Full transcript: Kaj Lofgren

Michael Short: Kaj Lofgren, welcome to The Zone. You are the director of The School of Life. It is a great name and I have loved the idea since it launched in London in 2008. Can we start, please, with an overview of The School of Life? What is it? Why did it start? What is its raison d'être?

Kaj Lofgren: Firstly, thanks for having me Michael. The School of Life started about seven or eight years ago. It was started in London by a group of philosophers and thinkers, led most famously by Alain de Botton, who I am sure many people have heard of.

He and his mates got around and decided to form an organisation around the core concept of good ideas for everyday living. And what they meant by that, and what I think the school means by that little tagline, is this idea of using philosophy and culture from through the ages and then applying the lessons and the meaning of that subject to everyday, modern problems.

So it is using the wisdom from through the ages and applying it to everyday living today. And that manifests in a whole lot of areas - concerns like how to have better conversations, how to make love last, how to face death, all the way through to things like how to be confident and how to be creative. It uses the wisdom from through the ages to really hone in on what it is to think about these issues.

Ultimately, the way that manifests itself in our programming is through classes, workshops, retreats, intensives and large secular sermons for, say, 400 or 500 people, which are really about a theatrical presentation of an idea. We also do exciting and innovative things like midnight philosophy sessions or beer and philosophy after work, more social gatherings that just encourage people to retreat from their lives for a few hours and think a bit deeply and try to relaunch from there.

MS: In Australia and elsewhere, but perhaps particularly in Australia, there is a kind of bullshit antennae. And they tend to go off when one uses terms like culture and philosophy. But in fact what you are talking about is stuff that really matters to many people; it is not obscure or elitist. But how are you going to deal, as the director of The School of Life, with that potential barrier to understanding what you're on about when the bullshit antennae go off?

KL: Firstly, being a civil engineer by training I have a pretty good bullshit antenna myself. I came across the school three or four years ago and had that initial response, as well. When you talk about a school of life, which is a very ambitious title, when you're talking about things like philosophy and culture, there is an immediate response that goes in the direction you are talking about.

What attracted me to the school were a couple of main things. One was that this was not a false attempt at an optimistic approach and everything is positive and that sort of thing. We certainly don't profess to be giving people all the answers. Our main game here is to provide people with a palette of cultural and philosophical reference points that they can use to re-evaluate the questions they are thinking about.

We're certainly not in our classes trying to answer these questions for people. That comes across as a little bit of a surprise, given the names of our classes are "how to" do this or "how to" do that. But I guess that is a little bit of the playfulness creeping in. Humour is an incredibly important tool when we are addressing such important issues.

The other thing I would say is, and one of the things that attracted me to the school, is that if you take a longer view of history and look back say 100 years, 200 years or even 2000 years, back to some of the really great thinkers, you find that philosophy and culture and the humanities have over time played a much more prominent role in society then perhaps it plays today.

So the natural scepticism that we have today is contextual in time. But if you broaden that lens and look at, say, the great thinkers of the 1800s - Kierkegaard or Nietzsche, for example - who were very explicitly trying to teach people how to live wisely and well; they saw that as their mandate. You look at that and you can trace that from then to now and there is a bit of a gap there in the last 30 or 40 or 50 years. We have lost some of that relationship to philosophy and good ideas and how that relates to good living.

Through The School of Life we are trying to bring philosophy and culture back into the lens in a serious but quite playful way in order to fill that hole, which to some extent over the last 30 years has been taken up by the self-help moment and some of the exploitative components of that movement.

MS: I want to come to the difference between the exploitative nature of self-help and what is going on here, but I want to go via the idea of what philosophy actually is and how it relates to life, because I think it is a term that can be off-putting to some people or needs definition. And the best - and I say this at the risk of setting off those bullshit antennae out there - but the best discussion I've seen of this is actually in about 1000 words in Bertrand Russell's introduction to his History of Western Philosophy. It places philosophy in that grey area between science and religion, where one falls short and the other perhaps gives unduly simple answers to profound questions. Philosophy seems to be in that space where the important thing is the question, not so much the answer. How does that fit with The School of Life?

KL: I think it fits wonderfully well. There is a wonderful piece of work by Rainer Maria Rilke about 80 years ago now where he talks about this idea, of looking at the necessity to live the question before you live the answer.

Society today has tended to lean towards ask the question and then determine the answer at all costs, which I think is a bit of a falsity when it comes to, especially, these major questions like who do I spend my life with, or what job do I have that is fulfilling, or how do I enter into the third age, or whatever it might be.

