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‘Bottom Up’ is the New Black

November 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Leeds – Dec 1st

Whether it is more ‘civic enterprise’, community engagement or ‘Big Society,’ people with power, but increasingly little money, are looking for new ways to get things done.  The large capital infrastructure projects have not given us more inclusive communities and now we can’t afford them any way, so in some quarters at least interest is shifting from old school top down strategy to a more emergent process of bottom up development.  To processes where large numbers of people can shape their own futures and as a result the futures of the communities that they live in.

But making the shift from top down to bottom up is far from easy….

Over the last few years I have been developing low and no cost approaches to economic, personal and community development leading to new projects such as:

These are my best efforts to provide an infrastructure that allows the private, public, third sector and those of ‘no sector’ to give and get the help that they need to develop enterprising projects and people, and for the development of ‘community’ by building relationships and networks around local activists.  To bring ‘bottom up’ development to life.

This one day masterclass will provide:

  • an overview of the ‘responsive’, bottom up philosophy that underpins each of these projects and its relationship to more commonly found ‘strategic efforts at community development and strategy implementation
  • the implications for strategists and policy developers of the patterns and themes for development that emerge from these bottom up activities
  • practical ‘warts and all’ insights into each of the 5 projects listed above including their progress, impact and cost base
  • an exploration of the links between the various projects and how they work together to provide an infrastructure for progress
  • an overview of the factors that drive their development and an exploration of how these can be managed
  • insights into how the projects manage social inclusion
  • opportunities to explore how these projects can be used to inform economic, community and personal development in your own area.

Who Should Attend?

  • Professionals and practitioners interested in new apporaches to economic and community development
  • Councillors and lcoal authority staff with responsibility for neighbourhoods and community
  • Representatives from the private sector with an interest in community and neighbourhood development, corporate social repsonsibility or looking to develop links with their community
  • Funders looking for new ideas in community development and regneration
  • Local people looking for affordable and accessible approaches to community development
Find out more and book your place here - http://bottomupisthenewblack.eventbrite.co.uk/
First 15 to book get 50% off.

Here’s to the compliant ones…

October 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Another afternoon talking NEETS and another bunch of folk who think that a few more entrepreneurs going in to schools to raise aspirations will make things better.

It wont.

Because for the vast majority of the time our cultures, in schools, councils and other machine bureaucracies actually teach a very different lesson.

The celebration of compliance and subjugation to the system.  So….

Here’s to the compliant ones

The submissives

The ‘OK’ folk

The shapeshifters occupying the shape shifting roles

The ones who see the reason of others

They are fond of rules and the security of routine

They can quote you, agree with you, glorify, and support you

And, when you need to, you can ignore them.

Because they challenge nothing,

They don’t push the boundaries

And, while some may see them as automatons, we see them as gun fodder

The people who will threaten nothing and will work for little more.

The business of human endeavour…

August 3, 2011 6 comments

For a long time now I have had real concerns about the focus of policy makers, and the projects that they spawn, on ‘enterprise’ and ‘entrepreneurship’ as being just too business oriented.  It is as if the only fields of human endeavour that matter are commerce of some kind.  Making money or fixing societies ills.

This is especially un-nerving when you see it played out in our primary schools as 6 year olds are encouraged to wear badges that proclaim them be a ‘Sales Director’, an ‘Operations Manager’ or a ‘Brand Executive’. Yuk!

What about all of those other great fields of human endeavour?

Climbing mountains, making art, having fun, playing sport, writing, cooking and so on.

What if we encouraged our 6 year olds to wear badges that proclaimed them to be ‘Footballer in Training’, ‘Ballet Dancer under Construction’, ‘Surgeon to Be’ or ‘The Next Michael McIntyre’?  OK, so perhaps we don’t need another Michael McIntyre…. but you get my point?

Because what really matters is not exposing more people to the world of business and entrepreneurship.  It is to get them imagining possible futures, and learning how best to navigate towards them.  It is about developing people with a sense of agency and influence over their own futures.  It is about building a generation with both power and compassion. And a generation who really understand how to use the tools of collaboration, association and cooperation in pursuit of mutual progress.

Does it really only matter if their chosen endeavour contributes to GVA?  Or is there more to our humanity that we need to recognise and encourage through both our policy and practice?

And this is not just an issue in schools.  It runs like a plague through our communities from cradle to grave.

