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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?

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.

Sticks, carrots, coercion and coaching

September 20, 2010 2 comments

“What we did establish is that the carrots offered were far less effective than the sticks employed.”

Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts – talking about the ‘limited effect’ of Pathways to Work pilots

Sticks and carrots have a long and noble tradition in the  management of donkeys.  However even with donkeys there are times when the ‘bribe and  punish’ approach to change management fails:

  • When the donkey is not hungry enough
  • When the effort of reaching the carrot is too great (the burden is too heavy)

In these circumstances we may choose to resort to the stick.  But this too will not work if:

  • the pain of the stick is thought to be less than the pain of moving forward
  • the donkey learns to like the stick and the attention that it brings

But I think the real issue here is not about the limitations of sticks and carrots in the management of donkeys and people.

It is about the complete and utter failure to understand the nature of human motivation.  Motivation is that which energises, directs and sustains a person’s efforts.  Sustains efforts.  Sticks and carrots applied to move a donkey from one (expensive) field to another (less expensive field) do NOTHING to sustain efforts.  In fact it is likely to achieve the opposite.  The donkey returns to its passive state until more carrots and sticks appear on the scene.  And the state wants more enterprising communities?

But the major problem is not treating people like donkeys, and further dulling their enterprising souls.  It is that the state believes that this is the most effective, fair and just way of changing behaviour.  That this is such a common default setting when trying to manipulate the behaviours and choices of its citizens.

And we wonder why ‘community engagement’ is so difficult.  When you have beaten and bribed your donkeys into submission don’t expect them to engage with you, without the use of ever more sticks and carrots.

Perhaps instead of resorting to a coercive approach to change, we might try instead a coaching approach?

Helping people to recognise their long term self interest and how it may be pursued.  Helping  them to develop the power they need to make progress in their lives.  Helping them to recognise that it is possible and that they don’t need to be pushed around by a bureaucratic system of sticks and carrots.  That THEY have choices and agency in their own lives.  Vegetable wielding bureaucrats do not have to be the architects of their future.

And what if someone decides that their long-term self interest is served by staying exactly where they are?

Well, we could just leave them alone and put our time, energy and investment into those that want to explore pastures new.  Why should the squeaky wheel get all the grease?

Because perhaps people are more like sheep than donkeys.  When they see some of the flock moving forward others are sure to follow.

Aren’t they?

Enterprise, Self Interest, Power and Love

June 16, 2010 1 comment

I have written before about the potential of representing enterprise (E) as a mathematical equation, and offered this as a starter for 10:

Enterprise = Power x Self Interest

This week I had a wonderful conversation with Mike Love – who runs Leeds based Together for Peace to explore some of his reservations about my work on community based enterprise and to help me understand some of his perspectives on community as the building block rather than individuals.  Mike is a deep thinker about philosophy, theology and social change and conversations with him are always a delight

We discussed the work of Adam Kahane – especially Power and Love – A Theory and Practice of Social Change . Kahane suggests that we need to learn to move forward in a rhythm in which power and love are exercised alternately.

This harks back to some ideas that Martin Luther King helped to articulate:

Power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, political and economic change…

There is nothing wrong with power if power is used correctly. You see, what happened is that some of our philosophers got off base. And one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites — polar opposites — so that love is identified with a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love….

Now, we’ve got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.

So in the equation I have described ‘self interest’ – the role of self properly negotiated amongst others – can be seen as the exercise of love.  Love for self – and love for others.

So perhaps we could re-write the equation as

Enterprise = Power x Love

Love, in this case, for a better future for self and others – and power the ability to move towards it.

  • Enterprise without love can become exploitation of people and planet.
  • Love without power can be anemic and sentimental.

Good enterprise takes very seriously both concepts of love and power and seeks to use them in tandem to create a better world.

If we took this seriously our enterprise education programmes would focus on love at least as much as on power (the organisation of money and people to achieve purpose).  And our programme sand schemes would look very different.

More thinking to be done I suspect….

Treading the Line Between Courage and Stupidity

June 15, 2010 3 comments

Yesterday’s attempt at a satirical post on ‘How to Depress an Enterprise Culture‘ has triggered some interesting responses through both public and private channels and I have been reminded of something that my Dad once said to me,

It is a thin line between courage and stupidity.

I never thought of the post as ‘courageous’ but nor did I intend it to be a ‘stupid’ wrecking ball in a professional life that depends to some extent on working with the public sector and its partners.  My judgement was that by holding the mirror up I might provoke some reflection and the possibility of innovation as we move into an austere period for those of us interested in the role of enterprise and entrepreneurship in developing cohesive and effective communities.

Phil Kirby (@philkirby) is perhaps on the money when he says,

this is too close to the truth. There has to be a fraction of fiction for it to count as satire….Never a good idea to tell the truth so bluntly.

I suspect he maybe right in professional and corporate terms.  I have previously been warned, politely and through ‘diplomatic channels’ that ensure ‘sources’ remain anonymous, that making comments about public service providers and funders that are less than fully complimentary may be harmful to my ability to work in that sector.

