Time to ‘MG Meet’ the great Dane Claus Raasted; a true Renaissance soul whose brilliance shines across multiple dimensions! With a pioneering spirit in the world of LARPing and co-founder of The College of Extraordinary Experiences, Claus weaves enchantment as a captivating speaker, crafts worlds through the written word with an impressive 43 books to his name, and fearlessly challenges the status quo as a master provocateur!
In this exclusive interview with Manning Global, he takes us by the hand and shares the extraordinary tale of his evolution from LARPing enthusiast to visionary co-founder. But that’s not all! Claus also tells us about the most important personal changes he has experienced as a result of his work. Oh, and to top it off, he generously shares his wisdom on how to fill our daily lives with the enchanting magic of extraordinary experiences!
Right, let’s start at the beginning. How did you first discover your passion for LARPing, and what was it about this immersive role-playing experience that captured your interest?
When I was 13, I became a member of a roleplaying club in Denmark. They did traditional tabletop roleplaying (Dungeons & Dragons and games like that, but set in other universes that ranged from fantasy to cyberpunk to wacky cartoons), but they also did this strange thing they called Live Action Role Play, where you dressed up as the character and pretended to BE the character.
It was low budget, the design was simple and it was a pretty haphazard affair run by a bunch of 18-19 year olds for 50 or so teenage participants… but it was magic! I was hooked! That’s where it started for me. In a small village in Denmark, which just happens to be one of the three documented birthplaces of LARP in Denmark in the early ’90s!
Can you share some key milestones or moments that you believe have shaped the development of LARPing as a cultural phenomenon?
To understand LARP (live action role-playing) as a cultural phenomenon is surprisingly hard, because it’s not completely clear what LARP actually is.
Do we include kids playing with sticks and pretending to be heroes and villains in pretend play games? Then it’s thousands of years old?
Do we include the Roman Emperor Nero’s lavish costume balls, where participants would dress up as Roman gods and pretend to be them in make-believe scenarios?
Do we include the elaborate costume adventures Queen Elizabeth I had made for her, where actors would pretend to be fairy tale characters that guests could interact with as if they were real?
Modern LARP as we know it, generally is said to have started in the 1980s and grew in the 1990s and early 2000s, before really exploding with the Lord of the Rings movies coming out.
As I said back then: “Suddenly everybody knows what an orc looks like, and if people don’t want to BE Legolas, they want to sleep with him.” I’d love to dive more into the history of LARP, which is complex and fascinating, but perhaps that’s beyond the scope of this interview!
The College of Extraordinary Experiences is known for its unique and immersive programs. Can you describe the inspiration behind its founding and the kind of extraordinary experiences it offers?
The founding story of the College is rather simple, actually. Paul (Bulencea) and I were on a flight back to Prague from Abu Dhabi, where we’d been location scouting for a project we were doing down there.
On the flight back, we discussed how we could make a dent in the world, even if it was only a small one. Paul – who has a tourism background – suggested that we create a different kind of tourist conference, using some LARP tricks to spice it up.
I liked that idea, and as we talked back and forth, we decided that we didn’t want to stick with tourism, but instead wanted to create a conference (or event, at least!) dedicated to experience design.
Experience Design was very unknown in 2016, and we thought it would be a good way to “spread the gospel“.
So we got some friends and partners onboard, recruited the first couple of Professors to put on the poster, and the rest is history!
How do you believe immersive experiences can enhance leadership and problem-solving skills, and what impact have you observed on individuals who have participated in such experiences?
An immersive experience (which in itself is not that easy to define) is generally called ‘immersive’ because it allows people to immerse themselves in it. Cryptic as that sounds, it’s in opposition to framed experiences like books and movies, where there are many factors in play that are not part of the experience.
For example, if you watch a movie on Netflix, the movie can be great, but the sofa you’re sitting on isn’t part of the design of the experience. Neither is the food you eat while watching or the composition of the group you’re watching with. The more immersive something gets, the more of these factors are controlled by the designers of the experience.