I think this is important because we lose so many who are completely turned off by the thought of a world of commerce (and let’s face it we don’t all want to dive headlong into a world of Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice).

So what about if instead of focussing on enterprise and entrepreneurship we attempted to throw our net wider and to encourage and support people to build their power and compassion in whatever they choose to be their particular fields of human endeavour?

Smart Lord Sugar…


Nice move by Lord Sugar to choose Tom Pellereau as his business partner.  Seriously nice move because Tom’s skills complement those of the Lord Sugar rather than replicate them.

So many people go into business with people who share similar skills, values and attitudes leading to a very lop-sided business indeed.  Perhaps half a dozen people who understand the product or service, but NONE who really love marketing, sales, financial management, compliance or governance.

And I don’t think that Lord Sugar is a product man.  At least not any more.  He is now a ‘sales and marketing man’ a distribution expert. Someone who can get products into the hands of the masses.

I just hope that poor old Tom is given the chance to develop products that not only make him wealthy, but also make him proud and enhance the lives of the people who buy them.

This would indeed be progress.

Stating the Bleedin’ Obvious…(unless you are policy wonk or their lackey…)

July 5, 2011 4 comments

  1. Not every small business or micro-enterprise owner needs a mentor.
  2. Mentoring is NOT the only helping relationship.
  3. Good mentors are rarely trained in ‘mentoring’, nor are they picked from a register.
  4. Successful mentors are usually selected from within the pre-existing network of the mentee.  They are spotted and developed as someone from  whom the mentee really wants to learn.
  5. Mentoring is an intermittent rather than a continuous relationship.
  6. Access to good mentors is usually restricted and respectful rather than a tradeable commodity.
  7. The success of the mentorship is usually down to the mentee rather than the mentor.  Good mentees know how to choose a mentor and manage the relationship with them to get the learning and the introductions that they need.
  8. The commoditisation of mentoring is not a good thing.
  9. Mentors are not coaches, advisers, consultants, counsellors or facilitators.  People looking to learn and develop themselves and/or their organisations should think carefully about the kind of ‘help’ they need.
  10. We should help people explore what they want to learn and how they are going to learn it – rather than prescribe yet another ‘cure-all’ that happens to be ‘affordable’.
  11. We should focus our efforts on building social learning contexts and helping people manage their learning processes rather than setting up registers and schemes.
  12. If the national association of image consultants got their lobbying act together I am sure we might all end up being encouraged to use a national register of image consultants in pursuit of GDP.

If you are interested in implementing ill thought through policy and exploiting it as way to make a few bob please do not get in touch.  If on the other you are serious about building a context in which people  can really learn then I would love to hear from you.

Just leave a comment below.

Elsie is Born…


I seem to have been a bit quiet on this blog, while I have been doing other things, including pushing Progress School along, working on Collaborate Leeds and incubating a new idea which has finally found the light of day today:

The Leeds Community Enterprise Accelerator or Elsie for short.  This provides a community based network of support to local enterprise coaches, advisors, facilitators, in fact to anyone who is helping someone else in the community to make progress.

I have high hopes for Elsie in post Business Link austerity economy.  I think it will provide a sustainable high value model to provide practical crowd sourced enterprise support to those that most want and need it.

Have a look at Elsie and tell me what you think.

Enterprise Hub or Duck Farm?


I visited a really great community centre recently.  Busy, friendly, homespun, clearly doing great work in and with the community. We were using several rooms, one of which was called the ‘Enterprise Hub’.  It was spotlessly clean, airy, spacious and well furnished, just like every other room in the building.  But for the life of me I could not work out what made it an ‘Enterprise Hub’.  It was not set up for hot desking, there were no PCs, no mail boxes, none of the usual paraphernalia…

So I asked the centre manager about the Enterprise Hub.  The answer surprised me – but it shouldn’t have done.  They were looking for cash to modernise and re-decorate the room and in conversation with the local authority it become clear that the only budget with cash available was in ‘Enterprise’.

‘They said if we called it an Enterprise Hub we could have the cash.’

