I have written before about the potential of representing enterprise (E) as a mathematical equation, and offered this as a starter for 10:
This week I had a wonderful conversation with Mike Love – who runs Leeds based Together for Peace to explore some of his reservations about my work on community based enterprise and to help me understand some of his perspectives on community as the building block rather than individuals. Mike is a deep thinker about philosophy, theology and social change and conversations with him are always a delight
We discussed the work of Adam Kahane – especially Power and Love – A Theory and Practice of Social Change . Kahane suggests that we need to learn to move forward in a rhythm in which power and love are exercised alternately.
This harks back to some ideas that Martin Luther King helped to articulate:
Power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, political and economic change…
There is nothing wrong with power if power is used correctly. You see, what happened is that some of our philosophers got off base. And one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites — polar opposites — so that love is identified with a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love….
Now, we’ve got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.
So in the equation I have described ‘self interest’ – the role of self properly negotiated amongst others – can be seen as the exercise of love. Love for self – and love for others.
So perhaps we could re-write the equation as
Enterprise = Power x Love
Love, in this case, for a better future for self and others – and power the ability to move towards it.
- Enterprise without love can become exploitation of people and planet.
- Love without power can be anemic and sentimental.
Good enterprise takes very seriously both concepts of love and power and seeks to use them in tandem to create a better world.
If we took this seriously our enterprise education programmes would focus on love at least as much as on power (the organisation of money and people to achieve purpose). And our programme sand schemes would look very different.
More thinking to be done I suspect….
Kevin Horne is the CEO of Norfolk and Waveney Enterprise Services (NWES) ‘one of the leading business support organisations’ in the UK. NWES is a members of the National Federation of Enterprise Agencies and Kevin has written a piece drawing attention to the NFEA’s Enterprise Manifesto.
Kevin goes on to describe the ‘Enterprise Escalator’ which provides a ‘comprehensive customer journey’, comprising:
- Outreach and awareness raising.
- Pre-start advice.
- Start-up training.
- One to one support.
- Access to finance.
On the surface, good sensible stuff. But it perpetuates a myth. The ‘escalator’ implies that, if start up is right for me, I just have to get on and I will effortlessly ascend to the next level. It is a false promise. It is the enterprise fairytale. Real world is less ‘escalator’ and more ‘snakes and ladders’. Less gentle trip to the shopping centre and more laying siege to the mountain. It is life making work.
And what if it is not right for me? Kevin rightly suggest that we need to signpost to other services – but will any of those really help? I have seen too many people with aspiration and potential be sent back to the job centre because the job of helping them find their enterprising feet will just take too long. It won’t fit with the neatly packaged funded services that look to provide a start up fast track.
Perhaps we should offer an enterprise sherpa service. Someone who has managed the ascent before – but who has also, on occasion, failed. Someone who recognises that this is a risky endeavour and needs to be carefully managed if it is not to cause damage. Someone who can recognise when the time is right to push for the summit and when the time is right to do more training and preparation at low levels.
If we are to engage people in communities then we have to engage them ‘where they are at’. Some will already have made it to base camp and are hungrily eyeing the peak. It might not quite be an escalator but we can certainly pass them the oxygen, clip them onto the fixed ropes and wish them luck.
But many remain in the valleys and seldom look to the cloud covered tops.
We have to personalise our services and we have to recognise that many are not yet close to being ready to start a business – now is not the time to launch an assault for the summit – but instead to weigh up the pros and cons of even considering a short trek.
Different people are at different places.
Some will be highly motivated but with few skills. Others will have skills (that they often don’t recognise) but little or no motivation. Some will have neither motivation nor skill. A precious few will have both.
The real ‘enterprise’ challenge is to engage those who have already decided that the ‘labour market’ is not for them and to encourage them to reconsider what they can do with their lives. It is about reconnecting them to their aspirations, helping them to find belief and confidence and finding ways in which they can unstick their lives and make progress. It is about helping them to see that their is an enterprise journey that might be right for them. Can we cost effectively extend our sherpa service to engage and inspire them? What are the costs of not doing so? This should be the realm of the enterprise coach.
It is often a protracted job that requires a long term, strong, supportive, challenging, trusting and non-judgemental relationship. It is not about the ‘Enterprise Fairytale’ and fast start ups. It is about the hard work of developing people and helping them to find ways to dare to move forward again.
I wonder if Enterprise Agencies have the skill and commitment to required to develop an enterprise based service that will really start where many people are at?
- How do we develop a workforce that is Fit for the Future?
- How do we tackle the problems of ‘worklessness’?
Important questions that we have sought solutions to for most of my working life.
Broadly speaking we have two possible approaches. We can set up a committee of the great and the good, employers, politicians, civil servants from Learning and Skills and Job Centre Plus and we can task them with collating evidence on labour markets, forecasting the future and identifying practical and affordable opportunities to intervene in the systems of education and worklessness that will make sure we develop the workforce that we need, when we need it. This centralised approach puts power and resources in the hands of an Employment and Skills Board and sets them an impossible task. It is the Soviet approach to planning tractor production. It didn’t work for them. And it hasn’t worked for us.
This approach results in a relatively small number of experiments (pilots) that are later rolled out. It relies on a committee to accurately ‘read’ the future – to spot opportunities for job creation and then to exert an influence on the ‘production system’ quickly enough to make a positive difference. This is usually done by setting targets, shifting resources and waiting to see how things unfold. Strategies are typically set for perhaps half a decade and ‘refreshed’ annually – single-handedly tackling the worklessness agenda by employing a small army of civil servant and academics to collect data and produce reports.
