Aug. 21, 2023

Empowering Life and Work Through Radical Learning

How can education's potential be harnessed to shape individuals, careers, and even the world? Let's find out during the  interview that hosts  and  conducted on August 16th with , Initiator of the , Founder of ,...

How can education's potential be harnessed to shape individuals, careers, and even the world? Let's find out during the interview that hosts Matt Perez and Jose Leal conducted on August 16th with Pieter Spinder, Initiator of the Drop-In-Academy, Founder of Knowmads Business School, author of the book 'From Fear to Freedom', and Founder of the @No Bullshit Academy and .Innovaness.

#radicalcollaboration #educationmatters #learningexperience #learningatwork #nobullshit #liveinterview #podcast


Jose Leal (00:00):

Welcome to rHatchery live. I'm Jose Leal, and I'm here with my partner Matt Perez, and today's guest, Pieter Spiner. And I've…I'm coming back from being a wing on some surgeries and such, and so feels good to be back home, back in the saddle again. Pieter, welcome. Nice to have you.

Pieter Spinder (00:28):

Thank you for the invitation. Thank you.

Jose Leal (00:31):

Absolutely. So, Peter, tell us a little bit about what made you someone we'd want to interview.

Pieter Spinder (00:40):

Again. Again, again, what made…?

Jose Leal (00:42):

What made you someone we want to interview?

Pieter Spinder (00:47):

Maybe because I'm doing things a little bit differently, and maybe also because I'm doing stuff outside of the box. It's a platitude. But like, the thing is that I like to when people say it's not possible or you can't do that, then I start thinking like what maybe I try and then I put stuff into the world, which sometimes works and sometimes not. But like they used to call me HDHD. I didn't take any likin or any medicine. So that's why I have 300 ideas a day. And when I put one or two a day, like to the ground and say, okay, we're going to do it, then good stuff happens, and nice stuff happens, and creative stuff, and yeah.

Jose Leal (01:36):

You sound like a radical.

Pieter Spinder (01:39):

Yeah, maybe.

Jose Leal (01:42):

So tell us about a bit of your background. What brings you here? What how did you, how did you take those 300 ideas and what have you been doing for 56 years with those ideas?

Pieter Spinder (01:57):

No. I started because when I was young, actually a very young one-year-old, my sister was four years old. She died in a car accident, and then I was being raised very protected, but then what I just said, like this HDHD, it didn't exist back in the 1970s. So then the doctor told my mother that I had apartment neurosis, which meant that I was jumping off the balcony. I was going away. So they were forced to buy a house on the ground with a garden. So since I'm seven I'm very yeah, I, I initiate a lot of things. And when I was like, they told me that I was not really good at studying. In the end, I finished my degree in marketing and management. And I also studied philosophy. So, because they told me that I probably couldn't do it, probably I made it because of that. And then I started my, I always worked for myself. And then at a certain moment, I got involved in education. And it's a very interesting story because I was asked to teach marketing at the University of Amsterdam, and I did it, but after the first lecture, I thought like, this is not what I'm going to do. Because they had already, this was at the time of still of the overhead sheets. And they gave me a box of overhead sheets. And in a book manual, they told me, they were already told which slide to put on the overhead projector. And I didn't prepare that well. So after 10 minutes, I said to the students, there were 27 students. I said, sorry, but I didn't prepare that well, but this is not what I'm going to do. In the coming three months, I don't know what I'm going to do. But go home, see you next week, Tuesday, and I'll come up with an idea. I went home. Back then I had a marketing company together with seven other people. We were working on bigger and smaller clients. And then I asked Mark, a good friend of mine, I said, okay, I have this problem. I have 27 students who want to learn something about marketing, but they don't, won't learn it from putting overhead sheets on the, I think so what to do with them. He said, why don't you visit our clients with them? I thought that's a good idea. So, seven times we went to our clients for seven days, actually. So, it was also not during the lecture time. It was sometimes even on Saturday. And we went to the clients, big clients smaller clients, and it was a fantastic ride. But in the end, they of course needed to make, needed to take an exam, which was a multiple-choice exam. And the graduation percentage was the lowest ever in the university. It was 1.7%. I think it's still.

