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Why is L&D Leader Jeanne Bakker so passionate about learning?

Jeanne Bakker is a household name in the L&D world. The founder of the successful and innovative Brain Bakery has been kicking against the establishment for nearly 20 years, and for good reason. Her upbringing and certain events in the life of the L&D pioneer has brought her to where she is now. Jeanne Bakker had already caught our eye as an unconventional and passionate LearningStone user; now we wanted to get to know her better.

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Jeanne Bakker

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The realization that changed her working life, started in 2004, at a Van der Valk hotel. It was in the afternoon, about five o'clock. Jeanne Bakker was still working for Manpower. She walked through the corridors of the hotel, the same carpet everywhere, the same training rooms. She thought: I'm going to walk into all of those rooms and see what kind of training is going on.

She was shocked, by what she saw. 'Every room was focking the same. Flip overs on the wall everywhere. Colored pens. Oh my god. What are we all doing? We really need to stop this, Jeanne Bakker recounted, about her eureka moment. 'I then said goodbye to Manpower - in a nice way - and have been reading two books a week about learning ever since. I thought: I have to study so hard for this. If I have the balls, or ovaries, whatever you call it, then I’ll have the courage to change this myself.'

What Bakker saw in the training world, in that hotel, was mainly a lot of ‘laziness’. Trainers who thought it was all ok. Trainers who told their standard story every time’, Bakker says. She states: 'The biggest enemy of the L&D world, is the 8. We know that on average you get an 8 after a training session. That's because people didn't have to work for a day. With a nice lunch and a pretty ok trainer, you don't want to be a dick and you want to tell yourself,  that it was a nice day. So you always get that 8. So it also makes no sense to advertise that you always average around that 8. An 8 means: the training was not unpleasant.'

... ‘not unpleasant’ is just not good enough.

But Bakker thinks ‘not unpleasant’ is just not good enough. She wants the highest grades possible. A nine, or a ten. 'My dream is that all trainers, all L&D practitioners are going to make learning fun. That the time will fly for the participants. That it really pays off, for those who are paying the bill. Like a Don Quichote, I'm fighting for that. I want No More Boring Learning!’

The aha-erlebnis came about twenty years ago.

She founded training agency Brain Bakery in 2012, known for its training and certainly for its impressive social media presence. Among other books, Bakker wrote ‘Dealing with Dragons’ - about dealing with annoying people, and ‘No more boring learning’, about new and engaging ways of learning.

Bakker, together with her equally charismatic colleague Jan-Peter Hoogstrate, regularly throws her unvarnished opinion into the podcast ether. Episode 136 of No More Boring Learning is a typical example of Bakker-style: Opening your training: 8 ways that are NOT boring!

According to Brain Bakery's own site, Bakker is game changing and a whirlwind, and while very flattering, it is also hard not to go along with such qualifications. Bakker has indeed become a household name in the L&D world. As a sort of professional butt-kicker of trainers, she moves through the L&D landscape with unprecedented speed, where her energy makes her dream come true.

In preparation for this interview, we attended Jeanne Bakker's Develhub Develop Days presentation: "the latest leadership insights from Harvard. The tempo was amazing: Why organizations need to stay close to themselves if they want to innovate, why 'celebrating failure' is over, why Domino's is such an incredibly innovative company ... and much more. When you go to Bakker training session, it’s an amazing ride - information is sprayed at you at the speed of sound, and the killer pace is hard to keep up with.

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Jeanne Bakker, No More Boring Learning

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Where does this incredible energy and drive come from?

‘I had a son. Jesse. Who died, just a few days after I gave birth. It's the worst thing that can happen to you. It was a medical mistake, it was preventable. He was in the wrong hospital, my gut told me something was wrong. But I should have yelled louder at the doctors then. That feeling, that I should have screamed louder then, that has etched itself in my brain. And that feeling always stays with me, to this day: did I say enough?’ says Bakker about the tragedy she experienced.

'I went very deep. That I'm still here is a miracle. I had to learn to give this a meaning. And that's with everything I do now. I know my little Jesse is super proud of me.'

