For many leaders, the THNK Executive Leadership Program serves as a period of transition, whether it's enhancing their skills to make a bigger impact in their current role, moving into a new role in their company, or starting their own business entirely.
I spoke to three leaders who joined THNK in an important, deciding chapter of their lives, where many things were unclear and where they had to make big decisions that would significantly affect their lives, work, and leadership.
Here are their stories:
1. Revitalizing your business after THNK
Before joining THNK, Dino Torrisi had decided to take a sabbatical from Futureberry – the innovation company he founded – using his seven-month break to reconnect to himself and understand what he wanted to do with his future. On his first day of sabbatical, he was at THNK, starting the first module of the program.
Dino describes his journey at THNK as “tough and full of emotions, questions, difficult moments, but also beautiful discoveries, meetings, and encounters. It was the best experience of my life professionally.”
Returning to his company with fresh eyes, Dino realized that he and his team needed to be more creative and innovative. In an effort to increase the energy, happiness, creativity, and freedom of the people, Dino came up with 10 “smart actions” that they would test for two months to re-energize the business. This list included points like:
Only rework the same proposal for a maximum of three times.
Cut 25% of internal projects.
No slide decks for two months (like many of us, Dino was tired of seeing PowerPoint slides).
After just 10 days, Dino started to see changes. The team became more focused, more innovative, happier, and freer. People at Futureberry are more confident and more proactive and customers seem to appreciate their new style. As a result, this year Futureberry is projecting an unprecedented increase in revenue (this was the forecast before the COVID-19 pandemic).
Dino realized that leadership is about creating the right context – in his case, for people to be more innovative and happy. This lesson, combined with sessions on purpose and systems change, created the shift in his mindset that was waiting to happen.
When Elles Roeleveld joined the THNK Executive Leadership Program, she had been working at ING for 10 years. After completing the program, she left ING to start her own business.
On why she decided to join THNK, Elles says, “It had a lot of everything. It had different dimensions and a combination of creatives, corporates, and NGOs, all together. That triggered me because I was in the banking scene with lots of like-minded people so I really wanted to look beyond my own bubble.”
While THNK turned out to be an eye-opening experience for Elles, she also remembers some uncomfortable experiences. It was throughout these tough experiences and conversations that Elles would make new discoveries – about herself, her dream, her work. “It felt like a puzzle,” she explains, going through the whole Sensing phase. “THNK helped me in that period to really trust the process. I needed that time to go beyond the obvious.”
In January 2019, Elles left ING, armed and ready with tools she learned at THNK, to start her own lingerie business – a dream that she’s had since she was 13 years old. She spoke to hundreds of people – trend-watchers, industry experts, fellow THNKers – and traveled to different countries to visit other businesses, production facilities, textile and garment technology exhibitions, learning as much as she could and searching for funding, research labs, and accelerators.
Elles is still building her company, Soft Revolt, creating the “bra of tomorrow,” sustainable lingerie that is “soft to the skin, soft to nature, soft to us.” She is using 3D knit technology – something no other lingerie company is doing – to create a product in one piece, leading to minimized transportation and zero waste production. Ultimately, she wants to empower women with supportive, sustainable intimates.
Manual Zaera joined THNK to support his transition from Chief Human Resources Officer to Chief Innovation Officer at Nationale-Nederlanden. The insurance company was in the midst of setting up a new innovation function, including an innovation lab with a different way of working focused on things that were far from typical product development activities.
On applying THNK to his new role, Manuel says, “I pretty much made use of the THNK curriculum to think about how I would set up this function, including what our methodology would be and our approach. I enjoyed the program very much and I actually copied lots of it into my own day-to-day work which was very valuable.”
While the program was intense, Manuel also says that it was extremely engaging to combine technical knowledge with a different way of looking at things. “In this new innovation lab, we had to come up with new products and services that were connected to the financial world either short-term or long-term,” he says. “We had a very small team of people so we couldn’t do everything. That was a very THNK thing to do: to just get out in the world and try to develop things with the people who actually use them.”
He specifically found persona mapping useful for understanding and empathizing with his customers: “I was not confronted with those tools before.”
The innovation lab is still doing great. “The job itself has changed a lot,” Manuel says. “I keep on learning new things, facing new challenges. And I always try to do it with a very open mind. THNK has been critical to that.”
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Through the combination of leadership and innovation tools, a tight network of like-minded classmates, and unique, experiential sessions, Dino, Elles, and Manuel were able to shift their mindsets and transform the way they work in order to reach new horizons and continually grow as creative leaders.