As for using it for skill-training, it’s simple. If you want to learn about being a leader of a lumberjack operation, you can do several things. You can read about it. That’s great. You can watch a documentary with sound and moving images. That’s often better. But you can also take on the role of a lumberjack crew boss for 48 hours in a 360 degree simulation? Which of those is the most powerful? Easily the last one! Immersive learning is powerful because it involves more senses and allows for a much greater feeling of ‘being there’ (wherever ‘there’ is).
What are some of the most significant personal transformations you’ve witnessed as a result of your work?
Where do we start? I’ve seen people getting tattoos after events! There are marriages that happened because people met at events I’ve done, and there is even a CoEE baby out there by now (that I know of!). I’ve seen people move to different countries, create new lives for themselves professionally and change their mindsets on big things. As an old friend of mine – a comedian – said after the first College of Extraordinary Experiences, where he was a participant: “Before, I used 90% of my energy creating better jokes for my shows, and 10% of my energy thinking about the experience of those who watch me. If I flip that around and spend 10% of my energy on creating better material and 90% of the energy on creating a better experience for my audiences, I’ll completely change my comedy game.” And that is just one example among many.
In the world of experiential education, what trends or emerging concepts do you find most exciting or promising?
One of the trends I am extremely happy about in this space is the return to analogue. Digital is lovely and virtual has all sorts of possibilities, but face-to-face physical interaction is pretty damn good at some things; and while doing immersive virtual experiences is definitely interesting, there is something to be said for doing them more low-tech and old school. I love that!
What advice would you give to individuals looking to bring more extraordinary experiences into their everyday lives?
I’d first tell them to stop looking for the extraordinary, and instead look for the things that they aren’t used to. The Louvre Museum in Paris is full of the most extraordinary art, but I’m sure that for the cleaners who’ve been there for ten years, a lot of that art has gotten uninteresting.
McDonald’s is seen as crass and commercial and unremarkable by many in the world, but to someone, who has never been to a McDonald’s, it’s a pretty wild experience.
So I’d suggest that instead of looking for things that ARE extraordinary (nothing is, it’s just about context), look for things that are out of the ordinary for you.
For me, becoming a father five years ago was an incredible and extraordinary experience. For someone with six kids, it’s hard to not imagine there’s a bit of “Ok, here’s another one!” feeling it…
As someone deeply involved in immersive storytelling, what do you believe is the future of experiential entertainment and education?
I believe strongly in indirect and self-guided education. Don’t sit people down and tell them about the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Get them interested in the legend of Robin Hood, and they’ll start wondering what Saxons and Normans are, and that’ll lead them straight to William the Conqueror and 1066.
Don’t tell them that teamwork is important. Let them play football and they’ll realise it’s much easier winning when you play like a team.
Find out what makes them tick and design indirect learning around that, instead of thinking one size fits all. After all, whether you learn basic math due to Pokémon cards, LEGO blocks or ancient Greek philosophy doesn’t matter.
Can you share any upcoming projects or initiatives you’re excited about?
I have a couple of things on my personal horizon that I’m excited about. One of them is a project about unleashing the creative beast within and helping people, who want to unlock an extra gear when it comes to ideas.
The other is a collaboration with my old friend Lars Andersen, who just happens to be the best archer in the world – and we’re going to help businesses who want to become the best in the world at what they do. Those are two things I’m really excited about at the moment.
How has your own journey from LARPing enthusiast to co-founder of The College of Extraordinary Experiences transformed your perspective on the power of immersive storytelling and education?
First off, the leap from LARP design to the much broader field of experience design has been a huge one. It’s a bit like going from “being a guitarist” to “being a musician”. It’s hard enough being a top-level guitarist, and there are tons of genres and styles to choose from. But being a top-level musician? That’s even worse!
For me, it has given me a lot of insight into not just experience design disciplines, but also into the incredible power of cross-industry knowledge.
I believe it has made me a much better experience designer, but even more so, it has made me a better innovation consultant.
If you had to choose one word to describe the essence of The College of Extraordinary Experiences, what would it be?
To quote Mark Ordesky, the Executive Producer of the Lord of the Rings, and one of our co-founders, who came to the first College and was asked the same thing by the camera team back in 2016: “It’s the coolest school I’ve ever gone to…” while wearing a smile a mile wide. Sure, it was far more than one word, but how could we not use that in our trailer?!
