The nature of Kaos Pilots and the question of pragmatism

Kaos Pilots is described on Wikipedia as a ‘School of New Business Design and Social Innovation.’ On its own website, Kaos Pilots describes itself as ‘a hybrid business and design school, a multi-sided education in leadership and entrepreneurship.’ But I’m not sure that it is a business school or a design school or a social innovation school or some hybrid. If it were, then it would have no business inviting a philosopher to teach there three years in a row. Nor could it easily explain the presence of other guest lecturers, many of whom do not have backgrounds in business, design, or leadership.

These descriptions simply do not fit the varia of phenomena. If I don’t believe that it is, strictly speaking, a business, design, art, or leadership school, or else some combination thereof, then what do I think it is and what could the school become? The school is rooted, I think, in the folk high school tradition which emerged in Scandinavia in the nineteenth century. Wikipedia nicely, if inelegantly, puts the thought that such schools, meant to be a form of popular, lifelong learning, ‘should educate [its students] for life. They should shed light on [the] basic questions surrounding [the] life of people both as individuals and as members of society.’

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Pragmatist consulting: The art of bullshitting well

‘Once, when contemplating the apparently endless growth of administrative responsibilities in British academic departments, I came up with one possible vision of hell. Hell is a collection of individuals who are spending the bulk of their time working on a task they don’t like and are not especially good at.’

–David Graeber, ‘On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs’

Philosophers spend far too much time focusing on providing defensible views of their own and on knocking down the views of their colleagues when more attention is surely owing to the social phenomena and ‘public philosophies’ that define the shape of our modern culture. One example is pragmatism. One could either canvass pragmatists’ view of epistemology and philosophy of science (all the positions, unworkable arguments, modified views, damaging counterexamples, etc.), or one could cast a critical eye on the figure of the pragmatist consultant.

It is worth understanding why in business culture and at business schools the question that seems to trump all others is: ‘How useful is this? Tell me: how much practical value does this have in the context of our general pursuits?’ Enter the pragmatist consultant–McKinsey or anyone coming after. The pragmatist consultant is the figure who gets paid to tell others these very helpful, useful, and efficacious things. Or he gets paid to provide theories and models–typically represented in these rather silly-looking charts–that are meant to serve as tools or instruments for getting things done more effectively. Or to fire up the PowerPoint slides about business strategy.

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