take life too seriously. Entrepreneurship is sometimes serious, but it doesn’t have to make you uptight. We all have a lot of fun and can find the bright side of both ­successes and failures. The founding members have, from the very beginning, been able to build a culture that also finds strength in unselfishness, lived ­experiences — and a little twinkle in one’s eye.

The main function of the collective is to provide peer-to-peer sparring and mentoring. What is the strength of this method?

Peer-to-peer sparring works because it’s based on actual experiences; from leader to leader, entrepreneur to entrepreneur. You can be sure that when an entrepreneur speaks about entrepreneurship, they speak with experience and as an entrepreneur, you’re able to relate to others’ stories. It’s an extremely powerful tool. In addition to this, our collective is based on trust and openness, which creates a channel for sharing not just knowledge, but experiences, feelings and the spirit.

So, peer-to-peer mentoring and sparring is important; what other ingredients for success have you identified?

At the collective, we’ve spent a lot of time mulling over the drivers for growth. One of the most vital factors is the will to grow. It’s the first gate for our membership, too: we want to attract companies that have an active yearning to be bigger and better. It’s all about a very ambitious spirit: if the drive to grow isn’t instilled into the company by the owners, it can be hard to lift any growth. However, that vision needs to be turned into active, very clear growth strategies, or else it will forever remain a vision. You need to be able to identify sources of sustainable growth. Finally, you need to have the bravery to make the decisions that will lead to growth — and see to it that they get successfully implemented.

They say that it’s impossible to ­succeed without failing first. How can a growth company get over failures? What can they teach you?

Failing is immeasurably valuable. It’s also inevitable. As is often said, the biggest learnings come through failures. If you never fail, you’ve likely never taken big risks that, by nature, carry within them both a chance to succeed and a chance to fail. Peer-to-peer support is extremely valuable in times of failure. It’s important to open the process of failing up for discussion and analysis. An environment like our collective can help you through your failures and make you learn from others’ misadventures. And, I think that when we talk about success, we should also talk about failure. At Growth ­Collective Finland, we look at everything with a positive lens and see opportunities everywhere, yet acknowledge that unlucky things happen. The key is to talk about it openly, examine your failure and not get stuck.

Many of the Growth Collective’s members have signed up to deliver on an Outrageous Promise. What is it all about?

The way we see it, it’s impossible to reach the top of the mountain if you don’t aim high enough. The Outrageous Promise challenges leaders and owners to think about growth from a different ­perspective. What if, instead of looking at growth incrementally, we looked at growth from a “future back” perspective? We want to encourage entrepreneurs to forget about the present for a moment and think far into the future. What if we aimed for three times or ten times the revenue that we’re now aiming for? What would it look like? What would we deal in? Who would we work with? Thinking outrageously opens up entire universes
of ­opportunities.

Making outrageous promises sounds ambitious and optimistic, but how can you tell when you’re being far too optimistic? Some researchers have argued that optimism can sometimes lead us astray; how do you find the middle ground?

First of all, we shouldn’t make an equation between positivity and denying facts — positivity doesn’t rule out rationality! It’s an absurd idea. You can absolutely recognise realities and be an optimist anyway. Being positive is about tallying up what holds you back and finding solutions to your issues; seeing possibilities and opportunities. Optimism can be a misleading term, if it causes you to abandon realism, but a growth mindset — one of the most important factors in finding success — requires a certain amount of optimism. A setback can either be a lesson or a prison; optimism can make you see it as a valuable lesson. Negativity is often followed by passivity, the opposite of growth.

In the spirit of sharing and peer-to-peer sparring: what words of wisdom would you offer an entrepreneur who isn’t as brave as they’d want to be?

That’s a good question. First, I would tell them to surround themselves with inspiring people; find an inspirational place where other brave people meet. ­Secondly, try to imagine an incredible future for your company, one that makes you extremely inspired and a little bit scared to even utter it. Write it down. Keep it as a crazy dream and then start future backing it. Treat it like a little game: what would it require from us to change, what could we change? Go back year by year until you hit today. Give yourself permission to dream, but also be a realist: always ask what you can do next to achieve your crazy dream. And, most importantly, just give it a go! You never know if you never try.

Optimistic reads from Katriina’s bookcase

“It was an extremely inspiring book. He had a crazy but important dream
and started to work at it one small step at a time.”

Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Elon Musk

“It’s an uplifting book with many important learnings! Soon after I’d finished the last sentence of this book, I got a call about the opportunity to work at Kasvuryhmä. This was a funny coincidence.”
Transforming Nokia: The Power of Paranoid Optimism to Lead Through Colossal Change by Risto Siilasmaa

Words: Matilda KiveläPhotos: Maria Moulud