Tackling Enterprise Head On Is Wrong-Headed

Most projects designed to promote enterprise tackle the problem head on.

When we say that a community ‘lacks’ enterprise we are saying that we believe fewer businesses are starting per head of population than is ‘normal’.  Typically in a community that ‘lacks’ enterprise you might get 4 new starts per hundred adults per year.  In an ‘enterprising’ community this is closer to 6 per hundred.  This might not sound much of a difference – but this 2% increase could in theory be worth millions in a local economy.  We are usually also saying that fewer businesses are registering for VAT than we would like.  We want more business start-ups and we want more VAT registrations and all of our attempts to promote enterprise are geared pretty directly to these ends.

‘Never mind how you percieve your self interest.  Just start a business.  We will even make it easy for you’.

The assumption is that if we encourage more people to ‘be enterprising’, if we give them access to knowledge, skills and money then surely we will get more enterprise as a result.

In my view this is wrong headed.

I would argue that all human beings are innately enterprising.  All of the time.  It is a part of the human condition.  We create and pursue a set of habits and behaviours that we believe will work in what we believe to be our self interest.  Behaviours that will maintain our self image and help us to get where think we want to be.  This IS enterprise.  These behaviours and habits are a reflection of what we perceive to be in our ‘self interest’, and what we perceive to be our ‘power’.  There are a massive range of ‘enterprising behaviours’ from claiming benefits and watching day time television through to planning a multi-million pound bio technology start up or a space tourism operator.

If our self interest is ‘to maintain the status quo’ then we will get the power we need and our enterprising behaviours will serve this goal.

Ditto if our self interest is ‘to be a millionaire by the time I am 30’.

A thorough development and negotiation of  self interest is central to the kind, and extent, of enterprise that emerges.  If we want ‘more’, ‘better’ enterprise then we should focus our efforts on helping  more people to clarify their self interest and build their power to pursue it.

Chasing More Enterprise

Often what we call ‘enterprise’ (or more accurately ‘count’ as enterprise) is a set of behaviours generated in order to comply with a system of stick and carrots that we have carefully constructed to pursue our policy goals.  This is not enterprise.  It is compliance.  Manipulation.

Helping individuals to clarify self interest – to work out what they want to spend their time and energies doing – is not a trivial task.  It takes a strong relationship (confidential, compassionate, challenging, person centred rather than policy driven) and sometimes many months of introspection and exploration of options.  Helping people to recognise the difference between self interest and selfishness and to recognise and adopt the principles of ‘sustainable’ enterprise cannot be rushed.

But when we get it right we can bet that much more enterprise will emerge.  Not only will the economy benefit but our community will become much more vibrant too.


  1. […]  But I think it points to a wider challenge for the policy makers and the funders.  Does this ‘head on’ approach to entrepreneurship really […]

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