Digitalization for all

Digitalization opens up opportunities for improvements, but it can also force people away from one another. Perttu Pölönen, the 23-year-old inventor, is keen to change all that. 
“We must make sure that technology helps everyone, not just a select few.” 


Photo: Cata Portin

Perttu Pölönen’s life features all the ingredients of a classic success story. From a revolutionary invention as a teenager, to prestigious awards and an invitation to Silicon Valley. He’s currently travelling around the world talking about the future.

When we catch up with Perttu Pölönen, he’s in Los Angeles to prepare the launch of his innovation MusiClock on the Chinese market. It is an educational tool that features a brand new way to teach scales and chords. He says that the desire for simplicity gave him the idea. 

As a 15-year-old, he was struggling with music theory when he happened to glance at the clock and realized that it had 12 points – just like the chromatic scale. Taking this as his starting point, he created a tool for making music that was so simple to understand that even children could use it. 

“When I refine the material until I reach the core, it gets better and better. The same applies in the business community, for the music and as a speaker,” he says via Skype. 

Intuitively, he is convinced there is a link between simplicity and trust. 

“If you can’t present an idea in a simple manner, you should just try again and again until you find a better way to do it. Otherwise it’s tough to build up confidence.” 

Selling an idea is something he started practicing himself back when he was a student at the Sibelius Academy. 

Invitation to NASA

In 2013, Perttu Pölönen submitted his MusiClock for the EU competition for young inventors. And won. Since then, the tool has become a best-selling app in ten countries, and he is now something of a celebrity in his native Finland. 

His success even brought him an invitation to study at the NASA research center in Silicon Valley, with Google as his sponsor. That stimulated his interest in global challenges. 

As an inventor and an entrepreneur, he is keen to narrow the knowledge gaps that exist in the world. Digitalization is creating a dividing line between those who have access to technology and those who do not. 

“We must make sure that technology helps everyone, not just a select few,” says Perttu Pölönen. 

Responsible for several startups

As an example, he mentions cell phones, which have now become everyday items all over the world, making life simpler and better for people everywhere. 

“The same thing has to happen with digitalization before we drift too far apart. This is where I want to make the best contribution I can and help to make a difference.” 

Perttu Pölönen is responsible for several startups in the education sector, including the non-profit organization 360ed, which helps teachers in developing countries continue their own education. Using new technology, they can look into classrooms in different parts of the world and learn new ways to teach. He runs this organization jointly with his colleague Hla Hla Win in Burma. 

As a young, committed person, he considers it typical for millennials to choose the business community rather than the world of politics.

“Changing laws takes a long time compared to making solar panels so attractive that everyone wants them. There’s huge potential to make a change in the business community. Companies have the potential to react and adapt much more quickly.” 

Perttu was voted “newcomer of the year” on the speaking circuit in Finland, where his future forecasts are highly regarded. New technology is making major changes in everyday life, but companies also have to understand how innovations affect people on an emotional level. What does it mean to be on the brink of joining the labor market today?

“Previously, you went to school, found a job, raised a family and then retired. But now there’s no guarantee that we’ll be able to find work just because we have an education. We’re unsure of what the future holds for the society we live in.” 

Today, he thinks people need to learn to feel happy even though not everything is as neatly laid out as it was for previous generations. You have to learn to live with uncertainty on several levels, and even trust that everything will work out in the end. 

Question existing methods

“A lot of what’s taken for granted needs to be redefined. We think that we understand trust, love and communication, but we might need to reformulate what that actually entails in 2018. 

Building up confidence is probably the most valuable thing you can do – it’s almost like a currency in itself,” says Perttu Pölönen.

Companies that want to be able to keep pace with the changes that are taking place need to develop disruptive business models.

“Optimizing and improving aren’t enough anymore; change needs to happen faster. We have to renew ourselves and question our existing methods.”

Personally, he finds his multi-disciplinary background to be a real asset. From the world of art he has developed the habit of always observing the world around him and noticing what’s happening, while from the tech industry he has learned entrepreneurship. The fact that he now fills multiple professional roles has given him a broader perspective on societal changes.

“I want to pass on my experiences and stimulate new thoughts and ideas. I don’t have all the answers, but as a millennial I can still add something new – I can speak from the perspective of youth.”