I love the way this demonstrates the inherent enterprise of the community centre management team in tracking down the cash that they need to ‘get the job done’.  I am less impressed  by what it says about some investments in ‘enterprise’.  I can just imagine the report to the councillors about the new enterprise hub…

I remember a colleague saying to me at the launch of a major enterprise initiative,

‘The problem is that many of the people in this room don’t really understand enterprise.  They don’t live it and breathe it.  If the Government was announcing a major initiative to invest in duck farming, because an economist had said THAT is the future of the UK economy, many of these same people would be in the room, nodding sagely, and would run home to invent new policies to encourage duck farming’.

Breaking the Stranglehold on Enterprise

May 9, 2011 2 comments

For a few years now I seem to have been living in Groundhog Day.  Not everyday, but enough to be disconcerting.

I will be chatting with an enterprise professional, perhaps a lecturer in a University, an enterprise coach in a ‘deprived’ community, a start-up business adviser or a bureaucrat managing an enterprise project.  In our conversations about enterprise we will recognise how it is not all about business.  How enterprise can be expressed in a seemingly infinite number of ways.  Sure, for a significant and important minority, it is about commercial endeavour. Business, profit, and social impact in some combination.  In order to express their enterprising soul a minority have to start a business.

But for the majority being enterprising, being proactive in pursuit of a better future, does not mean starting up a business.  It may mean making a phone call, having a conversation, calling a meeting or writing a letter.  Taking some action that increases agency and power in pursuing a preferred future.  It may be taking the opportunity to reflect on ‘The direction in which progress lies‘, or ‘What are the next steps that I can take to make progress?‘  or ‘What options have I got?

We will reflect on how some of the most enterprising people we know may work in the Council, or the University, or organise festivals and campaigns in the community.  That the enterprising soul finds its expressions in many forms and not just in entrepreneurship.

We will agree that the real point of leverage in our communities lies not in providing start-up advice with those who are already minded to start a business, although of course this IS important.  The real leverage lies in helping more people to establish the direction in which progress lies for them and their loved ones and helping them to plan and execute actions designed to move them in that direction.

If we can significantly increase the stock of enterprising people then, as sure as eggs is eggs, we will also increase the stock of entrepreneurial people.  And we will not lose so many who are completely turned off by enterprise because of the Gordon Gecko or Victorian perceptions of enterprise nurtured by the reality TV shows and newspaper headlines.

We will also increase the survival rate of new businesses as people make natural progress into entrepreneurship instead of being persuaded to start a business (‘all you need is the idea and the determination to succeed’) when they have not yet gained the real skills or capital that they will need to succeed.

In our conversations we will agree on these things.  And then almost invariably they will head off to run another course on ‘Marketing and Sales’ or ‘Business Planning’ or to look at monitoring returns that count bums on seats and business start-up rates.

If ever there was an industry that needed to innovate and re-invent itself and its role in modern Britain it is the enterprise industry.   If we really want to build a much more enterprising Britain then we need to break the stranglehold that the business start-up industry has on enterprise policy.

This might be just one of the ideas we can explore at Enterprising Communities: The Big Conversation in Leeds on May 19th.

Start Up Britain – credit where credit is due…

March 29, 2011 9 comments

Well Startupbritain.org certainly splits opinion, at least amongst the twitterati and the blogger community.

Start Up Britain: Some love it, some hate it and some are just indifferent.  In 25 years of working on business support and enterprise in the UK and overseas I have never seen anything like it given such a ringing endorsement by Government.

Credit where credit is due.

They have shipped and made things happen.  And what a launch!  The Prime Minister, The Chancellor of The Exchequer and The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and President of the Board of Trade all turning out along with assorted Dragons and celebrity entrepreneurs to offer their support and endorsement.

All of them want to see a more enterprising Britain.

More businesses starting up.

More businesses surviving and more businesses growing.

Now we might have an interesting conversation about the balance between economic growth driven by an enterprise led recovery, national well-being, and an environmentally sustainable future, but that would need us to take a holistic perspective on enterprise policy in the UK.  And I suspect, for the moment at least, this is all about wealth creation, employment, tax take and ‘a private sector led recovery’ rather than the wider role that enterprise can play in creating communities that people want to live in.

Startup Britain have shipped, and they have had feedback.  The makeover has begun.  Some of the typos have already been picked up and corrected.  I am sure the broken links (HP offer for example) will be mended and the links to malware (Growing/Staying Inspired/a bit of motivation/Warren Buffet) sites removed. (Although more than 24 hours since I first blogged and tweeted there has been no acknowledgement of the problem and no resolution)

I also suspect that a bit of a site makeover might be in order to make it a little less political and move the discount vouchers and special offers to a more discrete position.

