Wonder and inspiration with Jimmy Nelson & Jitske Kramer
"After 27 years in the financial sector, it's time for new insights," says Jeroen Groothuis, taking a big bite of blueberry yogurt from a black stone bowl. "That's why I'm here. If you don't keep learning new things, you slowly wither away on the inside."
In the early morning, Jeroen, the director of the Supervisory Office at de Volksbank, has travelled to Amsterdam Zuid on this cloudy November morning to attend our breakfast session. This year, we welcomed two extraordinary speakers: corporate anthropologist Jitske Kramer and photographer Jimmy Nelson. The talks are taking place in Jimmy’s studio, adorned with his powerful photography. There’s plenty to talk about.
A bit further at the coffee bar, Jeroen’s colleague Bart Vrancken, Volksbank’s director of Hub Risk and Compliance, says, “I don’t have any expectations,” as more and more people gather in the softly lit space. “Solid Professionals always surprises me with the approach of the speakers. Something you don’t think is applicable to your work can still offer reflection.” He looks at a photo of four women in Dutch traditional dress on the beach. “And having Jimmy’s work hanging here in all its glory… Very beautiful. It’s going to be a very cool session.” He pauses for a moment and adds, “Actually, I do have expectations,” with a chuckle.
Time for the first speaker. Over eighty guests make their way to rows of black chairs, eagerly awaiting a screen, indigenous masks, and once again, impressive photography. Some grab a croissant before the cheerful chatter falls silent as our director Kathelijn Loos and head of talent management Lieke Galema take the stage. Kathelijn says, “Today, we’re doing things differently. You won’t be seeing presentations about new laws and regulations or industry developments. Instead, we invite you to look at the world and leadership in a different and open-minded way. Today, we explore human richness in a different manner.”
Then Jitske Kramer takes the stage. This vibrant woman is a corporate anthropologist who has authored multiple best-selling books, including co-authoring the 2016 Management Book of the Year, “The Corporate Tribe.” She travels the world to learn from traditional healers and tribes and translates these lessons to the corporate world, finding more commonalities than one might initially think.
A little different, right?
In her presentation, she emphasises that the people in your organisation shape the culture, and the culture shapes the people. What you want, Jitske explains, are “Strong tribes, safe for diversity, ready for change.”
She shows a photo of an indigenous man, adorned with beads, colourful stripes on his face, and a handmade crown. “A little different, right?” she says. Then, alongside it, a photo of an exuberant Dutch soccer fan. The man is almost unrecognisable under his orange wig, orange face paint, and red-white-blue sunglasses. “But this isn’t different, of course,” and she looks demonstratively at the crowd. They burst into laughter. Of course, she’s right, you can hear the audience think, we look ridiculous too.
Jitske gives another example. “When someone says, tell me about your organisation, you show them an organisational chart with job titles. But what the organisation really is, is this!” A chart of happy and unhappy stick figures appears on the screen, connected by arrows with labels like “hates,” “has slept with,” “sells drugs to,” and “supports the same football team.” Once again, laughter fills the room. “An organisation is made up of the relationships between people!” Jitske exclaims. “And as strong as those are, that’s how strong your company is. Culture is emotion.” There’s nodding in agreement from the audience.
Campfire session instead of a bullet point meeting
The most important tip she imparts is to truly listen. “Like at a campfire. That’s when you really listen to what’s being said. Is your meeting a bullet point meeting, where the decision has already been made, and input doesn’t matter? Or can you incorporate elements of a campfire session, where a conversation happens without an immediate judgment about something or someone?” She concludes with, “Safe travels,” and applause erupts.
During the break, over coffee and fresh baklava, conversations continue about Jitske’s presentation. “Inspiring,” says Aimee Pijnacker, who has been in the industry for 23 years. “That’s what it’s about. Showing genuine interest and giving people the freedom to think along.”
Leaving the autopilot behind
Pim van Koeveringe, a self-employed senior finance professional, is also impressed by Jitske’s talk. “It hits home and prompts reflection. We often go about things on autopilot.” According to Jitske, after a meeting, you should call the participants to ask how it made them feel, whether they felt heard or not. “But I don’t make those calls often,” Pim admits honestly. “We’re more focused on pushing our agenda. A campfire session could be a good idea.”
For the next hour, the world-renowned photographer unfolds his story in a disarming, highly personal, and emotional manner. The audience is utterly silent, hanging on his every word. No one checks their phone, and tears well up in the eyes of many listeners. Jimmy talks about his childhood abuse, losing all his hair due to alopecia, and the lockdown mode he fell into. At the age of seventeen, with nothing left to lose, he went to Tibet, where he returned three years later with a newfound love for humanity, the world, and himself. But he also returned with four photos that were published in British National Geographic.
Connection can happen anywhere
In his passionate and somewhat eccentric way, he recounts his journeys, during which he established unique connections with the most diverse cultures in the world’s most remote places. By being vulnerable and genuine, he shows that in his quest for love, he is here for everyone, to see them. He doesn’t pose a threat, doesn’t pretend to be someone else; he’s here to see us and share his love. Jimmy’s enthusiasm for his fellow human beings is infectious, and he occasionally pulls people from the audience to pose, demonstrating how he spends weeks capturing the perfect photo.
The British photographer concludes with a montage of portraits, rapidly flashing on the screen. It reads, ‘We are all one.’ There’s a moment of silence, and then enthusiastic applause fills the room. As the audience continues to be amazed by the keynote, Jimmy brings a ladder forward to take a photo of us.
“Beautiful,” says Anne Friedrich, head of the centre of expertise at Rabobank. “It’s about seeing more than just the surface. And that aligns perfectly with Jitske’s story.” Klaartje van Gasteren from our partner organisation, De School voor Transitie, is deeply impressed too. “There’s so much more that connects us than drives us apart. And it starts with building relationships.” Jeroen Groothuis was amazed by the attention everyone gave to the stories. “No one was distracted by their own trivial matters. People were truly listening.”
Our director Sabine ten Brinke confesses that she, too, was deeply moved by Jimmy. “He shows how beautiful it is when you set aside stereotypes. And I want to apply Jitske’s campfire sessions. To truly hear what someone has to say, beyond the established bullet points.”
It’s noon, and the breakfast session comes to an end. One by one, the guests depart, returning to the world of banks, offices, and desks. But the words and images of Jitske and Jimmy continue to resonate for a while.
Want to know more?
Should you wish to delve deeper into subjects like inspiration, diversity, and creating a positive work environment, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re more than willing to initiate a dialogue with you.