International Business at TSE

Because the world is not flat.

The roots of digitalization – and why should an IB scholar care about them?

The theme of the last summer’s AIB World conference was Digitalization, and as a scholar lodged somewhere in the nexus of international business, information systems and futures studies, I was thrilled. Finally a chance to reflect the international business implications of technological advances! Finally a chance to draw from the multidisciplinary heritage of IB to craft insights sorely needed in creating a wider view about the technology driven changes ongoing in the realm of global business!

Well, I did have a number of highly interesting discussions and downright debates about diverse digital phenomena and business implications, and overall enjoyed the  Minneapolis conference immensely. However, I couldn’t evade a nagging feeling that somehow most of the discussions missed something crucial. A passing thought in one of the very interesting Fellow’s Café morning sessions (warmly recommended if you’re planning to attend the AIB 2019 in Copenhagen, very good session concept) became a seed that, nourished by my doctoral research, subsequently blossomed into a metaphor I’ve since used extensively in articulating my specific vantage to the phenomenon labeled digitalization.

In my view, the phenomenon captured by the fuzzy label of digitalization can be understood as a tree. The familiar “things” like Facebook, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, Google, internet-of-things, Amazon, platform economy, to name but a few, constitute the leaves and branches of the tree. Scrutinizing them yields increasing understanding about the diverse representations, however the entity of the tree cannot be understood only through its foliage. The tree has a trunk and roots.

In my dissertation, which I defended in November, I identified three roots of digitalization: datafication, digitizing and connectivity. Each of the roots go back in time, but it is only with the recent technological advances that they have converged in the trunk of digital infrastructures, making it possible for the tree to sprout such growth as we know evidence in its thriving leaves.

Put simply, the root of datafication means that entities with another form are given a data form existence. What started with the innovation of writing has evolved to include the sophisticated sensor technology that enables the datafication of the physical attributes of everything (weight, movement, sound, constitution – the details of the tiniest microbes and the vastests of stars). In addition, datafication includes also the traces of human-machine interaction: when you stop to read a post on Facebook, that mere pause becomes data even when you don’t “like” the post.

The second root of digitizing simply means that the data gleaned from entities of diverse types is made uniform, into binary digits of 0 and 1. In theory this means that any digital data can be processed through any digital device – however in practice we’re not there yet. Combined with the third root of connectivity, dating back to signal fires and homing pigeons, exponentially evolved with the invention of Internet and the advances in communication technologies, this means that again in theory, it could be possible to create a zone of convergence where all that is uniform data can be accessed through one entry point, by one or a number of agents. Currently we are seeing pockets of convergence, more familiarly referred to for example as the Apple or Google ecosystem, where everything that is happening within, is to an extent visible to certain agents orchestrating the ecosystem. In the near future, the battles between the expansions of these (overlapping) pockets of convergence are possibly some of the most prominent features in the realm of business.

But when we look at the trunk of digital infrastructures, it is no longer only the realm of business that is affected by digitalization. Like any infrastructures, the more they develop, the more dependent on them we become, and the more invisible they become. Few of us think that “now I am using a phone”, instead we’re just talking to a friend, checking the news, liking a comment or booking a ride. However, unlike the older infrastructures like electricity or plumbing, we don’t only use the digital infrastructures, but actively contribute to creating them with all our datafied, digitized and connected interactions with the digital devices and sensors. Our intentional and unintentional actions become the building blocks of the subsequent developments of the digital infrastructure – for better or for worse.

Just like the diffusion of electricity, digitalization is not dependent on any singular technological breakthrough – or the fate of any of its leaves or even branches. Once the humanity learned to harness electricity, no obstacles, technological or socio-political, could stand in the way of the development that led us to the electricity-dependent society we now live in. While I do not claim to be a prophet, it is immensely likely that digitalization will follow a similar path.

The nagging sentiment I was struggling with in the summer was that I felt that in IB, we are still seeing only the already grown branches and leaves, but do not yet conceive the depth of the potential changes emerging from the infrastructural level changes driven by datafication, digitizing and connectivity. Of course, the future is more (or less – or else) than a continuance of the past trajectories, and as such, always shrouded in mystery. However, as the possible impact of full convergence has the potential to transform not only our lay existence, or the realm of economics, but the very structures of our society on par with such game changers as the agricultural or industrial revolutions, taking a moment to envision a future where the current trajectories continue might not be a wasted effort even to the IB scholars.


