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.
Don’t do it unless you have to!
If you know what it is that you want to achieve, and you have the power to do it without collaborating then JFDI. Collaboration is a tool best left in toolbox. unless you have the right job for it.
What are you collaborating for?
Be really clear on what you want the collaboration to achieve, both for you, your preferred, chosen collaborator (more on this later) and your service users or customers. What impact do you want the collaboration to make?
Develop the vision and rationale for the collaboration – but leave the detailed planning till later
Finding the right collaborators depends on having a vision that is credible, compelling and achievable. But leave plenty of room for your collaborators to get on board with you in refining the vision and getting down and dirty with shaping goals, projects and plans. You want them to be collaborators remember – not just hired hands…
Choose your collaborators with care
Make sure that your collaborators being resources, abilities, skills, something to the party that you don’t have but that you need to achieve what it is that matters most to you. Collaborations that bring to the game more of what you already have tend not to be very exciting – unless your challenge is simply to ‘do more’ rather than ‘do different’ or ‘do better’.
Surviving or thriving?
For some at the moment the need to collaborate is driven by the scissors of doom, the falling levels of investment and the rising demands on services. ‘Collaboration’ is seen as a way to get more done at lower costs and can be a euphemism for, or a preamble to, merger where back office costs can be cut and we get to live another day. Nothing wrong with living to fight another day, but using collaboration to innovate might mean that you get to thrive rather than merely survive.
Collaboration, like innovation, is an acquired competence
Innovation and collaboration are both complex processes that require certain skills and cultures to enable them to develop and thrive. You can’t just expect individuals or organisations to be innovative and collaborative, any more than you can expect them to walk a high wire or speak Latin. These things have to be learned, and learning takes time.
Get used to failure
Both collaboration and innovation are risky endeavours. They cannot be ‘evidence based’ and guaranteed to succeed. The more you innovate and collaborate the more you will fail. But also the greater the chances that you will succeed. And as long as your successes create more value than your failures destroy then you are winning.
Ponder the ‘non suicidal acts of courage’
Collaboration and innovation both demand courage. For us to leave our comfort zones. To risk failing, looking stupid, provoking disapproval, even anger. There are risks we could take that, if they went wrong, would put us out of the game. These are potentially suicidal acts of courage – and sometimes they may have to be taken. But what are the non-suicidal acts of courage that you might be able to commit to?
Vision of the Anointed is the title of a book by Thomas Sowell, an American historian, economist and social commentator. The anointed are usually a small group of ‘professionals’ and ‘political leaders’, or ‘campaigners’ and their work frequently follows a well trodden path:
- They identify a crisis – a situation that, if not addressed, will lead to disaster
- They propose policies and interventions to ‘solve’ the crisis that they believe will lead to a positive set of results
- The policies are implemented and the results are usually (always) mixed. There will be both benefits and detriments associated with the implementation of policy
- The anointed defend the success of their vision and the policies and impacts that sprung from it.
We can see this dynamic playing out now with climate change, peak oil, low carbon economics, the benefits culture, anti social behaviour, drug misuse and so on.
This archetype for social change is based on an assumption that the problems of society can be identified by the anointed and can be resolved by their vision. Where does this leave the ‘unanointed’. Those of us who aren’t involved in the process of identification of problems and development of vision? Well we can adopt several positions. We can:
- support the vision and plans of the anointed – become their followers
- attempt to influence the anointed so that their visions and plans take some account of our vision and values
- oppose their vision and plans – become their critics – point out their detrimental effects – and seek the anointment of a different group
- blame the anointed for the ongoing existence and, in many cases, worsening of problems
In each of these cases we are giving power to the anointed. Even if we oppose their plans, we will argue for the ‘anointment’ of a different group of leaders with different values and different visions. Power remains with the anointed – whether they are on our side or not. Their social policies too will have benefits and detriments. We are relying on an anointed group to take responsibility for our success as individuals and as a society. We can then sit back and hurl either brickbats or bouquets – depending on our values and beliefs. WE are off the hook. We call this politics.
In my work I accept that their will always be an anointed and they will always be developing and implementing policies. Some of which may work for us. Some against. With the dominance of the current economic growth paradigm you are more likely to benefit if you are economically active – especially at higher levels. If you have money to invest you are likely to benefit even more. Of course we can vote and we can take part in the processes that shape their visions. The strategic plans of the anointed may be necessary – but they are not sufficient.
We should not rely on them to make our lives better. They do not hold the keys to progress for us. We hold them, if we have the courage and confidence to recognise it. Often though we collude with the anointed as they unwittingly ‘put the leash’ on our enterprise, creativity and civic participation as they envelop us in their plans.
An approach to social policy and change that relies on the ‘vision of the anointed’ is like an ‘old school’ business that says to its employees – come to work, do as your told, work hard on implementing our cunning plans and policies and we will see you alright. Just comply. Don’t think. Just do. We have clever people in the boardroom who put us on course. Compliance and order are the key organising values…
Many modern organisations have recognised that in fact with ‘every pair of hands a brain comes free’. The organisation is turned upside down. It is employees in the frontline who are asked to be enterprising and innovative in making things better. The brains in the boardroom find ways to keeping this innovation and enterprise ‘on mission’. Their job is to facilitate the emergence of strategy from a social process involving many brains. They don’t have an elite planning ‘cathedrals of the future’ developing blueprints for others to implement. They instead manage a messy bazaar of ideas and innovation helping all the market traders to promote their ideas and form allegiances for progress. They value a culture of enterprise over compliance. They build chaordic systems.
