The End of (Enterprise) Education?

My eldest daughter came home from school last week with something like 10kg of university prospectuses.  She spent much of the week-end browsing the frightening range of courses available. 

And it got me thinking about whether the compulsory education that she has experienced so far, all 13 years of it, have really provided her with an excellent platform for wealth and fulfillment in her adult life.  And the result of my pondering was:

  1. As a premise I believe that education is at its best when it socialises people into the obligations and freedoms of active citizenship, and immunises them against imprisonment by the gilded cages of consumerism.  So why does so much (enterprise) education appear to be about the development of the next generation of employer fodder/entrepreneurs/snake oil sellers?
  2. Is this because we are failing to teach the real meaning of ‘social enterprise’ now that it has become embedded in what Todd Hannula describes as ‘agency led mush’
  3. Have we ever properly taught the notion of social enterprise?  Is it really more the the pursuit of ‘enlightened self interest’ in the marketplace?
  4. To release prodigious human energies and good will we must learn how to help people find powerful narratives that give meaning and direction to their lives.  
  5. We must help them to learn about themselves at least as much as we should help them learn about the world outside of them.
  6. We must encourage them to explore what they love and who they can become in pursuit of their potential.
  7. We must educate them to properly understand their own self interest and how this fits with the self interest of others in a mutually sustainable and progressive community. 
  8. We must help them to become experts in using power in pursuit of mutual self interest.
  9. We must help them to build their power in creating the kind of future that they want to see for themselves and for the diverse communities that live on spaceship earth.

Perhaps consideration of these statements might just help us to realise ‘the end of (enterprise) education’.

Teaching Enterprise and Entrepreneurship (or any other Significant Learning)

When I did my teacher training back in 1986 I remember having my world rocked by a book called ‘Teaching as a Subversive Activity’ by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner.   They make reference to a piece by Carl Rogers in ‘On Becoming a Person’.

“Rogers concludes:

  1. My experience has been that I cannot teach another person how to teach.
  2. It seems to me that anything that can be taught to another is relatively inconsequential, and has little or no significant impact on behavior.
  3. I realize increasingly that I am only interested in learnings which significantly influence behavior
  4. I have come to feel that the only learning which significantly influences behavior is self-discovered, self appropriated learning.
  5. Such self-discovered, truth that has been personally appropriated and assimilated in experience, cannot be directly communicated to another.
  6. As a consequence I have realised that I have lost interest in being a teacher

Rogers goes on to state that the outcomes of trying to teach are either unimportant or hurtful and that he is only interested in being a learner.  Some of our students react to this statement snidely, claiming that Rogers feels this way because he is a bad teacher.  Honest, but bad.  Others seem deeply disturbed by it and seek clarification on what Rogers means by ‘significant learning’.  We then produce Roger’s definition of the term, which is stated in the form of specific behaviours.  They include:

The person comes to see himself differently.

He accepts himself and his feelings more fully.

He becomes more self-confident and self directing.

He becomes more the person he would like to be.

He becomes more flexible, less rigid in his perceptions.

He adopts more realistic goals for himself.

He behaves in a more mature fashion.

He becomes more open to the evidence, both of what is going on outside of himself and what is going on inside of himself.”

Powerful stuff.  What Rogers seems to be saying is that what we can teach, in the traditional sense is more or less trivial.  However what the student can learn from the process is potentially transformational.

I think Rogers was onto something here, something that is particularlypowerful for those of us charges with ‘teaching enterprise’.  If we really want to develop more enterprising students then perhaps we should focus less on classes about marketing, branding, cash flow and taxation and more on providing and reviewing experiences that are designed to develop ‘Significant Learning’.

Because Rogers’ definition of  ‘Significant Learning’  looks a lot like ‘more enterprising’ to me. 


Creative Business in Mumbai – Swami Art

Thanks to Patrick Burgoyne, editor at Creative Review for pointing me in this direction.  A wonderful profile of a small creative business in India with a very honest story of how they have evolved.


I’d love to know what ‘take-aways’ you get from this.

For me it is about skill, style, creativity, knowledge of the market, right location, right price, stunning and rapidly evolving product and the risks of legislation.