D.Sc. Milla Wirén

Link to Milla’s thesis:

Strategizing in the new normal : implications of digitalization for strategizing and uncertainty : philosophical and managerial considerations

The View from the other side of the Mountain

A little over two weeks ago, around five years of cumulative effort reached its zenith when I defended my doctoral thesis in a public examination in the LahiTapiola lecture hall of the Turku School of Economics. For this reason, I was invited to write a blog post on the event. This is that blog post.

As one might imagine, after all of build up over the last few months, I am now suffering with a bit of fatigue in relation to talking about my thesis, though if you are interested, you can read more about it here. Instead, I thought I might use this opportunity to delve into the tradition and history of the public defence process and ceremony as it is practiced by Finnish universities.

If you are not familiar with the tradition, the day of the defence (in my experience) proceeds like this: In the morning, if you are male (though I am sure females are not denied this pleasure) you stuff yourself into a penguin costume – a tailcoat, waist coat, and white bowtie ensemble originating from the 18th century. While not being the most comfortable form of clothing, it does make you feel fancy and encourages you to maintain a dignified posture. The formal proceedings begin with a light, cold lunch with your supervisors and your opponent. For the doctoral candidate, the food serves more as something just to stare into rather than as a form of nourishment. You are soon joined by a representative of the faculty for congratulations and encouragement (in my case the Head of the TSE Doctoral Programme). Also for encouragement, the University provides a fine bottle of cognac and a bottle of sherry to take the edge off your nerves (a single nip usually suffices, though you can sneak another while nobody is looking). After the lunch there is a brief photo session with University Communications. Each step of the way you are separated from your opponent by your custos, (a guardian role held by one of your supervisors) who is your last line of defence in case things get violent.

Then the public defence begins. The opponent, the custos, with doctoral hat in hand, and finally the doctoral candidate all file into the lecture theatre. The custos briefly opens the proceedings and then the doctoral candidate delivers his or her opening speech, or lectio praecursoria, of approximately twenty minutes. Following the lectio praecursoria, the doctoral candidate invites the opponent to deliver his or her criticisms, the opponent delivers a brief statement, and then the fun part begins as the opponent and candidate engage in a sometimes lively discussion that can last up to four hours (though in most cases, – mercifully, for both the candidate and the audience – the defence will not go longer than two).  The opponent challenges various aspects of the dissertation, or the broader topic on which the dissertation was written, and the candidate responds as best they can in the hopes of not embarrassing themselves in front of their friends, family, colleagues, and members of the general public who are their out of curiosity or, perhaps, for the cake and

coffee served at the end. Having attended a number of public defences over the course of my doctoral research, I can say with confidence that every defence is as diverse as the personalities of the opponents and candidates that take part in them, and no two defences are the same.

Unfortunately, my research into the origins of the custom of the public defence in Finnish academia did not take me very far. Extrapolating backwards from its current form, I would like to imagine that early public defences in Finland were conducted with participants donning full medieval armour. The opponent would ask a cutting question while delivering an equally cutting blow from a broadsword and the candidate would respond with a witty rejoinder and a parry, all the while the custos, a shield in each hand, desperately attempting to keep the two apart. Such displays of intellect combined with physical prowess are these days only to be found in the chess boxing arena.


The public defence ends with a final statement by the opponent, where he or she delivers his or her verdict on whether or not the dissertation should be accepted. In Finland, unlike in some other countries, that the dissertation will be approved by the opponent tends to be given, with any severe issues being addressed during the pre-examination process, and it would be a dark day, indeed, were this not to be the case (though I have heard whispers down darkened corridors of just such occurrences).

