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?
I tend to agree with JG Ballard when he said:
The trouble is the alternatives to pursuing public funding are so damned hard. They traditionally rely on someone liking your art enough (or believing it to be a decent investment proposition), to want to actually buy it at a price that does not lose the artist money and that values their time and skill reasonably.
But what if we set up a site where artists could pitch their projects at the ‘drawing board’ stage, including the budget necessary to create the work, and then donations were crowd sourced from the web?
It could look a bit like this from the US.
- Does such a platform exist here in the UK?
- Could it?
- Should it?
These are not words I am expecting to hear anytime soon – but who knows?
If David Cameron gets his way and he finds an army of entrepreneurs to go into local schools to promote the ‘joy’ of entrepreneurship and the job market continues to go west – it could well happen.
How would I respond?
Well, if they say they want to be an entrepreneur and ask for my help, then I will refuse it, and do all I can to persuade them away from the idea.
If they say they have to be an entrepreneur – because it is the only way they can do the work that they feel they have to do then I will roll up my sleeves and help with enthusiasm.
Why the distinction?
Because however you wrap it up, in spite of what people like Cameron say, entrepreneurship is hard. Especially if you do not have a large bank account to bale you out when things go wrong. I don’t think I have met a single entrepreneur in my work who would describe the experience as joyful. Dramatic, yes. Full of highs and lows, yes. Scary, yes. But joyful…not so much.
So why promote the lie? Why continue the enterprise fairytale?
It doesn’t even help to build an enterprise culture as with increased start-ups come increased failures and more bad experiences of entrepreneurship.
It couldn’t be to do with an obsession with outputs over social impact could it?
I will leave the last word to Noel Coward:
Some years ago when I was returning from the Far East on a very large ship, I was pursued around the decks every day by a very large lady. She showed me some photographs of her daughter – a repellant-looking girl and seemed convinced that she was destined for a great stage career. Finally, in sheer self-preservation, I locked myself in my cabin and wrote this song – “Don’t Put Your Daughter On The Stage, Mrs. Worthington”.)
Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs. Worthington
Don’t put your daughter on the stage
The profession is overcrowded
The struggle’s pretty tough
And admitting the fact she’s burning to act
That isn’t quite enough
She’s a nice girl and though her teeth are fairly good
She’s not the type I ever would be eager to engage
I repeat, Mrs. Worthington, sweet Mrs. Worthington
Don’t put your daughter on the stage
So Em amd Meg – unless it is something that you have to do, ignore Messrs Cameron, Brown (remember him – architect of much enterprise policy) and their army of enterprise evangelists and give entrepreneurship a miss – at least until you have some real knowhow under your belt.
On the other hand if this is the only way that yo can do good work, and you are prepared for the journey that lies ahead, then, and only then, let’s go for it…