Posts Tagged ‘barriers to enterprise’

‘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 –
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.

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.

The Future of Enterprise

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.

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 – Driving Enterprise Led Recovery?

March 28, 2011 7 comments

Another day; another website driving the ‘enterprise led recovery’.

Today sees the launch of Start Up Britain.  Described on the BIS website as ‘an independent collective of UK entrepreneurs and big businesses, representing the private sector response to the Government’s ambition for an enterprise-led recovery.  Over 60 leading global brands have pledged millions of pounds in support to new entrepreneurs’.

Now, 60 global brands offering discounts does not in my mind translate into millions of pounds worth of support. It smacks of introductory discounts designed to develop the start up market.

On its own site Start Up Britain says we are:

a new campaign by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs, launched on 28th March 2011. Designed to celebrate, inspire and accelerate enterprise in the UK, it has the full backing of the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and HM Government.

This is a response from the private sector to the Government’s call for an ‘enterprise-led’ recovery. We believe that many of the important functions and services necessary to foster and champion new enterprise can be open-sourced, instead of provided by government directly. We aim to do this by creating a living market-place online for the wide range of enterprise support that is already available.

As a private sector organisation we aim to shoulder some of this responsibility for enterprise promotion with the government, re-modelling existing cost centres, and reducing the cost to the taxpayer.

So Start Up Britain is  a campaign.  But what kind of campaign?  A campaign to change policy? Or an advertising campaign?  Details on what is being campaigned for, and who the campaign is targeting are a little sketchy.

The line about ‘many of the important functions and services necessary to foster and champion new enterprise can be open-sourced, instead of provided by government directly’  leaves me perplexed.  What is meant in this context by ‘open sourced’?  What are the ‘important functions and services’?  I think they are saying leave business support up to private sector, because they can turn a few bob on it.  Not sure how this will pan out for the poorest in our communities but hey – this is an enterprise led recovery we are starting here.  We will have to rely on trickle down and philanthropy to sort out the poor.  Seems a bit like the privatisation of healthcare – where the profitable bits are taken on by the private sector leaving the expensive stuff – like enterprise in areas of deprivation to be managed by the state.

Now I love the idea of a living marketplace for enterprise support.  A place where buyers and vendors can meet, talk and exchange.  A place where customers can soon see who is the real deal and who is selling tat.  But I am not sure that a series of links to ‘some of our favourite sites’ really constitutes a living marketplace.  More of a sales and referral network really.  Many of which seem to end up in the US.

Follow ‘Tip 4 – Get a Logo’ and you end up on a San Francisco based platform that will crowd source you a logo designer on the cheap.  That is really going to help UK based graphics companies.  Thanks.  But the problem is even more acute than that –  ‘Tip 4 – Get a Logo’.  I must have assessed over 200 business advisers in my time and I have NEVER heard any of them give such a crass piece of advice as ‘get a logo’.

And it seems to me that just about every private sector sponsor/supporter of Start Up Britain gets a link to sell their book, their training course, their start up packs.  Vested self interest anyone?

If you follow the links to ‘Schools to learn about entrepreneurship’ you find there are just two.  One from Peter Jones the other from Doug Richards…

I especially liked the section that says ‘Knowing your market’. It offers links to a range of online survey platforms.  Is the implication really that an online survey is all you need to know your market?  Surely a link to some more generic advice on the importance of market research and its limitation might be more helpful?

The section on ‘Getting Funding’ does not even mention families and friends as a potential source!

If you follow the Warren Buffet link to ‘get some motivation’ then you get a malware warning.

And if you follow the link to Capital Enterprise at the time of writing you will find that it is broken.

At best what we have here is a bit of flaky directory, with no way for us to rate our experience of the providers.

And Cameron, Cable and Osbourne turn out to launch this curate’s egg?

The twitterstream for #startupbritain is telling.  Part spam, part gushing praise and hardly any objective comment at all.

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.


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.

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?

Innovation and Enterprise….

August 16, 2010 Leave a comment

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?


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 53 other followers