Once the opponent’s statement is complete, the candidate can wipe the nervous sweat from his or her brow, thank the opponent, and then ask the custos to open the floor to questions from the public. It is known among the academic community that, just like when a priest asks “speak now or forever hold your peace”, this is just a formality, and protocol dictates that the public should not in fact expected to ask any questions. The public, however, do not always know this, so the custos is usually quick to stand and conclude the proceedings before a particularly inquisitive individual is able to form the words to their burning question. If, however, a member of the audience is quick enough to the draw, and is able to their question, formality dictates that doctoral candidate should then invite that individual to the evening celebration, or Karonka, which is held in honour of the opponent. Formality also dictates that the questioner should politely decline this invitation. Of course, if one is unaware that they should not ask the question, it stands to reason that they would most likely be unaware that they should turn down the invitation to dinner. Sadly, I have not yet heard of any case when a hapless member of the audience has accidentally invited themselves to someone’s Karonka celebration.

After all the dust has settled following a doctoral defence, inevitably every fresh doctor must then consider what to do next.  While some already have new research, lectureships, or positions in industry lined up, and others return to their full time employment (or retirement), for people like myself, who were so focused on reaching the top of the mountain that we did not take time to consider what would be on the other side, the future is less certain. No matter how misty the view from the other side of the mountain may be, however, one must remember that achieving a doctorate is just a beginning, and a challenging but exciting path lies ahead.

D.Sc. Jonathan Mumford

“If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere”

In 2016, the UK Prime Minister, Mrs Theresa May gave a speech at a Conservative party conference. One quote from her talk attracted a huge media interest, and Theresa May was accused of rejecting the Enlightenment values and suffocating the exchange of knowledge between the UK and ‘outer world’. Mrs. May is not alone with her opinion; a number of other politicians around the world have joined her in criticizing the spirit of cosmopolitanism, and rootless, internationally mobile people.

What’s the problem? Cosmopolitans usually refer to ‘free spirits’, individuals who feel at home everywhere and value multiculturalism, mobility and disengagement from national and local anchors. For them, the world is one big, boundless space, where geography, place, countries, and other traditional location-based characteristics do not limit the way they perceive their opportunities to live, work, experience, and learn. Digitalisation, technological development, and globalisation gear the mindset of younger generations towards a cosmopolitan disposition. These individuals possess competences, which are needed in the multicultural and constantly shape-shifting global playground.

Mrs May’s concerns emerges from multiple issues. To start with, from the viewpoint of a politician, a diluting national identity is a threat. Unfortunately, Mrs May and other politicians do not seem to be aware of the fact that a person can have multiple identities. In fact, there are studies confirming that a strong European identity, for example, can co-exist with a strong national identity. Another worry is that cosmopolitanism is linked with international mobility; an issue which has caused a long-term headache for many politicians. Statistics verify that young, highly-educated people leave Finland and do not return. At the same time, climate change and armed conflicts force millions to abandon their homes and start an endless journey to find a place where they would be welcomed. While these drivers of migration differ dramatically, they constitute parts of one phenomenon: The whole world seems to be on the move, and politicians dislike the fact that they are not able to control it.

As scholars, we have been very interested in this new, more dynamic world and its reflections on the future of work. Additionally, we feel that as neutral observers we might also act as mediators. The media keeps up a heated debate on values, identities and immigration, and there is a clear division at the heart of contemporary politics. The anti-cosmopolitan statements of politicians have raised a countermovement with media coverage, badges and t-shirts for “Citizens of nowhere”. We hope that improved understanding of cosmopolitans would facilitate the co-existence of diverse identities, smoothen the dialogue between the different fronts and hopefully bring the currently conflicting views closer to each other – both in cases of voluntary and involuntary migration. This is the key motivator of our new research project COSMO.


Niina Nummela & the COSMO team


Birds of a feather flock together but rarely produce anything novel

Interdisciplinary co-operation is highlighted in the mission of Turku School of Economics stating: “We produce high-quality intellectual contributions drawing on discipline-based and interdisciplinary scholarship… “ What does it mean in praxis?

Interdisciplinary co-operation can be an eye-opener. I have learned much more about innovation diffusion in an old cemetery in Britain than in all the tens of innovation-related conferences I have been visiting. Best insights into customer journey and customer experience I have gained from doctors and experts in psychology and philosophy. Anthropologists have taught me more about methods than all those method-related articles from my own field.

