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How Dutch Open-mindedness & Psyche Inspires The 180 Amsterdam Spirit


180 Amsterdam Head of Planning, Ben Armistead, on how traditional traits are influencing modern day creativity

How Dutch Open-mindedness & Psyche Inspires The 180 Amsterdam Spirit

At 180 Amsterdam we’re in a building that used to house the Dutch East India Company – the world’s first multinational company. They saw the opportunities in the new world and through sheer audacity and sometimes the most radical thinking and doing, they created the most successful international company in history. They created new industries, they forged completely new ways of doing business and built a global conglomerate that was the envy of the world.

Today it is their spirit for global trade that inspires the 65 people from 17 nationalities that come to work here every morning and who trade in ideas rather than spices or fabrics. 

The Dutch East India Company is a wonderful example of the radical and brave mentality and spirit that Dutch culture embraces and encourages at every turn. And it’s a spirit that flows through the doors of 180 Amsterdam today.

In the 17th century Amsterdam emerged as an alternative trading port to Rotterdam and other European cities. It was built on a uniquely radical business approach of being aggressively international in its outlook rather than celebrating its Dutchness. Understanding and speaking different dialects and financial systems has meant that today Amsterdammers are proud and gifted linguists who feel comfortable doing business in many different languages. 

Amsterdam’s contrarian spirit has been well documented. From the late 19th century and early 20th century ‘Dutch Radicals’, who questioned the authenticity of Paulian scripture, through to the radicals and free thinkers of today, such as the polarising politician Geert Wilders, Dutch culture has been famous in creating radical thinkers who often shake the acceptable pillars of society. 

Some call it stubbornness. Some call it single-mindedness. But being Dutch is often best seen as being uncompromising in your vision.

The most famous Dutch footballer, Johann Cruyff, is the epitome of it in some ways. Unwavering in his vision for how the game is played, Cruyff was a radical in his appreciation of space, movement and team shape. This mentality can become famously stubborn – but it at least feels authentic and real. It is a radicalism that doesn’t fly.

Yet in contrast, Dutch society can be decidedly liberal. Open to all walks of life. It means it has attracted many different nationalities over the years. Today the city has very large Turkish, Portuguese, Surinamese, Indonesian populations – a reflection of their colonial past – allied to a very strong expat community of UK, French, German and American nationalities. As the talent arrived, so did the companies. Soon many big global brands had their European headquarters in Amsterdam – Sony, Nike, Calvin Klein. And soon the brands, advertising agencies and creative talent followed. 

So, for the employees and management of 180 Amsterdam, what does all that cultural heritage and history mean for our day-to-day work in creating ideas for brands like DHL, Asics, HP and PlayStation?

It means we hire world-class talent capable of creating famous global ideas, who have a spirit of restlessness and bravery and want to get people talking. For many people who move here from ‘local’ agencies in London, New York or Sydney, it is often compared to taking your blinkers off. Suddenly you can appreciate the world we live in and the creative task and bar becomes bigger and higher. 

Here’s an example of how our day-to-day spirit and a local Dutch client of ours are the perfect demonstration of the radical open-minded mentality we’ve been discussing. 

Moyee is a new local Fairchain coffee brand with ambitions to scare both the large coffee brands and shake FairTrade brands from their complacent slumber. It’s a client we are very proud to work with. Positioning themselves as ‘radically good coffee’, they are led by the enigmatic and charismatic entrepreneur Guido Van Stavere and staffed with idealistic and passionate creative thinkers, who are worthy successors to the radical businessmen that came generations before. Working with them can be scary but more often it’s just exciting. They feel comfortable when they are uncomfortable and they know they are doing the right thing when people say they are wrong. Our recent work to raise awareness of their great tasting coffee was a great example of radical thinking at its best. A taste test in which we asked the most ‘experienced’ of Amsterdam’s coffee shop clientele to describe what Moyee Coffee tastes like while ‘under the influence’. (Cannabis is a great way to heighten your sense of taste and smell – in case you didn’t know…) The results were extraordinary and got them talked about in all the right ways. 

Dutch, and particularly Amsterdam, society will forever be this melting pot of the radical, the visionary, the uncompromising and the open-minded. For agencies it is both an inspiring and reassuring place to be. We live and work in a place where bravery and risk are rewarded and celebrated. Where the currency of breakthrough ideas is valued and, importantly, where the people who are charged with thinking of them feel like they are in the best place on earth to have them. 

Ben Armistead is Head of Planning at 180 Amsterdam 
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180 Amsterdam, Tue, 03 Mar 2015 17:27:47 GMT