Now here IS an enterprise ambassador!
Julia contrasts the motivations of the bankers – ‘primarily financial‘ with the interests of Narayana Murthy, Chair of Indian IT giants Infosys – primarily about a ‘wider social gain‘.
Julia suggests that ‘Bankers’ are primarily motivated by self interest, while Murthy was motivated by a wider social need that ‘transcended’ personal gain.
“Many people wondered why I wanted to take such a risk, to create, at that time in India, a company that would set a new standard of ethics in business. I had a good job, I was married, I had a small child, and I was brought up middle class. It was no easy decision. But all of us are driven by factors that transcend the hygiene factors: money and position. We all want to do something noble and make a difference to the context.”
Julia argues that this view of enterprise is “glorious and grand and is delivered the world over by people motivated not only by personal gain but also by the needs of their communities and countries. It is enterprise at its best—enterprise decoupled from self-interest.”
But Murthy was acting EXACTLY in his own self interest. He was driven by factors that ‘transcended the hygiene factors’. He was driven to do something ‘noble’. He believes that everyone else is as well. Presumably even bankers?
In my book, both enterprise and entrepreneurship are all about ‘self interest’ and ‘power’. About taking decisions and actions that work for a self interest that has been properly understood and negotiated. Not simply in terms of profit, but in terms of sustainability, and wider societal impact. Some bankers seem to have managed this ‘proper negotiation of self interest’ more effectively than others. As indeed have some IT companies.
Perhaps Julia is arguing that good enterprise is ‘selfless’ rather than ‘selfish’?
I would argue that both of these are equally dangerous foundations on which to build an enterprise. The middle ground of self interest, where my hopes and aspirations (to get rich, to save the whale, to reverse climate change, to do something noble) are properly and sustainably negotiated with the interests of others provides the only strong foundation for a sustainable, progressive and effective relationship.
I cannot be always giving (selfless) nor can I be always taking (selfish).
The point is not that we should decouple enterprise from self interest – but that we should work with people to ensure that their self interest is both rightly understood and properly negotiated with both the present and the future. That personal perceptions of self interest remain dynamic and relevant (witness Bill Gates journey from techy to philanthropist – all the time pursuing his self interest).
Instead of urging people to put self interest to one side we should be urging them to put it ‘up front and centre stage’. We should then help them to explore how their self interest ‘works’ with the self interests of others. To understand how self interest is served by helping others. How association, co-operation and mutuality work in pursuit of individual and collective self interests.
Because it is the mutual negotiation of self interests, and access to the power to pursue interests effectively, that provide the basic building blocks of civic society.
I am no fan of entrepreneurship based reality TV – however I do make an exception for Gerry Robinson’s Big Decision. The basic premise of the programme is as nauseating as most – Sir Gerry Robinson, one of Britain’s most respected businessmen, comes to the rescue of several companies across the UK, armed with his personal cheque book. The ‘white knight’ rides in carrying all before him with his expertise and cash.
But the reality of the programme is somewhat different. On occasion Gerry refuses to open his cheque book because he recognises that an injection of cash will actually prevent the management team from doing what has to be done. And he seldom ‘diagnoses and prescribes’, preferring instead to use good questions to get the various members of the management team to face up to what they know has to be done – but have previously repressed.
It is also clear that any help that Gerry is able to offer is based on a real human connection. There are tears, anger, fear and real affection and caring as well. And in my experience these emotions are always present whenever help is ‘non-trivial’. Yet most business advisers tend to professionalise their relationships with clients. They objectify both the company and the management team – viewing it as a black box to be fixed – rather than a very human system of passions and self interest in which they too need to participate.
Carl Rogers in On Becoming a Person had this to say:
It has gradually been driven home to me that I cannot be of help …by any means of any intellectual or training procedure. No approach which relies upon knowledge, upon training, upon the acceptance of something that is taught, is of any use. These approaches are so tempting and direct that I have, in the past, tried a great many of them. It is possible to explain a person to himself, to prescribe steps that should lead him forward, to train him in knowledge about a more satisfying mode of life. But such methods are, in my experience, futile and inconsequential. The most they can accomplish is some temporary change, which soon disappears, leaving the individual more than ever convinced of their inadequacy.
The failure of any such approach through the intellect has forced me to recognise that change appears to come about through experience in a relationship.
If I can provide a certain type of relationship, the other person will discover within himself the capacity to use that relationship for growth, and change and personal development will occur.
Carl Rogers – On Becoming a Person
Although Rogers background was in psychotherapy his practical interests were in all kinds of helping relationship. I don’t know if Gerry has ever read any Carl Rogers, or is a student of person centred helping relationships, but I am certain that he understands that it is his relationship with the people behind the company that matters most to his ability to help – not his expertise and cheque book.
It is his ability to build the relationship through openness, empathy, rapport and congruence that makes Gerry perhaps Britain’s most powerful company helper.
- To what extent does your practice rely ‘upon knowledge, upon training, upon the acceptance of something that is taught’?
- How could you make your practice more ‘relationship based’?
- What risks might such progress entail?
- What benefits might accrue?
Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I think this offers us some powerful, but largely ignored, clues as to how we should design our enterprise development services. We need to offer a service that helps people to seek, find and, crucially, act on their inspiration.
Their inspiration – not our policy goals.
Their inspiration – not ‘our’ desire to get ‘them’ off benefits or back into work.
Their inspiration – not our idea of ‘opportunities’ designed to meet employer demands.
Because the reality is that MOST enterprise development services are not designed to inspire. They are designed to teach people how to commoditise themselves. How to ‘fit in’ with the needs of the economy.
Take a good, honest look at your services. Are they really designed to develop the users agenda – or to channel them into ours?
