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.
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 ‘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.
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.
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.
“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.
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?