The talkoot of the town (& bothy)

I’ve recently learned of the Finnish word ‘talkoot’ (from these guys) which is described as follows:

Talkoot is the cultural equivalent of common work in a village community, although adopted to the conditions of Finland, where traditionally many families lived in isolated farms, often miles away from the nearest village.

A talkoot is per definition voluntary, and the work is unpaid. The voluntary nature might be imaginary, due to social pressure, especially in small communities; and one’s honor and reputation may be severely damaged if one doesn’t show up — or proves to be a poor worker.

Learning this new word immediately reminded me of when I used to live in Edinburgh, and when we had many a great trip to bothies (such as the one in the above below). Bothies are described as simple shelters in remote country (usually means at least 2 hours walk from the nearest road and certainly no electricity or plumbing) for the use and benefit of all who love wild and lonely places.


Bothies appear to me to have a lot in common with the isolated Finnish farms where the idea of Talkoot arose. There is an implicit understanding in bothies that you temporarily share the space with anybody else who may be there, and collectively work together to gather firewood, make food, clean up etc. (As an interesting aside, Euan McIntosh also used bothies as a powerful analogy of social networks back in May at Nesta’s innovation edge conference, but I won’t go into that again here.)

But why, you might well ask, am I talking about talkoot and bothies on a blog about collaborative innovation? Well as Peter Drucker says (via Euan Semple):

In a knowledge economy there are no such things as conscripts – there are only volunteers. The trouble is we have trained our managers to manage conscripts.

Organisations based on hierarchical command and control structures have proven to be very efficient for mechanistic or specific tasks but generally terrible at stimulating innovation and creativity. So in seeking to create these new organisations in a world increasingly based on ideas and relationships, which required an environment that encourages voluntary and spontaneous contributions, perhaps we have something to learn from the spontaneous and voluntary nature of both bothies and talkoot.


  1. A couple of thoughts –
    the bothy and the talkoot both have a structure or framework within which interactions can take place … and the talkoot, due to the cultural norms you mention, sounds to be as if it could be as potentially restrictive as conventional command and control organisations.
    we need to understand much more about leadership and managing in these new more voluntary and spontaneous environments – and that includes how to keep them spontaneous.

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