Last week Cora Smit, our dear colleague, inspiring mentor and co-founder of our learning company, passed away.
Cora was an innovative professional, fascinated by behavioural change: what makes people do what they do and what makes them change patterns and routines and learn new things? She followed scientific research in this field closely and translated new insights into concrete approaches. Her starting point was always: people learn while they work, in real-life situations and, if possible, in the here-and-now. Positive psychology was also an important source of inspiration.
Trying out new things
She was always experimenting, looking for: what works? This is how Cora, often together with others, stood at the cradle of innovative concepts and approaches that are still used in our profession today. For example: working with training actors, video-interaction analysis, countless creative and activating facilitation tools, the 40-day approach, Development Centers, the model of transparent management... She was very free-spirited in this, did not care too much about what was and what was not considered 'accepted' in the profession. This mindset resulted in the most powerful and creative new approaches. Of course, not all of her ideas were a success, and the way she dealt with that was just as infectious: 'if it doesn't work, you learn from it'.
Sharing knowledge sets you free
Cora believed in passing on and sharing professional knowledge: 'This will bring us further, and it frees up yourself to discover new things'. She therefore wrote countless professional publications and was active as an educator and coach for many years in the courses that she organised for fellow professionals in the field, together with Joseph Kessels. She also enjoyed giving others a platform to share their knowledge and experience, for example by inviting them to publish an article or to provide a guest workshop or lecture in their course.
Sharpness and warmth
As a coach, she combined warmth for the person with a sharp eye in a completely natural way. She could listen and watch with undivided attention and then pull you out of a fixed pattern with a pertinent question ('Could you also be curious instead of angry?') or clear instructions ('Stop doing that' or 'Try it like this...?'). Or she would let you do it yourself: for example, by drawing the vicious circle in which you were stuck, or by watching a video recording of yourself at work, analysing it together. We still regularly meet people who once worked with Cora as a coachee - often in her beloved blue garden shed - and still apply the insights they gained there.
To us, she was not only an inspiring professional and mentor, but also a very dear colleague. Someone who always carried postcards in her bag for when someone needed words of encouragement. Who regularly brought flowers from her garden or something to eat. Who saw your strengths and pointed them out, and also honestly told you where things could be done better. Who invited you to form your own ideas and encouraged you like no other to try them out. And then was also there to celebrate your success or reflect on what went wrong. In this way, she stimulated the autonomy of each of us as well as our mutual connection. Much of this way of working has become part of the DNA of our company. In our daily dealings with each other, but also in practices such as our 'love and grief' check-ins and intervision.
Twelve years ago, Cora suffered from the first symptoms of Alzheimer's and said goodbye to her work and to us, saying: 'I am now going to be a fan of all of you'. Cora left together with Joseph, as fit their unique partnership. It was sad to see how her memory continued to deteriorate as the disease progressed. What remained, to the very end, was her appreciative eye, her warmth and her ability to touch people.
Our thoughts go out to her daughter Anna and her family and Cora's partner Evert. As well as to Joseph - her partner-in-work from the very beginning. It feels like the end of an era, and it is.
We are grateful for everything we learned from her and continue to build on it every day.
All colleagues of Kessels & Smit, The Learning Company