These are big, life-defining questions and it is important to respect the question and not just seek the immediate answer. The school certainly encourages people to use that palette of cultural references, but to do it in an intelligent and thoughtful way rather than just seeking an immediate answer.

It is very much using philosophy in that way, rather than just saying someone must have thought of this 100 years ago and let's go and find the answer.

MS: And that brings in the big notion of it being practical. And it is not about happiness per se, is it? You talk about self-help and the vulnerable and opportunism and worse - preying on vulnerable people, there is a lot of that going on and some of it comes under the umbrella of the so-called happiness industry, doesn't it? But you're not talking about that, are you? You're talking about culture and philosophy giving us practical guidance for living well. And you've talked a little bit about that, but can we talk more please about what living well might mean? Are there some broad notions around that, or is that actually something that can only really be perceived by each individual?

KL: It is definitely a little bit of the latter; there is obviously an individual element. But the commonality here I think is that when people feel like they are living well they are connected to their own passions and purpose and what they are doing, and so the first question there is how do you connect to your own passion and purpose.

Through The School of Life and through being connected with a community of people in the same headspace and going through similar journeys means you can have the conversations that you might not be able to have anywhere else. You sort of get given permission to have the conversations that can let you explore those questions more deeply.

But we're certainly not in the happiness industry, because one of the truths of what we're trying to explore is that living can be incredibly difficult sometimes, and society and culture can be sad and can even lead you to despair at times. And to try to avoid these things through being overly optimistic or seeking a positive answer at all times can actually be quite dangerous.

At The School of Life we are saying at a good moment or a good time you can use some of the things that have happened over time through philosophy and culture to guide you through these major questions. We're certainly not guaranteeing that people are going to be necessarily able to live happy lives as a result, but hopefully we can help people just through those moments when there might be a pivot point where they need guidance.

MS: Just to continue that point a little bit before we move on, and we talked a little bit about this at lunch - I talk and write unashamedly, and you have used the term unashamedly in your backgrounding to me, about cosmic loneliness and existential angst and the search for meaning. And some people find it cringe-worthy to even utter such things, for reasons that I understand but do not share. You want to make such conversations commonplace and even cool.

KL: Indeed.

MS: How and why?

KL: The starting point for that, and it is esoteric to a lot of people, but the starting point is that the humanities unfortunately in our society have become a little bit of a punching bag, because we end up, in the funnel through which we go through our education program and the process at the high-school level and at the university level - we're funnelled into the things that we're good at, not the things that sing to us or that we're passionate about.

So from a very early age that is how the system works, and so when you look at career guidance or career counselling or you look at the way that employers pick up employees out of uni, it is almost always based purely on what people are good at.

And that is only one measure or one metric of what makes people sing. The second point is that people are directed towards vocational areas because that is where the obvious jobs are. So as a starting point that unfortunately means most people are never directed towards the humanities in their studies. I studied an arts degree alongside my civil engineering and I think you did some arts training at university yourself, didn't you?

MS: Only a bit. I did a bit of philosophy - but did a commerce degree majoring in economics.

KL: Well there you go; it's a nice combination, a bit like civil engineering and arts. For me it was always a really important balance to the practical utilitarian vocational perspective of civil engineering. But I don't think there was ever any emphasis on the humanities as a utilitarian guide to living.

You might study philosophy at university, but you're probably going to study it from a perspective of who said what at what time and what was the context. You're not necessarily going to be studying it from the context of what are those ideas going to mean for everyday living. In a similar way, you might study art history, but you're probably going to study it based on the context of the time; what materials were used, when it was painted, etcetera.

Rather than what can that piece of artwork do for the way we live our lives today. There is often a disconnect in humanities between the ideas and how they relate to living today - and to try to relate it has almost been a little bit sacrilegious, to argue that there should be usefulness in the humanities.

The reason I am so passionate about the school is I have always been a proponent of the humanities and the arts, but this gives an opportunity to just step it up a little bit and say there is usefulness and utility and real power in the humanities and the arts when it comes to living more meaningful lives, living conscious lives.

MS: That is a lovely segue into: what in practical terms does The School of Life offer people, and in answering that could you perhaps please give some examples and case studies and maybe also touch on your recent pilot program and testing and the response to that?

KL: The school does a whole range of things, with that overarching goal of using philosophy and culture to guide our lives. We run classes for the public, which are 26 people in every class. We run them five or six times a week on topics like how to have better conversations or how to be creative or how to face death.

