What learning by doing really looks like

What learning by doing really looks like

In the last week of 2011, we wrapped up the experience called the THNK pilot. And what an experience it was! The Challenge (the actual project we worked on during the pilot program) was an adventure: sometimes in flow and sometimes disorientingly disruptive - most of the time for the better. It's all learning by doing: you get handed the tools needed in a specific phase of the program and use them instantly.


No lectures, exams or paper-based cases. And in the doing, you develop your own creative leadership. For 6 weeks, we worked on the challenge of excess vacant office space in the Amsterdam area with a group of pilot participants, THNK faculty, outside experts and 'master practitioners'. A great bunch of people to work with!


For my team's final presentation we used Lego, instead of illustrating our idea with PowerPoint. It worked amazingly well! All of the final proposals generated real interest from key players in the field. A property redeveloper even expressed commitment to invest in what will likely be a combination of some of the proposals. THNK will drive the implementation forward; it does not stop here. THNK wants to make an impact.


The faculty did an amazing job navigating us all through the creation process, both in personal development and solution development. This touches on a fascinating aspect of The Challenge: striking the balance between learning for the participants, output for the sponsor and, in this case, also learning about the program elements for the faculty. Of course the ideal balance was not always achieved (and will certainly differ for every individual), but the faculty was always searching for that balance and helping us achieve it.

learning by doing

At THNK, we are big believers in prototyping, which means experimenting with a program that is not a finished product yet.

The pilot program was a real learning experience on several levels: conducting a project as a blend of design approach and more structured problem-solving (the focus was on the first, rather than on the latter, but the uniqueness is in the combination), learning how to set up and conduct a project this way (implicit learning in this case, nevertheless very valuable) and seeing what the enormous value is in experimenting with a program that is not a finished product yet (prototyping).

I find it both brave from the perspective of the faculty as well as fascinating to experience an experiment like this. It was great to see the faculty engaged in continuous evaluation and on-the-fly adaptation of the program and their dedication to living up to the THNK ambitions. It is an adventure for them, too.

The closing session of the program was a great illustration of the way the program is run: faculty members team up for optimal delivery (content, process, people focus), the working forms are often unconventional but very effective as well as uplifting, and the whole experience is highly memorable.

THNK brings together such a diversity of perspectives, approaches and people – the potential in it is enormous and it is truly inspiring to be part of such a program. The key to unlocking this potential is in the integration of all these elements, notably the integration of design approaches and structured problem-solving approaches. This being unique, it is also the key challenge for the program. In the pilot, we could see the promise it holds and some successful aspects of it, and I am confident the faculty will make it work based on the learnings from the pilot.

I am happy to have been part of it and extend my thanks to my fellow participants, the faculty and all the experts and practitioners that came to share their insights, expertise and inspiration during the program!

To get your hands dirty and understand what learning by doing really looks like, join the THNK Creative Leadership Program. Visit the program page to find out if you qualify or download the program brochure.