From travelling the world pondering her existence to convincing a Swedish furniture giant to back a venture looking at the future of living, Carla Cammilla Hjort has lived several lives. Hjort, who is speaking at the Future of the Future conference next month, told Charles Anderson her story.
Carla Cammilla Hjort grew up as a dancer in her native Denmark. It was her real first experience of being creative in a creative world. She danced until she was 17 years old and then, on the cusp of going to university, she decided not to. Instead, she sat in a travel agency and booked 36 open-ended plane tickets, before getting into psychedelic drugs, philosophy and living life as a self-described “rebel”.
“It made sense to me to ask the big questions about who I am and why I am here,” she says from Copenhagen.
And so began a four-year journey around the world where she learned not to feel so attached to the things she was doing and the things she was feeling in any one moment. It taught her not to take anything too seriously, which then allowed her the confidence to pursue anything she wanted. It was the start of a life lived in accordance with “the rebel way”.
“The rebel way, for me, means you take the time to get to know yourself and nurture the journey and give it time and space. And also, to find the courage to live by a truth and your passion.”
That passion saw her return from her travels and nurture a desire to make music. She invested in her first DJ equipment, but she couldn’t find anywhere to play. There was an untapped niche for the sort of music she and her friends wanted to hear. So, she started putting on parties herself and performing. Before she knew it, she was being booked out for weeks at a time and travelling all over the world as a DJ.
In 2006, partly funded by her music success, she started a studio that would help foster the type of creativity that she wanted to see in the world. Art Rebels became a network for artists, musicians, designers, filmmakers, cultural activists, web designers, and other creatives to create positive change. A year later, she set up the Trailerpark Festival, an annual music, art and technology event. Then, in 2008, she founded Rebel Agency, which worked with corporations, NGOs and government agencies to empower them to act as fast and passionately as a startup. It is this merger of creativity and entrepreneurialism that she wants to create on a broader scale.
“In so many ways there has never been a better time to be a creative,” she says. “For many years you have lived in a sad place as a creative. It was difficult to make a living.”
But now the sort of creativity Hjort manifested in her ventures is in high demand. “All these big companies ruling the world are getting scared now. The times are changing and a lot of them are pretty lost and confused and nervous. Their same recipe is not working any more and that’s why being creative as a lateral thinker is of really high value.”
That sort of thinking makes you an asset, she says. “It makes you able to challenge status quos and see new ways of behaving. You might see patterns and connect the dots, or make new patterns entirely.”
The pattern she saw several years ago was an opportunity for an innovation lab that would challenge the way we thought about the future of living. It began with a phone call from IKEA, the Swedish furniture behemoth that has 423 stores in 52 countries and last year made over NZ$4 billion in profit. The company’s top management were coming to Copenhagen for a strategy meeting and were looking to meet inspirational leaders. They had seen what Hjort was creating and wanted to meet with her.
She took IKEA’s chief executive on a journey through her work – the bringing together of innovation, creativity, design and entrepreneurship. Impressed, he asked if she would work for them and Hjort suggested that she design a collection. It was a big success.
A few years later that chief executive got back in touch. He had been made the global chief executive of IKEA’s parent company. They were wrestling with some hard questions – including what the company could look like in 20 years if it did not even design furniture They wanted Hjort’s help.
“It was a pretty open brief,” Hjort says. “I started thinking what can I do with my skills and community to design for the future of the world.”
She honed in on IKEA’s mission to create a better everyday life for people. “That was my golden key to unlock a lot of things.”
Instead of pitching an idea, she pitched a process and method for working with ideas. Her pitch was for an innovation lab that would tackle the future. It would examine what travel might look like in the future, what food might look like, what energy production would look like. Then it would try to unlock their potential through technology and design.
She came away from that pitching session with a three-year contract, and Space10 was born. Nestled in the heart of Copenhagen’s fashionable meatpacking district, it has become a hub of futurist thinking. Its mandate is to explore and design innovative and responsible business models that enable a more meaningful and sustainable life for people around the world. Its projects span almost everything.
The lab came up with “Tomorrow’s Meatball” – a project that explored some of the trends that are revolutionising food production, including lab-grown meat, algae harvesting, and even 3D food printing. Alternative ingredients such as proteins from algae, beet leaves or insects were used to create customised nutrient mixes that were “printed” on demand to meet the consumers’ aesthetic, cultural and nutritional preferences.
Its SolarVille project is a 50:1 model village that produces self-sufficient and sustainable electricity. It uses a combination of solar panels and blockchain technology to distribute solar energy efficiently. Hjort says this could be a solution for the 1.1 billion people on earth who have little or no electricity at all.
Space10 has also looked at urban farming and empowering people to grow their own food en masse in their own homes. Artificial lights and computerised automation make it possible to give plants exactly what they need in terms of water, minerals and oxygen. So Space10 built a prototype hydroponic farm in its own basement using materials 80% purchased from IKEA – meaning anyone else could do the same.
Even furniture that can harvest energy has been explored. What if we could harvest the wasted heat from things such as your morning pot of coffee, or the casserole cooling on the kitchen counter? Enter a Space10 prototype that used thermoelectric pads built into surfaces to capture heat that would otherwise be wasted and convert it into electricity that can recharge your phone or keep your laptop humming along.
Hjort says the projects that permeate Space10 are not just about good design, they are about good storytelling.
“We are not inventing anything. We are innovating by finding new ways to change old systems. We all know what needs to be done. Stories help that innovation emotionally connect. That is the only thing that is going to change our behaviour. We need to feel it and believe that this idea is really for me. The rest is a lot of hard strategic work.”
Hjort can’t say what the next step is for her – it is still in innovation. But she can say what that 17-year-old self who sat at the travel agency might think. “I think she would be pretty proud and excited and also tell me to remember to ‘always be a rebel’.”
Carla Cammilla Hjort’s five hopes for the future
- To see more women get in power – New Zealand is a wonderful example of that.
- I hope to see that we manage to transition into a green energy world – it’s possible it needs investment.
- I hope that we find a way to break this consumerism, hyper-capitalist attitudes and system. I hope the next generation will have fun with figuring out another way that is smarter.
- I hope that we will take care of each other when the shit hits the fan. The climate crisis will create millions of refugees. I hope we will find a way to come together as a global society to help those in real need instead of just those in our own backyard.
- I hope for a more equal and fairer world. With more love. It’s an old cliche, but we haven’t learned.
Carla Cammilla Hjort is one of six global thought leaders who will speak at The Future of The Future presented with Spark Lab, to be hosted at Auckland’s Aotea Centre on 15 August. To learn more, see www.futureofthefuture.co.nz
This content was created in paid partnership with the Future of the Future festival. Learn more about our partnerships here.
The Spinoff Daily gets you all the days' best reading in one handy package, fresh to your inbox Monday-Friday at 5pm.