At the Professional Marketing Forum training session for Future Marketing Managers last week I talked about the Finnish quality of “Sisu”.

There isn’t a direct translation in English of this special quality which is part of the Finnish national identity – the closest words are stoic determination, bravery, resilience, perseverance and hardiness. The official descriptions also offer some other interesting insights:

“Sisu is about taking action against the odds and displaying courage and resoluteness in the face of adversity. Deciding on a course of action and then sticking to that decision against repeated failures is Sisu. It is similar to equanimity, with the addition of a grim quality of stress management”.

“Having guts” is a fairly literal translation, as the word derives from sisus, which means something inner or interior. One closely related concept to Sisu is grit; which shares some its denoting elements with Sisu, save for ‘stress management’ and passion for a long-term goal. Sisu may have an element of passion but it is not always present”.

Many will point to the Winter War where a tiny Finnish army was successful against astonishing odds in holding back the fearsome Russian forces. What I find interesting is that there has been some recent research that places sisu in the frame of positive psychology:

“Sisu as a psychological power potential was introduced for the first time in the 3rd World Congress on Positive Psychology in Los Angeles on 29 June 2013. In the study, Sisu is described as a psychological key competence which enables extraordinary action to overcome a mentally or physically challenging situation. Sisu also contributes to what has been named the action mind set; a consistent, courageous approach toward challenges which at first seem to exceed our capacities”.

There was an article in Business Insider (June 2014) which had more to say about the research. There is a similar word in Japanese too: “The word Ganbaru is often translated to mean “doing one’s best”, but in practice, it means doing more than one’s best. The word emphasizes “working with perseverance” or “toughing it out.” Ganbaru means “to commit oneself fully to a task and to bring that task to an end.” It can be translated to mean persistence, tenacity, doggedness and hard work. The term has a unique importance in Japanese culture”.

It seems to me that many aspiring marketing managers – facing tough strategic and cultural challenges in their firms – would benefit from developing some sisu (or ganbaru) to help them generate incredible success despite difficult odds. Especially as the main topics generating most interest during the session included:

  • Agreeing goals and direction
  • Driving strategy in a partnership culture
  • Forming a personal brand (how you are perceived by the partners, knowing your strengths and weaknesses)
  • Maintaining management and marketing standards
  • Exuding confidence (including “imposter syndrome”) and empathy
  • Generating engagement and buy-in across the firm
  • Managing people
  • Achieving realism, reflection and results