Perceptions of Polar Bear Pitching… and Maslow

Are you familiar with the Maslow pyramid of human needs? Ever seen it turn upside down in real life when the basic physiological needs are pushed aside and self-actualization, with a little investor money perhaps, is all that matters – at least for a couple of minutes?

What if you, as a small-business owner, start-up enthusiasts or an inventor, were able to tip the pyramid and have your best moments to invite funding to your project, invention or innovation from the most excited and curious audience – business investors and others?

If you don’t remember the classic Maslow pyramid model of the need hierarchy, here is a reminder: it suggests that our physiological needs, for shelter, food, water and so on, are at its base, meaning they are the most profound, necessary needs that always come first.  According to the model, they must be fulfilled before we can reach for and try satisfying the higher ones.  The need for self-actualization is the highest in the hierarchy, the top of the pyramid – growing as human beings to become the best we can.

If you happen to be a skeptic – like me – about the realism of the Maslow model you would enjoy the Polar Bear Pitching event, this year organized on 15th February 2017 in the innovation city of Oulu, Finland, some 600 km north from Helsinki.  There the pyramid was turned upside down, tipping like an iceberg in front of your eyes – at least for a moment. I’m convinced that originally the people behind the event were not after proving Maslow’s popular idea wrong, they probably had more practical needs something even the Maslow model misses.

I’m not sure how exactly the idea for the Polar Bear Pitching was born but I would guess the logic went something like this: Remember how often you have suffered, in the audience, listening to a talk that lasts longer than the time allocated for it or when a investment-hungry pitcher repeats the same thing over and over again until it’s time to chase him or her out of the ring. It is so natural, we all get excited and forget time, and what could be better for a presenter than to reach this amazing state of flow during the talk. But there are time limits.

What could be the solution? How to make sure these awkward moments don’t repeat and the pitchers don’t waste the listeners’ valuable time or embarrass themselves by doing so? They had an idea, hiding something very Finnish in it, paradoxical, useful, and fun at the same time. In this sense, it is not different from the human logic of the famous Slush event.

But clearly, without the Californian sun and the wonderful Silicon Valley weather and environment, these events surrounded by the winter darkness, cold, ice, and slush would lack the necessary contrast and both PBP and Slush would have had problems in differentiating.  Now they are different, indeed.

Probably something like that went on in the minds of the Oulu people when they ended up in starting the now famous PBP event. I would not be surprised if they actually had been enjoying the popular sport – swimming in an ice hole when the following idea found its well-prepared receivers and producers:

The Oulu innovators came up with a novel solution, which guarantees the pitchers don’t keep on talking and talking. What was even better, they could offer the pitchers as much time they wanted for each presentation and nobody would be kicked out from the stage. This would be a perfect, paradoxical win-win situation for the organizers and for the participants – and for the excited audience, the busy investors included. Sometimes the pitchers might even delight the audience by quitting after only a couple of minutes of talk and rush away, excited, applauded.

The simple rule invented was this: you give your pitch from the ice hole, without any equipment to keep you warm! Talk as long as you like, to sell your story, to keep the investors warm to your idea, ignite the audience and anyone interested in your offer.

This year the PBP finals were arranged at Oulu Market Square in the evening at 6 PM – 8 PM. Unfortunately, I was not present but as far as I know the weather was nice, not colder than -10 C (14 F), though, but in optimal conditions it would have been around -20 C, typical for Oulu in February. This time it was rather warm, but there was enough ice.

The PBP is produced by a number of creative activists and communities. On their site they describe the event as follows:

The main drivers behind the event are Polar Bear Pitching non-profit organization, the University of Oulu, the city of Oulu, the Business Kitchen and other organizations, entrepreneurs and volunteers of the community.”


Like any excellent organization, they too have a solid value base they express as follows:


Perseverance – Sisu – in pushing forward when going gets tough.

Bravery – in stepping out of the comfort zone and aiming high.

Playfulness – to remind that to be taken seriously one doesn’t need to be serious.

PBP embraces positive uniqueness and pursues honesty to self and others in all dealings.

What about Maslow then? It’s wonderful to see and know we are able to beat the despotism of the basic needs and challenge them, climb up the Maslow pyramid and on the way to the self-actualization top, pass by every primitive desire, to grow as human beings, and bring joy to others following our climb, and perhaps, escaping from the ice hole to enjoy satisfying the basic needs again when back in the warm sauna with a cold beer. Getting ready for the next pitch and the human climb.

Here is their site:

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