We began the week by walking on water to the island of Ameland and ended it having a banquet in a 300 year-old converted old people’s home now contemporary art gallery. Across the muddy, low-tide we waded waist-deep in wetsuits, following a Gandolf styled quartet of white-bearded frog-men of Fresia leading us metaphorically and physically on a new journey. And if it all felt slightly Lord of the Ringsish, it was. As the week unfolded from our island boot-camp through the 7 x 14 hour days at Amsterdam’s new school of creative leadership, one thing became clear – THNK was going to be epic. Would we survive?
The goal of THNK is to unleash a new generation of ‘creative leaders’ into the world to make ‘transformational change’ and ‘positive revolutions’. A quiet little vision. No pressure then.
Once we peeled off our wetsuits, the 30 new participants from India to South Africa to China began to get to know each other expertly facilitated by the faculty team. Storytelling, sketching out our own timelines (X axis – your life, Y axis – whatever you want), and standing in front of everyone for 30 seconds in silence making eye contact was enough to reduce some to tears.
After our bonding boot-camp we returned to Amsterdam already exhausted and were thrown straight into our first forum – one of the four aspects of the THNK programme which introduces participants to experts on a range of different topics. First up was Erica Fox who led a discussion on ‘Purpose & Passion’ and how the voices that battle in our heads often undermine authentic leadership and blur our visions. Interesting stuff. Even better Paul Gilding of ‘The Earth is Full’ fame wondered in halfway through the evening to say hello. I’d only read his excellent ‘One Degree War’ paper a few days ago. Serendipity.
Monday morning began with Chi in Westerpark where THNK is based. Lots of knee-circling and focusing on the flow was a surprisingly good way to re-energise at the start of the day. We were then thrown straight intro a trial-run of the ‘creative process’ which goes a little bit like this…
1. Sensing (build a picture of the landscape you’re interested in)
2. Visioning (gather the emerging ideas)
3. Protoyping (start to build and refine your idea)
4. Scaling (turn your idea into something serious and transformational)
We tried to learn and apply this process to a case-study project: turning Westerpark into a creative hub. Some groups had more success than others as they found that the challenge was more about working with each other than the subject itself.
In between prototyping and a forum with reknowned architect Ben Van Berkel, we even managed to join in with THNK’s launch party where the great and good of Amsterdam came together to celebrate the opening of their new school for the world. It felt an honour to be one of the founding participants on such an occassion and something I won’t easily forget. The Dutch are such generous, natural hosts.
By mid-week I admit the boundaries between little sleeps, new challenges, coaching, forums, chi, organic salads and the THNK after-parties were starting to seriously blur. My groups feature challenge is the simple question of what to do with all the data that Vodafone are sitting on. Our instinct is to focus on Africa where the explosion of data and mobile communications has the potentional for generational change. At this point as we try to reframe the brief and pull-out a coherent and focused hypothesis I’m not quite sure where we’ll end up, but the process is so much more than simply educational.
The second half of the week moved us more towards the realm of what doesn’t yet exist as we met dystopian hactivists and utopian futurologists. I’m not making this up. We also found time for a couple of hours of gut-churningly funny spontaneous improvisation – surely the cheapest way to have a good time – and learning the mesmirising art of socratic dialogue.
By the time we were being spoilt at our Friday night banquet we really had become a new little tribe of creative thinkers, dreamers and disrupters. A big hand to the visionaries at THNK and all at the faculty who pulled off a quite remarkable experience. The bar is high, the mountain peak is still in view and the jungle and its snake eyes await. I’m just glad we won’t be doing all of it in wetsuits.