What I Learned Working In a Think Tank

This Spring I successfully sneaked my way into one of the leading think tanks in Finland, Demos Helsinki, and had an opportunity to see what the heck actually happens inside a think tank. To be more exact, I worked at Demos Effect, which is the management consulting arm of Demos Helsinki. Below are some of the things I learned.

We need more gym equipment in offices

During the past year or so I have had terrible neck pains from time to time due to sitting too much in front of my computer. It’s bad enough to spend most of your work day staring at the screen, but writing my blog and studying after work really breaks my back quite literally. However, I have learned that having training equipment and standing workstations in the office can have a huge impact on your well-being. Even having minimal equipment, such as a pull-up bar, in the office makes it more likely that you will take breaks and develop the habit of stretching your muscles during work.

What I really recommend is having a couple of kettle bells lying around in your office (just make sure no one trips on them!).



It’s really possible to love your work

This didn’t really surprise me all that much, as I do believe that work should not be a drag, but a source of inspiration and fulfillment. While I don’t believe that you can or should enjoy every second of your work, I do think that overall your work should be something that you inherently enjoy doing. Working at Demos Helsinki strengthened this belief, and as I told my supervisor Johanna at the beginning of my internship, I was finally being paid for doing something I had previously done for free on my past time. I could also see that everyone working at Demos were there because they really wanted to, and not because of all the cookies and candies that were left over from meetings (although I do think the free coffee might have had some influence).

Chocolate chip cookies

Cookies and candies were abundant at Demos Helsinki.


We do need people thinking about things

I also learned that we actually do need organizations and individuals that spend time thinking things trough for the rest of us. It is very easy to get stuck in short-term thinking and to focus mostly on one’s own little world. Thinking-outside-the-box has become a cliché, but the box is alive and real, and can have a detrimental effect on thinking. This is true especially for large organizations and institutions, where individuals are restricted by strict rules, standard procedures and organizational boundaries.

Furthermore, as the world becomes ever more interconnected and everything has an effect on everything else, it is ever more important that we develop the ability to see the bigger picture and to question existing mental models. Although it would be best if everyone did some soul-searching regularly, I think it’s good that we also have people dedicated to searching people’s souls for them.


When was the last time you stopped to really think for a moment?


Some large companies actually do something about sustainability

This might be hard to swallow at first, but some large organizations do give a crap about sustainability. And more importantly, they give a crap because they’re starting to see that it makes good business sense. Companies have started to see that climate change, depletion of natural resources and all the other shitstorms headed our way actually have a major impact on their businesses – but also present new opportunities. For example, Lassila & Tikanoja has placed circular economy at the core of their strategy. And while big talk and greenwashing is very common these days, based on what I saw while working at Demos Effect, some companies really do want to take action and create circular businesses.

Bad news for little boys:

Bad news for little boys: carbage man is no more, but you know who’s really cool? – the resource collector.

Have you worked in a think tank? Would you work without the free coffee and cookies? Do you use kettlebells in your office? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Creative Commons Chocolate chip cookies by Brian Richardson is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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