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?
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.
If LEPs really focused on encouraging enterprise rather than economic growth how would things change?
If LEPs looked at how they create a culture where enterprise (the ability to act boldly in pursuit of progress) was the norm rather than the exception, a mass participation sport, something that was seen as cool and for everyone, not just those smart ‘entrepreneurial types in suits’ what sorts of things would they be doing?
How would our communities change?
What would happen to our economy?
Another government, another push for another 10 000 small businesses to be created from the ranks of the long term unemployed.
To me it seems similar to what we already have under the Flexible New Deal, unless I am missing something: it may be a tad better resourced. But, I am encouraged that Iain Duncan Smith appears to have a real commitment to social justice, at least, he chairs the cabinet committee on it. Let’s hope that his commitment to social justice rather than newspaper headlines really shapes this New Enterprise Allowance.
So what are the chances of success for the New Enterprise Allowance, and what might be the pitfalls?
To begin with, although I am a big fan of mentoring, I am not convinced that it is the best way to support people with transitions from unemployment to self employment. The best mentors (as opposed to coaches) have ‘been there, done that, seen the film and got the t-shirt’. They can offer sage advice and guidance based on practical experience (usually gained over many years in a specific and relevant industry, and importantly should be chosen by the mentee and not assigned to them by a service provider); Mentors should know what it takes and be available to put in the time and commitment necessary. Let’s also hope that they are properly trained, supported and supervised in the process of mentoring. And mentoring should not be a mandatory component but an option, we have to recognise that folks learn in different ways and for some the thought of being mentored just does not cut it.
So, if we must have a mentoring programme let us run it well. Lets take mentoring seriously. Let’s make sure that we have enough well trained mentors. Personally I doubt that we will. More likely we will find an army of middle managers looking to do some CSR, or rebadge existing enterprise advisers as New Enterprise Allowance Mentors. Plus ça change…probably
I think the enterprise coaching role is, in places where it has not been confused with enterprise evangelism, much more likely to be effective. Non directive, facilitated conversations that give people space to develop their options and make their own choices provides a sustainable route to more enterprising communities. Conversations that don’t use ‘benefits’ and ‘enterprise’ as carrots and sticks to manipulate people to meet government targets and trigger payments by ‘results’. Our industry is riddled with such practice. We need conversations that respect people and their right to choose.
I suspect that mentors will work with mentees primarily on ‘the business plan’. I doubt they will have the coaching skills to really work on developing the person rather than their idea.
Will a decision not to start up be valued and rewarded as highly as a decision to start? I hope so.
Will the New Enterprise Allowance engage ‘the community’ in supporting local people struggling to make the transition to self employment? No sign of community panels and networks to support the formal delivery structures. It is not so much a New Enterprise Allowance that we need in our communities as a New Enterprise Alliance….
Will the scheme be designed to encourage the formation of team based start-ups where complimentary skill sets and personalities ensure that all functions in the business are adequately covered? I doubt it. It will, if history is our guide, take the shortest, lowest cost, route from benefits to self-employment, not the route that is most likely to result in a sustainable business with the potential to grow. While we should be looking to maximise return on investment I suspect we will look to minimise investment. Cost per start-up will be the metric of choice. And the sooner we get the better.
The New Enterprise Allowance will be for long term unemployed who ‘want’ to start a business. Finding the people who really WANT to will be an enormous challenge. Personally I don’t think it is anywhere near enough for someone to want to start a business. It needs to be something that they HAVE to if they are to have a decent chance of success.
We have approaching 800 000 people who have been unemployed for more than 6 months. The New Enterprise Allowance hopes to help 10 000 of them to start a business this year, that is just over 4 in every 500.
- But which 4?
- What percentage of the 800 000 will wish to engage with the programme?
- How many will the delivery mechanism engage with at the start of the process?
- How many of those will make it through to trading?
- What positive outcomes will be delivered to those that engage with the programme but decide not to start a business?
This represents a challenge. To help find the few who really will do the groundwork required and learn what needs to be learned. It is a challenge both for marketing the scheme and effective psychological contracting between service provider and service user..
And the whole scheme reeks of yet more ‘fast enterprise’. A couple of mentoring sessions and three half days with a training company and you will be ready to roll. Well maybe. And maybe not. Where these sorts of schemes prevail they prioritise the most capable and even then have frightening business failure and loan default rates. Good business start ups plan and prepare carefully. They don’t rush it. There is little point in starting 10 000 new businesses in a year if the survival rates are not good. And please this time will someone show an interest in survival rates?
Then there is the cash element. In the transcript of his speech on Conservative Home, IDS is reported as saying:
We will provide business mentoring and a financial package worth up to £2000 to get your business up and running.
Now quite what is meant by ‘a financial package worth up to £2000′ remains to be seen. Cash grant? Loan? Benefits? But clearly in this transcript it is £2000 in addition to the mentoring provided.
But can anyone explain to me the why the magical figure of £2000? How about we teach them to access the finance that they need to give their business a well capitalised start? Whether that is £5 or £5m? If we are serious about teaching people how to run a small business let’s not cap ambition according to the size of our currently cash strapped treasury pockets.
So at first glance it looks to me like wrong pedagogy, wrong curriculum, wrong ‘financial’ package, wrong pace of change and a failure to embed enterprise culture in the community. Apart from that all systems are go. I can already hear the usual suspects sharpening their pencils in anticipation of the invitations to tender.
I hope it is me that is wrong….
What do you think?
- Large well organised bodies of professionals make a lot of money from it – architects, planners, developers – they spend fortunes on organised lobbying – just look at the sponsorship of most of the big regeneration conferences – nearly all ‘sheds and shedmen’. Look at MIPIM. They will not easily give up their market share.
- Politicians like ‘sheds and shedmen’ because they give them something to open and point at. ’Look at the lovely building we have delivered, see how it shines, my lovely….’
- Politicians also like ‘sheds and shedmen’ because they provide interventions that can fit within an electoral cycle…when you elected me this was a wasteland…now it has a ‘shed’. More person centred approaches to tackling often generational problems in the local economy are likely to take longer and may not provide the short term ‘electoral’ benefits that our democratic leaders require
- Much of the electorate fall for the seductive line of ‘attracting employers who will bring us jobs and a bright and shiny future’. We have failed to provide them with a different, more compelling and honest narrative. We have also failed to expose the nature of the ‘deals’ that are often required to attract such investment.