Why Making It Easy to Start a Business is a Bad Idea

Not so small fortunes are being invested to encourage people, especially those living or working in areas of deprivation, to start their own businesses or to go self employed.  This makes lots of sense to economists, especially if people were previously ‘economically inactive’ or on benefits.  The ‘tax take’ goes up and the cost to the Treasury in benefit payments goes down.  Result!

So the public sector invests in ‘making it easy’ for people to start a business.  There are dozens of free training sessions and sources of support – many promising to turn business ideas into a reality.

Let me explain why I think making it easy for people to start a business is not necessarily a good idea.  Because when a business fails it usually  leaves a trail of destruction – debt, broken relationships, damaged mental health and occasionally suicide.

I have recently met with several people each of whom is now in a very difficult situation, at least in part, as a result of engaging with ‘business support’ and starting small businesses because it was ‘made easy’.  Because they were ‘encouraged’.  Because they could access ‘soft loans’.  Because they could work with a business adviser who would help them to put together a business plan that ‘worked’.  Each of them is now in debt and in extremely difficult personal circumstances which include:

  • dealing with bailiffs,
  • fighting to hold onto houses,
  • managing depression,
  • doubting their own abilities and
  • fighting to maintain relationships under the tremendous economic pressure.

This is part of the reality that has to be addressed.  Sure there are the success stories and we hear plenty about these as they get used as case studies to encourage the next wave of start-ups.  Small business can be a great way to make a living and a life.  But the ‘dark side’ of small business is very real and needs to be faced up to.  We need to be extremely responsible and cautious in the way we promote it.  It is a double edged sword with potentially massive consequences for wellbeing – both positive and negative. It can be a wonderfully powerful tool for economic and social regeneration.  But like any powerful tool it has to be used with care.

When we ‘make it easy’ for people to start a business it is relatively straightforward to get more business start ups.  However unless we are careful we also get an increase in small business failures and this can wreak havoc.  Not only to the entrepreneurs and their families who are left to manage the consequences, but also to the wider community.  Word soon spreads that enterprise is not such a good thing.  The trend of increasing start up activity is soon reversed as the real experiences of some entrepreneurs filters through.

So perhaps we should make it hard for people to start businesses.  Not by raising artificial barriers and increasing red tape, but by training our business support professionals to be brutally honest about the small business environment.  Success in small business is not about the logic of the business plan but the passion, character and indefatigability of the entrepreneur. Although just about anyone can do it – they need to go in to it with their eyes wide open to what the journey might, and probably will, hold. Someone making an informed decision not to start a business should be celebrated with as much vigour as a new start up.  If there are any choices other than small business perhaps these should be pursued first.

We should perhaps teach enterprise professionals to persuade clients not to get into small business because it is so tough.

‘If there is another way that you can be true to yourself and pursue your dreams please take it. If the only option left to you is to start a small business then so be it. We will help.’

This kind of approach, when well implemented, results in significantly higher survival rates. These high survival rates soon teach others that it can be done – with passion, commitment, skill and hard work.  And although progress on the ‘enterprise agenda’ may initially be slow it will accelerate as the successful entrepreneurs tell their stories and provide local role models.  And on the occasion when it goes wrong the entrepreneur won’t blame the enterprise professionals for ‘encouraging’ them. They will recognise that this is down to them pursuing their dream. Not down to ‘us’ using sticks and carrots to manipulate them in pursuit of a funder’s policy goals.

So instead of investing our money in ‘making it easy’ for people to start a business, we should instead invest in helping them to build their talents and skills, and to craft their vision of the kind of person that they want to become.  We should invest in giving them the skills that they need to create their own futures and to manage their own well being.  We should invest in developing communities that better understand the role of the entrepreneur and know how and why they can support entrepreneurs in their community.

This message is seldom popular.

I have met several policy makers and bureaucrats who have told me that I over dramatise.  That this is not a ‘life or death’ matter. That I am too negative and cynical.  I just wish they would spend some time with me talking to people whose lives have been damaged by the enterprise journey.  And this is not only entrepreneurs that ‘fail’.  I meet many ‘successful’ entrepreneurs who count the cost of their business success in broken relationships with partners and families.  Who feel trapped  by their businesses and robbed of their life.

