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?
Nice move by Lord Sugar to choose Tom Pellereau as his business partner. Seriously nice move because Tom’s skills complement those of the Lord Sugar rather than replicate them.
So many people go into business with people who share similar skills, values and attitudes leading to a very lop-sided business indeed. Perhaps half a dozen people who understand the product or service, but NONE who really love marketing, sales, financial management, compliance or governance.
And I don’t think that Lord Sugar is a product man. At least not any more. He is now a ‘sales and marketing man’ a distribution expert. Someone who can get products into the hands of the masses.
I just hope that poor old Tom is given the chance to develop products that not only make him wealthy, but also make him proud and enhance the lives of the people who buy them.
This would indeed be progress.
I visited a really great community centre recently. Busy, friendly, homespun, clearly doing great work in and with the community. We were using several rooms, one of which was called the ‘Enterprise Hub’. It was spotlessly clean, airy, spacious and well furnished, just like every other room in the building. But for the life of me I could not work out what made it an ‘Enterprise Hub’. It was not set up for hot desking, there were no PCs, no mail boxes, none of the usual paraphernalia…
So I asked the centre manager about the Enterprise Hub. The answer surprised me – but it shouldn’t have done. They were looking for cash to modernise and re-decorate the room and in conversation with the local authority it become clear that the only budget with cash available was in ‘Enterprise’.
‘They said if we called it an Enterprise Hub we could have the cash.’
I love the way this demonstrates the inherent enterprise of the community centre management team in tracking down the cash that they need to ‘get the job done’. I am less impressed by what it says about some investments in ‘enterprise’. I can just imagine the report to the councillors about the new enterprise hub…
I remember a colleague saying to me at the launch of a major enterprise initiative,
‘The problem is that many of the people in this room don’t really understand enterprise. They don’t live it and breathe it. If the Government was announcing a major initiative to invest in duck farming, because an economist had said THAT is the future of the UK economy, many of these same people would be in the room, nodding sagely, and would run home to invent new policies to encourage duck farming’.
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?