Enterprise Blog

  • BSE – Before Social Enterprise…

    Mike in the days before social enterpriseHard to imagine I know, but I was remembering with some old friends the time ‘BSE’, Before Social Enterprise.

    I used to work in what was called a ‘Community Home with Education’, similar to an ‘Approved School’.  A residential home for young men with emotional and behavioural ‘difficulties’.  When they reached 16 they would have to leave the home and make their own way in the world.  For many, the next step, after a short spell in the community, would be prison.

    However we worked hard to give them the best chance that we could, and this often meant trying to find them work, trying to find employers who would give them a chance.  And, surprisingly it wasn’t as hard as you might think.  Despite their dubious CVs and frequently a complete lack of qualifications, we could usually find an employer who would give them a chance.  These were not ‘social enterprises’ set up specifically to provide vocational training and development for the needy.  They were good old ‘for profit’ businesses who were more than willing to do their bit.  This was the time BSE.

    And I don’t think things are that much different now.

    While we have a small number of social enterprises specifically setting out to help particular groups with a step on the employment ladder, I reckon that for every one of these there are probably a hundred or so for profits that work with the same client group.  Restaurants and kitchens that employ people struggling with addictions or to stay out of prison.  Building companies employing ex-offenders.   Football clubs giving players with drink driving convictions, anger management problems and occasional inclinations to racist abuse a second chance.

    I wonder what impact the rise of the specialist social enterprise might have on the willingness of mainstream for profits to ‘do their bit’. They don’t get the rate rebates, soft loans, grants, PR or additional support of their social enterprise counterparts, so why should they push the boat out.

    Or will they all become ‘social enterprises’ and reap the same rewards?


    Some forgotten truths about enterprise……

    • Poverty is not about scarcity – it is not that there is not enough – but that it is not shared
    • The challenge is to give more people the power that they need to play a positive and powerful role in markets; This means accessible and relevant processes to develop individual capabilities and power
    • Markets will always have a place in our society but not everything can be bought and sold.  Care for example is an emotional relationship that cannot be bought and sold.
    • Development is a measure of the extent to which individuals have the capabilities to live the life that they choose.  It has little to do with standard economic measures such as GDP.
    • Helping people to recognise choices and increase the breadth of choices available to them should be a key objective of development.
    • Developing the capability and power of individuals provides a key to both development and freedom
    • Development must be relevant to lives, contexts, and aspirations
    • Development is about more than the alleviation of problems – stamping out anti social behaviour, teenage pregnancies, poor housing and so on.
    • It is about helping people to become effective architects in shaping their own lives
    • We need practices that value individual identity; avoid lumping people into “communities” they may not want to be part of, and promote a person’s freedom to make her own choices.  Promoting identification with ‘community’ risks segregation and violence between communities
    • Society must take a serious interest in the overall capabilities that someone has to lead the sort of life they want to lead, and organise itself to support the development and practice of those capabilities
    • We should primarily develop an emphasis on individuals as members of the human race rather than as members of ethnic groups, religions or other ‘communities’.  Humanity matters.
    • We need to make the delivery of public education, more equitable, more efficient and more accessible

    If we took this stuff seriously what kind of enterprise development activities would a LEP commission?

    Management and the Start Up…

    I work with businesses and organisations at all stages of the life-cycle. Pre-starts, start-ups and mature businesses.

    I often see management DNA develop in the start-up phase and it is seldom a pretty site. Habits and relationships are set early and become very difficult to shake off. This is largely because of the mindset of the original founder of the business:

    • This is their baby;
    • They know how they want it to develop;
    • They have exacting standards.

    Consequently their management style can be brusque, directive, bruising and ultimately damaging to the long term growth of the business.

    Ideally I get to work with a business pre-start and ensure that the entrepreneurs builds their management team BEFORE the business plan is developed. This way all members of the team can own the plan and a more open and collaborative management DNA can be established from the start.

    However this is pretty rare.

    More usually I am working with an owner manager who has already established a pretty controlling management style. Helping them to see a different way of running the business is tough enough.

    Coaching them to make it happen is even tougher.

    Often it takes a real shock to the business and the entrepreneur to make them realise that something has to change.  This ‘shock’ can be bankruptcy, divorce or a significant health issue.

    But sometimes that is what it takes before the need to change is fully recognised.

    Spock Logic or McCoy Compassion – where should we start?…

    What should we do when we are asked to help someone develop their project, and we really don’t like what we see?

