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Society's Change Agents


The people designing and building technology have huge responsibility in how the society will turn out to be. What are the skills needed to carry that responsibility? What does it take to lead change? Futurice’s Risto Sarvas shares his views on being society’s change agent in his thank you blog post for the teaching award he received on December 19th.

Risto Sarvas

Service Designer, Professor, Company Culture Engineer

Do you feel like leading the way into an icy cold river?

This Fall I have been awarded twice for my contributions to the students of Aalto University’s Information Networks. In November, I was honoured with the Epiteetti recognition from Athene guild. The second recognition was on Monday from the Aalto University School of Science, which awarded me the Teaching Award of the year.

Just one of these awards would have left me speechless with honor. Having two of them in such a short period of time has knocked me off my chair.

This year the Aalto Teaching Award was chosen based on suggestions from the student guilds. It turned out that this second award came from the very same people that honoured me in November: the fabulous students of Information Networks. Some thanks are in place :)

TL; DR; Thank you from the bottom of my heart <3

TS; DC; (i.e., too short, didn’t convince)

I thank you for sharing your ideas with me, being open and critical, and pursuing new answers and new knowledge. I thank you for being active. I thank you for bringing the best out of me: the motivation and attitude you bring to the classroom, and outside the classroom, gives superpowers to any teacher! I thank you for making teaching a collaboration and co-creation.

These attributes, skills, and characteristics are enormously important in our society. Our society is changing rapidly, and that change is strongly driven by technology. Therefore the people designing and building technology have huge responsibility in how the society will turn out to be. You, the students of Information Networks (and similar programs), have a huge responsibility.

You are the change agents of our society.

By this I mean that with your skill set, background, and attitude, you will end up taking responsibility in doing things in a new way. You form your own companies because you want a change in the market/society/world. You work as advisors & experts helping established organisations change their ways of working and thinking in the digital world. You lead projects/departments/companies/people in finding new problems and solutions for them. You change the society by coding, talking, inspiring, leading, facilitating, drawing, listening, and caring in a new way.

It is hard job, by the way. I’ve been doing it one way or another for over a decade. What I’ve learned is that it requires a broad set of skills. It means that you must constantly learn new things and apply them. It means that you are pushing for change and you’re always against the status quo. And it often requires that you to put your personality into the job so that people believe in you and follow you.

Have you ever swam upstream in a river, alone, in freezing water, naked, and trying to convince the people on the shore that this is precisely what they should do as well. Ok, perhaps I’m painting too dramatic of a picture, but you get the point, eh? To remain sane in those lonely cold waters of change let’s keep few things in mind.

First, let’s give ourselves a break. Being a change agent is a matter of belief. Because the end result does not exist it is a matter of believing in the end result. And making others believe. It is a tough job in which progress and results are not easily measured. Therefore, being gentle on ourselves and giving ourselves an extra pint/vacation/bike/christmas-gift is often well deserved.

Second, choose your battles. You and I can’t change everything… at once. We need to prioritise, plan, and be strategic. This means we need to have a vision of the big picture. We need to have the goal that we believe in. “A change we can believe in” Barack Obama would say. Therefore, let’s think forward and look further than five years, and then pursue those big plans. The surrounding world is very short-sighted and looking for quick wins. Having a long term vision will ensure that we stand fast whatever storms try to sway us. Don’t let the world tempt you to myopia. Look further!

Third, support others and get support. Give feedback to others, and practice on giving constructive feedback because that is most valuable. Give recognition to others. Take time to tell them what they have done and how you appreciate it. Say to the people next to you ‘thank you, a great job’ whenever you feel like it.

And most importantly, occasionally make an effort to give an award and public praise. Put your heart and mind into it so that the receiving person knows that you really mean it. Which brings me to the end of this lecture… sorry, blog post.

This last point you obviously know quite well, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for these two awards and the work you did in making them happen. I will cherish this recognition for years to come, and I’ll do my best to show my gratitude in the following years we will work together.

Yours truly,


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