Jose Leal (04:48):

It's, that's one hell of an achievement.

Pieter Spinder (04:51):

Yeah, that's what I thought also. But, so I got a letter from the university, said, okay we're not going to hire you any longer because you're not good at it, and blah, blah, blah. And then two months later, they phoned me. She, there was a, a lady you were managing director, and she phoned. She said, what did you do with the students? I said, why? She said, no, because we did a survey amongst the students, and you got the highest degree ever concerning to interesting lectures 9.7 or something, which I don't know if it's still the highest or not. So she said, what did you do? Normally there's a combination, there's a connection between a low percentage of people who got the exam and the other, and the other side. So, I said, yeah, I paid them a hundred Euros, everybody, to fill in it to make it a good survey, but you didn't believe it. I also didn't do that. So I said, okay, I want to drink coffee with you. Cause According to me education is not really going well here. So we made an appointment and after one hour, she picked up the phone. These were still landline phones. In 1998, she phoned somebody and she said yeah, I think we have him. We got him said. So, she hung up the phone, and said, okay, do you want to work here to make new programs in university, different education? I was still a little because they sent me this letter that I was not able to give lectures because I didn't know anything about the subject, probably blah, blah. So I said, ah, let's think about it. So I thought about it for a week and I said, okay, these are my requirements. I want to do it one, or two days a week, and I want all the freedom to start whatever course. So, I did, for 17 years, I developed new programs like entrepreneurship, sustainability, leadership creative thinking, and creative, doing these kinds of programs. Most of the time these were three, three-month programs. And yeah, it was kind of successful. Then I got in connection with Chaos Pilot. Chaos Pilot is a school from Denmark and [INAUDIBLE]. He started it I think 30 years ago, already, 40 years ago. And it's a kind of what I'm starting now, the Drop-in Academy. Back then it was called Front Runners. So I visited them. I went to Denmark, and we had a good bond. And then together with two other guys, we started Chaos Pilot in Rotterdam, which was a school outside of the system, three-year education which the ownership of the school was, and also of the program, but also of the school was in the hands of the students. We had international students from all over the world. Then the school in <inaudible> in Denmark became an official education. And then we asked our students, okay, what do you want? Do you also want to become an official educator? They all said, no, we don't want to, that's why we chose Chaos Pilot. So, the school closed down from one moment to the other, from one week to the other week. That was it. And then I was very sad. And then my son asked me, why are you so sad? He said, yeah, school closed down. So yeah, it's a sad thing. He said why don't you start your own school? So that was the start of Nomads, Amsterdam Nomads, Creative Business School, Amsterdam, which I initiated together with seven old students from Chaos Pilots in Amsterdam later on, also in Hanoi, Vietnam, and in Buenos Aires. And yeah education for me, what's, what's happening in education is it is very much about numbers. It's about quantity. It's about measuring, it's about marks. It's about how many people are coming in, how much money we earn blah, all this kind of stuff. If, actually.

Jose Leal (08:40):

if I can jump in there, it's about bullshit.

Pieter Spinder (08:43):

It's bullshit really. So it's a numbers game. While actually, education shouldn't be a number game. That's what I think. So it's about efficiency instead of effectivity activity. And so with our approach, our approach is very much based on three different things. First, love, second give attention to the people who give attention. So, I wrote down the actual sentence of a student or potential student of the drop-in Academy. She said, she told me, she said, I'm not a person, I'm a human. And this struck me because she said the thing is, we need to have attention. We need to have love. So, this needs to be in the program, and we need to steer concerning to the potential of the people. So then something happens also in the heart. We were talking a little bit about the heart before, we went in about that heart maybe. It starts with the heart. And this is one of the most important things in the heart. The heart is the major thing which hap which starts good things in the world. And the thing is, it's not about. It's not about numbers. It's not about a head game. It's not about efficiency. And that's why I also started the drop-in academy, because this is the, it's the same thing.

Matt Perez (10:19):

Is, it that online academy, or.