There is an industry of business support providers who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.  In continuing to provide enterprise workshops with the feelgood factor.  Who rely on a steady flow of aspiring entrepreneurs so that they can tick boxes and claim payments.  They too would rather keep the dark side of enterprise under the carpet as it is bad for business.

But until we adopt an honest and balanced perspective on the nature of enterprise and entrepreneurship we are unlikely to be effective teachers and we will continue to watch potential go to waste.

How Bizaar!

This is the name of a new initiative introduced by the Sharing the Success team as part of the Leeds LEGI endeavours to produce a more enterprising culture.  Notwithstanding the awful pun it may prove to be an interesting and potentially useful scheme.  ‘Bazaar’ is a Persian word meaning a ‘permanent market area’.  It will be interesting to see just how permanent this stall is.

‘How Bizaar’ invites people to test trade their products or services on a market stall in the very wonderful Leeds Kirkgate Market, rent free for 12 weeks.  They get additional business support and the usual bells and whistles you would expect from publicly funded business support programmes.  According to publicity the stall is open to anyone (surely there should be some geographical criteria related to super output areas), and existing market traders are free to use it to test out opportunities to diversify.

Presumably if the test trade period goes well entrepreneurs will be helped to establish their business on a more permanent footing, either in the market or elsewhere.

Leeds market is a hot bed of enterprise.  Mostly very well managed stalls shifting serious units.  They have to be, as the footfall is enormous and stalls are not cheap.  Some have been run by family’s for decades.  It is a very competitive environment in which to trade.  If you have the right products at the right price you can do well.  Leeds market is primarily a food market with some electrical and houseware stalls.  Customers of the market are usually looking to make pragmatic purchases at low cost.

So imagine you run one of these stalls in the market working hard to make a living.  And imagine that ‘the council’ takes over a stall nearby and makes it available to people to sell their products, alongside yours, without paying any rent.  The council also pays the salary of full time workers to staff the stand.

The optimist in me would say great!  More traders and more publicity means more footfall which means more business for all.  The financial manager in me would be screaming ‘Just what I need – competition that is being subsidised by the organisation that collects my rent’.

But let’s stand back a bit and ask ourselves about the kind of entrepreneur who will benefit from this service.  Clearly they must already have a product or service that they are ready to merchandise.  ie they are quite a long way down the enterprise journey.  It might give a leg up to those who are already enterprising.

The footfall at the market must represent the right demographic for the products and services that you are test trading.  Putting the right product in the wrong marketplace because of the ‘allure of free’ could be disastrous.

They must be able to effectively compete – within three months – in one of the most competitive markets in the country.  Many of the market stands have evolved a product range and merchandising layouts over years to optimise sales.  Will a kind of ‘jamboree bag’ stall with high turnover of goods and services be able to compete?  Most of the people that I know who use the market go to buy specific things from specific stalls.  It is not a destination for window shoppers or impulse buyers.

You must be able to handle some quite sophisticated calculations to get any useful data from your test trading period.  Is business building or not?  Is my reputation spreading?  What costs are currently being externalised – rent, power, wages, marketing?  To what extent is success or failure down to this location?  To publicity generated by LEGI? If I move premises will the customer base I have found at the market come with me?  In short what will my test trading experience really tell me about the viability of my business idea.

My biggest concern though is that it will provide yet more assistance to those who are already enterprising.  And in the long run making it easy for people to start a business does them few favours.

It will be interesting to see how the project unfolds and I wish it well.

KioskKiosk is a similar market stall concept being tested in London.  The kiosk and concept was developed by Wayne Hemingway and looks visually strong.  Let’s hope that the design ethic at How Bizaar manages to compete.

New Sugar is another really interesting web based response to the challenge of giving newbie entrepreneurs (in this case designers) a platform to showcase their talent.

Focussing On Deviance and Missing Beauty

I often meet managers who are obsessed with plans and performance.  As a result they tend to focus on deviance.  Things that go wrong, that don’t meet the plan.

As a result they find it hard to see and acknowledge the good stuff.  The vast majority of their feedback is about problems and they fail to acknowledge or even see the good work that is done every day.

