Neste and Ponsse presented a challenge to AI — What does Finnish sisu mean in the 2020s?

For the first time in the world, Neste and Ponsse found out in their joint project, with the help of artificial intelligence, what Finnish sisu means today. Sisu is often translated as inner grit or strength and defined as an inner resource that helps people and society overcome even the most challenging situations. In Finland, sisu is often associated with survival and success and can be considered as a defining characteristic of a person or even a nation. The idea to define the elements of sisu in the 2020s arose from the new challenges to entrepreneurship posed by the coronavirus pandemic. The project aims to inspire everyone to find their inner sisu and develop their strengths in a post-pandemic world. Finnish Kasvu Labs served as the AI technology partner in the project.

AI was used to analyze and interpret 500,000 quotations or speeches and 5,000 TED Talks*, as well as dozens of personal interviews, from various perspectives. Sisu researcher Emilia Lahti’s research articles, among others, were utilized to train artificial intelligence. In addition, well-known Finns were interviewed for the project, and their views on sisu were analyzed. Judging from AI-based analysis and Finnish-language material, the main elements of sisu in the 2020s are passion, honesty, determination, and intuition. The four most typical elements of sisu identified through the analysis of material** are widely repeated in articles and speeches on persistence and determination in our time.

“During the global pandemic, there has been a great deal of talk about sisu and determination that help people overcome difficult times. In a survey*** targeted at young Finnish entrepreneurs, 47.5% of the respondents felt that their entrepreneurial spirit had increased during the pandemic, and as many as 96.7% of the respondents felt that attitude played at least a moderate role in withstanding the coronavirus crisis. Sisu has been an integral part of the stories of Neste and Ponsse, so we wanted to bring the concept to the present day to better understand our inner resources. On the other hand, by redefining sisu, we wanted to support entrepreneurship, success, and sustainable growth,” says Heidi Peltonen, Team Lead, Sustainable Partnerships at Marketing & Services, Neste.

Sisu is a diverse combination of persistence and soft values in the 2020s

Based on the analysis, sisu consists of not only traditional characteristics such as persistence and determination, but also softer values such as self-confidence, love, inner growth, and strong passion.

“Many Finns are familiar with the concept of sisu in some way, but defining it in a changed world is not easy – however, we found we could do so with the help of AI. As far as we know, Finnish sisu has never been analysed and examined so widely before. The concept of sisu is linked with various images, attitudes, and observations that we wanted to study in more detail with Neste. In my opinion, it’s great that passion is one of the cornerstones of sisu in the 2020s. Based on our AI analysis, passion is also often associated with softer values,” says Juho Nummela, President and CEO of Ponsse.

In the project, a diverse group of people from various sectors of society were invited to share their stories about overcoming challenging situations and succeeding as an entrepreneur. Among these people were Lasse Virén, an iconic Finnish long-distance runner, Topi Manner, president and CEO of Finnair, Juho Kemppainen, a 12-year-old entrepreneur, and entrepreneur Kamilla Sultanova.

“Artificial intelligence is at its best when providing understanding of complex issues and concepts of this type. AI played a crucial role in analyzing comprehensive material and outlining a cultural concept in this project,” says Fernando Leon, CEO of Kasvu Labs.

A summary of the elements of present-day sisu can be found on the project’s website, where visitors can also test their level of sisu. On the website, sisu is divided into four types in accordance with the AI-created understanding of its key elements. The website offers visitors an opportunity to examine their strengths, learn something new, and be inspired by the stories of well-known Finns in situations where they have needed sisu.

The public website is available at:

*) TED Talks are a global phenomenon that emerged from the United States. Their topics focus on technology, entertainment, and design.

**) In the project, AI was taught to identify themes related to sisu in text material in Finnish and English. The Finnish-language material included research material related to sisu and articles published by the Finnish Broadcasting Company between 2011 and 2018, and the English-language material consisted of quotations and TED Talks, for example.

***) The survey of the members of Young Entrepreneurs of Finland was carried out in September-October 2021, with 61 respondents. Young Entrepreneurs of Finland operates under Suomen Yrittäjät, the national umbrella organization for entrepreneurs in Finland, and is intended for entrepreneurs under age 36.