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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?

Towards the Enterprising Community


No-one can agree on a community.  Is it defined by political geography? Physical geography? Economic geography?  Interest, practice, culture?  So how do we use such an elusive, slippery yet, for some of us, attractive and powerful concept?

Well, personally I have given up worrying about how ‘communities’ are defined by outsiders (politicians, funders, missionaries of various kinds, what Paul Theroux calls the Dark Angels of Virtue).  The only thing that matters for me is the individual, or the usually small group sat in front of me, and their perception of their community, defined their way.  Any other attempt to work with the concept for me is just hot air.  We all define community personally and, very probably, uniquely.

But that does not make the concept useless.  Quite the opposite.

I spend a lot of time helping people to look at the relationships and contexts that they are a part of and the extent to which they help or hinder them to become the kind of person that they wish to become, accomplishing the things that they most wish to accomplish.  And I will spend time working with them on how they can get more of the support that they need from their ‘community’.  I spend a lot of time and energy building networks of people who just love to ‘help’.  Many of these networks are a blend of face to face and online – mediated through blogs and social networks as well as through a range of meetings, gatherings and parties.  And I try to connect individuals from one network into individuals from another, so that help can start to flow across and between different groups.

So first we have to find self interest.  That which really matters personally.  That which shapes who we are.  That on which our identity is based and through which it can be constructively shaped.

Then we have to find common cause and build networks and relationships where we can successfully negotiate our self interest.  We then forge connections between these networks to build a diverse, resourceful ‘community’ of individuals who are helping and being helped as part of their daily practice.  Surely this puts us firmly on the trail of the enterprising community?

And for great things to happen people have to learn to help each other.   The stereotype of the selfish backstabbing ‘Apprentice’ does not thrive in an enterprising community – though they may do well in The City.  Successful citizens in the enterprising community learn to associate, collaborate, cooperate and mutualise.  To find those with whom there is a common cause.  And they understand that giving hep to others is as important as getting help themselves.  The have theGo-Giver mindset and they express it through their actions.  They live it.

So, as those who attended Enterprising Community: Big Conversation explored, enterprising community is not a place or a neighbourhood but a philosophy, that can be summed up as ‘Concentrate on yourself and helping your neighbour’.

And where does entrepreneurship fit into this practice?  How does this help the start up rate?  Well the more powerful and enterprising individuals we have, embedded in enterprising communities the more great start-ups we will have, borne into a context where they may well enjoy the support of a wide web of community.  We are truly building a community where enterprise and entrepreneurship may thrive.

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

So You Wannabe…An Entrepreneur?

May 11, 2010 1 comment

Timothy Spall last night told a story recounted to him by that great British legend of the stage and small screen Richard Briers.

Briers’ daughter had said something like, ‘Dad, I have made up my mind.  I want to be an actress.’

Briers replied ‘Want?  Want?  Want is not enough!  To succeed you must HAVE to become an actress.  If you have to become an actress then I will roll up my sleeves and help. If you just want to be an actress then forget it.’

The story made me smile as I use almost the identical line when I am working with people who tell me they want to start a business, or they want to become an entrepreneur.  I often ask ‘Is this something that you HAVE to do?  Are there no other alternatives that you could pursue?  Is there NOTHING more important than this in your foreseeable future?

In fact I will often go further, telling them all I can about the life of the entrepreneur.  How it can take you away from family and friends, lead you into debt, consume your life and damage your health.  Of course we explore the upsides as well but those downsides are the things that will derail the process if not considered, if the desire is not sufficient.

And then I will move the focus away from ‘becoming an entrepreneur’ which is such a vague concept as to be practically meaningless and will focus on what it will be like when they have their business up and running.  What it is like to be sole trading as a furniture upholsterer, or a plasterer.  What the transition will be like going from being a professor in the Biochemistry Department to being a part owner of a biosciences company working with venture capitalists to commercialise their intellectual property.  Because being an entrepreneur is all about managing transitions.  Starting with one lifestyle and ending up with another which is very different – and hopefully better.

Enterprise really IS about the emergence of identity.  About shaping lives.

The Leash Fetish

February 26, 2010 3 comments

  • Unleashing talent
  • Unleashing creativity
  • Unleashing potential
  • Unleashing enterprise
  • Unleashing entrepreneurship

Aspirations that I see every day of my working life.  Whether it is a conference, a policy objective or a training course – there is always something to be ‘unleashed’.

What I want to know is where is the leash meister?  The evil one who holds us back?

Instead of working out how to remove the leash perhaps we could avoid putting it on in the first place?

Systems of parenting, education and employment are designed to establish control, compliance, conformity and predictability.

Perhaps there are some systemic changes that we might make so that the challenge of unleashing is consigned to the history books?

But the real challenge is to recognise that with the transition to adulthood the leash IS off.  We are free to choose and to act.  But like a dog that has been chained up for too long – when unleashed many of us have little desire to go beyond our former boundaries.

We ‘know’ our place and we stick to it.

The role of the enterprise educator is not to teach about business.  Nor is it to parade in front of students waving tenners inciting them to grab it!  Nor to put on yet another inspirational conference with a secret millionaire, dragon, apprentice or teenage entrepreneurial prodigy.

It is to help us to recognise that the leash has been slipped.  And we can begin the journey of becoming the person that we want.  And to show us how we can help ourselves and our peers to explore what we might be able to achieve through association, collaboration, perseverance, learning and skill.

This is the role of the enterprise educator.

Enterprise Strategy at its Worst?