We also run large, regular, secular sermons, which are public gatherings that borrow the best elements from some of the religious gatherings that occur - community, singing, community action, the theatrical presentation of an idea.

But then we also do more innovative things like workshops and retreats, and five-day intensives, where people can get a little bit deeper into the material rather than just taking a three-hour class. So we offer a range of services and products, I guess you could say.

We also do something called bibliotherapy, which is where there is a light form of psychotherapy, where you sit and have a conversation and share where you are at in your life and then there is someone working with you who has incredible knowledge of literature who then prescribes a reading list for you.

So there is a range of offerings, some very one-on-one, some very much more on the mass scale. And when we ran this as a pilot last year, in January 2013, we had an overwhelming response. We had 57 classes over a nine-week period, a very ambitious program. We sold out every single event. We had waiting lists of up to 700 or 800 people for a single class.

And we realised there is something going on in Melbourne, something particular about where Melbourne is at right now in terms of the desire for this form of cultural education. There are organisations like the Wheeler Centre and the CAE and the NGV and organisations that have been around for a little while. And I guess we're really standing on their shoulders when it comes to presenting this new offering for Melbourne.

MS: You're pushing a whole lot of buttons about questions I was going to ask. Let's explore that a bit more before we go on to the Newtonian notion of standing on shoulders, because it is a lovely idea and it is very much associated with what The School of Life is doing. You mentioned earlier Alain de Botton and his mates set this up in London in 2007 or 2008, great idea and then it pops up in Melbourne in 2014. Why Australia? Why Melbourne? Where next?

KL: When Alain set it up and they started running their first classes there was a realisation in London that many of their participants were Australian. So there was an immediate association in the UK and in the management team and with Alain and his wife and others involved of this somewhat strange connection to Australia.

Obviously there are a lot of Australians in London, so that is not necessarily surprising. Then if you shuffle forward about four or five years, a magazine that we are partnered with, Dumbo Feather, interviewed Alain. It is a Melbourne magazine that explores the extraordinary people behind extraordinary ideas. And in the process of conducting this interview with Alain we visited the school and we spent time with his team and we realised that the mission of our organisations is very similar.

So we started what could only be called a long-distance flirtatious relationship around bringing the school to Australia. And combined with their knowledge that obviously the school was popular with Australians in the UK, Melbourne became the obvious destination. Last year's pilot was really an experiment.

There were very few structures and there was very little process around how we would do this. We took the best elements of the UK experience and tested it here and largely it went very well. Now as a result of that we are setting up a global structure around how the school can develop globally as an organisation.

And I think you will find in the next six, 12, 18 or 24 months there might be schools popping up in four or five or six other cities around the world, which for us down here in Melbourne is incredibly exciting because it means that the pool of knowledge and the pool of faculty, the ideas that we can start sharing, become that much more global in nature and we can maybe get to the essence of what the human experience is and how we can help people be guided in a much more profound way, rather than just operating out of Melbourne and London.

MS: Before we get on to those profound ways in which people can be guided, what about funding? It is not a grant-reliant organisation. You are coming into a world that is having a very interesting transition into impact investment and social enterprise. What is going on with The School of Life in terms of how the place opens its doors and keeps them open?

KL: The School of Life was born out of an organisation called Small Giants, which is an impact investment organisation based here in Melbourne. Small Giants has a portfolio of projects and organisations that it is supporting through financial investment and also strategic support.

The mandate at Small Giants is to support organisations that are creating the world they want to see, which is one where environmental and social principles are respected and advanced. So they are investing for profit, but they are also investing for a social return.

The School of Life was born out of this area of impact investment and social enterprise. But I guess if we reframe the question a little bit around social enterprise I think we would probably call The School of Life more of a cultural enterprise.

We are set up as a for-profit business. We absolutely charge for the classes and the services we offer, which is necessary because if you're going to build a pool of content that is worthwhile for people it obviously costs money. So to pay our faculty and pay our staff and build our offering we need to charge. However, our driving mission here is to utilise culture and philosophy to improve emotional intelligence. It's certainly not to make lots and lots of money.

We are also to work with people in other organisations on a deeper offering that might run across 10 weeks or 20 weeks, where we can take people on a much deeper journey to fulfil an outcome they have identified.

MS: Sounds like a good place to talk quickly about the National Gallery of Victoria.

KL: Absolutely. We are incredibly excited to be launching the school here in Melbourne with a very specially curated program at the National Gallery of Victoria. We're launching that with a sermon by Alain de Botton in late March, where he is going to be talking about this concept of art as therapy.