Pieter Spinder (10:22):

No, I strongly believe in physical, so we do some stuff online, of course, but I strongly believe in getting people together. It's very much about the three questions that we are asking ourselves constantly as a kind of curriculum, who am I, What is my story, and what do I want to put into the world? So first we need to find out actually, who am I? And the youth needs to be guided, and they need to be inspired. They need to get the idea that everything is possible. Because when they were young, they already had the idea that everything was possible. So that's the thing. And what, actually, one of the, one of my good friends from Brazil, he also started his own school he said, like Pieter, where it's actually very much about everybody, when he or she's born, he has a fire somewhere burning in him or herself for something. Doesn't matter what it is during life because of education, but also because of parents, because of the economy, because of you name it there's being put a lot of garbage, a lot of on this fire. And education has a big hand in this. And the thing is, what we are doing here is we are, because there's always still this little coal inside, like little red glowing coal inside. And actually, what we are doing is the only thing we're doing is blowing in the fire. That's it. So we don't put, don't put gasoline on it, and we don't say, you need to do this, you need to do it. Just blow in the fire. And then amazing stuff happens. Amazing stuff. This is my experience with university students, with the chaos pilot students, with the nomad students, and now, and also in the corporate world. And we work a lot with corporate clients and leadership teams in Europe. And the last, the last assignment we did was for Henkel, a very big company from Germany. We had a leadership team of 14 people. And they want change. They want to do stuff differently. And their private life, they're already doing it, and they don't know how to do it in their business because they have KPIs and they have all kinds of stuff around. So what we are, what we are doing is we offer a program of five times where we physically also meet even during Corona, we did it because they wanted to do it online. We said, no, we're not going to do it online. We're coming by car to Italy from the Netherlands, and we're going to do it live. And it was fantastic because when, when you bring them together and they get a connection, they see each other in the eye, and they actually know exactly that, all this crap of KPIs and numbers and spreadsheets and freaking meetings. They have meetings all over the place. Well, actually, if you have a, if you trust each other, and this is also, and, and it's a safe environment. This is also in the education, a very important part, say you create a safe environment, people are going to fly. They're going to do stuff that they thought upfront is not possible at all. And that gives me a lot of satisfaction that I can, I can see that people start believing in themselves, believing in the world around them, and then making, making a difference, even if it's on one and a half square kilometers around you, where you have a direct influence. But if you move, then there's a lot of kilometers, which you have a possibility of putting good stuff into the world.

Jose Leal (14:16):

Absolutely. So our topic for today Pieter, is empowering life, And work through radical learning. So what's your definition of life in that sentence?

Pieter Spinder (14:31):

Life is very weird. I just told you that when I will die, hopefully it's not soon, but probably it'll come on my gravestone, there will be only the text. That was weird. I think life is something, there is a starting point of the reasons why you're there. And the starting point is most of the time love, otherwise, I would not sit here. You probably also wouldn't sit here. So, the starting point of life is love. And if you are, if one approaches life as something which is opening, and po gives the possibility, it gives a, a beat, a heartbeat sequence, then you can then, you know, your heart knows. Your gut knows what to do. And this is, this is also when you, when you were a child, you were, you were experiencing everything also with all the senses. Like Rudolph Steiner, one of my biggest masters or where I really believe in is also talking about 12 senses. So life is much more connected. The, and also education. It's much more connected to everything, to a lot of stuff, to embodiment than only seeing reproducing listening, and following the crowd.,

Matt Perez (16:08):

We're social animals. We follow the crowd.

Pieter Spinder (16:12):

Yes, but also that there are also people who are walking the other way. And there are also people in the crowd who think like, Hey, why is he walking the other way? Might be interesting. And if you create a safe space, if you create out of love the possibility for people to join, because like it's not about pushing people. Education is also pushing people. Leadership programs are pushing people into leadership. We always say lead or follow with a smile. So we invite people to join, and if today they don't join, then it's probably not the purpose today to do that. Maybe tomorrow. Okay, great. That's it. But pushing doesn't really, doesn't.

Matt Perez (16:57):

No, it doesn't. It doesn't. Pushing is forced and so say likes to say force is a big part of the problem. We use force for everything, you know, coercion threats. It comes in many forms, right? It's not just one thing. No. But we use force for everything. We hardly ever collaborate. And we're talking about is collaboration and working with each other and creating a new different system. And we're about creating a different system also. Yeah. But of the whole business and people and stuff like that.

