Matthias (Matti) Straub-Fischer is the Headmaster and the leader of Kaos Pilots Switzerland (now 7Generations), a three years full time education for social entrepreneurs, change makers and for people who have dreams or have a dream that they want to carry out in the world and want to do that together with other people.
In this interview we get deep into the Kaos Pilots educational model and inspiring ideas. You can see the full transcription of the interview next:
What is Kaos Pilot? (Now 7Generations)
Kaos Pilots is a three years full time education that is for social entrepreneurs, change makers, for people who have dreams or have a dream that they want to carry out in the world and want to do that together with other people.
The name Kaos Pilots came from a metaphor of “what kind of people do we need today, in a chaotic world, in a turbulent world? People who can land projects safely to the ground.”
What do the students learn as a Kaos Pilot?
I think that the main things that students are learning in these three years of studies with us are: “Who am I? Which are my talents? How do I bring my talents into a team? What are the roles I love? What are roles I don’t like so much? and How can I as a leader be helpful? How can I be an evocative leader? This is a person who is able to bring the talents of the people he works with rather than putting myself too much in the foreground.
So it’s a very inclusive way of creating integrity and making sure that all voices are heard.
Which is the role of the teachers/staff at Kaos Pilots?
As staff members we are holding the field, the training ground, that means that everytime our students feel ready to take over the next level of responsibility that means that we move one ring out.
For example, some years ago some of our students said, “Our Facebook page sucks”. They said “We could do this much better”. So we said, “Ok, go for it”. We as staff moved one ring out, we gave them space to take over the website.
It worked really well for about two months and then it collapsed again. So we had to moved back again, but I think this kind of supporting the learning space, so the people can learn to bring themselves fully in, try on different areas of responsibility, different roles and then learn with that and grow with that.
So our job is to be as strong as we can because we have an understanding that my tribe is only strong as I am, and I am as strong as my tribe is. So these two things cannot be taken apart. So we have to really work well together so we can support and also challenge our students again and again to go to the next levels.
Which is the typical timetable during a week at the school?
Our week usually starts at 8:30 in the morning when people arrive. We start together with what we call the morning practice. Half an hour of physical movement together, greeting ourselves and waking up. That happens from 8:45 to 9:15.
Then on Monday and Thursdays we have what we call “agency days”. Agency days means working on our personal learning goals but also in our business goals, so every student creates a canvas with goals figuring out what I want to do this week, what needs to happen and for what do I have energy for. So what can actually be done.
Then Tuesday and Wednesday are teaching days or workshop days where we work with external teachers specific challenges or projects. On Thursday we look again how far we get with our goals, what is still to be completed on Friday so by Monday we can move into the next cycle.
Officially it goes from 8:45 to 16:00 but there are many students who are here at 7 in the morning and they leave at 11 or something. I am often not the last one to go.
How is the admission process?
We have three goals for the admission.
One is to find future students hungry enough for this kind of challenge because it’s a personal developing, is challenging, you need to again again and again get out from your comfort zone, and the thing is that you only do that if you are hungry for change.
So in the assessment days, so far we have two days, we want to increase that now into a week of assessment, where people really get an understanding of what are these eight different directions of innovation and change, How does it look like? Where am I already good? Where do I maybe still need to practise more? So that people get an understanding of “Aha, this is what I may feel like, this is how I can imagine these three or four years to be like”, so they are convincing themselves rather than us having to convince them or having to push them.
Then of course we want to see how well are people able to articulate themselves, if they can clearly say what they feel, what they sense, what they need, what they want, what they dream…And we also want to hear about what they are passionate about, how they can imagine to bring change into their own lives and into the world as a bigger place.
What kind of projects do the students develop?
So in the first year of education the students learn mostly with projects with clients. So in the beginning they don’t have to think too much about what they like or not but rather you get an exposure to a variety of projects, you have a diversity and broad portfolio. That is NGO projects, museum projects, communication projects, business projects to cultural projects so they can find out what is what they really love and maybe what is not my thing.
The main point is to learn to work together, so all the exam projects are projects over at least one month, where they need to work on concrete challenge given to them by a client. They need to find the client, they have to negotiate the payment, the entire agreement and they need to deliver.
As time then goes on, on the second year and specially in the third year they are more and more choosing their own projects, “Hey I am interested in this”, “I would love to work more with that”, so they get closer and closer to the kind of projects they really love to work with, which culminates in the third year with “Leave your dream”, really manifest the project ideas, the project dreams that you have in a way that it makes sense for you so create a life design where you put all the different aspects of your life together under one hat that really makes sense for you.
How is the evaluation? Do you have exams?
When we do evaluation, the most important thing is that our students learn that the first and most important people for the evaluation are themselves.
They need to learn how to evaluate. So at an exam, you can say the most important thing is that they learn to measure themselves. Not to judge but to measure. How well did I do here, did I jump up here or did I jump here or maybe I need to still be here, because we have learned that being honest in a self evaluation is key to realize that I am here or I need a training plan for the next few steps.