But I think the challenges go a little deeper and wonder whether they will be addressed.

Surely Anything is Better than Nothing?

I do not subscribe to the school that says ‘anything is better than nothing’ – especially when that ‘anything’ is launched by half the cabinet and a host of celebrity entrepreneurs.  I work at the coal face of enterprise support in the UK, where regularly people lose their houses, marriages and occasionally their lives because the business that they were encouraged to start has left them in more debt.

And many more struggle on day after day living hand to mouth because they were encouraged to start a business that was at best marginal.  I have talked with many an adviser who have told me about the pressure they come under to make loans to would be entrepreneurs against their better judgement, because they have start up and loan making targets to hit.

Enterprise really is a double edged sword. And if we choose to promote it in our communities then we must do so with care, competence and compassion. Entrepreneurship is not all about computing in the cloud, venture finance and making the first million.  We love to promote the upsides of enterprise – but it also has a dark side.

A little more curation please…

If Start Up Britain wants to be a serious player in the long term they really do need to develop a professional approach towards site curation.  At the moment there are too many links to the same few sites, many of which are businesses affiliated to  Startup Britain’s founders and more vocal celebrity supporters with books and other products to shift.  When offering advice and support, impartiality matters.

I would strongly recommend that they appoint a credible curator/editor and possibly an editorial board that can ensure impartiality and quality of what gets listed on Startup Britain’s web directory and then a good folksonomy system that will ensure that the most useful content gets clearly flagged by the people that use it.   I used to argue that Business Link should have a folksonomy approach to rating both its own advisers and the third party service providers that they brokered out to – but this was seen as just too risky!

Sort Out an SEO Strategy…

At the time of writing if you Google ‘startup britain’ the main http://www.startupbritain.org site does not appear at least not on the first half a dozen pages, after which I gave up.  Instead www.startupbritain.co.uk and www.start-up-britain.co.uk take pole position.  Now that is enterprise.  Perhaps time to use some of those free adwords that you are entitled to…

Oh, and it would be lovely to actually link to a specific piece on the site.  But we can’t.  Think of all those lovely referrals that you are missing out one.

Re-think Peer to Peer and DIY Support

The Start Up Britain ‘peer support strategy’ needs a bit of a rethink.  It is great that the Supper Club and Prelude (both founded by Start Up Britain co-founder Duncan Cheatle) are offering free mentoring. (Free as long as you agree to provide 2 hours of free mentoring for every hour that you receive: it will be interesting to see the pathway through which mentee becomes mentor).

However we know that mentoring is not right for all, and a quick look at Prelude and The Supper Club suggests a certain emphasis on high growth strategies.  If I want to become a self employed window cleaner will I still get the mentoring?  Will I be invited to mentor others?

What about encouraging other forms of peer to peer support and an ethos of DIY?

What about helping entrepreneurs to become much more effective at managing their own learning rather than spoon feeding them courses and mentors?

What about helping entrepreneurs to figure out the type of support that they need and how they can best access it?

A truly British Campaign?

Start Up Britain needs to think a little more about developing a genuinely British presence.  Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland?  I am not sure yet that it really covers England.  It needs to quickly move on from being Start Up London and the South East – remember that stuff about re-balancing the economy?

For example I spent a bit of time trying out Enternships.com (another Founding Partner of Start Up Britain) to see what enternships might be available in my home city of Leeds.  Answer = 0.  Bradford = 0.  Yorkshire = 0.  A search for enternships in Manchester did turn up 4, albeit 1 of them was actually in London.  2 were for telesales positions and one was to do social media for a recruitment agency.

A Little More Transparency Too…

Start Up Britain is variously referred to as ‘a not for profit company‘, ‘an independent collective of UK entrepreneurs and big business’ and a new campaign run by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs.   It is described on the BIS website as ‘representing the private sector response’.   This leaves me confused.

So there we go.

I have been positive.

I only hope that we see a response.

A Future with HEART?

