This is the title of a workshop I am submitting to the International Conference on Enterprise Promotion, taking place in Harrogate next month. Don’t know yet if it will be accepted as it bends the ‘submission guidelines’ a little.
- To illustrate how and why most contemporary interventions designed to promote enterprise usually have precisely the opposite effect;
- To demonstrate how narrow conceptions of enterprise serve to undermine the value of enterprise development for both funders and citizens and sells our profession short;
- To outline ‘in which direction progress lies’ if we really want to develop more enterprising behaviours in the community;
- We (policy makers, professionals and community leaders) need to re-conceive what we mean by ‘enterprise’ and ‘enterprise development’ and understand more fully its relationship to ‘entrepreneurship’, ‘business development’ and ‘community’.
- We need to adopt much more ambivalent approaches to ‘entrepreneurship’, of all kinds, if we really wish to engage ‘community’.
- We need to take seriously the principles of person centred development in our work to teach people how to live a ‘becoming existence’ and pay serious attention to a credo that says above all ‘Do No Harm’.
Sounds interesting? See you in Harrogate. Or get in touch.
Recently I have been reflecting with Imran Ali about the nature of innovation in the city (of Leeds in this case) and how it might be developed. The assumption being that more and better innovation will be an unalloyed good in a fast changing, dynamic, complex yet very finite environment.
Most of the discussion has focussed on some obvious innovation levers that we believe could yield some relatively quick and easy wins, such as:
- encouraging more innovation across traditional boundaries of department or role
- seeking applications of technology for social innovation
- thinking as idealists rather than realists – exploring the art of the possible not just the pragmatic
- providing ‘investment ready’ development programmes
- engaging non traditional sources of funding in the innovation process and so on.
But the implicit assumption all of these approaches to innovation is of an innovative elite. A creative class with the brains, the money (or access to it) and the networks to figure out how to make things significantly better for the rest of us. Scientists, technologists, financiers, policy makers, politicians, environmentalists, campaigners, entrepreneurs (social and not so social) and academics are all encouraged, incentivised and trained to ‘unleash’ their creativity and innovation.
But how many in the city form part of that elite? The hallowed few from whom progress is expected to emanate or who feel it is their duty to change the workings of the world. A few thousand perhaps in a city of 800 000. I suspect it is less than 1% of those living in the city.
I believe that innovation, creativity and change in pursuit of progress, are essential human qualities that will find means of expression. Regardless.
- How does the potential of ‘innovation’ play out for the rest?
- How do the processes of creativity and change in search of progress manifest for them?
Well, I suspect there is another slug of the population who are deeply engaged in creativity and change in relation to developing their practice, in the more or less explicit hope, that they may be able to join the elite. Training, learning, networking and thinking of ways to get their hands on the innovation levers. Would-be entrepreneurs, politicians, students, scientists and bureaucrats who are working their way upwards and onwards. Some, of course will join the elite. But most, by definition, will not. And they will join another group of potential innovators.
These are the ones who do not wish to change the world/city/community. Perhaps they have given up on the challenge. Perhaps they never engaged with it. But the essential creative drive remains and will be expressed. It may play out through personal lifestyle choices. Living the environmental life perhaps, gardening, reducing the golf handicap, pursuing cultural enlightenment, renovating houses/cars etc. Progress is defined in more or less personal terms. It is perhaps the pursuit of happiness rather social change. Work becomes a job rather than a way to make a mark on the world. Creative courage is reserved primarily for ‘out of hours’ activities.
And then there is another group who never really established a foothold in ‘the system’. Those for whom a steady salary providing some level of ‘disposable’ income was never really ‘on the cards’. Vocational and professional routes for creative expression never opened up for them. From this group I suspect the systems demands not innovation and creativity but just passive compliance. Do as your told, smarten up tour appearance, brush up your CV and look for a job. Or at least pretend you are looking for a job. But the drive to innovation will out. Creativity will be expressed.
So when we are looking to support innovation in the city where is the great untapped potential?
- Does it lie in providing more and better support and training to the elite?
- Or should we try to mobilise middle England, Big Society style, to rally tot he cause?
- Or should we perhaps change the terms of engagement with those at the margins of the system? To shift from a coercive approach to a coaching one?
Anyone for ‘Innovation Coaches’ in Leeds?
Now here IS an enterprise ambassador!
Kevin Horne is the CEO of Norfolk and Waveney Enterprise Services (NWES) ‘one of the leading business support organisations’ in the UK. NWES is a members of the National Federation of Enterprise Agencies and Kevin has written a piece drawing attention to the NFEA’s Enterprise Manifesto.
Kevin goes on to describe the ‘Enterprise Escalator’ which provides a ‘comprehensive customer journey’, comprising:
- Outreach and awareness raising.
- Pre-start advice.
- Start-up training.
- One to one support.
- Access to finance.
On the surface, good sensible stuff. But it perpetuates a myth. The ‘escalator’ implies that, if start up is right for me, I just have to get on and I will effortlessly ascend to the next level. It is a false promise. It is the enterprise fairytale. Real world is less ‘escalator’ and more ‘snakes and ladders’. Less gentle trip to the shopping centre and more laying siege to the mountain. It is life making work.
And what if it is not right for me? Kevin rightly suggest that we need to signpost to other services – but will any of those really help? I have seen too many people with aspiration and potential be sent back to the job centre because the job of helping them find their enterprising feet will just take too long. It won’t fit with the neatly packaged funded services that look to provide a start up fast track.
Perhaps we should offer an enterprise sherpa service. Someone who has managed the ascent before – but who has also, on occasion, failed. Someone who recognises that this is a risky endeavour and needs to be carefully managed if it is not to cause damage. Someone who can recognise when the time is right to push for the summit and when the time is right to do more training and preparation at low levels.
If we are to engage people in communities then we have to engage them ‘where they are at’. Some will already have made it to base camp and are hungrily eyeing the peak. It might not quite be an escalator but we can certainly pass them the oxygen, clip them onto the fixed ropes and wish them luck.
But many remain in the valleys and seldom look to the cloud covered tops.
We have to personalise our services and we have to recognise that many are not yet close to being ready to start a business – now is not the time to launch an assault for the summit – but instead to weigh up the pros and cons of even considering a short trek.
Different people are at different places.
Some will be highly motivated but with few skills. Others will have skills (that they often don’t recognise) but little or no motivation. Some will have neither motivation nor skill. A precious few will have both.
The real ‘enterprise’ challenge is to engage those who have already decided that the ‘labour market’ is not for them and to encourage them to reconsider what they can do with their lives. It is about reconnecting them to their aspirations, helping them to find belief and confidence and finding ways in which they can unstick their lives and make progress. It is about helping them to see that their is an enterprise journey that might be right for them. Can we cost effectively extend our sherpa service to engage and inspire them? What are the costs of not doing so? This should be the realm of the enterprise coach.
It is often a protracted job that requires a long term, strong, supportive, challenging, trusting and non-judgemental relationship. It is not about the ‘Enterprise Fairytale’ and fast start ups. It is about the hard work of developing people and helping them to find ways to dare to move forward again.
I wonder if Enterprise Agencies have the skill and commitment to required to develop an enterprise based service that will really start where many people are at?