Business as the Infinite Game

Ensto’s new board member Pekka Puustinen on strategies for success in an unpredictable world.

“The role of rolling strategy work is to make sure the executive team is surprised by nothing,” says Dr. Pekka Puustinen, a former Chief Strategy Officer of OP Financial Group. Puustinen was recently appointed as Deputy CEO of Pohjola Insurance Ltd., Finland’s largest insurance company, which is owned by OP Financial Group. Last year, he added another title, Member of the Board at Ensto.


Until September, Puustinen played the role of Nostradamus backed by data for OP Financial Group. He was charged with anticipating any and all trends which may affect OP’s business and daughter companies such as Pohjola Insurance. Today, Pohjola uses five lenses in order to form its world view: technology, customer behavior, competitive environment, regulation, and the economy.

“Business is an infinite game,” says Puustinen. “Nobody is going to ‘win,’ though some players will be successful and some won’t. To be successful you’ve got to be responsive to the environment. The players change, the rules change, but the game never ends.”

This infinite game philosophy gives Pohjola flexibility. "It’s impossible to think five years out,” he says. “Russia proved that didn’t work. What organizations need is an adjustable vision. What if new regulations come out that cost us 100 million euros? You need the opportunity to change your plan.”

Rolling strategy

The five lenses, or dimensions, give Pohjola a vision of what’s happening in the world within the next five years, an opinion which coalesces in strategic focus areas decided on an annual basis – an opinion that can be changed when new information arrives.

This flexibility runs throughout the entire organization. Pohjola is thousands of employees strong, and they’re organized into teams, with technology people, UX for example, integrated into business teams, which are responsible for both profits and costs of development. "We put the customer on top, the teams underneath. The teams form tribes, and the tribe leads. Tribes have agile coaches and tech leads. There are daily standups and bi-weekly sprint- and retro meetings."

It can sound like Puustinen is describing an IT company, but he chooses a roulette wheel in Vegas as an analogy. "When we budget we're not focused so much on the money. Let's say we put 100 million on development. The question then is how many teams do you get for that money. Your teams are your chips, and you place them according to market realities." Currently, Pohjola sees face-to-face services on the wane as mobile and internet gain steam. "We see that and start to think about how we place our teams."

Pohjola’s way of working has resulted in some real successes. Sixty percent of contacts related to Pohjola insurance claims – tens of thousands of claims per year – are handled via chatbot.

Ensto and the infinite game

So what does Puustinen, as an Ensto board member, think Ensto ought to prioritize? "First of all, there are some things that every company should focus on. For example, in the longer-term, you've got to reduce operating- and capital expenses — not just 10 percent, but by a factor of five. This can be done through technology that enables less friction in our own processes, especially in customer processes.

An example is OP retail bank’s face-recognition system for payments. “It was not the face we were interested in,” says Puustinen. “It was the friction it removed. All you have to do is push one button. And this technology will be seen in both B2B and B2C.” To reduce friction Puustinen says companies must organize themselves from the customer value perspective and not from their own process perspective, taking end-to-end responsibility from the customer's point of view.

"When it comes to Ensto, the crucial decision will be to choose what games to play and where to play them. Currently, we have many products and business lines, which will cause us to ask ourselves ‘What are the games where we can deliver superior value?’”

Success will be contingent on understanding what advantage Ensto brings, identifying opportunities, and making tough choices. "Remember that you can't take advantage of any opportunity if you don't decide what opportunities you're not going to pursue. For a small company, it's better to be the best at one thing than the best at ten things."

Puustinen characterizes Ensto as a brilliant company with a brilliant history, and is singularly impressed by the clear values established by founder Ensio Miettinen. "I've read Ensio's thoughts on leadership, and I think he'd be happy with the approach of a vision and a target. But he understood more than anyone in his time that the people are the ones who'll make the decisions within the framework you establish."