Innovation in Amsterdam
The Dutch capital is placing “beta” thinking at the heart of its cuttingedge development
The Dutch capital is placing “beta” thinking at the heart of its cutting-edge development
It’s a Wednesday lunchtime, and rather than sitting hunched over my keyboard eating a wilted sandwich, I’m in a slightly different working environment. At THNK Academy in Amsterdam’s Westergasfabriek Culture Park, staff, managers and guests are all making food together at a long table in the center of an all-white studio, chatting as they pass around the hummus. Reminiscent of the 1999 makeover Steve Jobs gave Pixar’s offices to boost interaction, this seems like a fitting arrangement for a social enterprise that promotes creative thinking and leadership.
Is innovation something that can be taught? THNK Academy believes it can be fostered and harnessed by those with curious mindsets, purpose and passion. Although it is privately funded, THNK was launched as part of a government program to make the Dutch capital’s creative sector more cutting-edge.
Twice a year, THNK invites 500 entrepreneurs and “social change leaders” from across the globe to take part in its program. This number is then whittled down to about 40 participants based on the strength of their proposed plans for their business. The average age of successful participants is 40, and they typically have about eight years experience in their field.
“The program’s central promise is that we will support their growth plan,” says Menno van Dijk, co-founder and managing director of THNK. “We don’t invest any money; we give them leadership coaching, and we cement them as a group so that they start supporting each other. As part of each program, we run a challenge with a topic that’s relevant to society, and we invite external partners to work with us and come up with new enterprise concepts.”
Previous challenge themes have included “Amsterdam as a sustainable destination” with KLM as a partner – this contributed to 167 electric taxis being inaugurated at Amsterdam Schiphol airport last year. Another THNK challenge addressed the issue of empty offices in the capital – 20 percent of them were disused at the time, giving the impression of social disorder and neglect. The result was the launch of office space renewal company CTR+N. THNK also recently opened academies in