So the ways we do exams here is as practical as possible, where we invite people from the outside to give a second opinion and say, here is what I am seeing or here is “I would hire you” or “I wouldn’t hire you because this is to weak or to vague or not clear, so the students really get a sense of what they have been doing and developing does make also sense and is palpable from an outside perspective.
Because sometimes you are deep in your own project or process, and it’s very clear for you that this is important but may not be easy to communicate to someone else. So we really want them to learn how you articulate essentials for a person who has maybe never heard of this project before.
Tell us more about one special project developed by the students
One of the projects that really inspired me was in Sweden developed by one of our students.
First in this third years he was very passionate about working with former sports professionals, what these professionals do when they stop their career because then they step into alcohol, drugs and different addictions because they don’t have the attention that they used to have with their training.
Then he realized that he was more passionate about working with young adults who are in migration, who had to be refugees at some point, so they started a project in Sweden where they helped in a house inviting young people who were traveling without their parents, and helping them to reintegrate and land again and create a community and strengthen their self-worth in what they are doing.
In Sweden everything is organized by the community pretty strongly and usually is the community themselves who do this kind of things, so they were new in their approach “We want to do this as a business” where can we be more effective with the impact we want to have? And I think that the way they have moved forward has been absolutely magnificent, how they have involved people from the community to help them work with that.
How do you organize, coordinate and work together as staff?
So our main mean of coming together is our staff meeting.
We meet as a full staff circle once a week and that is on Wednesday afternoon at 1 o’clock. It’s one hour or one hour and a half meeting depends on what the topics are.
We always have rotating roles, so it’s always somebody else who leads the meeting because we have learned that is very important that the power doesn’t stay in one place and that we have the diversity of the change.
So the way we work together is that we look at what is needed to be done and who could work on this, so we often look in the big circle and they say, “This project can be done with three people” and they ask “Who wants to bring this forward?” And somebody says “Yeah, I will be pointed for this”, and three other people say “I would love to support”, so they themselves organize.
So you have a central campfire and from that campfire people can go out and do individual journeys or collective journeys gathering something and then they come back and share the story the next week.
So that is they way of how we bring the experience together but still allow total self-organization to take place. Most probably, we are not going to need the term headmaster much in the future anymore which is more an outside helper, so that people who sometimes say who is in charge here?…
I think that the other tool that we use a lot is our wiki. We have an online platform where we basically have a big tree and we can build your own little tree houses to have the different conversations.
We make it as transparent as possible, so we share it with the staff, students of what is happening at different areas. I guess transparency is one of the key aspects in that so over the years we have just made more and more things transparent.
And that’s a learning process because at the beginning we could feel we are not ready to for example make student payment for tuition public so everybody would know it. The same with the staff payments or founding’s.
And we are getting to the point where we can actually just share that because everybody is confident that this is our learning ground, we need to learn to live, learn and work together and there are no secrets. So if somebody has a problem becomes obvious soon or later.
So regular meeting, transparent communication, immediate sharing of whatever you are learning.
Which are the differences between Kaos Pilot Denmark and Switzerland?
We have two very different models. We have the school in Arhus in Denmark, that is largely governmental, founded over last 25 years, still considered and educational experiment which is amazing. They are at a very different stage of development after 25 years of course than we are after 7 years.
We started as a private initiative and now we are moving into becoming a company. We were Non-for-profit but we want to shift that now because we realized that our structure needs to grow and what we are doing is to grow and often the Non-for-profit kind of thinking is a bit limiting so we want to move as a business.
We want to bring together the part where we offer consulting services and coaching services by regenerative change to the public. We want to involve our students in it.
So in a way we are shifting our model from being a business school to actually being a business school where our students are our apprentices so they get hired for four years.
It changes a lot in the way we think. Because as student I usually said (to the teacher), “Well, produce” and I think what we learn is that the biggest enemy is always consumerism, whenever I lean back and say “You are going to run the show now”.
Of course that is not working because we are trying to learn to become entrepreneurs. We try to become regenerative change facilitators, which means I need to figure out what I want to do and how I will contribute. This is not a thought process. This is a do-action-research-prototyping walk.
Which are the main challenges for 7Generations for the future?
The challenge is “How do we make the kind of intense learning environment open for experiences from the outside?” So people can come in for a week or a day and say “This is how it feels like”.
Because I think many of us in the world we have images of a business school which is 300 people listening to one person talking. In our school, we also have some talking and storytelling but there is a lot more go into action, do your thing, learn with each other so I think that the challenge is really how we get the message out of what is special about this.
We don’t believe that everybody needs to become a Kaos Pilot or everybody needs to be a regenerative change facilitator but what we believe is that the people that really want to be that change maker and social entrepreneurs they should know about it, so we can offer this kind of education worldwide.
Of course the challenge is also a financial one but that is only just the surface because underneath of it there is “Do I have the will and the balls to go for what I really want and dream about?”.
And I think that is the challenge of how to become amazingly innovative and how I develop at the same time the self-discipline to really walk to talk. Because I think those two things they really go together, they are not often seen that way.
We often have an image that a creative person is a person who doesn’t have any self-discipline. Well, the opposite is true. You need a whole bunch of self-discipline to live your dream. Otherwise it’s not going to happen. And so to learn about how to be visionary but how do the foot work everyday.
