Exosphere, Reinventing Education

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Reñaca, Septembre 2016

EXOSPHERE ACADEMY, RAISON D’ÊTRE AND HISTORY

The Exosphere Academy is located in Reñaca, a town near Valparaiso, Chile. The people of Exosphere, the company that runs the Academy, call themselves a Learning and Problem-Solving Community. Their core objective is to offer an alternative to conventional secondary education options. With 8-week programs they help participants acquire specific knowledge in a variety of fields across science, technology, and entrepreneurship while preparing them for what they call “the Creative Economy” (post-industrial economy).

We met Moritz (Bierling), a German guy that joined the team two years ago and has been living in Chile ever since. He shared his story and that of Exosphere with us.

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The Exosphere Academy represents a disruptive approach to education. Problem-solving, collaboration, immersion. Nobody there is forced to do anything. Designed for helping people adopt an entrepreneurial mindset, Exosphere’s programs enable their students to have a new start in their life, and to acquire skills that will actually be useful for a definite project.

The founder, Skinner Layne, is a US citizen that left the US in 2008 when the financial crisis loomed, and decided to emigrate to Chile. Convinced that conventional schooling does not adequately prepare students for the workplace, he decided to create a company that would provide tools and experiences for its students that enable them to survive and thrive in the “creative economy”.

The 10 people company consists of members from everywhere in the world. Italy, Germany, US, Colombia, Russia, and New Zealand. This young and dynamic team works together, like a group of friends, to achieve a goal that gets them up every morning.

THE NOBLE CAUSE, A DANGEROUS MOTIVATIONAL DRIVER?

Moritz left his country before he graduated. Why? Because he truly believed that secondary education needed to be reformed, and he saw in Exosphere a good way to do it. The first year of his new job, he chose to work with few pauses, even spending Sundays in the office. He would not count his hours as he thought that the harder he worked, the sooner Exosphere’s goal would be achieved.

Although he loved what he was doing, those countless hours of work cost him a lot. He realized that, in order to get more done, you have to work less but in a smarter way. Now, he takes his Sundays off.

WAY OF LIVING, BASIS OF TRUST

As all of the team lives in Chile for Exosphere, they all live and work together closely. This collective way of life has been one of the main reason why the multi-cultural team learnt to trust each other, which allows a flexible way of working.

There are no annual reviews, the feedback is constant and made in such a way that the person can rectify what he does wrong, or keep doing what he does well continuously.

At this early stage, everyone in the company receives the same salary, no matter the responsibilities, the tasks, or the hours spent working, although that may change as the company grows. A decision is made when the person who decided to take the responsibility for it has consulted everyone who is materially impacted by that decision. This is only possible because Exosphere is still a small company, and asking those people is not very time-consuming.

CRISIS MANAGEMENT

Even though you could say that this organization is rather self-managed, with little self-role writing, no heavy task assignment, and few top down orders, we have been surprised to learn that this can change from one day to the next.

Indeed, the organization works this way when everything is going well and the context allows the decision making process to happen naturally. However, when the company faces a crisis or a big opportunity, everything can change. In that case, the founder then adopts the role of a traditional CEO, and the structure is switched to a classical hierarchy. Since a crisis threatens the company’s survival and the founder is invested in its success, he assigns new or changed responsibilities and asks everybody to report to him.

This transition from a “flat” to “classic” structure comes easily: everyone gives back his power to the CEO for a certain amount of time, as the trust between the members is sufficiently strong that nobody doubts that things will go back to how they were before the crisis once the situation relaxes.

MOVE TO BRAZIL

Since the interview took place, Exosphere has moved from Reñaca, Chile to Florianopolis, Brazil.

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