I think this is fascinating and sad in equal measure.  Public sector agencies that tweet and maintain facebook pages about their workshops and services but NEVER enter into a dialogue.  Who think that they can ‘protect’ their brand by closing down dissenting voices instead of working with feedback and advocating their position.  Who take private disgruntlement at a blog post but never choose to post a comment to put forward their perspective or constraints.  Who believe that they can pursue ‘world class’ by engaging yes men and women who will never risk pointing out the apparently naked emperor.

A regeneration professional was also in touch about the post, privately, saying,

I agree with 75% of what you say. As an employee of a consultancy to RDAs/Business Links etc I don’t really have freedom to say so. Corporate life.*

Clearly they have taken a different stance in weighing up the risks and rewards of speaking their truth – of following their path, wherever it may lead.  I find it deeply ironic that so many enterprise professionals are ‘pragmatic realists’.  They deal with things the way they are, do the best they can given the limitations and demands of funders, and are willing to put professional integrity and the possibility of doing ‘good work’ in thrall to paying the mortgage.   They are ‘reasonable’ men and women who adapt themselves to the world.  Who subjugate personal values and beliefs in order to effectively carry out the work of the system, to follow orders. I think such ‘reasonableness’ holds enormous risks – not only to our enterprise culture but to our personal humanity and self-esteem.  To our ability to forge communities of work and life that recognise and value us for who we are and who we are becoming and not simply as a willing pair of hands.

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

George Bernard Shaw

Diminishing ourselves to fit in with a ‘corporate world’ is surely a sign of malaise both in our own development as a human being but also in the modus operandi of our employer.  This is the methodology of unreconstructed industrial bureaucracy. Not of a modern, knowledge based service industry working in a wired up world.

I have written before about enterprise being the emergence of identity.  A process for becoming more fully human, of the development of potential.   It is a process for the idealist.  One who sees a difference that they wish to make and sets about making it.

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” – GBS again…

I find it deeply ironic that so many working on enterprise culture have taken the opposite path.   To bite their tongues, to hold back their truths and to do the bidding of funders, wherever it may lead, while encouraging others to take the plunge into entrepreneurship.

* The 25% difference in opinion was around the fact the enterprise and incubation centres are not always poorly utilised and that loan and grant schemes can be effective.  Now I agree with both of these points.  Enterprise and incubation centres in places that have vibrant enterprise communities can work brilliantly.  I have yet to see the success replicated in areas of multiple deprivation.  In such areas the centres are usually half empty, or social objectives are quickly relaxed  to appeal to a more affluent target group who can help to pay the rent.  If you know of an incubator or an enterprise centre that is working well and sustainably, serving primarily those who live in deprived communities, I would love to hear about it.

Grants and loan schemes can also work well.  My point is that they should not be managed by the same organisation, or under the same brand, as the organisation providing the coaching advice.  Several reasons for this:

  • Some (sometimes many) clients will be attracted to the coaching service by the allure of cash rather than by the possibility of transformation.  This distorts the coaching relationship, discourages disclosure and makes progress difficult.
  • Loans and grants are just one source of finance for the would be entrepreneur – the coach and their parent organisation needs to be free to help the client explore all funding options and not simply refer them to an in-house solution – especially when adoption of the in-house solution forms part of a ‘payment by results’ contract with a funder.
  • Organisations that provide loans and grants are seldom loved in poor communities.  They are a place of last resort.  Requests for support are either turned down or, if accepted, result in obligations and repayment terms that again frequently lead to a degree of tension that is not helpful.  It is hard to be coached by someone who has lent or given you money.

A funding service does need to be there, and it needs to be well managed, but in my opinion it should not be managed by the same provider who runs the coaching service.

And as I sit here about to press the publish button, I am reminded of another old saw of my Dads,

When you find yourself in a hole – stop digging

Helping that Helps…


I have been thinking some more about ‘helping styles that help’.  Many services that purport to ‘help’ appear to be helpful on the surface, but often leave clients more dependent on experts to help them with decision-making in the future, rather than less. We achieve a net loss in ‘enterprise’ rather than a net gain. Or we deliver the bureaucratic requirements of our service while leaving things substantially unchanged.

Every interaction offers us possibilities to help or hinder the development of clients (and ourselves). For some years now I have trained a person centred approach based on 4 styles of intervention intended to help advisers/coaches to think about how they can use every interaction to both strengthen their relationship with the client and to move the change process along:

  1. acceptant (getting them the client talk and to acknowledge feelings and emotions as well as facts)
  2. catalytic (introducing models, theories and concepts that help the client to see the wood for the trees, to recognise patterns and ‘make their own sense’ of the information they have available to them
  3. confrontational (challenging the client when words and actions seem to lack coherence – when they appear to be acting against their own self interest)
  4. prescriptive (telling clients what they should or should not do – a very common subset of this is called ‘veiled prescription’ for example ‘Have you thought about calling Business Link?’ which is really a prescription disguised as a question.