Jose Leal (17:48):

I wonder if I could describe a little bit of that and see if it makes sense to Peter. Yes. And, maybe in his language, because of the effort that we're making, the reason we're doing these podcasts is, is to speak to other people who are doing the innovative work and to understand how the work we're doing and the work they're doing are really the same work. Even though we're using a different language. So for us, the idea of, of what you call that, that ember in the heart. Yeah. I call it radical purpose. It, there is a desire in us. That ember is a desire in us to do things in the world, to make an impact in the world. Yeah. Yeah. And so we focus on understanding, as you did, as you described there, who am I? Right? And what do I want to do? Yeah. How do I want to do something? And, and that's the starting point for the work that we do. We talk about radical, not just that it's a fundamental change right? As we're used to the word fundamental change. Radical. Okay. Yeah. That's, that's good. But really radical also means root. It is the root of our society. It's us. And we forget that we focus on the society piece. We focus on the company piece. We focus on the laws, the rules, the policies, the numbers, as you've said. Yeah. And we forget us. The thing that it starts with.

Pieter Spinder (19:29):

Then it became also, I was called by the HR department of a big company. Then people become resources, but actually, they become robots. So you don't need to feel anymore. You just need to go to your job. And of course, there's also like, there are people in this world, whose purpose is to do what they are doing, even if I wouldn't do it like that. But the major problem is that it's now being steered by business, by government, by numbers, by KPIs, by these kinds of stuff. Well, actually, if you look at yourself in the mirror, like when I look in myself in the mirror, I don't see a KPI, I don't see a number. I don't see a…I see somebody who thinks, okay, hey, there's something about head, heart, hands about your, the starting point, what you want to put into the world. And the question I ask myself most of the time, every morning is, okay, what? So, it's actually very much about the combination between human beings and human doing. And if you can put that into a 50-50, which is also a number, but if you can put this into a, into an idea about, okay, am I doing this because I need to do it from some because of somebody else, or is this my being who wants to do this? And then you need to sometimes make radical, radical choices. Like, you did the same what I found on the internet about you guys. And I think like, okay, great.

Jose Leal (21:13):

So, take it a step further. When we start talking about work. Yeah. We start looking at this idea that, okay, so we've got a purpose. We want to do things. Yeah. But we're being forced to do other things in education, as you described. We're being forced, to just do the numbers to just pass the test and remember something.

Matt Perez (21:39):

Actually, if I may jump in there. And the idea of getting to the root is to keep things simple. Yeah. And easy, easy to remember. And there's one number that counts. Okay. And the number is how much money are you making for me? That's not every KPIs and all the rest of it is bullshit. So how much money are you making for me? And that's, that's the only number, sorry.

Jose Leal (22:07):

That's why, that's why you're the resource, right? Because you're a resource for making me money. That's, I think that's the way that the world has commoditized life. We've commoditized life. Every piece of life is just a number value. How much, what's, what amount of money can this piece of life make me? And now we have this, throughout our industry in the tech space. Lifetime value. How much will this person that I've acquired as a customer, as a reader, as a participant, how much will I, they make me? That's the value. It's not how much am I giving them.

Pieter Spinder (22:58):

It's even gone, it's even going further. It's even like, how much can we create together? If it's lifetime, if it's money, if it's welfare, if it's all kind, like, it doesn't matter. Like, but what, like, one of my rude things starting points for myself is always the thought. Like, what can we grow together?

Matt Perez (23:25):

That's the way it should be.

Pieter Spinder (23:27):

Yeah. And this, this is this. And, and like, is interesting what you're saying, Jose, because the thing is like, people are always asking like, yeah, but what do you mean with this? What do you mean by that? What do you mean by KPIs? What do you mean by lifetime health? What do you mean with sustainability? Sustainability is the big word now. Container thing now. So when they asked me, I give some keynotes a year, and I'm being, I, I was being asked to tell, okay, what is sustainability for you? I said it's a very simple thing. Sustainability is, if I have a good connection with myself, then I have the possibility from the heart. I have the possibility of a good connection with my surroundings, with the people around me, with nature, with the things around me. Then it's very weird to start selling <inaudible>. That's sustainability. Because it starts with me. And then somebody asked me, okay, now we have this guerilla army who wants to free the country from the dictator, and they need <inaudible> Or not. I said, no, no, no. That's what, that's, that's, that's how we made it. And also, like to sell <inaudible> Brings a lot of profit and this kind of stuff. But the thing is, the starting point is to look the other in the eye and say, okay, but what can we grow together? What do we want to grow together? Right. Where do we want to bring this creativity, the creativity that brought us into this world? Where do we want to bring that for the good of ourselves and of other people and nature and everything where we, where we live?