Some people might have read his book released late last year which looks at this idea of using art as a tool to work on the issues and concerns we might feel today - things like love and loneliness and hope and despair. They can be sometimes uplifting things and sometimes things that are quite difficult to deal with.

The idea of using art as a tool to work through those issues is what it is about. So together with the National Gallery of Victoria we have curated a walking tour through their public gallery, where we have rewritten some of the plaques next to major artworks to basically relate that piece of artwork to human concerns and to rephrase and reinterpret the way that we view art. It is certainly not the only way to view art and it is not trying to replace traditional ways; it is just trying to add an extra layer.

So we will be running guided tours through the NGV for the next six months - that exhibition will be in place until September. So that program and type of thing with other institutions is certainly something we're very interested in embarking on.

MS: If people want to participate in that or other elements of The School of Life, Kaj, what do they do?

KL: The best thing we can offer is just to jump on our mailing list on our website, www.theschooloflife.com.au. I would caution that at the moment our classes and our programs are selling out at lightning speed, which I think is again testament to where Melbourne is at the moment sociologically.

There is a big desire and a big hunger for the sort of material we're offering, which is wonderful but also quite frustrating for some people because it sometimes can be hard to get in. Rest assured, we are working incredibly hard to put out even more programs in a thoughtful way, but the mailing list is where we always release our classes first. So that is the easiest way to get involved.

MS: We are going to get to Newton and Socrates, but I keep getting other ideas along the way, and I think a logical sequence here is to talk about the people that come to The School of Life. There are two main categories: those who are kind of naturally curious, lifelong learners and; those who are dealing with a specific situation or facing a decision. Can you talk a little bit about that please?

KL: Absolutely. In our pilot term that we ran last year, we found that there was quite an even split between people who specifically were facing a decision - like changing a career or finding a job they love or even facing death - where they were seeking active guidance and a community of people to explore that topic with.

The surprising thing about that category I think was, for me personally, realising the power of having these conversations with strangers. It is often thought that if you have this conversation with people who you know and who understand you, that is the best way to reach some sort of solution, for want of a better word.

What we found was there was an incredible liberation in the room when people realised that there was no judgment in these conversations because basically you were in a room with people who didn't know you. And absolutely afterwards people have befriended each other and there are wonderful stories of relationships that have begun.

But dealing with some of these heavier issues, particularly if it was a potent concern to you then: the opening up of conversation and getting to the depth very quickly of those conversations was quite surprisingly easy for the people in the room. So that was that first category of people who were exploring things for the first time publicly and who were there with a specific concern.

The other group of people were the inherently curious people seeking to go to depths they hadn't been before but didn't have a particularly specific issue. And that was at least half the people - people who just wanted to be around like-minded people. For those people, what tended to happen was that they were surprised at how they could for the first time explore an issue they hadn't explored before in any depth.

So, in contrast to the first group, which were kind of hoping for that breakthrough or hoping for that moment, the people who came as generalists were a bit more casual about the experience and were quite oftentimes positively surprised by the new elements of thought that they could get to. So they are the two categories, and I would hope the school can provide opportunities and community events for both.

MS: You just triggered another thought with the word 'moment', and it links back to a lot of the stuff we have been talking about in terms of living well, connection, engagement, ideas. Have you ever experienced a moment of enlightenment or a feeling of oneness, of total presence? Have you ever actually tangibly tasted the goal that The School of Life can help people move towards?

KL: That is a wonderful question. And it is quite a challenging one I guess because it can be answered on a variety of depths. Perhaps I'll start a little bit shallow and we can see we go. At the top level, finding my own passion and purpose in my work has been a moment like that.

As I mentioned earlier, I studied to be a civil engineer and really struggled in finding the context and purpose of what it meant to be an engineer. And then in my second year at university I came across the incredible organisation Engineers Without Borders, which for me was that moment where I went, OK I can now understand what the power is of what I am studying and the incredible impact engineering can have on the world.

I then proceeded to work with them for a long period of time and volunteered overseas and it became the context for what I had studied. That was certainly one of those moments, and Engineers Without Borders is still a very powerful organisation that I am proud to be on the board of still. On a more personal level, marrying my wife was one of those moments where I think I had clarity on where I wanted my life to go.

Finding out we were pregnant for the first time was one of those moments where it reinforced the pathway that you've taken up to that point but also it provided a bit of a map of where your life will go. That is an incredibly profound and incredible experience to go through.

