Meet the InnoLabbers: Christoph Demmke


Image: “This photo was taken in August 2019 in front of the University on one of my first days in Vaasa. First interview for the local newspaper. Very nice journalist.” (Photograph by Paula Kaskimaa / I-Mediat Oy)

This series introduces the members of University of Vaasa’s InnoLab research platform. Today we’re meeting Christoph Demmke.

What are you?

Actually, I was thinking about this question for ten minutes: I am a man, tall, strong, some overweight, sportive. I have many identities: father, friend, lover, European, German, inhabitant of Vaasa and Berlin, football and race cycling freak. I love thinking and reading, I am afraid of cold water (not good in Finland !), I love music, nature, getting caught in something… Some of what I am is conflicting, difficult, but most is relatively simple, optimistic and easy. By taking the definition from professor Dolan: I am more a purpose-happy person and less a pleasure-happy person. But it is OK.

Your title at InnoLab is professor, but what exactly do you do?

Mostly I teach, think, write and publish about how governance, public management and people change, and how this affects workplace behavior, corruption, conflicts of interest, values and concrete behavior in organisations. I try to understand why values and ethics become ever more important/fashionable, and still ethical problems seem to increase. And, finally, what is the relationship between innovation and effectiveness – in my field of expertise. Since I am in Vaasa, I have developed a special “warm” feeling towards my InnoLabber colleagues. All are really nice, smart and friendly. I am Professor at the University and at Innolab. So you can call me Christoph. Profession: InnoLabber.

Sounds like a lot of work. Why bother?

Sometimes it is, but a lot of work can also be nice. Usually, workload comes in in waves… I get most of my work done by 12 a.m., after that it is generally managing and I lose energy. I have realized that people, who work long days seven days a week, are rarely more productive than I am. Actually, most people cannot work effectively for more than 4-6 hours. Coming early and leaving late is ridiculous if you want to be good at your work.

All right, but how did you end up where you are now?

That was indeed a long journey, because I lived and worked in many countries and cities. Five years ago I did not even know that a city with the name “Vaasa” exists. So I ended up in Vaasa because I love small places, small universities, and because the University was looking for somebody with my profile. And vice versa. A true coincidence. And, I remember, I found the people very nice and friendly when I was invited to give my introductory (recruitment) speech. Not so artificially competitive than elsewhere.

Imagine your phone rings. It’s the call you’ve been hoping for – what is it about?

Could I get three calls? One would be from the Manager of Borussia Dortmund, my favorite club, asking me to advise him in his role. The second call would be from my German race cycling friends: “Come on, Christoph, let’s do it, climb up the Mont Ventoux in France”. The third call from the Finnish Academy of Science: “Christoph, sorry, we made a mistake. You will get the money for your research proposal”. Just great.

Just kidding, it’s actually a journalist. They’re finally doing a story on that one topic you’ve always wanted to give an interview on! What do you say?

Last time I got a call from a journalist, they did not publish the story at all. Damned!

Ouch! Sorry to hear that. Maybe you need to broaden your horizon – what would you like to learn more about?

At the moment? I’m trying to improve my skills in digital teaching. Not easy for me. I am a digital idiot, very old-fashioned researcher, top-down lecturer. I still love ordinary books, face-to-face talks with students, classical libraries etc. So I must be really old.

I’m sure you’re not alone. Is that something I, too, should be concerned about?

Well, no, I am the old-fashioned guy, not you. At the moment, I am a bit concerned that something is getting lost: quality of learning, substance, drinking a coffee with colleagues and talking with students – face to face. What is on their mind? I still believe that talking and learning face-to-face is crucial, especially for universities.

Okay. Now recommend me something – anything!

If you like football: Go to a Borussia Dortmund match. Fantastic atmosphere. You will never forget it. Race up a mountain in the Alpes. Listen to Neil Young at Enjoy life and try to be good to others but also to yourself. And, did I forget something else? You name it! Not me.

Any last advice for being both an effective researcher and a happy office worker?

You need discipline, strong will and self-confidence. Take responsibility, keep focused and concentrated, but don’t forget to relax and enjoy.

Unfortunately, many fail for unjust reasons. And some succeed, but also because of luck. Overall, success has a lot to do with context. I always worry about those people who get five top-papers published in peer-reviewed top-journals – per year. Maybe these people are simply geniuses, or are they working 25 hours a day, have the right support, infrastructure, fantastic networks, friends…? What about work-life balance? Good relationships? What is the spouse doing – taking care of the kids in the meantime, what about housework? What about friends…? I would love to do research on the context of academic outliers.

From the perspective of Christoph’s colleagues: What makes you value Christoph as a coworker?

“Christoph is so nice and friendly, like a teddy bear. He is not only smart but also an empathetic person! He provides support to his colleagues, and his presence makes people feel warm and comfortable.”

“I think his best qualities are excitement (always positive and interested), critical input (he does not take everything at face value but checks if things make sense to him – or not) and honesty (he says what he thinks – which does not necessarily have to be what other people want to hear).”

“Christoph is enjoyable, someone with whom you can have a discussion on anything, anytime, anywhere. Always logical and to-the-point. He definitely has a lot to give, we just need to have any eye for it. A pleasant colleague indeed!”


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