Next week, the Dutch National Debating Championships (NK Debatteren) 2021 will take place but not before we speak with one of the reigning champions: Adrienne Huisman. Two years ago she received the ultimate gift: when she won the final of the NK, it was her birthday! In a super fun interview, I asked this organizational superstar about her job at PwC and the lessons she learned from the debating world and organizing debating events such as the World Universities Debating Championships (WUDC) in 2016-2017.
Profile Adrienne Huisman
Alma mater: Leiden University (MSc Crisis and Security Management, MSc Public Administration)
Current position: Senior Consultant Security & Justice at PwC
Debate achievements, including: Reigning Dutch Debating Champion, Top 10 speaker Dutch Policy Debating Championships 2017, Logistics Officer WUDC 2017
Favourite tournament: Adrienne doesn’t really have a favourite tournament but she likes the fact that there are associations that stick to Dutch. She found the Dutch issues particularly interesting and felt more free with regard to the content, because Dutch is her mother tongue.
How did you come into contact with debating?
In high school we had to do debating for the subject of Dutch Language and Culture for the final exam and I thought that was great fun. My secondary school, the Stedelijk Gymnasium Nijmegen, also had a debating club (Spatha Rhetoricae) and I signed up for it. That was super exciting in the beginning but I quickly enjoyed it. Our school also participated in the National Championships for high school students, so that’s how I got to know competitive debating. When I went to Leiden to study, I rolled back into the debating world; Emma [Lucas, ed.] and Roel [Becker, ed.] also went to the Leiden Debating Union (LDU) and took me with them. During my student years, I did not participate intensively in tournaments but I was very active at LDU. For example, I organized tournaments and held board and committee functions. During the last years of my studies I was on the board of the Nederlandse Debatbond.
You are the reigning national champion. Are you going to defend that title this year?
I haven’t signed up yet and at the moment I don’t necessarily see it happening. In 2019, Emma and I spontaneously signed up on a certain night so you might see me appear but I might also have to stop at the peak. Maybe I will come and judge, I think that would be fun too!
What is the biggest lesson you have learned from the debating world?
Debate: A motion is always defensible from two sides. This ensures understanding and perspective. If someone tells you something and you don’t think their argument is that strong, then you should see the best in it and understand their point of view. On perspective: there is always a part that is not told or a consideration with a particular interest. Debate teaches you to place things much better and to assign the correct weight to arguments. In this way, it teaches you the advantages and disadvantages and to look at an issue in a structured manner. You can also use that outside of debating.
Organizational: When I was on the organizing committee of the WUDC, my goal was to keep the tournament running on time. I thought that if the Leiden Open with five rounds in one day could run on time, then so could three rounds at the WUDC. I remember that people thought that goal was very ambitious but in the end we succeeded. It taught me that you must always believe in yourself and your own strengths. That requires dedication and discipline; it does not come to you easily. But if you believe in it and work hard for it, a lot is possible. The WUDC in the Netherlands has set a new standard for the WUDCs afterwards.
You work as a Senior Consultant Security & Justice at PwC. What does that mean?
I help organizations in the security domain with issues related to quality improvement, organizational design, and (chain) cooperation. This can be very broad or specific. For example, I work together with municipalities, the police, and the Public Prosecution Service to see how cooperation and process optimization can contribute to tackling crime [see here a video of PwC by Adrienne (Dutch) about public-private partnerships, ed.]. The work is very diverse; one time you guide organizations from start to finish in solving a certain issue and the other time you conduct some short research.
What attracts you so much about that position?
Security is my passion, I love that. Actually, I can say that my work is also my hobby. That started when I was little, watching Flikken Maastricht. Then, I wanted to join the police but my parents did not like that. Now, I sometimes joke that I still went to work for the police but without a bulletproof vest. As a consultant, you guide and advise organizations, without getting lost in the daily routine. That makes the work interesting and challenging. You help organizations with issues that are interesting in terms of content and can have a lot of social impact. I also really enjoy working at PwC; they are ambitious people with a lot of substantive knowledge and a cooperative mindset. I work with colleagues from many different teams and that mix makes every assignment interesting again.
What is a lesson you would like to pass on to those reading this article?
There are so many things you can learn from debate, so I encourage all debaters to make the transition to daily practice and see how your debating skills can help you further. Three lessons I have learned for myself and would like to share are:
- Pursue what you really want and then you can’t go wrong. You can go in many directions with a study like public administration but I really wanted to do something with security. I started to strive for that and now I have got my dream job. I hear so often that there are people who don’t like their job or actually don’t do what they really want; I think that’s such a shame. If you have the opportunity, go for it!
- Trust yourself, no matter what others say. The debating world can sometimes create a bubble that may give you the idea that you are not good enough or that others are much smarter. It’s just a game, of course. If you ever think you’re no good because others keep winning, then that shouldn’t be your measure. Look at your own motivation. For example, I have never participated in the European and World Championships because I knew that was not my passion. I tried to keep myself from going in that flow and focused on what I liked.
- Nobody likes to be proven wrong. In the debating world, you can say almost anything to make your point. In real life, try not to prove yourself right every time but use your debating skills in a constructive way, for example by asking the right questions and connecting people. Debate is a competition and a lot is allowed but in a work situation, it is not about being right or disproving the other. Try to find the connection and look at the issue together.
Mike is an alumnus of the Tilburg Debating Society Cicero and has served as the secretary of the Nederlandse Debatbond (2019-2021). He was vice-chair of Cicero (2015-2016) and in that function oversaw the newly set-up international branch. He also organized the Dutch Debating Winter School, a debating training week that attracted participants of over 20 nationalities.