Archives for posts with tag: thnk

A lot of the projects I work on tend to be online. This has big upsides: mobility of work, flexibility of work, cross-pollination of work. But the downside is I often spend a disproportionate amount of time with my battery-inefficient macbook. What this means is that each month I make sure I have at least one offline project (more than just an event or meeting) that I’m committed to doing. Ideally two or three.

Here’s what I’ve got in the pipeline this Spring. See you there!

1. THNK Accelerator Festival

Why am I going? To re-connect with friends and THNKrs on projects we’re all working on, to discover new great projects and people and to enjoy fine Dutch hospitality.


2. Tribewanted Monestevole Season 2 Opening & Digital Detox

Why am I going? To join my Umbrian family for the celebration of a new season and all the good things Monestevole brings, and to discuss with tribe members and visiting guests how best to manage our tech diets.


3. Hunter Gather Cook Treehouse HQ Opening

Why am I going? I love treehouses and I’m working with Nick Weston and friends on building a community around getting more people into trees. If our kickstarter goes well we’ll be building the foraging school’s new HQ and hosting a bunch of the backers for a wild cocktails party in the woods.




This has been on my mind for a while. Jo Confino’s blog today about communicating the reality of climate change might be best done not through facts and figures but by telling people – as artist Stephen Fairey suggests – ‘to stop being dicks.’ In other words if you don’t connect with people emotionally they won’t pay any attention. Or as Fairey says: “Sometimes the most powerful weapon against propaganda is absurdity, creating images that are funny.”

Looking from a start-up point-of-view it seems to me that there is some truth in this, not so much in ‘selling climate change’, but in getting people engaged in tackling abstract, distant (for most us) problems, the best approach is to try and get authentic emotional buy-in.

Thinking about the projects I’ve worked on over the last few years reflects this and why I continue to drawn to the storytelling, positive visioning, what-makes-me-care, approach to insurmountable problems over the ‘I’m going to drown you in a tsunami of data and then tell you buying a different detergent will solve the problem.’ No it won’t.

THNK: Creative Leadership school in Amsterdam. After being given a challenge (what do we do with big data, solve climate change, provide clean water for everyone etc…?) participants are encouraged to go on a ‘wild safari’ to gather inspiration, stories and facts about the subject before a ‘visioning’ phase of generating ideas concludes with the sentence: ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if…(big data ended malaria etc…)?’ before prototyping these ideas. By reframing a huge challenge as an amazing opportunity that matters personally a whole new raft of ideas surface.

Tribewanted: eco-tourism and community experiences. We’ve learnt by going slowly the ups and downs of building ‘sustainable’ communities. The open-minded spaces at Tribewanted projects free people up to think differently and creatively about big issues. The solar panels are really just the backdrop to what really matters: the cross-cultural living experience.

Escape the City: Inspiring frustrated corporates to ‘do something different’ is a brilliant way to get a talented resource (clever graduates) to move into careers they really care about. No wonder the community is 100,000 strong already. 

Right to Dream: Africa needs more role models. A sporting leadership academy in Ghana recruits talented, young people and gives them a world-class education. The graduates with a golden ticket then spend their next 15 years ‘giving back’ credits to their community and country in the form of fundraising, business start-ups, and international representation. The future Black Stars (Ghana’s national team) will likely be loaded with talented, smart, leaders.

Projects I’m a fan of that aren’t writing strategies but doing…

Hunter Gather Cook: Adventures in Wild Food. I took my brother on this for his stag do. Going wild in the woods topped any embarrassing night out on the town.

Project Wild Thing: Taking on the small challenge of getting kids off their iPads and into nature because it’s more fun. See also Camp Kernow

Jamie’s Farm: (Not *that* Jamie) Sharing wonders like where the ‘egg’ comes from by getting city kids down on the farm, often for the first time.

Roost: on a mission to get people into trees by showcasing the amazing treehouses of the world.

Microadventures: No more time-money excuses for going on adventures – you can have one between 5pm and 9am. I tried this.



“Congratulations you’re the first class to finish this course. You’ve made it through the challenges and hurdles that we’ve thrown at you. You’ve become true creative leaders and are ready to be released into the wild. Remember to come back someday….”

That’s how it should have been right? A rousing graduation ceremony. Hugs and handshakes. A perfect piece of embossed paper inscribed with our names, todays date and a distinction to frame proudly on the downstairs loo wall for the rest of our lives.  