Such boards end up being an ‘interesting’ balance between the voice of the private sector and democratic accountability. In fact they usually become stylized ‘war zones’ from which the private sector often retreats beaten into submission by public sector and academic working practices. Certainly the voice of the small business sector is rarely effectively heard.
Board strategies usually find a few ‘keys’ (NVQs, Diplomas, accredited in-house training, apprenticeships) to a few kingdoms (construction, health and beauty, tourism, call centres, and anything prefixed with ‘creative’, ‘digital’, ‘bio’, ‘high tech’ or ‘high growth’). Aspirations and strengths of people are subordinated to the Board’s ideas about future skills needs and ‘opportunities’. Conformity is valued over originality. Learning ‘off piste’ becomes tricky.
Alternatively we could radically de-centralise and localise the process of thinking and planning about ‘fitness for the future’. Instead of relying on an Employer Skills Boards to ‘make things right’ we could lay down a challenge to people to develop the skills and passions that they need to secure an economically viable future for themselves, to find what, for them, is ‘good work‘. To find their own contribution. We could develop enterprising people supported in enterprising communities. This would need schools and colleges to focus on the learner and their vision for their future rather than on the curriculum or qualification structures.
Such a decentralised, enterprising approach might:
- enable many more informed brains to be brought to bear on the problem of fitness for the future – academics, industrialists and civil servants do not have a great track record in ‘workforce development’
- enable people to explore ways of doing what they can do best – and not sub-optimising to conform with the ‘few keys to the few kingdoms’ identified by ‘The Board’
- encourage the local community to support people in acquiring the skills, experience and work opportunities that they need to flourish economically and socially
- support people to find learning experiences that help them to become the person that they want to be – rather than to conform with the ideal established by a fallible and distant Board
- significantly increase the volume of learning experiments in the labour market and enable word of mouth to make sure that we develop a dynamic, flexible, responsive and self-reliant workforce
Perhaps these are not alternatives. Perhaps we need to develop both strategic and responsive approaches to employment, skills and worklessness in the 21st century.
One thing I am sure of… establishing yet another Employment and Skills Board (this time for the Leeds City Region) is unlikely to give us a major step forward.
Enterprise, community and complexity. Slippery words. So slippery that I wonder what can be meaningfully written about them. But I will have a go.
Having worked on these ideas for many years I hold my beliefs tentatively. But they offer the possibility of a very different direction for both promoting enterprise and building ‘harmonious and cohesive’ communities. And few would argue that we don’t need a fresh approach. That more of the same will get the job done.
It won’t. We need to innovate and experiment.
Lets start with ‘enterprise’. First, empty your mind of all those misconceptions that I must be talking about ‘business start’s, ‘cash flow forecasts’, ‘profits’ and ‘Dragons’.
I am not.
I am talking about enterprise as a measure of ‘agency’ in one’s own life. The extent to which an individual is able to recognise what ‘progress’ (another slippery word) means and to take action its pursuit. This is what I mean by enterprise. It is the product of clear self-interest (I know what I want) and power (I have the confidence, skills and knowledge to take organised action in its pursuit). An enterprising person is one who is clear on what they want from their life and actively pursues it. An enterprising community is one which has many such people – because they are valued and supported.
If self-interest is ‘enlightened’ then it is likely that the product of enterprise will be a positive contribution to society. If on the other hand self-interest is poorly understood then the product of enterprise may be damaging. Enterprise in itself is not an inherently good thing. If we are going to pursue this route then we need to have faith in the essential positive nature of human beings.
If we are serious about developing ‘enterprise’, rather than managing the outputs that most enterprise funders are looking for, we need to concern ourselves with the development of self-interest and the accrual of power. We are in the realms of person centred facilitation and education. Not business planning. This is an enormous shift both in what we do, and how we do it. Helping people to clarify their self-interest and find the power to pursue it requires very different structures and processes.
It is worth noting that if you have money, there is a fair chance that at some time you will have hired a coach to help you with the difficult and personal work of clarifying self-interest and gaining the power you need to pursue it. And if they were a good coach they would not have manipulated you towards their preferred outputs – but would let you work on your own personal agenda. If you have little or no money the chances of you ever having access to such a potentially transformational relationship are slim to none. The relationship that you have with various ‘helpers’ is likely to be one where they try to manipulate you ‘back to work’, towards a ‘healthy diet’ or some such policy goal of funded output.
Over the last few years I have spoken with many enterprise educators, bureaucrats and practitioners and they have all accepted that this conception of enterprise has merit. Not only will it help us to get more business start ups, but it will also help us to get large numbers of people acting in pursuit of their own wellbeing – however they define it. It will also help us to make significant and real progress towards PSA 21 – Building More Cohesive, Active and Empowered Communities.
Which brings us to the question of how does this conception of enterprise fit with ‘community’?
Community is a property that emerges when individuals and groups learn to negotiate their self-interest with the self-interests of others. Community is an emergent property. If this contention is right then it raises serious questions about approaches which attempt to provide short cuts to community (building community centres and one stop shops for example) without addressing the preconditions necessary in a complex adaptive system (such as society) for its emergence.
Community emerges when individuals learn how to associate and collaborate in pursuit of mutual self-interest. When they recognise that the best way to achieve their own self-interest is to help others to achieve theirs. When they understand the nature of reciprocity. Or to borrow the words a well known Business Networking group that ‘givers gain’.
A beautiful by product of this is a raised awareness of the importance of difference.
If I learn how to associate and collaborate with someone who has different skills and knowledge, or a different cultural heritage to my own I am likely to gain more opportunities than if I associate with people who are pretty much the same as me. Association across race, gender, age and so on provides the key to opportunity and provides a precondition that will allow harmonious communities to emerge.
With difference comes both opportunity and resilience.