These four styles are then used in conjunction with what I call the enterprise coaching cycle. This starts with initial contact/gaining entry (winning the permission of the client to help; crossing the threshold at which the client ‘invites’ us to work with them on exploring options and plans). It then goes through contracting, data collection and option generation phases (all led by the client with the coach in the role of facilitator in nearly all occasions), option selection, planning, implementation and then either exiting or re-contracting for a further cycle of support.

In practice many of the people I train recognise that their ability to help is limited by the extent to which they can effectively ‘gain entry’. They are often not trusted as being ‘on the side of the client’. Gaining entry is a challenge because as it cannot be done on the basis of expertise and power (the usual starting point?) but on the basis of trustworthiness and intent.  Without gaining entry we can go through the motions of a helping relationship and tick most of the right boxes but nothing substantially shifts.

When working with coaches and advisers I have had to do quite a lot of work to decrease the amount of prescription that goes on and to increase the amount of acceptant work. This is usually resisted until advisers experience the style helping them with one of their own real life challenges. Even then they will habitually revert back to advising each other – even when they know from personal experience that ‘prescription’ is often almost useless as a helping style! There is a challenge of learning new techniques and skills, but the main challenge is unlearning old habits!

There is also often a resistance in case what the client really wants to work on reflects neither the coaches’ expertise nor the remit of their project.

I have also done quite a lot of work with advisers and coaches on ‘self directed learning’ which draws heavily on reflective practice techniques and helps them to build personalised learning support mechanisms. One of the unintended consequences of the standards based approach to professional development has been emphasis on the collection and collation of evidence that criteria are met rather than genuine reflection and the creative development of professional practice.

Another challenge has been to get advisers/coaches to be genuinely client centred, rather than centred on either the solutions that they have up their sleeves (workshops that have been commissioned and need filling, managed workspaces that need the same, existing services provided by ‘partners’) or the outcomes that draw down their funding (steering people towards business start ups, VAT registrations or training places – because they count as ‘success’ in the terms of the funder).

Working on the front-line of service delivery leads to challenges further up the supply chain. This includes helping service managers/designers to balance the tensions between client centredness and outcomes that funders demand. In my experience this balance is nearly ALWAYS struck on the side of the funder rather than the client which often dilutes the potential of the service as we cannot gain entry if we are more concerned in gaining outcomes for the funder than helping the client on their agenda. There is also the challenge of helping funders to recognise that they are much more likely to achieve their outcomes if they fund person centred support rather than policy centred ‘advice and guidance’. Work is required in all these areas if we are to make a real shift in the system and its efficacy.

I am not sure if this stream of consciousness will add anything to the analysis of the challenges in developing enterprise coaching as an impactful and cost-effective practice, but I hope it shows that I have perhaps some of the pieces of the puzzle that may help to shift things a little at both theoretical and practical levels, both at the front-line of service delivery and the design and management of services.

If any of this may be relevant to your work then please do give me a shout.

Development as Freedom – Enterprise as a Key?

March 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Last night Nobel prize winning Economist and philosopher Amartya Sen gave an address with Demos and the Indian High Commission.  Sen has spent a lifetime studying poverty, its causes and how it may be alleviated.  His writing is dense, often supported with mathematical arguments.  He is not an easy read.  By his own admission he is a theorist and a researcher.  It is up to others to put his research into practice.

So what does Sen have to say?  How is it relevant to enterprise?  Well here is my interpretation and, no doubt, gross simplification – tentatively offered….

  • Poverty is fundamentally rooted in injustice – the problem is not that there is not enough – but that it is not shared
  • The challenge is to give more people the power that they need to play a positive and powerful role in markets; This means accessible and relevant processes to develop individual capabilities and power
  • Development is a measure of the extent to which individuals have the capabilities to live the life that they choose.  It had little to do with standard economic measures such as GDP.
  • Helping people to recognise choices and increase the breadth of choices available to them should be a key objective of development.
  • Developing the capability and power of individuals provides a key to both development and freedom
  • Development must be relevant to lives, contexts, and aspirations
  • Development is about more than the alleviation of problems – stamping out anti social behaviour, teenage pregnancies, poor housing and so on.
  • It is about helping people to become effective architects in shaping their own lives
  • We need practices that value individual identity, avoid lumping people into “communities” they may not want to be part of, and promote a person’s freedom to make her own choices.  Promoting identification with ‘community’ risks segregation and violence between communities
  • Society must take a serious interest in the overall capabilities that someone has to lead the sort of life they want to lead, and organise itself to support the development and practice of those capabilities
  • We should primarily develop an emphasis on individuals as members of the human race rather than as members of ethnic groups, religions or other ‘communities’.  Humanity matters.
  • We need to make the delivery of public education, more equitable, more efficient and more accessible

Clearly Sen is not arguing that everyone should start their own business.  Entrepreneurship is on the agenda but not at the top of it.

He is arguing for enterprising individuals and challenging us to develop our society in a way that encourages and supports them.

Anyone for enterprise?

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