But that’s not what happened this weekend at THNK: The Amsterdam School of Creative Leadership. Yes, we were the first class to complete the 18 month part-time programme that began with a walk across water to a misty island. But graduate with honors? Nope. Join the illustrious alumni? Nada. Update our linked-in profile with a gargantuan new bullet-pointed achievement. No chance. 

Instead, in the middle of the Acceleration Festival weekend, twenty of our class snuck into a small room, sat round a table and looked each other in the eyes. No challenge tools, no post-it note piles, no whiteboards, no macbook pro line-ups. We simply asked how each other how we were doing. Not with our projects or businesses so much, but how were we really doing.  

And then something special happened.

One-by-one we quietly started to share our stories from the last year or two. The stories that mattered most. The insights that uprooted our long-held assumptions about how the world works and our roles within it. We shared our perfect moments, deepest anxieties and dreams. We cried. A collective exhaling of life poured like a waterfall from one-to-another around the room and beyond as we shared our absent classmates stories too. 

We know we’ve been the lucky ones. To have been part of this brave new school of creative leadership just as it has been born into the world. The funny thing was, that sitting there quietly in that room together, the big goals, accelerations, global challenges that we all care about didn’t seem to matter as much. What mattered was that we got to share this. And we wouldn’t change it for the world. Which is why we decided we’ll be back in six months time, to do it again.

We didn’t graduate. We didn’t want to. We’re going to stay in this class, forever. 

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.


Eurostar. What a ride! From central London to Amsterdam Central in just a few hours, flying through England, France, Belgium & Holland. What a great idea. I wonder who thought of that? Well maybe the idea of a fast speed rail network around central Europe wasn’t that hard to conceive. Maybe the real challenge was making it work. Yes, I’m sure that was the difficult part. Making my journey a reality.

I’m in Amsterdam for my induction meeting at THNK; a new international school for creative leadership. A school that takes models of leadership (on the x axis) and models of creativity (on the y axis), focuses on the biggest challenges and opportunities in the world today, presents these to its students and asks them to draw a 45 degree line where creativity and leadership meet and head for the stars.

But why have I signed-up as a founding participant?

When I received a phone call from the school in October 2010, I knew instantly this was something I wanted to be part of. To develop my personal creative leadership, to shrink and ideally erase what my tutor and mentor Elly calls ‘blind spots’ (my theme for the course will be ‘focus and anchoring’ or ‘stop blogging and finish the accounts’), and to build a strong new professional network of talented leaders that can help each other on their projects and more beyond.

I have completed my first bit of homework; a thorough self-assessment on my strengths and weaknesses, and have asked 6 people I’ve worked with to do the same. Team THNK will soon have a pretty clear picture of what kind of participant they have.

School begins March 17th, when I will join 25+ other participants from around the world for the first week-long session at THNK’s beautiful HQ in a former coal gas factory in Westerpark, Amsterdam. Elly tells me I can expect 3 lots of 3hour group sessions every day! What kind of challenges or problems we’ll be asked to creatively tackle will only become apparent then. Maybe if things go the way I expect, we’ll be looking at creating solutions and models to some big ideas. Maybe we’ll get to design the next high-speed rail-network, social impact network, or sustainable urban community. I sure hope so – I’m ready to board.


Bas Verhart, co-founder of THNK in Wired UK: ‘Education is failing the future makers.’

Whilst in Sierra Leone last month I got a call from a nice Dutch chap called Eduard who explained that a new ‘school of creative leadership’ was opening in Amsterdam in 2012 and that they were interested in me becoming one of the founding participants.

2 weeks later I was having dinner in London with Eduard and THNK’s co-founder Menno Van Dijk. Menno explained the vision by the Dutch government-funded school to bring together emerging leaders from different industries to explore creative solutions to some of the worlds biggest challenges. I knew immediately this was something I wanted to be part of.

I followed up with Menno and the team and a few weeks later I’ve signed-up as one of the founding participants!

My time at THNK – a handful of weeks in Amsterdam spread over 6 months followed by a long-distance ‘accelerator’ year – will run parallel to the launch of Tribewanted’s third location and Community Interest Company – where we will be attempting to fund future sustainable communities via an online co-operative. I will be blogging from inside THNK as to how my experience on the course is directly impacting this venture. Themes I will be focusing on include: digital democracy, sustainable building and energy, crowd-funding, influencing behaviour change and mainstreaming social enterprise.

THNK is an exciting opportunity to bring together talented, determined and open-minds in a forum where ideas that are good for the world can explode. I can’t wait to join this new tribe to learn and harness its energy for the mainstreaming of the sustainable revolution.