    Top to bottom, wall to wall the project just seems to be full of problems.  To our eye it seem poorly conceived, badly executed and almost pre-destined to fail.

    Where should we start?

    Well the classic ‘expert’ approach is to diagnose the problems and put them on the table.  We confront them with the reality of the situation as WE see it.  If our relationship is strong enough and our credibility is robust they might just take it on board.  But more often than not what we get is denial, and shown the door.

    Because this is a person who has taken their very best shot, using the resources they have available to make something happen. It is as if they had shown us a photo of their children and we respond by rattling through a list of their obvious deficiencies ‘bad skin’, ‘overweight’, ‘terrible dress sense’ and ‘awful smile’.  We might be trying to help, but….

    …this IS their baby….

    So, when someone shows us their idea and asks us to help, and we see it as full of flaws where should we start?

    By pointing out ‘the obvious’ or rolling up our sleeves and helping?

    What will really help?

    Spock’s logic or McCoy’s compassion?


    Elsie Member Training Slides…

    Great Job done by Sharon Ward of Logistik on these…

    A City of Entrepreneurs…

    They have of course got this wrong.  Their ambition should be to become the most enterprising city – because though business is important it should not be the be all and end all….

    Here’s to the compliant ones…or why bolting on enterprise won’t work…

    Another afternoon talking NEETS and another bunch of folk who think that a few more entrepreneurs going in to schools to raise aspirations will make things better.

    It wont.

    Because for the vast majority of the time our cultures, in schools, councils and other machine bureaucracies actually teach a very different lesson.

    The celebration of compliance and subjugation to the system.  So….

    Here’s to the compliant ones

    The submissives

    The ‘OK’ folk

    The shapeshifters occupying the shape shifting roles

    The ones who see the reason of others

    They are fond of rules and the security of routine

    They can quote you, agree with you, glorify, and support you

    And, when you need to, you can ignore them.

    Because they challenge nothing,

    They don’t push the boundaries

    And, while some may see them as automatons, we see them as gun fodder

    The people who will threaten nothing and will work for little more.

    Here’s To The Crazy Ones……

    Here’s to the crazy ones.

    The misfits.

    The rebels.

    The troublemakers.

    The round pegs in the square holes.

    The ones who see things differently.

    They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo.

    You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify, or vilify them.

    About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.

    Because they change things.

    They push the human race forward.

    And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.

    Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

    Steve Jobs

    Recovering the Economy…

    Listening to the various party conferences you would think that the politicians THIS time have learned the lessons of boom and bust and are now going to revamp macro-economic policy, remake the relationship between state and citizen, write off large chunks of eurozone debt and lead us into a brave new world of social justice and prosperity.

    Yeah! Right!

    Because the truth is that any levers that the politicians have in a modern market based economy are generally pretty ineffective.  They may pontificate about grand capital projects like high speed trains, tramways, arenas, flood defences and so on, but this is pretty much a combination of political posturing and feeding the professional and financial beast which we call the ‘regeneration industry’.  I sometimes think that ‘Degeneration Industry’ would be a more accurate moniker.  As this refreshingly honest trader put it, ‘Governments don’t rule the world: Goldman Sachs do‘.

    Recovering the economy is not primarily a function of politics, but a function of enterprise.  About people using their skills and knowledge to provide products and services that people want, marketing and selling them effectively at a price that adds value to the customer and makes a profit.  Transactions in which all parties gain. Good business if the methods of production and distribution are environmentally sustainable and neither harm nor exploit.

    But, improving the economy through enterprise is not the only thing that matters.  We also need to improve our communities, making them better places for as many people as possible to live full and rewarding lives in which everyone who wants to is supported to explore their potential and express it to the full.  And, these are not 2 distinct activities but 2 facets of the same process of development.

    The challenge is not to find the right ‘macro-economic policy’ but to engage large numbers of people in living their lives to the full and doing what they can to help others looking to do the same.  It is about mass engagement, facilitation of ideas, and support.

    You see the politicians can’t build good communities and sustainable economies.  We get these things as by-products of large numbers of people pursuing the projects that they believe in and helping each other wherever they can.  And occasionally falling out.  Great communities and their economies spring from people living their lives to the full and making the best of their potential.

    It’s about time we recognised that and helped to make it happen.

    Governments don’t rule the world; Goldman Sachs do……

    Unexpected candour on the BBC from this stockmarket trader….

    Gordon Gecko is alive and well.  Or have The Yes Men struck again?

    And, worryingly, does it matter….


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