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 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?
Colin Bell over at Winning Moves picks over this old chestnut in his latest post.
Should we throw our limited resources at businesses that we believe have high growth potential or should we just go for lots of start-ups knowing that a minority of them will experience high growth anyway?
Well Startupbritain.org certainly splits opinion, at least amongst the twitterati and the blogger community.
Start Up Britain: Some love it, some hate it and some are just indifferent. In 25 years of working on business support and enterprise in the UK and overseas I have never seen anything like it given such a ringing endorsement by Government.
Credit where credit is due.
They have shipped and made things happen. And what a launch! The Prime Minister, The Chancellor of The Exchequer and The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and President of the Board of Trade all turning out along with assorted Dragons and celebrity entrepreneurs to offer their support and endorsement.
All of them want to see a more enterprising Britain.
More businesses starting up.
More businesses surviving and more businesses growing.
Now we might have an interesting conversation about the balance between economic growth driven by an enterprise led recovery, national well-being, and an environmentally sustainable future, but that would need us to take a holistic perspective on enterprise policy in the UK. And I suspect, for the moment at least, this is all about wealth creation, employment, tax take and ‘a private sector led recovery’ rather than the wider role that enterprise can play in creating communities that people want to live in.
Startup Britain have shipped, and they have had feedback. The makeover has begun. Some of the typos have already been picked up and corrected. I am sure the broken links (HP offer for example) will be mended and the links to malware (Growing/Staying Inspired/a bit of motivation/Warren Buffet) sites removed. (Although more than 24 hours since I first blogged and tweeted there has been no acknowledgement of the problem and no resolution)
I also suspect that a bit of a site makeover might be in order to make it a little less political and move the discount vouchers and special offers to a more discrete position.
But I think the challenges go a little deeper and wonder whether they will be addressed.
Surely Anything is Better than Nothing?
I do not subscribe to the school that says ‘anything is better than nothing’ – especially when that ‘anything’ is launched by half the cabinet and a host of celebrity entrepreneurs. I work at the coal face of enterprise support in the UK, where regularly people lose their houses, marriages and occasionally their lives because the business that they were encouraged to start has left them in more debt.
And many more struggle on day after day living hand to mouth because they were encouraged to start a business that was at best marginal. I have talked with many an adviser who have told me about the pressure they come under to make loans to would be entrepreneurs against their better judgement, because they have start up and loan making targets to hit.
Enterprise really is a double edged sword. And if we choose to promote it in our communities then we must do so with care, competence and compassion. Entrepreneurship is not all about computing in the cloud, venture finance and making the first million. We love to promote the upsides of enterprise – but it also has a dark side.
A little more curation please…
If Start Up Britain wants to be a serious player in the long term they really do need to develop a professional approach towards site curation. At the moment there are too many links to the same few sites, many of which are businesses affiliated to Startup Britain’s founders and more vocal celebrity supporters with books and other products to shift. When offering advice and support, impartiality matters.
I would strongly recommend that they appoint a credible curator/editor and possibly an editorial board that can ensure impartiality and quality of what gets listed on Startup Britain’s web directory and then a good folksonomy system that will ensure that the most useful content gets clearly flagged by the people that use it. I used to argue that Business Link should have a folksonomy approach to rating both its own advisers and the third party service providers that they brokered out to – but this was seen as just too risky!
Sort Out an SEO Strategy…
At the time of writing if you Google ‘startup britain’ the main http://www.startupbritain.org site does not appear at least not on the first half a dozen pages, after which I gave up. Instead www.startupbritain.co.uk and www.start-up-britain.co.uk take pole position. Now that is enterprise. Perhaps time to use some of those free adwords that you are entitled to…
Oh, and it would be lovely to actually link to a specific piece on the site. But we can’t. Think of all those lovely referrals that you are missing out one.
Re-think Peer to Peer and DIY Support
The Start Up Britain ‘peer support strategy’ needs a bit of a rethink. It is great that the Supper Club and Prelude (both founded by Start Up Britain co-founder Duncan Cheatle) are offering free mentoring. (Free as long as you agree to provide 2 hours of free mentoring for every hour that you receive: it will be interesting to see the pathway through which mentee becomes mentor).
However we know that mentoring is not right for all, and a quick look at Prelude and The Supper Club suggests a certain emphasis on high growth strategies. If I want to become a self employed window cleaner will I still get the mentoring? Will I be invited to mentor others?
What about encouraging other forms of peer to peer support and an ethos of DIY?
What about helping entrepreneurs to become much more effective at managing their own learning rather than spoon feeding them courses and mentors?
What about helping entrepreneurs to figure out the type of support that they need and how they can best access it?
A truly British Campaign?
Start Up Britain needs to think a little more about developing a genuinely British presence. Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland? I am not sure yet that it really covers England. It needs to quickly move on from being Start Up London and the South East – remember that stuff about re-balancing the economy?
For example I spent a bit of time trying out Enternships.com (another Founding Partner of Start Up Britain) to see what enternships might be available in my home city of Leeds. Answer = 0. Bradford = 0. Yorkshire = 0. A search for enternships in Manchester did turn up 4, albeit 1 of them was actually in London. 2 were for telesales positions and one was to do social media for a recruitment agency.
A Little More Transparency Too…
Start Up Britain is variously referred to as ‘a not for profit company‘, ‘an independent collective of UK entrepreneurs and big business’ and a new campaign run by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs. It is described on the BIS website as ‘representing the private sector response’. This leaves me confused.
So there we go.
I have been positive.
I only hope that we see a response.
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.