The sign was clear to see for all of those walking out of the bar. The incentive to return the next day was strong. And then it happened again. ‘Tomorrow: Free Drinks.’ Tomorrow, of course, never came and business remained good for the bar.

An opening anecdote at THNK: Amsterdam’s School for Creative Leadership 3rd session with my fellow founding participants, kick-started another 10 days (and nights) with the theme; how to orchestrate creative team.

The ‘team dynamic’ is central to any THNKers learning – small groups of 3-5 are a constant in and out of workshops, projects, forums, meditations and energizers.

Certainly the most exhilarating and challenging part of the program so far has been within these teams. The ebb and flow of energy, ideas, productivity and breakthroughs is a bit like what I imagine it must be to play professional rugby: sometimes euphoric, free-running, seamless, and in-flow but often turgid, back-peddling and painful as the opposition rips the ball off you as you’re about to score and boots it back over your head.

So what did I learn this time round?

1. Current leaders want to change but ‘the system’ won’t let them

“The tyranny of short-term reporting cycles (business) and elections (government) leads to an unsustainable world.”

Kumi Naido, CEO of Greenpeace global dropped by to share that actually the political and business leadership is there and is authentic to make things better but the systems and culture – both in big business and politics block these good intentions.

The question he needs help with: What would it take to have a paradigm shift in thinking towards the environment? How could you build leadership teams with this in mind?

Always good to start the day with an easy question I find.

2. Casting is all that matters.

Michael B Johnson from Pixar conducted an excellent evening sharing how this studio’s incredibly successful tribe of animators, creative’s and producers have guaranteed back-to-back global hits with their films.

How? By building the best team in the world and not ‘shipping’ until you’ve perfected it. Quality is the best business plan. The story boarding and re-boarding in-house at Pixar sounds like a THNK team experience on steroids and over 4-7 years.

Recipe to cast a great creative team:

A large dollop of equal calibre

A spoonful of communality

& a sprinkling of challenging perspectives

3. The magic happens when time leaves the room

We met early on Sunday (there are no ‘days off’ at THNK) in Jordaan, the heart of Amsterdam’s picturesque canals, café’s and rich architecture. The theatre company director introduced us to her beautiful home and said that by the end of the day we would each perform a 5-minute play for each other.

First, the casting – the chosen directors had to agree on which pairs of ‘actors’ should be put together to create the right on-stage dynamic. Once in our production trios we were handed a ‘big personal question’ by someone from another team that we then discussed how to turn into a story that could be scripted and performed.

Before we realized we were all nervously preparing for our big moment. What happened in the next hour was surprisingly emotional. Each of the 9 teams – one director, two actors – performed their own written pieces with passion, intensity, humor and in many case some quality amateur acting.

We left the theatre at sunset in a happy daze as 10 hours had flashed by without any of us even glancing at our watches. Creative free-flow is timeless.

4. Successfully scaling an idea requires intense sensing

Sit on a chair on the grass. Do not get off that chair for three hours. Sound like fun? Nope. But this was one suggestion that came out of our discussion on ‘scaling our ideas.’

After 10 minutes you feel lazy, sleepy, frustrated. After 30-45 minutes you begin to get lost in the world that lives in the grass: the colours, the life, the ecosystems. Becoming ‘present’ allows us to see things differently and clearly and although it takes a lot of effort, that breakthrough leads us to identify the ‘cake’ no one has yet cut. Suddenly everything is possible.

5. The next decade will be about the well-being economy 

Bob Johansen is the President of the Institute for the Future. In a 3-hour skype forum Bob shared his forecasted hopes and fears for an increasingly VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous). But when Bob was asked about the future of love by Liat Azulay (whose quiet little mission is to cure all broken hearts in the world) he was at first stumped before explaining that actually despite the VUCA landscape, there is plenty of room for optimism as the search for the production of well-being begins in global earnest. 

To celebrate this bright future we spent our next forum mostly outside by the lake in Westerpark – I hosted a traditional Fijian kava ceremony complete with wingman, mixer and story-telling and songs to please the chief. Other participants shared their personal missions and perspectives on the world from the UN food program, to the Arab Spring, to the art of negotiation.

If the THNK experience can be captured and scaled into the world then there is no doubt the well-being economy will thrive…

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