Int Schüssler is one of the driving forces behind the successful L&D agency Blend Leren. With great clients and inspiring learning programs, she has been making her mark for some time. High time to get to know this L&D Leader better.
Int Schüssler - co-founder of BlendLeren
Actually, Int Schüssler, founder of Blend Leren, doubted whether she was suitable to be interviewed as an L&D Leader in LearningStone's series of interviews written to inspire L&D practitioners. So now they want sweeping statements, with impressive "inspiring" quotes.
You don't have to.
Still, Schüssler is absolutely suitable as an inspiring L&D Leader. Not only thanks to her successful career, but we were impressed by what she tells us. She might not be crazy about 'one-liners,' but she does specialize in long-term relationships in her field and in understanding exactly what the other is looking for in learning programs, and in creating a pleasant atmosphere in her office.
She portrays herself as follows: 'I sometimes say that I am a specialist in being a generalist. You have to be a generalist in our profession: the knowledge and expertise is always with the client, that's where the experts are, who know everything about a certain topic.' It is the typical, modest attitude of the average 'L&D'er'. The true L&D'er does not put her- or himself in the foreground, but facilitates and lets the client, and the learning process, shine.
An old movie theater as an office building
That attitude has brought Int Schüssler a long way. The past six months were spent with her company Blend Leren in an amazing historic building in the centre of Utrecht. High ceilings, a whole studio, and a view of the Dom tower: the old film theater 't Hoogt - well-known among Utrechters - will be Blend Leren's home for the next few years.
Schüssler talks about the office building fondly. Monumental, from the seventeenth century, fully equipped. It serves as home base for Blend Leren, but is also a studio for the company, where shoots take place.
Eight years after its founding, Blend Leren does major projects for ProRail, Van Oord, Boskalis, youth health care, nurses, the GGZ and 113 Suicide Prevention. Blend Leren is an indispensable link between large organizations and the unlocking of knowledge, always aiming at the very highest learning effect.
Learning has always been important
Int Schüssler is no stranger to "learning to learn. Her father was a Dutch teacher and a huge advocate of educational innovation. For example, he advised the ministry of education on the introduction of 'Basic Education' (de Basisvorming in Dutch), a way to give secondary school students the same foundation at the beginning of their school career, so that they could specialize at a later stage. It was also a movement, according to Schüssler, that brought about more of a connection between "head, hand and heart" for students than the previous way of teaching.
Schüssler studied Educational Sciences, but initially chose art. She had taught herself to paint - she is self-taught - and later made money giving workshops on "creativity. When she thinks back on it now, she marvels at the open-minded and cheeky way, in which she sold herself. And that those workshops went so well right away. Yet, as an artist, she noticed that, she was "taxing only one part of her brain" by being creative on her own. It got her to "get out of her head," but she didn't see it as something she could do full-time all her life.
She wanted to do more in the "multimedia world," working with others: "How cool if I could combine that with learning?" she says. 'I saw a lot of opportunities, around 2005. Making videos became more accessible. So we started making personalized video. The bridge to online learning was small.'
She started the company Blend Leren with Willianne Timmer in 2015. 'I can, to this day, put a lot of creativity into all those learning programs, which we develop. Both in terms of form, content and technique. It's a puzzle you get to put together every time and that's wonderful. We focus on learning with humor and attention to media, such as video, animations, quizzes, podcasts, illustrations and games.'
Another view of business
When Schüssler and her business partner Timmer started Blend Leren, they made a conscious decision to make their business as sustainable as possible. It now employs about ten people, and they want to keep it that way. In doing so, the two women have made choices that are still rare in other companies. “For example… nobody works five days, we don't believe in that. A work week is a maximum of four days.
Willianne Timmer and Int Schüssler
We have made some conscious choices. People thrive when you create a safe and pleasant environment. Everything we do together is a teameffort, with an important principle: we are not going to track hours. That has so many disadvantages, apart from the fact that it takes time. We also have time to be creative. With the studio we have here, you can always think: I'm going to paint for an hour. It's totally fine if someone does that.'
With the studio we have here, you can decide: I'm going off to paint for an hour. It's totally fine if someone does that.'
This is the way Schüssler wants to work with her colleagues. She has also experienced other times, working for companies where only money was important. 'That's not how I wanted to work,' she says. You just get into a negative spiral with an organization. You have to think about what works well for yourself? We at Blend Leren are very considerate of each other. If someone feels mentally unwell for a while, you take that into account within the team. So that we create a sustainable place where you like to stay. Yes, I think I am a team player. I enjoy seeing others grow and be empowered. That's also how we hire people. Above all, we ask ourselves: who are you as a person? We have never had to post a vacancy. People always come our way naturally.'
In this regard, the chemistry between Schüssler and Timmer is important. They are almost always on the same page. Schüssler's secret weapon? 'My intuition. I can really trust my intuition and dare to rely on it. When taking on new people, assignments or opportunities. The important thing in working together is that you always aim really high, based on what you intuitively feel. Willianne and I are always very keen on each other. A while ago we made something with 360-degree video. We were busy working on that, but the end result was still a bit mediocre. But then again, we had already put so much time into it. Then we decided not to deliver it anyway. We did it completely differently in one day and made something cool that worked. Well, kill your darlings, that's sometimes part of the job.
Right from the start Blend Leren ran smoothly. That is - to be honest - partly because Schüssler and her colleagues quickly won a very large project from the GGZ. 'That is so important, people who grant you that and trust you. Fortunately, I also have a large network," she reflects.
Attractive learning pathways
From that first big project, she could slowly make the things she wanted to make. Sometimes Blend Leren was bold: if they saw that a particular learning path - was so mediocre, that they asked: can we pitch? 'Sometimes you see learning pathways, which people really have to struggle through. We always try to create attractive-looking learning programs, where the key question "what do people want to learn?" is defined as sharply as possible. Our work is often also pure communication, between different parties. We work with specialists, who are very passionate and like to 'send', and we understand that. Then you have to see how to get the right information into the minds of the participants. How to best unlock the pathway into someone's brain. With information that looks appealing.'
We always try to create attractive-looking learning pathways, where the key question "what do people want to learn?" is as sharply defined as possible.
In this kind of process, Schüssler still has much to gain from her background as a visual artist - she still paints, by the way: everything that hangs in the office in the centre of Utrecht, comes from her brush. 'Visualizing content. Rich content. That's what we stand for. With animations and interactive videos.'
Serious and heavy topics with humor
The learning programs that Blend Leren does often revolve around finding the "right tone”. Especially with 113 Suicide Prevention and with programs for the GGZ, the topics are heavy. It is important for Schüssler and colleagues to sketch and create exactly what not only moves the participants, but also teaches them something. We try to involve the visual in the concept immediately. But with visuals it can sometimes be difficult. It's very tricky. The atmosphere you outline should not be too heavy. And the tone of voice cannot be too pedantic. We try that out," explains Schüssler, who also does not hesitate to hire cabaret artists to achieve her client's goal.
You have to keep the work fun for yourself too right?
She talks enthusiastically about comedians Joep van Deudekom and Rob Rob Urgert, who play a major role in the learning process about the 'code of conduct' at ProRail. The big advantage of using comedians is that Blend Leren and ProRail were able to go just that little bit further in terms of content, because we’re allowed to use humor. Topics suddenly become more discussable, thanks to the humor. The impact is amazing.
Schüssler is the one who writes the scenes and the dialogues. When she talks about it, her eyes light up. She visibly enjoys it. "You have to keep the work fun for yourself, too, right?" she concludes.