Enterprise, community and complexity….

Enterprise, community and complexity.  Slippery words.  But behind the slippery words are concepts that offer the possibility of progress.

Lets start with ‘enterprise‘.  First, empty your mind of all those misconceptions that I must be talking about ‘business starts’, ‘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 for them and to take action in 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.

Being enterprising does not make you a good person.  It just makes you someone who is acting in, what you believe to be, your own self-interest.  If self-interest is ‘enlightened’ then it is likely that the resulting ‘enterprise’ will make a positive contribution to community.

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 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 to a typical business start-up programme.

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, policy makers 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.  But, this is not the work that gets commissioned, at least not by enterprise funders.

How does this concept of enterprise  fit with ‘community’?

I choose to think of ‘community’ as a property that emerges when people and groups learn to negotiate their self-interest with the self-interests of others.  Community is what the world of complexity science would call an emergent property.  If this is correct then it raises serious questions about approaches which attempt to offer 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, namely, lots of folk whose self-interest is properly understood and who have the knowledge and skill to use networks, associations, mutuality, reciprocity and generosity to pursue it.

Community emerges when people 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.

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.  Associations across race, gender, age and so on often provide the key to opportunity and are a precondition that will allow strong communities to emerge.

With difference comes both opportunity and resilience.

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