A Fresh Look at Enterprise

That is the title of a workshop I am running tomorrow for the Young People’s Enterprise Forum at a conference to look at Embedding Enterprise in Further Education.

A fresh look at enterprise….Not an easy challenge when you have been looking at it for decades!  How do we engage the history department and the art team?

So how about if we look at Enterprise as a mathematical expression.  How would you express it?

I think this has a lot to offer:

E = P x SI

Enterprise is the product of Power multiplied by Self Interest.

Power is the capacity to make things happen to get things done.  It is about the ability to organise people, money and other resources to make things happen.

Self Interest is the extent to which we know what it is that we want to achieve.  It is about vision, ambition, goals, vocation, purpose, dreams, aspirations and hopes.  But self interest is not selfish.  Self interest is mediated through a set of relationships with others.  With supporters, colleagues, investors and activists (who might have an interest in whether we are helping or harming).  Self interest (rightly understood) is the driving force for making progress, for realising potential, for negotiating an interesting and worthwhile life.  Increasingly self interest and therefore enteprise is associated with interest in global issues such as climate change, social justice and wellbeing as much as it is about financial wealth.

If this expression has any merit then to embed enterprise in FE – or anywhere else –  we need to understand it as an act of embedding the development of power and self interest – rightly understood.

Enterprise becomes a genuine developmental process.  It is about equipping people with the knowledge, skills, wisdom and experience to develop their power (capacity to act; to get things done) and really develop an understanding of what lies in their own self interest.  It comes straight from the schools of Alinsky and Freire as much as it does from the beliefs of Branson, Sugar et al.

Under this formulation the relevance of enterprise to:

  • History and politics (think of  Hitler, Gandhi and Mandela as studies in power and self interest as examples of enterprise in action),
  • English and the arts (think communication, imagination, visioning), and
  • Vocational education becomes very clear.

Doesn’t it?

It allows enterprise to be applied to much more than entrepreneurship.  It becomes a discipline for living an interesting and worthwhile life.

And isn’t that what education is meant to prepare us for?

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  1. Hi Mike

    I don’t disagree that opportunity is emergent and linked to SI/P – without going crazy on ontology I wonder if it’s the idea of SI that bugs me – I think self awareness SA would be a better term to describe what you mean. Or, perhaps though I am just trying to complicate a beautifully simple equation!

    For me enterprise is about a continuum between two very hard to define points; one is survival and the other I think is entrepreneurial, everyone’s view of enterprise fits between these two positions. The difficulty is expressing such a wide range in a simple way.

    In my work one of the key things I teach young people is about being “Opportunity Aware” as a mental state key for their future. It’s an idea of mine developed out of the Academic work on entrepreneurialism over the last 100 years and contextualised to my work. I base the idea on being open to what life throws at you and having the mindset to take opportunities by not asking: what’s stopping me? But by thinking how can I do this?

    It’s a mindset my work has shown me is common to entrepreneurs and passionate specialists the world over and has shown great results inspiring young people and challenging them to think in different ways about problems.

    See personally I would have:

    E = (NxI) x SA

    *I’m just being a tad deliberately facetious here

    Where N = Social Network, I = Influence therin and SA = self awareness – but that leads me to question how you would represent the quality of the social network – which is where your idea of P = Power is much tidier concept.

    Hope my morning rambling helps (still not had a coffee yet)


    • Power is simply a measure of your ability to organise people and money to help realise your self interest. Clearly social networks then are a very ‘power’ful tool.

      I think a lot of us trip up over self interest. Isn’t that what drives the venal and corrupt? But self interest rightly understood is about what I want to ‘have’, ‘do’ and ‘be’ in the world. NB much entrepreneurship work only focuses on the ‘have’ – how do I go from bus pass to Ferrari? My self interest, properly negotiated amongst the interests of others (key entrepreneurial skill), is the driving force for progress. It is clarity over my self interest that helps me to be ‘opportunity aware’ and able to evaluate opportnities more fully when I see them. It also introduces a real politik of doing things that may not be in my best interest in the short term in order to establish a longer term gain.

      I suspect my self interest and your self awareness are pretty close in actuality. I just love the shock value that it has when I help people to talk openly and proudly about their self interest….9 times out of 10 their self interest lies in the betterment of or service to others…out of which might just stem a business….

      So, if N x I = P and

      SA = SI

      then E= P x SI!

      Quo vardis, status quo, qed!

  2. That’s use of Latin has just made my afternoon, I would be very interested when we meet to discuss a couple of topics relating to new entrepreneurial futures: the profit motive vs. social motives

    Have you read? :

    Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us (Hardcover)
    By Seth Godin (Author)

    The Go-Giver: A Little Story about a Powerful Business Idea
    By Bob Burg and John David Mann

    If so I recommend them as interesting reading, following the idea of a kind of social entrepreneurship vs. social enterprise, I am starting to wonder if some social enterprises aren’t all that social…?

    • Tribes – yes.

      Go-givers – no!

      I have a pal who is doing a doctorate in motivations for small firms especially regarding their environmental decisions – some fascinating but research but query practical relevance at the moment. Very much looking forward to meeting. NB spurious use of latin is another powerful tool..

  3. Hi Mike interesting idea but I think you need to express something about opportunity – possibly divide the whole equation by O representing opportunity meaning the options available to individuals based on life and circumstances?


  4. I have thought about opportunities Matt. I think that there are always opportunities – but they only become ‘visible’ as self interest is clarified and ‘power’ develops. I think opportunity is an emergent property that arises from the power/self-interest matrix – and as such does not need to be included in the formula. This is a tentatively held view….

    Does O = Options or Opportunities? Are they the same?

    I talk a lot about helping clients to recognise and choose preferred options. Some of these ‘options’ are things that usually others (planners, strategists, worklessness agendas) have labelled as ‘opportunities’ – train as a construction worker, call centre operative etc. In fact they are not really opportunities because they have little or no real connection to the client – their history, culture, values and aspirations. Other options are developed organically as an extension of the clients thinking and world view. As the client develops their self interest and power, their options broaden….

    I also think that we spend far too much time and money on developing opportunities – job creation programmes etc – that are actually more in the interests of the planners, strategists and employers than they are in the interests of the client. Consequently these ‘opportunity led’ programmes rarely contribute significantly to the sum total of human wellbeing….

    I think that the clients ability to recognise opportunites and options is related to the extent to which their self interest is clear…


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