February 11, 2010 Leave a comment

  • Will your ‘dream business’ REALLY be your dream business?
  • IF you start to make money – will it REALLY make you happy?
  • Is starting a business in YOUR self interest or in that of a bureaucrat/government department?
  • Will managing your business REALLY improve your wellbeing and happiness?

My notes on Doug Richard’s Entrepreneurship Manifesto

January 19, 2010 1 comment

While reading the manifesto I made some pretty comprehensive notes and numbered them for ease of reference.  No analysis yet – just my notes…pieces that especially provoke or intrigue me I have highlighted in blue…

Doug Richards Entrepreneurs Manifesto

1 Public declarations aimed at supporting UKs 4.4m entrepreneurs

2 Manifesto

2.1 A statement of principles highlighting challenges to overcome to release entrepreneurship

2.2 Spectre of capitalism

2.2.1 Greedy bankers

2.2.2 Amoral corporations

  • Pitting tax regimes against each other
  • Failure of a global commons means they can escape costs of infrastructure and society that supports them

2.2.3 Bloated State incapable of controlling capitalism

  • failing to deal with poverty, worklessness etc
  • Outgrowing the economy
  • We are demonstrably poorer – the system does not work

2.2.4 States competing to be servants of capitalism

2.2.5 The environment has no voice/the consumer no collective

2.3 Unleashing the Wealth Creators

2.3.1 Wealth of the nation rests on entrepreneurial activity

2.3.2 The state as a servant of society

2.3.3 Must harness the power of the entrepreneur to improve services

2.3.4 Size of the state is not the enemy

2.3.5 State run services immune from creative destruction

2.3.6 Fairness of the least…only the State can ensure fairness in health, education etc – no-one can have more than the least.

We cannot improve until we can improve everyone – and therefore we improve no-one

2.3.7 State’s role is to create playing fields on which entrepreneurs can be released to deliver service

2.3.8 Harness collective creative self interest of our entrepreneurial output for the benefit of meeting our social objectives

We will see a flowering of ideas, a manifold unfolding of new approaches and a gale of creative destruction

3 Declaration of Rights

3.1 Practical recommendations to clear the path for an explosion in entrepreneurship

3.1.1 Entrepreneurial culture as the only force that exists for growth, prosperity, fairness and social justice

3.1.2 Not about privilege; few getting rich at expense of poor;

3.1.3 About creating ladders of social mobility

3.1.4 Increasing wealth so we can afford services, health education etc

3.1.5 To harness entrepreneurship first we must understand it

  • Risk and reward

3.1.6 Must increase economic freedoms for all businesses taking business risks

3.1.7 Cut the time it takes to start a new business

3.1.8 Streamline regulations, exempt small business where possible

3.1.9 Get government out of Business Support – just focus on regulation

3.1.10 Free up family savings for investment in nascent business with credits and exemptions

3.1.11 Stop paying people to be unemployed – share costs of ‘teaching them to be employed’

3.1.12 Employers have no means to underwrite the costs of turning students into productive employees

3.1.13 Govt is largest consumer – must change procurement patterns

  • Must drive revenue to entrepreneurs
  • Open doors to innovation

3.1.14 Use new legal frameworks to broaden scope for social entrepreneurs – encouraging for profit co-owned businesses and for profits that deliver social benefits

3.1.15 Understand that we do not understand

3.1.16 Must empower people to step out on their own, take risk, hope for reward and move on from failure.

3.1.17 The corrosive impact of an over protective state is not merely the loss of our sense of responsibility to a civil society; it is the even more profound loss of our sense of capacity to change society, to have an impact, to be an entrepreneur.

3.1.18 Entrepreneurship can be taught and must be learned

Enterprise Development Needs a Very Different Response

January 14, 2010 2 comments

If we are serious about developing more enterprising individuals and communities, rather than managing the outputs that most enterprise funders are looking for (start ups and VAT registrations), we need to concern ourselves with the development of self-interest and the accrual of power through organisation, association, collaboration and the acquisition of ‘knowhow’.   We are in the realms of person centred facilitation, community development and education.  Not business planning.  This requires an enormous shift both in what we do, and how we do it.

Helping people to clarify their self-interest and find the power to pursue it requires very different structures and processes to those that we currently use to develop enterprise. It is not about setting up a business.  It is not about experiencing ‘Industry Days’ at school or attending ‘Enterprise’ Conferences with (not so) secret millionaires, dragons and ministers.  It is not about Catalyst Centres and managed workspaces (although these might be useful for the small percentage of people who choose entrepreneurship as the most appropriate way to express their enterprising souls).

It is about engaging in a dynamic and continuous reflection on who we are and what we want to become, and managing processes that will help us move in that direction in a complex and rapidly changing world.

The Davies Review defined enterprise as  the capacity to:

  1. handle uncertainty and respond positively to change – Resilience
  2. create and implement new ideas and ways of doing things – Creativity and change
  3. make reasonable risk/reward assessments and act upon them in one’s personal and working life – The Pursuit of Progress

No mention of employment, entrepreneurship or business. Instead it is about resilience, change making and progress.  Enterprise development needs to find a new home where this broader conception can flourish without the distorting, primarily economic calculus of entrepreneurs and The Treasury.  They will have much to offer to the development of entrepreneurship – but that is only ever likely to be relevant to a minority.  Enterprise needs to escape, what for many is, the deadening hand of business.

The art and science of enterprise is relevant to all and we need to build communities and relationships that understand how to nurture it.

One of my big regrets is that so little LEGI funding has been used to drive this sort of innovation.  Instead it has been used, often wastefully, in the short term pursuit of business startups and in placing cuckoos in the heart of some of our poorest communities.

Anyone up for some innovation in Local Enterprise?

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