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?
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?
- 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.
“What we did establish is that the carrots offered were far less effective than the sticks employed.”
Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts – talking about the ‘limited effect’ of Pathways to Work pilots
Sticks and carrots have a long and noble tradition in the management of donkeys. However even with donkeys there are times when the ‘bribe and punish’ approach to change management fails:
- When the donkey is not hungry enough
- When the effort of reaching the carrot is too great (the burden is too heavy)
In these circumstances we may choose to resort to the stick. But this too will not work if:
- the pain of the stick is thought to be less than the pain of moving forward
- the donkey learns to like the stick and the attention that it brings
But I think the real issue here is not about the limitations of sticks and carrots in the management of donkeys and people.
It is about the complete and utter failure to understand the nature of human motivation. Motivation is that which energises, directs and sustains a person’s efforts. Sustains efforts. Sticks and carrots applied to move a donkey from one (expensive) field to another (less expensive field) do NOTHING to sustain efforts. In fact it is likely to achieve the opposite. The donkey returns to its passive state until more carrots and sticks appear on the scene. And the state wants more enterprising communities?
But the major problem is not treating people like donkeys, and further dulling their enterprising souls. It is that the state believes that this is the most effective, fair and just way of changing behaviour. That this is such a common default setting when trying to manipulate the behaviours and choices of its citizens.
And we wonder why ‘community engagement’ is so difficult. When you have beaten and bribed your donkeys into submission don’t expect them to engage with you, without the use of ever more sticks and carrots.
Perhaps instead of resorting to a coercive approach to change, we might try instead a coaching approach?
Helping people to recognise their long term self interest and how it may be pursued. Helping them to develop the power they need to make progress in their lives. Helping them to recognise that it is possible and that they don’t need to be pushed around by a bureaucratic system of sticks and carrots. That THEY have choices and agency in their own lives. Vegetable wielding bureaucrats do not have to be the architects of their future.
And what if someone decides that their long-term self interest is served by staying exactly where they are?
Well, we could just leave them alone and put our time, energy and investment into those that want to explore pastures new. Why should the squeaky wheel get all the grease?
Because perhaps people are more like sheep than donkeys. When they see some of the flock moving forward others are sure to follow.
Recently I have been reflecting with Imran Ali about the nature of innovation in the city (of Leeds in this case) and how it might be developed. The assumption being that more and better innovation will be an unalloyed good in a fast changing, dynamic, complex yet very finite environment.
Most of the discussion has focussed on some obvious innovation levers that we believe could yield some relatively quick and easy wins, such as:
- encouraging more innovation across traditional boundaries of department or role
- seeking applications of technology for social innovation
- thinking as idealists rather than realists – exploring the art of the possible not just the pragmatic
- providing ‘investment ready’ development programmes
- engaging non traditional sources of funding in the innovation process and so on.
But the implicit assumption all of these approaches to innovation is of an innovative elite. A creative class with the brains, the money (or access to it) and the networks to figure out how to make things significantly better for the rest of us. Scientists, technologists, financiers, policy makers, politicians, environmentalists, campaigners, entrepreneurs (social and not so social) and academics are all encouraged, incentivised and trained to ‘unleash’ their creativity and innovation.
But how many in the city form part of that elite? The hallowed few from whom progress is expected to emanate or who feel it is their duty to change the workings of the world. A few thousand perhaps in a city of 800 000. I suspect it is less than 1% of those living in the city.
I believe that innovation, creativity and change in pursuit of progress, are essential human qualities that will find means of expression. Regardless.
- How does the potential of ‘innovation’ play out for the rest?
- How do the processes of creativity and change in search of progress manifest for them?
Well, I suspect there is another slug of the population who are deeply engaged in creativity and change in relation to developing their practice, in the more or less explicit hope, that they may be able to join the elite. Training, learning, networking and thinking of ways to get their hands on the innovation levers. Would-be entrepreneurs, politicians, students, scientists and bureaucrats who are working their way upwards and onwards. Some, of course will join the elite. But most, by definition, will not. And they will join another group of potential innovators.
These are the ones who do not wish to change the world/city/community. Perhaps they have given up on the challenge. Perhaps they never engaged with it. But the essential creative drive remains and will be expressed. It may play out through personal lifestyle choices. Living the environmental life perhaps, gardening, reducing the golf handicap, pursuing cultural enlightenment, renovating houses/cars etc. Progress is defined in more or less personal terms. It is perhaps the pursuit of happiness rather social change. Work becomes a job rather than a way to make a mark on the world. Creative courage is reserved primarily for ‘out of hours’ activities.
And then there is another group who never really established a foothold in ‘the system’. Those for whom a steady salary providing some level of ‘disposable’ income was never really ‘on the cards’. Vocational and professional routes for creative expression never opened up for them. From this group I suspect the systems demands not innovation and creativity but just passive compliance. Do as your told, smarten up tour appearance, brush up your CV and look for a job. Or at least pretend you are looking for a job. But the drive to innovation will out. Creativity will be expressed.
So when we are looking to support innovation in the city where is the great untapped potential?
- Does it lie in providing more and better support and training to the elite?
- Or should we try to mobilise middle England, Big Society style, to rally tot he cause?
- Or should we perhaps change the terms of engagement with those at the margins of the system? To shift from a coercive approach to a coaching one?
Anyone for ‘Innovation Coaches’ in Leeds?