All of those steps for me, whether it is in your career or in your choices around relationships or other major decisions you make, having a group of people around you who you can trust you can have those important conversations with is absolutely pivotal to achieving those moments.

And I and my wife count ourselves very lucky that we have a close group of friends and family that will entertain these conversations. But I am also well aware that people sometimes struggle to have those conversations and so one of the personal drivers for me with the school was to provide a scalable community that was dedicated to those questions. If we can achieve that then I think we have actually achieved something of incredible social value for our community and hopefully that way of thinking about these conversations can also bleed into other areas and other partner organisations.

MS: Fundamental to what you were just saying in answer to that question and in answer to other things Kaj is an idea that there is a universal element to a lot of this - somebody being able to talk to strangers about death or meaning or other things of that nature makes sense because of the universal nature of those ideas, to some extent. This brings us to starting with knowledge, rather than exploring blindly because we happen to be alive and together in the same place. So this brings in what I have been trying to come to, which is Newton's idea of standing on the shoulders of giants, which is kind of associated with what The School of Life is doing.

KL: Absolutely.

MS: And it also brings up the Socratic method of discussion and argument - but not in a gormless, blind, dilettante way. Can you talk a little bit about how that happens at The School of Life? You have talked about the 'how to' elements and secular sermons and whatever, but how does that all come together?

KL: We have a tendency to study history and ideas in a very disconnected way. We think about cultural figures or icons, even recent icons through the 20th century, we disconnect their lived reality from their ideas.

So we think about Martin Luther King and the power of his ideas but we don't necessarily look at Martin Luther King the man and what led to his personal journey and actually think about that as a real person with real emotions, real feelings, real energy.

The ideas take over. So I think the first thing to say in that context of standing on the shoulders of giants is there needs to be a respect for history, not just in terms of the ideas but the people who lived those ideas. And if we can do that then I think the ability for us to relate to the ideas becomes that much more easy.

So if we think about the great philosophers or the great cultural figures and look at their lived experience, their problems, their issues, the successes, their breakthroughs, and then also look at their broader ideas, we can relate to them more easily.

There is an element in the school of saying there is a huge amount of human history, a lot of the questions and concerns we're looking at today in our modern lives we often like to think of as unique and think of as contextual to technology or the falling away of religion or something that is very modern, but in fact most of the things we think about have been thought about before, and that is actually a wonderful thing.

Because it means that if we look back at history in a respectful way we can find potent and powerful guidance to the questions that we're looking at today. If we can combine that respect for history with this idea that the thoughts that we have may not be as unique as we think, then we can combine them hopefully in a clearer pathway for people. Lord Byron has a wonderful quote which is that “there is pleasure in the pathless woods”.

That is this concept obviously of the unknowability of ourselves and the fact that it is nice to set a direction for ourselves and have a plan, but we also have to embrace this idea of constant self-discovery and constant learning and constant desire to pursue ideas, rather than trying to define self and ideas at all times.

MS: Well if you do that also you risk living in the future rather than profiting from the present.

KL: Absolutely, yes.

MS: And that can be very dangerous.

KL: Which is very true, and I think that in the context of that respect for history and respect for real people's experiences over time the school is trying to provide people a gateway to those people and ideas and stories and culture and philosophy and trying to directly relate it to problems we might face today.

And that is where there is a real intention to the school; this is not a passive organisation that is trying to just say here are all these cool things, go and choose between them. We are trying to get people to lean towards action when they reflect on these ideas. We're trying to get people to actively engage, not passively absorb.

All of our classes and all of our workshops are leaning towards that idea of action. Yes, retreat from the world for a few hours and have a think and have good conversations and maybe enjoy a glass of wine. But the idea is the result of those classes is some really practical ideas. So maybe an example is useful: we have a class called "how to be creative". It is really a class on how to be more creative, because it starts from the idea that we're all creative to some extent.

Education has perhaps educated us out of thinking we're creative, but we all are. So it starts from that point but then it looks at some of the simple things that you can do to break habits in your lives and therefore perhaps unleash creativity, and that happens at the simplest of levels. So, thinking about for example what path you take walking to work, and perhaps one day walking a different way and seeing what happens.

Or maybe when you get out of bed in the morning and you're walking to the shower, maybe sing a little bit and dance on the way to the shower. Or perhaps call a friend you haven't called in 10 years and just have a conversation.

Through those small steps we can unleash huge amounts of creative energy. The class is really about highlighting very simple things we can do to break patterns, to break habits which are often quite damaging when it comes to creative thinking. They are very small actions we can take that can lead to very big consequences, and the school is very much taking an active approach to that, not a passive one.

