We’d like you to meet someone! It’s Holly Thorsen, our new Associate Director of Professional Education.
Holly recently came to Cooper after six years at Apple, where she was a lead designer and producer for a global training team. Holly teaches, coaches, does improv, and is a “risk-forward person,” as she puts it. “I like to do one new thing that terrifies me every year,” she said.
Holly’s home base is in San Francisco, where she lives with her partner and an adorable tabby named Sydney Moncrief (a rescue, of course!).
We asked Holly to tell us a little bit about what brought her to Cooper. Here’s what she said:
Q: Design and instruction seem like they’ve always gone together for you. how does that relate to your work at cooper professional education?
Training people is essentially the same as designing their learning experience. The user has a goal around learning—how do we design an experience that helps them achieve that goal?
At Apple, I led big initiatives, such as defining the Apple standard for a customer experience—then I designed global training for that. I led an 18-month internal campaign on how to adopt design thinking as a process.
I was on the team that took the Apple Watch to market. It was a small group deciding what the Apple Watch experience should be—how do you train tech salespeople to help customers buy what is essentially a piece of jewelry with authenticity and authority?
At Cooper, the learning experience gets built in a similar way by working with designer-teachers to make sure they’re making the best impact possible. I watch them teach, I give them pointers on things like how to use their space and how to encourage more people to talk instead of letting one voice dominate. I help them expand their range.
Q: What drew you to Cooper Professional Education?
I really love the potential to have a direct impact. We aim at emerging and established leaders—everyone from startups to established Fortune 10 companies come to us to figure out: “how can we be more effective at what we do?” And we help them cultivate the right kind of environment.
“The innovation doesn’t come from management meetings, it comes from the people doing the work.”
The mission of Cooper Professional Education is to spread and enhance creative leadership in the world, and I strongly believe our world needs more of that. The only way we’re going to solve things like climate change and social justice is to use creative leadership. It encourages equitable participation. If leadership is functioning well, it also empowers the innovators—it’s recognizing the seeds of future greatness and fostering them.
Q: You say you’ve been involved in improv for quite some time. Does it influence your work?
Well, I started improv just after graduating from Stanford, but I’ve been acting since I was 10. Watching adults choose to be in an improv class and choosing to do things that terrify them and growing from it—that’s what completely freed me as a person, and what inspired me to go into training.
“Improv and creativity and collaboration are all of the same religion.”
One of my big lessons was ‘embarrassment is a choice.’ Improv teaches things like how to communicate and how to be a good partner, which are fundamental life skills—and they’re hard to learn, but they’re also important for a functioning society. Improv was where I first got bit by the training bug. It’s given me the methodology that I use to teach so many other things.