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  • Ivan Provisoire

(9) Kaospilot

Kaospilot is a school for social design and business with two curricula: an official one, written in a language acceptable to the state, and one that is co-created by the students, reflecting this learning space’s alternative character. Founded in 1991 in Aarhus, Denmark, Kaospilot has its roots in activism culture, Bauhaus, the cooperative movement, beatnik culture, and the folk high school tradition. The aim is to provide a new type of education suited to the challenges of our time. I spoke with Edda Luisa Kruse Rosset, a second-year student, about the experience of learning to navigate the uncertainty involved in creating the future.

Closing ritual before the autumn holidays. Photo by Hrefna Björg

Playing it safe or going into the unknown?

Edda grew up in a community in Berlin, surrounded by artists and other creatives who decided against living the normal life. Despite raising her in this unconventional environment, her parents expected her to go to university to create a solid foundation for the future. After school, she travelled, worked, and eventually enrolled for a degree in the cultural and social sciences. It took her a while to get into the whereabouts of academia, as she resisted the idea of linear progression which characterised the newly introduced Bologna system. Only later, when studying abroad, she felt able to connect more deeply with the course contents. Wavering between her parents’ wish for her to find security in life and the desire to allow space for going into the unknown, she initially hesitated to enrol for the 3-year Enterprising Leadership programme in Aarhus. Kaospilot being half private, half state-funded, meant that she would have to pay tuition fees and not even receive an officially recognised certificate. On the other hand, the school’s ethos of learning as part of a community and its emphasis on working in the real world spoke to her, such that she eventually decided to apply. After participating in a two-day admission assessment workshop, she was one of 35 applicants chosen by current students to become part of the new team, as year groups are being called.

Making ideas work in practice

Throughout their three years at Kaospilot, students work both on site and at an outpost abroad, where the whole team goes to work on a project together. When they are in Aarhus, they participate in workshops focusing on three areas central to the school’s curriculum: process design, project design, and business design. They also spend time working abroad on projects in smaller and larger groups, the aim of which is to learn from practice - sometimes even before having been introduced to relevant theories and tools. This way, students are being exposed to messy reality, experiencing what it takes to self-organise in groups that are, to a certain extent, diverse. Edda points out that whilst diversity is promoted by the school, there are also limitations. Students are aged 21+ and come from different backgrounds, such as the arts, science, or business. However, most are white and European, which is partly related to state funding conditions regarding non-European students, and all must be able to afford the fees. “We all want to contribute to a paradigm shift, and yet we have to deal with the complexity of the world as it is”, says Edda. “It means having to make necessary compromises and moving between different agendas, as we try to find ways of making our ideas work in practice. In the reality of a capitalist society, we have to learn how to make projects financially viable and communicate them appropriately. This applies both to our own work as well as to the school itself.”

A short introduction to the Kaospilots

Learning to navigate chaos

When I ask her about the chaos element featuring in the school’s name, she relates it to her understanding of the creative process and the nature of reality: “Whilst not always being desired and even less promoted, chaos is part of everything – of the systems out there as much as of our inner world. We like to think of life as linear progression, with different steps to take and milestones to be achieved. It’s a narrative about how life is supposed to be, and following it, we end up wasting our energy fighting uncertainty. Kaospilot’s philosophy is based on embracing uncertainty and trying to navigate rather than to resist it. To me, that means learning to accept that you never know what will happen next, what the outcome of a creative process will be, and not to give up when you face a challenge. It’s not always easy, because it takes time. When you slow down, you become more perceptive, but that also means that you become more aware of your own imperfection. Often, the head is so much quicker than the body: an idea can sound great, but to actually do it turns out to be difficult and requiring skills that first need to be developed. Not working according to a recipe and trying to be self-reliant also means that you have to learn to sometimes let go, and still love yourself despite your limitations.”

A holistic and responsive approach to education

The experimental nature of the Kaospilot curriculum mirrors the awareness that there is no one right response to the challenges that our societies and planet are facing today. In order to retain its relevance and stay responsive in times of change, the students play an important role in how their learning – including their examination – is being shaped. They are in ongoing dialogue with each other and their team leaders, giving feedback on how things are going, which is taken into account in next year’s programme. Reflexivity is important throughout, as everyone is encouraged to become aware of their own values and how these inform their actions. This connection between personal development and working from a larger social and ecological awareness is one of the ways in which the school’s holistic approach manifests.

What are desirable outcomes of such an education? When Edda finishes at Kaospilot, she wants to be able to act upon her ideas, to know how and where to make steps to realise them, feel confident and at home with what she does, and be ready to take a leading role in an organisation. Most of all, though, she wants to keep on being curious, questioning, experimenting, reflecting, and consolidating, moving in a spiral of learning that will never end. And, even though she won’t have earned an official Master’s Degree, there is a growing number of universities that are willing and even excited to take on the highly motivated and creative Kaospilot graduates for continuing education.

Christer Windeløv-Lidzélius and David Storkholm, principal and CEO at Kaospilot, on creative leadership. TEDxRVA 2013

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