Perhaps this is why we are continually engaging ‘inspirational’ speakers in the false hope that we can somehow put back into our service a missing essence. An essence that will always be missing until we change the assumptions around which our enteprise services are built.
The cornerstone of a service based on the hunger for inspiration would be a relationship in which users can be open and honest about their hopes and aspirations. A relationship, not a workshop, or a series of workshops or advice. A relationship.
A relationship that recognises that development takes time. That it will feature highs and lows, lapses and relapses.
Because it is only in a relationship, characterised by compassion, competence, respect, belief, optimism, commitment and skill that people will be open and honest about their hopes and dreams and start to get in touch with what inspires them. It is only in such a supportive relationship that people will really dare to dream and act. It is I believe only through a relationship that people can really find inspiration and the resources for transformation.
- So how would we market such a service?
- Where would we find clients?
- How would we pay for it?
- Who would manage it?
- What might we expect from it in terms of outputs and value for money?
But the big question that always gets asked here is about affordability. A genuinely personalised service. Delivered primarily through 121 conversations – isn’t that ridiculously expensive? Well no its not. The numbers stack up well in comparison to competing services.
The real challenge here is changing the mindset of service suppliers and commissioners. Helping them to recognise that our communities are not full of the feckless and ignorant who need to be fixed.
They are full of people seeking inspiration and the power to act effectively on it.
Full of people who would love to become the kind of person that they know they could be.
As soon as we start designing our services around these assumptions we might get some much more positive results.
When I did my teacher training back in 1986 I remember having my world rocked by a book called ‘Teaching as a Subversive Activity’ by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner. They make reference to a piece by Carl Rogers in ‘On Becoming a Person’.
- My experience has been that I cannot teach another person how to teach.
- It seems to me that anything that can be taught to another is relatively inconsequential, and has little or no significant impact on behavior.
- I realize increasingly that I am only interested in learnings which significantly influence behavior
- I have come to feel that the only learning which significantly influences behavior is self-discovered, self appropriated learning.
- Such self-discovered, truth that has been personally appropriated and assimilated in experience, cannot be directly communicated to another.
- As a consequence I have realised that I have lost interest in being a teacher
Rogers goes on to state that the outcomes of trying to teach are either unimportant or hurtful and that he is only interested in being a learner. Some of our students react to this statement snidely, claiming that Rogers feels this way because he is a bad teacher. Honest, but bad. Others seem deeply disturbed by it and seek clarification on what Rogers means by ‘significant learning’. We then produce Roger’s definition of the term, which is stated in the form of specific behaviours. They include:
The person comes to see himself differently.
He accepts himself and his feelings more fully.
He becomes more self-confident and self directing.
He becomes more the person he would like to be.
He becomes more flexible, less rigid in his perceptions.
He adopts more realistic goals for himself.
He behaves in a more mature fashion.
He becomes more open to the evidence, both of what is going on outside of himself and what is going on inside of himself.”
Powerful stuff. What Rogers seems to be saying is that what we can teach, in the traditional sense is more or less trivial. However what the student can learn from the process is potentially transformational.
I think Rogers was onto something here, something that is particularlypowerful for those of us charges with ‘teaching enterprise’. If we really want to develop more enterprising students then perhaps we should focus less on classes about marketing, branding, cash flow and taxation and more on providing and reviewing experiences that are designed to develop ‘Significant Learning’.
Because Rogers’ definition of ’Significant Learning’ looks a lot like ‘more enterprising’ to me.
This is a question I was asked recently by someone in local government. ‘How come some people travel two thousand miles in search of a job, while others won’t even get on a bus?’
It is a question that deserves consideration – and I believe that the answer lies in both hope and fear.
With hope, travel (both geographical and psychological) is a necessity. Where there is hope we are driven to pursue it. Without hope then even the smallest step towards self improvement might not be taken. The person that travels two thousand miles does so in hope. The hope that they will find their share of the wealth and that they will be able to alleviate conditions at home by sending some of this wealth back.
The person that won’t get on the bus is in the true sense of the word hopeless in this area of their lives. What IS the point of another trip to the job centre or the college that will just end up in yet another failure? It is hard to believe that the institutions that are there to help can be of any help at all. It is an example of what the psychologists call Learned Helplessness.
The second part of the equation is fear. How will my life unfold if I don’t take personal responsibility for changing things? Almost certainly the person prepared to travel thousands of miles is doing so to escape literally fearful conditions at home. Maybe war or violent crime. Maybe the type of crushing poverty that leaves you without decent housing and with no hope for improvement at home. Escape is perceived as an urgent priority, literally life and death.
But what about the person that won’t get on the bus? How will their life unfold as a consequence? Well they will remain just like a significant proportion of their peers – which they will find comforting. As a group they can collectively blame others for their condition. They can claim benefits and perhaps do a bit of work on the side. And there is certainly ‘excitement’ to be had – everything from Jeremy Kyle through Diamond White to adrenaline pumping crime. In the short term life is not so bad. The longer term consequences maybe less than optimal – but people can always defer worrying about the future. As the Office of Science and Technology puts it “Evidence shows that people may be biased towards seeking short-term rewards at the expense of greater long-term benefits.”
So the need is to offer real hope and a realistic assessment of the long term consequences of not getting on the bus. It is to help people start to explore their ‘enterprising soul’. And this is not about a half day ‘business start-up’ workshop.
The tragically ironic thing about the people that travel two thousand miles? For many, within a few months of arriving, a forced engagement with depressing ESOL classes and tussles with bureaucracy soon lead to the same sense of learned helplessness that means they too will no longer get on a bus.
You see, the problem is that motivation always works – perfectly.
It is ‘the system’ that let us down.
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