I think that’s the big challenge. So I would say it’s mostly a communication challenge, an experience challenge and we’ll get better over time so I am pretty confident that we will be moving forward with these obstacles in a inspiring way rather than draining energy.
What is creativity for you Matti?
We need to change our view on creativity. Everybody has potential. The question is “Do we believe in ourselves? Do we get frames or settings where we are allowed to use it?”. And you can be creative with numbers, with colours, with project ideas, so there isn’t a limit.
I think that the point is how do we start seeing creativity as an expression of the spirit in ourselves? You see if somebody has shinny eyes when he or she speaks about something. It’s a sense of fire that is in you. So I think we can foster creativity by simply allowing people what gives them shinny eyes.
And of course we don’t know what is not. Maybe I say “Do you like to play with it?” and he says “Maybe…I don’t know…” and after half an hour of being in there with some cool friends he/she loves doing that too.
So I think it’s really about learning to try out to go out there and do it and have fun with it because creativity has a lot to do with what gives us energy. And of course you can say it has to do with painting, drawing, music but it’s basically allow our spirit to express itself in the world.
And that looks differently for you than it does for me. For you is to go surfing. Maybe for me is to go climbing. Maybe for somebody else is a third thing. So the more you do that, the more you feel it and the more you want to do it again.
Is possible to apply the Kaos Pilot model to primary or secondary schools?
I totally think so.
I mean, in a way kids are Kaos Pilots. I mean everybody has a Kaos Pilot inside of him or her, the question is “Do you want to feed that part of you? Or not?”
If you feed it grows, if not it doesn’t. It’s pretty simple. So I think yes, you can do this kind of follow the things that make you curious, that make you grow, that give you energy, you can do it at any primary or secondary school.
I think what happens is that kids up to nine years or ten they usually do it naturally, so if we allow them to do that and give them projects and space to work with it goes in amazing ways.
What usually then happens is that puberty comes in and that usually it’s something that emotionally, it’s not so clear, so (we start questioning ourselves) “Why am I really here?”, “What are my talents?”, you start having conversations with your friends…
So what I think what is needed with ages 16 to 20 is again to open up and help you remember that you are a Kaos Pilot, that you are an expression of what you love doing and what you see is most needed in the world so how can I contribute, how can I help. And I think we have to empower young adults in that.
Which is the percentage of students running companies after their studies here?
Now the fourth team has graduated so forty people have graduated. In Denmark we have about 800 graduates and in Denmark the rate is I think around 40% of people who start running companies either at the end or right after their studies.
In Swiss school we are probably around 60% as part of their third year project. Of course we are less people,
Do you think that this model of education is possible in another country?
Yes I totally believe in that.
I also know that it is a long road to get that happening and I think it’s mostly about how you find staff that is willing to walk to talk. Because that is the most challenging thing.
And of course you need to find the financial model that works. One year ago we realized that our financial model was just not working so we had to come up with a new one.
And I think it takes courage to be honest with yourself and if something doesn’t work call it what it is and say it didn’t work and here is what we learned and here is how we will move on. I totally believe that you can do that and also know that there have been several groups who tried to initiate a school in Barcelona or in Madrid and so far it hasn’t pulled off.
I think the three year education is a challenging adventure. The reason why this education is three years, four years now, is that it takes three years to change your mindset.
You can say if people don’t have the money for three year education well let’s do one year education. The point is that is not going to take you there. I think we are going to disappoint a lot of people by offering them one year training or six months training because it sounds cool but then when you are done it won’t work.
I think that people are hungry for transformative experiences. They want to be at a very different place once they are completed and I think we need really to create those kind of experiences with them and for them.
And that just takes time, so we have lots of conversations about “Should education be for free?” And the point is that is not going to work because this education is a lot cheaper than most academic educations in the world.
The point is just, as student you don’t notice that is that expensive because you only pay 1500 euros or whatever tuition fee per semester. So I think we need too really come up with how can we weave the personal income situation of student making here an education where you learn how to make your own money, how to do fundrising…
What is a social entrepreneur?
It’s interesting that we have to call it social entrepreneur because it suggests the normal entrepreneur is not social which in some cases is maybe true but in probably most cases that’s also not true.
I think we are social, cultural beings, we are people who love collectives, we love communities, we love our people, so I think a social entrepreneur is somebody who can think a business idea in creative ways that helps a social transformation one way or another, it can be education, it can be any other field of society where something has to shift and change.
They find a business model that allows this to happen and creates a financial model and energetical model as well so at the end of the week you have more energy that what you had at the beginning.
And what is not a social entrepreneur?
I think to me somebody who builds a new business so they can sell it to Google in two years from now, that for me has little to do with social entrepreneurship. That to me is very short-sided thinking.
For me a social entrepreneur is really someone who really thinks ahead and it’s selfless in that sense about, you know, this is not so much about me, and of course is about me, but realizing when you are reading an environment how can I contribute in the best possible way rather than Can I make most money?.
I think it’s a good question, because unless you are not making money, you are not going to make it for long so I think we need to learn not to play one against the other, and sort of stay in the middle of the river not hanging on to left or to right of the topic in fact.