Subscribe to Selected Scribblings
Subscribe to Selected Scribblings

Management in Kaos

13:02 Posted by Alison
Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.

The words of Michael Douglas’s Gordon Gekko encapsulate the Wall Street mentality of the 1980s, yet their sentiment would not have been out of place in offices worldwide prior to the recent economic crisis. Whilst the global housing bubble still seemed impenetrable, excessive risk taking experienced resurgence in business fields and the management style du jour involved coveting and cultivating profit-chasing teams of staff. Both fiscal pools and corporate egos were happily riding high and short-term investment in your own pocket and professional position wasn’t just expected by those higher up, it was encouraged. And then, of course, everything collapsed.

Following large scale failings of such management systems, the global economy has been transformed. Confidence in old ways has been lost, and there are calls for at the very least, a revision of tactics and teachings. Business schools around the world churn out around 500,000 MBAs a year, but unemployment rates amongst US graduates have more than tripled and many of their UK counterparts are struggling despite promises that the worst of the economic downturn is behind us. To boost employment in the sector and prevent a repeat of the latest recession, is it time for a new kind of management strategy to be brought to the fore; for kaos to reign in a time of chaos?

Companies including Apple, Lego and Carlsberg certainly think so and have put both their names and financial support behind a revolutionary institution that has been causing a stir in Scandinavia. Founded in Århus, Denmark in 1991, the college/centre/base rejects aggressive ‘every man for himself’ practices and has adopted ‘positive social change through personal growth’ as its mantra.

Selective in its intake (only 35-40 students are accepted onto the program each year after attending assessment workshops), but determined to share the benefits of its methods, the KaosPilots school aims to craft a strong, inspired and socially conscious workforce through in-house classes. It also provides a range of consulting services (designed to improve the output of established businesses) alongside its three year program.

The unusual name is the first indicator of the school’s unique approach to business education. According to William Tate, founder of equally unorthodox US Architecture College, Umbau, a KaosPilot (as the students, corporate clients and alumni are known) is:

“…an enterprising leader who navigates change for the benefit of themselves and society. They take the unknown and make it theirs and redefine norms, stepping outside conventional thinking. The KaosPilot dares and is responsible for building the dreams of the next millennium.”

Riding out the storm and steering their way through the unstable corporate landscape, KaosPilots are to better themselves and society through their innovative and transformative business actions; a hefty principle to live up to, to say the least. Yet the humanistic streak that underpins KaosPilot training is what sets the school apart from conventional business colleges and training centres.

This values-based, ‘social entrepreneurship’ approach is ultimately driven by the student, with mentors inviting them to devise their own projects and take responsibility for the learning path that they create. The only boundaries come in the form of two official semesters and four core disciplines that form a frame for students to craft their three years at KaosPilots round:

  •  Creative Business Design
  •  Creative Leadership Design
  •  Creative Process Design
  •  Creative Project Design

The course culminates in a large, individually run project, which students develop from an initial idea to its realization. Final year projects often aim to help communities or improve corporate relationships; past projects have included rebuilding a Sarajevo youth centre with money made from selling specially designed products and SuperMarits, an initiative designed to get more women into the computer industry and a wider variety of games on the shelves by educating more female game designers.

The setting in which this training and the school’s consultation services take place reflects the college’s atypical models and attitudes towards education, again separating it from traditional theory-dominated classrooms. The reception desk is made from a discarded plane wing, off-beat quotes from the likes of Malcolm X adorn brightly painted walls, students sit on rugs, bean-bags or sofas and bold motifs dominate the floor-space. The informal studio layout creates an eclectic, experimental, welcoming and intriguing atmosphere; it raises questions, sparks creativity and provokes thought.

“It is highly structured but comes across in delivery as anything but,” explains corporate workshop attendee Zoe Gray.  Simon Paine, another recent visitor from the UK, remarks that “energy breathed out from the walls of the place”, inspiring learning and a frantic exchange of ideas rather than just providing a stark and regimented teaching environment.

“The relaxed ethos and informative conversational style reflected the ‘don’t be fixated on outcomes’ philosophy,” adds Steve Gomesz, who joined Zoe, Simon and other Hampshire-based professionals on the trip. “The Danes seem to have a national passion for coziness and intimacy; there were candles everywhere and little homely touches like bowls of daffodils, yet none of this detracted from a ruthlessly professional focus on information transfer.”

It may all sound a bit left-field, philosophically avant-garde and too much like wishful thinking, but in the course of executing their projects, students learn about financial management, book keeping, team building and how to promote their ideas in both political and media circles.  Peer-to-peer mentoring is encouraged, yet assessment involves a more traditional grading/points scale, ranging from ‘excellent: A/12’ to ‘unacceptable: F/-3’. Students who complete the program also walk away with a tangible qualification; the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree (in terms of credits) which is recognized by the Danish Ministry of Science.