Jose Leal (25:06):

And so the question for us has been, well, how do we become together? What is together? Because together we have been serving someone else, some other institution, some other organization.

Pieter Spinder (25:25):

Being externalized.

Jose Leal (25:26):

Not serving, not serving, our life, the purpose of our life, but serving something else. So we don't know how to work in a space without force. We've been taught that you have to go to this next classroom at this time, and you have to do this test at this time. And, you know, everything is an external force. And the same thing with work. Yeah. Right. So the question for us was, how do we collaborate? How do we learn to collaborate together to do something together, not for someone else to do something?

Pieter Spinder (26:10):


Jose Leal (26:12):

And how does that square with the work you're teaching, Would that be part of what you're dealing with your students?

Pieter Spinder (26:21):

Yeah. In the education field, when I started nomads, people were paying a lot of money that it was a rich kid school from people from all over the world, flew into Amsterdam for a year, and they paid a lot of money, and they needed to have housing and this kind of stuff. And the thing was, on the first lecture day I was sitting there, and I said, okay, I have the curriculum. And I had a blank piece of paper holding in my hand and said, okay, this is the curriculum. Are there any questions? And they thought like, holy shit, the guy doesn't know what to do. No, no, no, no. I know exactly what I want to do. Like I have an idea of what I want to do. But it is very much about what you want to do. So how do you want to design your learning journey together with us? And let's see what possibilities we have. It's completely different and also connected to, the business side. We make programs, leadership programs for companies, but we, we, we, the problem sometimes the problem is how to sell it because we don't know exactly how it will go after the first meeting we have for three days somewhere in the countryside on a farm or in a, in a restaurant. Then something happens, and then we need to reshape the program. So, but it's always following, most of the time it's following the five steps of Scharmer theory but yeah. This, this is how we this is how we do it because life shapes itself business shapes itself, and people shape themselves in the moment. And then you can make a next step together if you join together and say, okay, we can do this.

Jose Leal (28:06):

So, for, for us one, go ahead, Matt.

Matt Perez (28:09):

I was going to say, that's what's gotten us to this point, right? That we do things together that we can't do by ourselves. You know, we can kill an elephant and eat it and stuff like that because we get together with sticks and, and stick the, the poor animal. So, so yeah. That we won't go from that to money. And it seemed like in the blink of an eye, but it wasn't, it was a long time.

Jose Leal (28:45):

And I think, you know, as, as Pieter was saying that what made me think about was you gave the ownership of that classroom to those students.

Matt Perez (29:04):

We shared…

Jose Leal (29:07):

You shared it with them. They shared it with you, you said, here it is. And, and it's blank. It's for us to write. Yeah. That's our view. What an organization should be. An organization should not be owned by someone other than the people who work there. It shouldn't be managed and regulated by someone other than the people who work there.

Pieter Spinder (29:35):

And there is a lot of company, like a good friend of mine, Francisco, he has a company in Italy like this. And it's being it's being run by the people who work there according to Sociocracy. And there are 2000 people working there. And it, it works, it because these people, the, the people are there because of the heart.

Matt Perez (29:59):

Oh, you're talking about self-management, right? They run things.

Pieter Spinder (30:03):

Yeah. But like they are, it's a kind of cooperative way of having the company steering the company together with the tool of Tera sociocracy, which is a fantastic tool, where people feel the ownership. It's not only that they feel the ownership, they have the ownership in a safe environment to create better software to make this world a better place. It's fantastic.

