Thai beach to Dutch Canal
It started on a beach in Thailand; ‘We are the Kaos Pilots, and we bring mayhem’. Ok, sounds interesting… and then a month later I find myself standing outside the Kaos Pilots Netherlands HQ, canal-side Rotterdam. How? What? Why?

But it was ok I wasn’t alone on this mad mission, as next to me in the sunshine that morning in Rotterdam I had a fellow flight navigator. Tribe members allow me to introduce Mr. David McQueen – a Caribean cocktail of energy, enterprise and expertise. Dave had suggested the idea of visiting the Kaos Pilots whilst we were meke’ing on the Thai beach, and there we were a few weeks later, not entirely sure what we had let ourselves in for.

No plan is a good plan?
The plan was that Dave and I would share our approaches to business with these mind-bending international students and in return they would share their vision for better business and show us the sites of their city. But to be honest we had no idea what would happen, it felt like day one on Vorovoro all over again, minus the sulu’s…

The first surprise came when Karin, one of 17 ‘team one’ pilots picked us up from Rotterdam Central, proceeded to explain that the reason there were so few trams running was because the government had decided at 4pm on Wednesday that Thursday would be a Sunday. Do you trust the first thing your host says as they greet you? Well I think we kind of did. ‘Oh really, so how do businesses deal with the last minute changes?’

As if to apologise for taking us for such a ride so soon after our arrival, we were swiftly escorted to a marina where Pater Linde, one of the schools tutors, lives aboard a boat. A perfect evening back in the company of the pilots on-board restored our confidence that kaos was cool and we weren’t two English guys abroad about to be taken for fools!

Back to school – Kaos style

Next day we walked down the banks of Rotterdam’s art-strewn canals (levitating trees, multi-coloured logs – is this what happens when cannabis is legal?), and arrived to engage the full team at kaos hq.

Before ‘check-in’ (this is the Kaos Pilots version of saying what’s on their mind at the start of the day, anything and everything seems to go), I got the good old ‘human-knot’ going on the street outside the school. Interestingly none of the 15 Pilots seemed to want to really get out of the knot – there was no awkwardness at being in such close proximity to each other (unusual) and there was also no real initiative in leading each other out of the problem (also unusual). But then Kaos Pilots, as I am increasingly learning, is not business as usual.

Dave lead an interactive workshop on defining your vision (what you are doing), your values (why you are doing it) and voice (how you are going to do it). It surprised us that none of the pilots wrote down what he was saying even though they seemed really engaged in the process. By the end of the day we felt that we had made some progress on what the vision is of these unique students, and a great sense of what their values are, but struggled to conclude with how they are going to do it. But heh, this is only year one – still playtime.

After showing some clips from Paradise or Bust, I went about telling the story of Tribewanted, only this time I paused along the way the way to ask the pilots what they would have done at certain points of the journey. Would they have launched the project knowing the risks involved? Would they have engaged or ignored (as we did) the online scam accusations? Would they have closed the project when the coup broke? My favourite answer came from pilot and house DJ Alex, who said he would have considered trying to negotiate with the army commander….lateral thinking at its most imaginative!

Then I set the challenge – What would you do with Tribewanted? How would you look beyond Vorovoro? Treehouses on boats, urban tribes, cross-cultural consultancies – these lot are a creative powerhouse. And even though they only had 30 minutes to come up with some answers, there was a surprising amount of symmetry to Tribewanted’s vision and values if not quite yet its ‘voice’.

Drinks and dinner at the Tiki ‘welcome to paradise’ Bar and the Witte Aap (the White Ape) bridged the gap between workshop and playtime Kaos style. Dave and I even ended high up on a Rotterdam factory roof feeling like we were about to take part in some urban pakour induction coarse.

What can I say about the Kaos Pilots ? This school for social innovation is certainly changing the way these students think about business, and if they can find the ‘how’, their voice, I bet this won’t be the last time you will hear about them…