The school has attracted high-profile guest lecturers including the late Anita Roddick, (founder of The Body Shop) and its defiant assertion that social contribution is an invaluable element of business is generating a growing level of respect. Simon Paine, Enterprise Gateway Director for South East Hampshire (who visited the Danish centre in January) cites the press coverage of ‘the death of the MBA’ as one of the main reasons for increased commercial interest in Kaospilots’ methods:

“The recession has led to a large number of under-employed or unemployed MBA graduates - it is no longer a passport to a top job.  People need to demonstrate their personal USP; social consciousness and the ability to navigate through (and relish) chaos are clearly worthy attributes in aspiring business minds.”

The time-honoured business school system of course produced the Lehman Brothers' Richard Fuld and Merrill Lynch's Stan O'Neal, both of whom received MBAs and held tightly to the 1970s commandment of shareholder value as their companies crumbled. Philip Delves Broughton, author of Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School has even called the three-letter acronym “the scarlet letters of shame,” and quipped that they have come to stand for “Masters of the Business Apocalypse.” Across the board, it seems that professors and managers share the view of Henry Mintzberg from McGill University in Montreal; “conventional MBA programs train the wrong people in the wrong ways with the wrong consequences.”

In an increasingly globalised world, business graduates with heightened cultural and social awareness are valued. Recruiters want to hire those who understand the practice of leadership, rather than just the theory, have sufficient awareness of their impact on others and respect the differing needs of multiple stakeholders. The Kaospilots’ teaching methods carefully cultivate these qualities, so are such strategies the way forward?

According to those who have experienced Kaospilots ‘in flight’, it is possible, but things may require some adaptation and contextualization.

“I remain unconvinced that the program can be replicated in the UK – it’s peculiarly Scandinavian – though this does not mean we can’t learn anything from it,” says Gomesz. “I feel that Britain is ripe for a gentler, more personable approach to business. It will take time and effort, but there is no reason why we can’t adapt to a more ‘evolved’ mindset from the current greed driven frenzy that is ‘Rude Britannia’.”

“UK adaptation might involve a seminar program, and perhaps a summer school. If that works well, the question then will be how and whether to expand into a longer term program of education,” says Reverend Nick Ralph who attended workshops on behalf of Portsmouth University. “Our group was blown away after just one week though,” adds Leila de Lara. “I believe the UK business sector may be responsive to these ways of working, as resilience and adaptability are essential skills to have in changing markets.”

“I also think some would initially be scared by the Kaospilots’ systems, but I believe there is an appetite for innovative and non-gimmicky methods of self and organisational change over here,” explains Paine.  “It is not a 'flash in the pan' business approach or something that’ll prove to be temporarily and politically sexy – it’s a fundamental and tested set of tools and practices that help people to realise their own potential.  There is always a market for this kind of training and there is clearly a worldwide need for social change.”

On paper, the schools credentials are certainly going from strength to strength. There are many more applications from across the globe than there are slots for students and in the last five years, new centres have opened in Holland, Sweden and Norway. The dropout rate is less than one in seven students and independent evaluations have found that almost all ex-students are employed following graduation. In addition, recent surveys have shown that between 25 and 30 percent of graduates have started their own businesses – a much higher percentage than most of the world’s most-renowned business schools can claim.

“It’s a much needed breath of fresh air in a stale environment,” concludes Gray. “The UK sector certainly needs an overhaul, but we seem to think we can do it with a stiff upper lip and in the armour of a business suit. I am sure Kaospilots will move forward, grow and become more influential, but perhaps attention could be paid to not becoming too mainstream, as I believe this is part of its USP.”

Whether or not the KaosPilots’ ideas take off on a large scale remains to be seen, but as David A. Garvin, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School has observed, “Business as usual just isn't good enough.”

Commissioned by NeBMedia Ltd -

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 Response to "Management in Kaos"

  1. Anonymous Said,

    I really like when people are expressing their opinion and thought. So I like the way you are writing

    Posted on 20 February 2010 at 05:04

  2. Anonymous Said,

    I am not going to be original this time, so all I am going to say that your blog rocks, sad that I don't have suck a writing skills

    Posted on 21 February 2010 at 13:01

  3. Anonymous Said,

    i really enjoy your posting taste, very helpful.
    don't quit and keep penning simply because it just simply truly worth to follow it.
    impatient to looked over much more of your current articles, kind regards ;)

    Posted on 22 March 2010 at 10:09

  4. Simon Kavanagh Said,

    Thanks for this well researched article. Infact, the KaosPilots are seeking new student applications for 2012

    Posted on 13 September 2011 at 09:10


Copyright Notice

All original content is ©Alison Rowley 2012. No words or images may be reproduced without permission from the copyright holder.