This is not to undermine my own disciplines. On the contrary, I am very proud of Innovation Management and International Business and feel that they are very suitable for dealing with complex contemporary issues. However, understanding human behaviour entails studying complex networked intertwined dynamical systems. Consequently, research problems become more multifaceted and multidimensional – leading towards more complex research designs. This is where interdisciplinary research settings are required.

However, interdisciplinary projects can be difficult mountains to climb. Disciplines are steeped in decades or centuries old traditions and worldviews. Researchers are experts who have socialised habits that are hard to unlearn. Interdisciplinary communication is demanding and it entails a high risk of misunderstanding. Therefore, partner selection in interdisciplinary projects is extremely important. Good interdisciplinary partners are a scarce resource worth gold.

One of the most important capacities of a researcher is continuous curiosity. Interdisciplinary projects feed the curiosity by opening new worlds and discomfort zones – and that is where the Eureka moments are born. If you want nice, neat and safe progress with well-focused topics, interdisciplinary projects may not be your cup of tea. Then do not expect disruptive ideas either. If you are fine with learning constantly new things and connecting your ideas to even unconventional fields you are lucky; you may not have the clearest career path but I guarantee that you will certainly have much more gratifying moments while wandering along it!

Birgitta Sandberg
University Research Fellow


I write this short blog to share with you a few of my experiences as a Visiting Scholar at Stanford University, California, USA. My time at Stanford was rather short (3 months), but it was indeed intellectually invigorating! I came here during the summer quarter, which is a much more quiet time of the year in Stanford University just like in Finland. However, as a very large University as Stanford is, the place is always full of different types of seminars, conferences, executive training programs, and other activities. In fact, I seized the opportunity to also participate in some of these activities for free (once I showed my Stanford ID card).

Continue reading

Nordic Taste of International Business

The interplay of economics and politics has shaped our modern world for as long as we know it. Historically, international business has gone through many nationalization and liberalization cycles. Lately, in the face of recent global political changes such as Brexit and conservative governments around the world, debate around international business and policy matters has been initiated again.  This is one of the few examples where Nordic Research School of International Business (#NORD-IB) comes into play. Continue reading

What should we take for granted?

It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy-books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.”

– Alfred Whitehead, An Introduction to Mathematics, 1911

It is one of the more undisputed facts of human and social sciences that we humans make most of our decisions unwittingly.  First of all, we make decisions we don’t even acknowledge as such – like which foot to put forward first, when walking towards the door. Secondly, even when we do bracket out a moment of our existence and identify ourselves as making a Decision, we are swayed by biases, heuristics, emotions, intuitions to a degree where the instant of deciding is more or less just retrospectively justifying to ourselves the outcome we had already reached. Continue reading

On the roles of technology in international markets (and how receptionists substitute university teachers)

Nadine, a receptionist, greets tourists in Singapore: “Hello, nice to see you!”. Nadine remembers all of your past conversations with her, and utilizes that knowledge to improve your service experience. But Nadine is not a super human; she is an android. New machine learning methods and faster computers enable robots to develop artificial intelligence. As a result, they can already remind patients of medication, coach patients and communicate with healthcare professionals. The rise of autonomous devices and other emerging technologies is not only fascinating but relevant. For instance, programmatic advertising is already a US 15 billion dollar market in which software decides which advertisement is shown to whom without ever speaking to a human being. This is no longer science fiction. Yet, business and management scholars have not paid attention to what robotization means for theories of marketing or international business. Continue reading

Entertainment objectives

In autumn 2017 I stumbled upon an interesting question from a student: “Is there anything fun in the course?” Usually the question is about is there anything interesting in the course, but this question about ‘fun’ stayed lingering in my mind. Continue reading

All things living are in search of a better world.

This statement by Sir Karl Popper (Book Preface: In Search of a Better World, 1984) is one of the countless wisdoms he produced during his life. One devoted to understanding how problem solving and the correction of errors are two of the most important human activities for survival and progress. These behaviors are leading on one side to democracy (def., ‘government which can be removed without violence’) and on the other side to scientific progress, in that we remain doubtful about the theories we have, refute them when they turn out wrong, and critically adopt better ones when we conceive them. Continue reading

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