February 22, 2011 2 comments

Yesterday I went to the official opening of HEART – Headingley Enterprise and Arts Centre, an old Primary School, in a vibrant Leeds suburb which has been converted to a high standard by the Headingley Development Trust to provide:

  • 13 meeting rooms of various shapes and sizes
  • Exhibition space which local artists can use to hang their work
  • The Pulse Enterprise Space – shared workspace available on a membership basis
  • A Cafe, run by an independent operator, with 45 indoor covers and outside, off street, seating for 30 more

With, what seems to the untrained eye, excellent green credentials (solar panels, photovoltaic cells, grey water collection etc) the HEART Centre is a great new facility.  And with an eye to keeping costs down, using teams of volunteers wherever possible to run the building (very ‘big society’) and keeping debt as low as possible, the centre, with a lot of hard work, may just pay its way commercially and fulfil its vision – to create a vibrant and welcoming space for a wide range of people to meet, mix, work and play.

Similar in look and feel to both Hillside and Shine, I think there are several reasons why HEART has a chance of succeeding in the pursuit of its vision.

Firstly it is situated in a relatively prosperous part of the city, there are plenty of bright, young, and not so young things, with Mac Books, notebooks and iPads running small businesses who will almost immediately recognise the value of the Pulse Enterprise Space and find the £25 per month entry point both affordable and cost-effective.

It enjoys a wonderful location, with excellent footfall, and provides great spaces which fit well with the expectations and aspirations of many local people.

It really has been a carefully researched labour of love – the culmination of a 5 year project, led by local people, to keep the school in community use.

But perhaps most importantly I think it stands a chance of success because it is the flagship project of an established Development Trust led by local people who generally live in, and share insights into, the community that they exist to serve.  The Trust has developed over several years and those involved have already more than cut their teeth on a number of other projects including the Headingley Farmers Market, a Housing Project, a Community Orchard and even a Pig and Fowl Coop.  So the building is in the hands of a well established group of people committed to Headingley who have shared experiences over a number of years that have developed a real competence in their work.

Some Challenges to Be Met

Doing what pays – rather than doing what is wanted.  On my tour of the centre I was told about a significant demand from local people to have somewhere to practice their art, painting, drawing and so on – a community studio of some type.    However the centre was unable to respond to this demand because it is not commercially viable.  Local people want to develop their passion and skill and come together communally but this desire, at the moment at least cannot be catered for.  Perhaps in future surpluses from commercial activities could be used to cross subsidise such a resource?

We have to understand that financial viability follows on from the development of real craft.  It is not its pre-cursor.  If we could build a community of artists doing outstanding work then the revenues might start to flow.  Building skills and relationships lies at the heart of effective community development.  If we simply provide a home for those who are already economically viable perhaps we are missing a trick?

Displacement - There is a danger that money that gets pulled into the HEART Centre may be money that is pulled away from other local businesses and community groups offering similar services.   Of course competition is a good thing, as long as the playing fields are kept level between the private sector and community groups.  But if community groups are able to leverage volunteers, grants and subsidises not available to the private sector to compete with them then the results will not always be what we might hope.

Further Driving Inequality in the City? – Headingley, although not without the problems that come from a high population density including lots of students and ‘young professionals’, is not a deprived area.  Indeed it is the only part of the ‘Leeds Rim’ not to be amongst the most deprived wards in the country.   So we have a ‘successful community’ learning how to make itself more successful.  Which is to be applauded.

But can we do more to ensure that gaps between the rich and the poor do not further open up in the city?  How do we work successfully in more deprived areas to ensure that they too share in successful economic and social development.  I am not sure that similar buildings in more deprived parts of the city will have the same chance of really making a difference.

Keeping the Doors Open and On Mission

Buildings, especially ones that are open long hours, cost a lot of money.  Centre managers, caretakers, security, insurances, rates, utility bills and servicing debts all add to the overheads.  It is easy for the imperative to generate income to over-ride the social mission of such spaces.  Bills have to be paid.  But sometimes the desire to pay the bills takes the building away from what it was intended to be.  So, instead of being a place for the local community more of it is made available to affluent outsiders.

Hopeful…

But I am hopeful for HEART.  I think it has an excellent chance of doing great work in Headingley.  The host development trust seems well run.  It is embedded in the local community.  It will be hard work, and I suspect not without real scares along the way.  But I have a suspicion that HEART and the Headingley Development Trust will be a part of the Leeds infrastructure for some time to come.  It may be hard to make the managed workspace/meeting room combination work in more deprived areas of the city – but with a bit of tweaking it may be just right for Headingley.

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