And when she was growing up, she was in the closet for ‘an awfully long time’, she says. Once she came out, it helped her develop quickly. To her surprise, half her family turned out to be gay. A book was even published about the Bakker family, by reporter Tony Bouwman. A family with fifteen children, with whom it doesn’t all turn out well, but who always managed to hold their own morally. Hence the title of the book: 'You may be afraid, but you can’t be a coward'.

Bakker: ‘A large part of my father's half-brother's family was  gay. Uncle Sjoerd was a couturier, a flamboyant gay man who made costumes. He was betrayed and arrested in World War II. But until his death he remained heroic. And he sang to the last breath. His wish was to die in a pink shirt. That's how it happened. In that pink shirt, they shot him.’

With this family story in mind, Bakker volunteered at the COC in Amsterdam, the organization that supports the gay and queer community. There she helped people. And there she found out that - whatever she does - she always ends up in front of the group, inspiring others. 'The train the trainer thing does come from those days,' she laughs.

... she always ends up in front of the group, inspiring others.

Being a professional butt-kicker, that dna, she also got partly from her mother. She was a French teacher. 'She shaped me. She always came home with a lot of stories, about the things that interested her. Once there was a Christmas dinner at school. A teacher said: "Nice isn't it, a school without children." Everyone at the table agreed. Except my mother who decided to resign. She is almost more extreme than me. If we are at a funeral, she is the one who always has to make a joke, because she gets crazy with the formal stuff.'

Bakker is actually a true ‘Amsterdammer’. She grew up in Amsterdam until she was 11, but her parents then moved to Belgium. She learned how two countries, located next to each other, can be completely different. Remarkably, the direct Bakker we know actually enjoyed living in a culture where people are not direct to each other at all. "I fell in love with Belgian people and their culture. I fell in love with their commitment, a commitment that I have never found again like that in Holland," she confesses.

She gives a clear example of the difference: 'If you step on someone's toe in the Netherlands, you already get scolded. In Belgium, the holder of the toe apologizes. Belgium has such a polite and friendly culture. I'm sometimes not good at that myself, but Belgians just try to feel much more, than act and speak out all the time.

Bakker can manage her energy well these days. Her work is what often kept her going, she confesses. 'Work sometimes drags you through life. There's strength in the routine, in the challenge, especially when things aren’t going well in your private life,' says Bakker, who knows exactly how to use her enormous drive. 'I've discovered that when something breaks your heart, or when you get angry about something, that it gives you energy that you don't normally have. That's how I wrote my book ‘Dealing with Dragons’ - a bestseller. With me, it was pure anger about the business models of the 'DISC world,' with personality analysis. That's when I started writing.

... pure anger about the business models of the 'DISC world'

She always looks critically at how people learn and is critical of the current school system. She thinks the system, with so many formal tests, is still based on industrialization. 'We used to need people on the assembly line. People who needed to learn that when the bell rings, you could eat an apple or drink your milk,' says Bakker. 'But we don't need people like that anymore. We need people who are creative, writers, hospitality people: all activities that have little to do with compliance. We shouldn't just have students who just show up.'

Bakker believes the child should be much more central. 'We need to personalize all schools. Look at the child and build from there. Of course cognition is important, and we can measure everything these days with exams. But we are not training children for life with that, but for the exam, and a child feels that.'

What Bakker is learning a lot from now, and what she firmly believes in teaching others, is TikTok. More and more L&D practitioners are also finding this platform of ‘short catchy videos’. ‘You learn through TikTok to really make videos that are relevant right from the start. You want people to stick around. A standard introduction: 'This is my training…'  really doesn’t work.

Bakker has a clear vision. Also about blended learning. She firmly believes in it, just not so much in the term itself. 'Blended learning still sounds a bit like: we do live training most of the time, but we also do something on top of that,' says the ever sharp Bakker. 'Of course I use a lot of blended learning myself, but actually mainly social learning. That has a lot of impact. With a video or a challenge, with LearningStone. You have to keep everyone on their toes. I think we should just call blended learning impactful learning. Learning with a lot of impact.


More information:

Brain Bakery

Brain Bakery Train de Training

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