MS: We're almost out of time. It is my fault, as usual. So some quick final questions: one, community is a central theme to what you're doing, and you're talking about the community of The School of Life. What does community mean?

KL: For us it has happened incredibly organically, which is a wonderful thing. In our pilot term last year, we had a little cafe at the side out of an old airstream caravan and it ran next to our classroom. What we found was some of the most profound experiences people had were actually sitting in the cafe drinking the coffee, rather than necessarily sitting in the classroom.

What we found was that the class and the content we were presenting were really the catalyst for much deeper conversations and deep thought. So what we are opening in Bourke Street in about three weeks is a small coffee shop, a bit of a reading room, a retail area with a bookshop, as well as the classroom.

We're looking at actively promoting this idea of community engaging with one another, rather than only always engaging with our material. That's where we can get some incredibly profound moments, where people get given permission by the school, so to speak, which I think a lot of people struggle to get in their everyday lives, permission to discuss and think about these profound conversations.

So people come in, have a coffee, sit down, have a chat with a stranger in what we will be calling our conversation cafe. We think that will be a real catalyst for good and meaningful community.

MS: Why do you do what you do? You talked to me over lunch, for example, about your parents and their strong belief in change and progress and

activism and engagement. Why do you do what you do?

KL: I was definitely raised in a household that was full of ideas, politically, socially, historically, looking at things like how do we create the world we want to live in. And so I was certainly raised on a palette of ideas, and I think for me finding Engineers Without Borders very early in my studies was a really wonderful and quite lucky experience that I had because it set me on a path of working from a social impact perspective in engineering.

And I think if I can look at the commonality between the various micro-careers that I have had, it really is this idea of helping people connect to their passion and purpose. In engineering, a lot of my friends really struggled to find that but then found it through Engineers Without Borders. Through my work at Small Giants, it was often helping entrepreneurs and social innovators not only find what it was that made them tick, but find ways to make that essence into something that is impactful and sustainable and scalable. It was an incredibly joy to work with such innovators.

Then with The School of Life I guess it completes that picture - where you're looking at an organisation that has an incredibly ambitious goal to look to work with a large number of people in a very deliberately scalable, deliberately mass-appeal way.

For me that really does not dilute the core content or the core message of the school. I profoundly believe that scale does not have to equal dilation, and I think the school embodies that very strongly. So the commonality in what I do I think is linking people to the passion and purpose. I think the school does that really well.

MS: On the contrary, scale can be more intimately associated with intensification and impact, can't it, particularly if you are talking in the realm of ideas? Final question to everybody in The Zone, Kaj, is what is the hardest thing you have ever had to do, with the caveat of you being able to talk about it here?

KL: One of the hardest things a lot of people have to do, and I will come back to the personal in a moment, is, particularly in this day and age where we have for the first time global oversight of everything that is going on – with the click of a button we can find things that are going on all over the world to inspire us and make us excited.

The commonality particularly amongst young people today and more and more so for everybody is deciding from that plethora of choice what it is that we want to do with our lives. Making big decisions has paradoxically become harder now that we have so much more choice and so much more oversight about all the opportunities out there. One of the big decisions for me was to step away from a role at Small Giants, which was really working with a whole range of people in a whole range of different areas and different projects and different organisations and different businesses, and to take on one project, which for me is The School of Life.

To start an organisation which I think has incredible potential to be a big player and an important player in Australia's cultural scene, but to do that obviously takes on a whole lot of personal risk and a whole lot of fear and anxiety. But the upside of that is that is where opportunity comes from, and I guess that is what I am most excited about.

MS: And it is an interesting time to do that with a baby coming. And I say that because I have done it and...

KL: That is very true, and I think these decisions and the topics that we entertain at The School of Life never happen in isolation. So you might be in a three-hour class on how to find a job you love, but of course it does not happen in isolation to the rest of your life. So there is no doubt that one of the hardest but most wonderful things that I will do this year is not only launch The School of Life with my wonderful team and incredible faculty, but have a baby in the middle of the year. Balancing that is going to be a wonderful challenge to take on.

MS: I wish you and your wife Chloe well with your baby. May everything go OK, because it is a wonderful, wonderful thing when it does.

KL: Thank you Michael.

MS: And I thank you again for your time today and I look forward to watching how The School of Life goes; I feel confident for you.

This story Full transcript: Kaj Lofgren first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.