What is one piece of wisdom or insight you’ve gained from your multifaceted career that you believe has universal relevance and can benefit people from all backgrounds?
“Double check facts. Double check intentions.” There are many pieces of advice I like to give people (and even more if they actually ask me for advice!), but those two are the most important. Apply that to your projects, your business, your relationships… and a lot of problems just disappear!
With your wealth of experience, what do you believe are the essential qualities or skills that future leaders should possess to navigate the challenges of our rapidly changing world?
As an individual, who wants to become a leader? Learn how to get stuff done.
As a leader? Learn how to not stand in the way of others, who want to get stuff done.
As a human? Be ready to re-think and re-imagine and re-invent… your identity, your skillset, and your world.
When the waves keep growing, it’s smart to learn how to surf. And if you’re surfing 15 foot waves today that looked impossible to you five years ago, and the 5 foot waves you surfed then seemed impossible to you when you started… what’s to say that the 50 foot wave that now looks impossible will continue to look that way if you just give it a try?
With 43 books to your name, you are no doubt a prolific author. Can you name a book that is particularly close to your heart and tell us the core message or idea you wanted to convey with it?
Non-fiction, I’d recommend a lot of stuff by Seth Godin. Whether it’s ‘Linchpin‘ (about being invaluable), ‘Purple Cow‘ (about standing out) or ‘The Dip’ (about quitting at the right time), he is someone, whose words have always inspired me.
When it comes to fiction, I have a strange love for Sci-Fi stories from the 1960s and 1970s – especially in anthology format. And if I had to recommend just ONE short story, it would be ‘Beep‘ by James Blish, written in 1954.
Enough about business, besides your work, what are some hobbies or interests that you’re truly passionate about?
Thanks for asking! I actually have a great passion for trains, and love train travel (more on this below!). This means that last year, Siv (my better half) and I took our five-year-old daughter on 24 days of interrailing. Lovely adventure, and one I’m looking forward to continuing when time allows for it!
Also, I have to admit that I am one of those devourers of knowledge – I generally spend an hour or more every day learning new stuff. Learning what the cruise ship business is like. Diving into accounts of the Dutch East India Company etc. Basically, I like to be inspired. Luckily, inspiration is all over!
What’s one travel destination on your bucket list that’s not typically found in travel guides, and what intrigues you about it?
There’s a steam train that travels through Slovenia’s mountains that I’ve wanted to visit for years.
Can you tell us three unusual facts about you that people might not expect, something that doesn’t typically come up in your professional bio or interviews?
Firstly, I used to be a reality TV star twenty years ago, and was part of one of the first truly positive reality TV shows – a Danish show about football and nerds!
I also own a 16% share in a small company that does ruby hunting in Greenland.
Finally, I once drove 4000 km along Route 66 with a fake rock band!
What was the best piece of advice you were ever given?
The words belong to an old friend named Christian Bierlich, a Danish scientist working in Sweden these days. We ran a non-profit organisation together, and I was complaining that I was doing too much and others were doing too little. I thought the way to go was to make them do more. He made me realise that if I felt I was doing too much and nobody was pushing me but myself, the solution was to do less (and stop being bitter!). I’ve been thankful for that advice many times over the course of the last 15 years!
If you could have a one-hour conversation with any fictional character, who would it be, and what burning question would you ask them?
Oddly enough, fictional characters don’t interest me that much in that way. Real people do. I’d love to sit down and talk with Emperor Augustus, and I’d really like to ask him: “Was it worth it for you?”. A man who changed the world he lived in more than almost any other, but who knows what he thought of it himself? Would he have preferred a more simple life, looking back? Was he fulfilled? I’ve often wondered about that.
What was your dream job as a child?
I have no idea, to be honest, but my plan when I was in high school was to study philosophy and history and become a high school teacher. When I was 19, that was my clear-cut plan. It didn’t really turn out that way, and I’m happy about that, but I am also convinced that it would have been a good life.
Finally, if you had to sum up your life philosophy or a guiding principle in just one sentence, what would it be?
“It’s better to have lost and loved than never to have lost at all, and it’s also better to have tried and failed than never having tried at all.“
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