THNK: An unconventional approach to leadership development

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Article by: Henk van Dalen
THNK: An unconventional approach to leadership development

To be honest, I didn't know exactly what to expect when I joined the THNK Executive Leadership Program. I read the website, reviewed the curriculum, and did the interview, yet the content remained slightly ambiguous. The one thing I did know was that this program would help me further develop my endeavor at The Ocean Cleanup.


I had recently joined the project with the ambitious goal to rid the world’s oceans of plastic. It was my first time in a startup environment, where the less structured environment was new to me. I began looking for programs or courses that might help me get more comfortable with this new environment.


People told me about MBAs but that's not what you look for when you're in such a dynamic environment like a startup. Then I heard of THNK and it struck my imagination as being something different; the concepts of Sensing, Visioning, Prototyping, and Scaling seemed very relevant for our project.

My quest for creative leadership

In the beginning, I was a bit doubtful of the Quest pillar of the program. While Endeavor focuses on your professional venture, the Quest part focuses on your personal leadership development. When I joined THNK, my focus was on my work at The Ocean Cleanup, scaling our initiatives and finding suitable execution partners. What was I going to do with Quest?

During the second and third modules, however, I realized that my Endeavor was doing well and taking good shape. I could afford to focus more on my passion, purpose, and personal journey. I began to soak up what other people were telling me about myself and my personal coaching sessions really opened my eyes to how much I was relying on rational thinking instead of my intuition.

unconventional approach to leadership development

Henk (right) in a biomimicry session: Over the past few billion years, nature has found solutions to problems that are similar to the ones we face today. Maybe it’s time we took a page from nature’s playbook?

The class

I remember the start of THNK very well. You are a bit in the dark about what exactly is going to happen during your first days, and you are quite overwhelmed with all the new faces in your class. You don’t know each other yet, but from the start you do feel a certain connection. Quite quickly, I learned that everybody in the class had an interesting story to tell and each had a part to play in the group. I gained 32 new friends and in one way or another I have a special connection with each of them. We went through the highs and lows together, and most importantly also had some great laughs.

The diversity in the group – not only in personality but also in background and culture – was an adventure every day. You always learn something from someone. In addition, after spending so much time together you become a close dynamic group with its own habits and inside humor; highly entertaining!

My favorite day at THNK

The most memorable day of the program for me was Theater Day in Module 3. On this day, we all split into groups and were given a leadership challenge to act out in a short play. We developed our own story line and had to prepare to perform it to the rest of the class and all faculty in the evening.

I would never picture myself doing theater, let alone in front of an audience. But the day turned out to be so fun; it taught me a lot about co-creation. By building something together from scratch, you learn how your intuition works and how to feel the dynamics of the team, and perhaps most importantly, how having fun creates great results.

unconventional approach to leadership development

Henk (left) performing on Theater Day with his group.

A specific learning for me that day was that it’s often better to listen more than you speak. I know that when I get excited, I often want to get all my ideas out there. However, creativity comes from building on each other’s ideas; sometimes you just need to park what you want to say – no matter how enthusiastic you might be – and listen to others to achieve great results.

This element of co-creation has stayed with me. If you strongly stand behind your passion and purpose, it’s no longer about who comes up with the idea. When you are able to let go of your individual thinking, you’ll find the best way to get to your purpose is to build on each other’s strengths. This definitely has had a positive effect on my work at The Ocean Cleanup.

For people who are considering THNK, I won’t tell you any more because the journey is different for everybody and each new class will be unique in its own way. What is the same for all of us is that leadership nowadays is not just about work processes and structures (strong management); it’s about doing something different. THNK is great for this because it really brings out that different way of thinking.

Henk is one of many inspiring leaders who participated in the THNK Executive Leadership Program.

To unlock your own creative leadership potential, join the THNK Executive Leadership Program.