Matt Perez (30:32):

By the way, I should, I should warn the audience that you think Sociocracy is great, and so do I Actually it was born in the Netherlands, and Pieter is Pieter's from the Netherlands. But, but I'm not biased. I'm Cuban and I think it's a great thing. Yeah. But that's only half of the story. The other half of the story is the ownership. Yes. Which you talked about When you started talking, you said something about how we co-own the company or we, you know, but you have to separate those two is the actual ownership. Yeah. And let me give you a case in point, or as co-founder of a company in 2007, that was always, <inaudible> is from the very, very start that made it very easy. But in 2017, my partner and I sold the company. And because we were the owners, right? And everybody benefited. Everybody had shares and all the rest of it. But that ownership is always present. You were talking about being the president. Whenever I talk to people and said no, I'm just a guy. I'm not going to tell you what to do. And, and they said, yeah, but, and there was a but in there. And the but was, I was an owner.

Pieter Spinder (32:01):

Now you were the, you were the source.

Matt Perez (32:04):

I was, well, I was the source, but I was also the owner. So we separate those things.

Pieter Spinder (32:13):

Yeah. And the example I just made, like Mondora, they started together, two brothers in the end, they had, after 10, 15 years, they had 80 people. And then they wanted to sell the company to a bigger company. But then they just put the 80 people together and say, what do you think? And they said we don't want you to leave. So they sold the company to another company with the restriction that they needed to still be there the coming 10 years together with them to see, to evolve and how is, how are going to how are going to things. Are things going to emerge and together, like really together? And the people who didn't want it, they could leave. That's it. But everybody went, everybody went.

Matt Perez (33:00):

By the way. I know Mando, he's a crazy guy. I love it, yeah.

Jose Leal (33:05):

Yeah. We've both met him. Matt, do you want to, I think maybe.

Matt Perez (33:13):

Oh, so for next week we'll have David Marquette, and David is the author of Turning the Ship Around, which is, is one of the books that I read a long time ago. And very inspiring because this guy basically implemented self-management, obviously the submarine, he was the captain of the Submarine and the submarine was the property of the US government. So, it couldn't, The owner went out the door, but he completely turned around. And it went from being the, one of the worst ships in, in the US Navy to being one of the best. And people wanted people from there and stuff like that. And since then, well, I don't know what he's done since then. We'll find out. When he talks to us. And yeah. David is a guy I admire; I have admired for a long time.

Jose Leal (34:12):

He's done some excellent work. Pieter, thank you so much for your time today for sharing with us the work that you're doing and for sharing your ideas. And, and really the, the, the thing that I think we'd want to move forward with is this idea that we're all doing the same thing. Yeah. We have different languages; we have different ways of doing it. We have different focuses on what we're doing, but all of us are doing it from the heart. Yes. And we're all doing it for life, for our lives and the lives of those people around us.

Pieter Spinder (34:56):

And nature, and don't forget the nature.

Jose Leal (34:58):

Life is nature. Nature is life. Life is

Pieter Spinder (35:00):

True. True, true.

Jose Leal (35:02):

And so, thank you, thank you for the work that you do, and thank you for taking some time to talk to us today. And until next time, and welcome to Radical.

Pieter Spinder (35:15):

Thank you very much. Thank you very much.

Matt Perez (35:17):

I will by the way, I will send an email introducing you to a woman from Mexico in the town where, where our company started. And because she's interested in having a different way of educating kids, not, you know, number one, two, go and number two to go. then not. And so, she talked to a woman in Guadalajara she, and they're really close to giving the people more freedom and stuff like that. But not quite there. So I will do the intro.

Pieter Spinder (36:00):

Fantastic. That's awesome. Thank you. Thank you, Matt. Thank you very much.

Matt Perez (36:04):


Jose Leal (36:05):

Thank you, Peter.

Pieter Spinder (36:06):

Thank you.

Jose Leal (36:07):

Till next time.

Pieter Spinder (36:08):

Till next time, have a good day.


Pieter Spinder Profile Photo

Pieter Spinder


A pioneer since 2007, Pieter Spinder founded Kaospilot Netherlands and Knowmads Amsterdam. His impactful journey includes Knowmads Hanoi and Buenos Aires. Author of "From Fear to Freedom," he launched The No Bullshit Academy, empowering leaders worldwide. Now, spearheading Drop-In-Academy, he bridges education and works for youth, blending Love, Attention, and Potentiality, with global expansion plans.