Person centred and responsive work helps people to recognise the limitations of the anointed and helps them to recognise that the best hope for making things better, in ways that they value, lies less in engaging with the anointed and more in engaging with their own sense of purpose and practical association, collaboration and organisation with their peers. It lies in their own enterprise and endeavour. From a collection of enterprising and creative individuals emerges a diverse and sustainable community.
When we talk about encouraging civic enterprise, I think we are talking about shifting the balance of power from implementing the visions of the anointed to empowering the ambitions of the citizen.
If this analysis has any truth to it then the implications for leadership and its development are enormous.
Filed Under: Community
“We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest.
The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.”
Filed Under: Community
Shaa Wasmund is a renowned enteprise guru whose own achievements both as an entrepreneur and as a provider of enterprise support have massively outweighed my own. Shaa asserts that…
Every athlete once had a dream to stand on an Olympic stage. But, they didn’t just talk about their dreams, they put in the hours, hard work and dedication to make them a reality. They gave all they had for one moment in time.
In my experience many who achieve excellence entered their field because they loved it rather than because they wanted to stand on an Olympic podium or to be a millionaire before they reach 30. Sometimes it IS the big dream that allows you to put in the hours of dedicated effort. But much more frequently it is the hours of dedicated effort that eventually allow you to dare to believe in the big dream. Most of us, to begin with at least, were not motivated by thoughts of winning on the big stage, but by pursuing our interests and exploring possibilities….
Our progress is driven by the dedicated development and exploration of passion and identity. A journey that often begins with no real clarity over where it might lead, or how far it might go.
I think this openness to journeys that start in different places with different intensities and ambitions is absolutely critical to make the most of all potential, whether it is in sport, business or any field.
And where should we invest our time and money? In helping people to navigate the ealry stages of their journeys. Because late stage development is, relatively speaking, child’s play.photo by: Plashing Vole
To those who would ‘engage’ us…
We are already engaged.
We may not be engaged with you, or in what you think we should be engaged with, but none the less we ARE engaged. The things that we are engaged with offer us what we are looking for, perhaps consciously, perhaps not. Our chosen ‘engagements’ give us some combination of love, power and money.
There is a fourth thing that some of us get from our preferred engagement, and that is freedom from pain. Freedom from the pain of hope denied. Freedom from the pain of optimism dashed. Freedom from the humiliation of yet another ‘failure’. This pursuit of freedom from pain is what you label ‘apathy’.
We may choose to engage with you, and your agendas, if you offer us what we want. Unless we see possibilities for this our engagement with you is likely to be short lived and will change nothing. It might be enough for you to tick the box called ‘community engagement’, but little more. Love and fun might attract us for a while, but it is making us powerful that keeps us engaged.
Many of us who you find ‘hard to reach’ or ‘difficult to engage’ have ‘been engaged’ with people like you before. We have been sold false hope and have suffered the pain of having that hope dashed when you let us down, or when you run out of funding. Your reputations go before you. Sometimes even your promise of cash can’t persuade us to engage…we know that there is no such thing as a free lunch.
You might pay us to move our muscles, or answer your questions, but you cannot buy our hearts and minds.
If you want to encourage us to change what we engage with, then you need to understand us, understand what we are looking for, and understand where our engagement is likely to take us. It is this ‘where it leads’ that is often the hardest part of the story for us to explore. Some of us have learned to live for today and let tomorrow take care of itself. But, if you can really offer us something that provides us with a genuine shot at a better future….
Often your approach appears to us to stand on the premise that you have the right to engage us in what you believe to be good for us. You impose your sensibilities and priorities. Or you impose the policy objectives of those who pay your wages. You force us into a parent child relationship.
Imagine that a powerful outsider came and tried to persuade you to live your life differently. To give up some of the things that you enjoy. To ‘persuade’ you to work on a project of their design. How would you respond? With enthusiastic compliance?
Perhaps instead of seeking to engage ‘us’ in your decision-making processes, or in co-creating your services, or in spending your budgets, you should instead seek to engage yourselves in our agendas, our decisions, our opportunities. You should put us as individuals and communities at the heart of your endeavours.
Before you seek to engage us in your agendas, perhaps you ought to spend a bit of time trying to engage yourselves in ours? Not by pushing your way in with your authority and your money.
But by winning an invitation. By being ‘helpful’.
So, the next time you sit down to write your engagement strategy, just think about what you might need to be like for us to invite you in.
Patient Opinion is an excellent resource that is used to share feedback and experiences of NHS services in Leeds. Perhaps if more of us used it then NHS managers might have to take a little more notice.
How about a campaign to encourage the use of Patient Opinion in Leeds?
The only test of ‘best city’ is not a position in a league table, but some very personal answers to a complex set of questions, which may include….
What kind of ‘city development’ processes would be necessary to allow the majority of us to be able to answer most of these questions with a yes?Get those processes right and we might just be on course for somewhere exciting.
- Is this the ‘best city’ for me and my loved ones?
- Is this the best place for me to make a life of fulfilment, dignity and pride?
- Will I find people that are willing to challenge and support me with compassion?
- Will I find opportunities to be stimulated, provoked and changed?
- Will I find it possible to connect with others with whom I share a common cause?
- Will I find the space and support to do my best work?
- Will I find myself in a political, social and cultural system that accepts my values and beliefs?
- Will it encourage the production of goods and services necessary for a becoming existence or will it do almost anything in pursuit of growth?
- Will it respect and nurture micro-enterprise, sole traders, makers, community groups and individual activists as much as it ‘establishes proactive relationships’ with ‘large corporate employers’?
- Is this a place where I can help to shape a better future for my children and theirs?
If you want to find yourself a great mentor, then in my experience best avoid those mentor matching services…