If you need convincing that you only see what you are looking for try this video for size.


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Conducting and Leadership

Find yourself half an hour and wathc ths wonderful video to learn about leadership from conductor Itay Talgam.

Looks at various conducting styles and teaches profoundly while entertaining!


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PMN 2.0

In some very exciting conversations with Reach Further about bringing the Progressive Managers’ Network online.

Potentially become a blend of webinars, videos, face to face, e-mail and telephone support.

Looking forward to making this a reality over the summer.

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Should Enterprise Education Be More Than Business Literacy?

I was approached by a young woman in the Holiday Inn in Garforth yesterday.  She tugged gently at my trousers and asked me if I was interested in buying.

She was clutching a beetroot plant in a wonderfully hand painted plant pot, with a colourful and neatly laminated label saying ‘BEETROOT’.  She must have been six or seven and barely reached waist height.  She had a badge on her that gave me the name of her school and her job title in the social enterprise that they ran.  She was the “Sales Executive”.

She was one of the students from Leeds taking part in a wonderful event called ‘Social Enterprise Takes Off’ organised by the brilliant team of Enterprise Ambassadors at Education Leeds, led with so much enthusiasm, energy and knowledge by Mike Cooper and Chris Marsden.

“Do you want to buy my beetroot?” she asked.

“I would love to” I said, “but tell me, what should I do with it when I go on holiday?”

“That’s not  a problem – just put it in a bag and take it with you!”

“Ok. How much is your beetroot plant?” I asked sensing that she had not really grasped my holiday concerns.


“And do you know how much profit you will make if I buy your plant for £1?”

“Yes, about 80p.”

Sold – in so many ways!

The event was wonderful – not withstanding the slightly tired and dated environs and buffet of the Holiday Inn.  Some great speakers including Magic Man John Hotowka, Beermat Entrepreneur Mike Southon (“some people become entrepreneurs because no-one else will give them job – like my mate Mike Chitty over there” – thanks for that one Mike!), Make Your Mark Ambassador Sabirul Islam (check him out) and Nick Bowen inspirational head teacher of St Benet Biscop RC High school and advocate for Benet Enterprise – a school owned social enterprise into everything from professional theatre production (from scriptwriting to travelling productions) and event management to video making.  They are tapping into the current (and I suspect temporary) rich veins of public funding for all things social enterprise and turning over hundred of thousands each year raising significant funds to improve facilities at the school.  Apparently more skeptical members of staff  ‘were soon won over when they saw the laptops and other kit that the ‘surpluses’ from Benet Enterprises were able to supply‘.  Setting aside the issue of using unpaid pupils and adults paid by the state to compete with local businesses for a minute they are doing some remarkable work.

Mercifully not a Dragon, Failed Apprentice or (not so) Secret Millionaire in sight.  (I have no problem if they bring real substance and experience and engage fully, ‘Yorkshire boy done good’ Carl Hopkins is a great example of this – it is when they just bring their ‘celebrity’ and a carefully honed sales pitch for their latest book/consultancy/educational board game/business development workshop that I struggle.)

But the star attractions were the students working (and I mean WORKING) an exhibition space that felt more like a Mediterranean souk than a fusty business exhibition.  As soon as I got my wallet out to exchange my pound for my beetroot I was beset by passionate sales executives hawking fair trade chocolate, handmade wooden signs (“any design, any wood you like”) and glassware. Young people selling with energy and passion, plants, books, woodwork, plastics, ‘stone’ plant troughs made from polystyrene.  Young people who clearly loved their businesses and their products.  Contrast this with the (almost uniformly) sombre, conservative and impassionate business exhibitors at the Chartered Institute of Housing a few miles up the road in Harrogate.

I have no doubt that work of the Enterprise Ambassadors from Education Leeds and the hard working pupils and teachers who make these things happen will lead to a much more business literate generation in the future.  And that matters.

However there is more to excellent ‘enterprise education’ than business literacy and great teamwork.

It is about understanding passion and potential whether that lies in ‘business’, ‘ballet’, ‘beatboxing’ or ‘beetroot’.

It is about belief in ‘self’ as an active agent in shaping the future and building a better life, society and world.

It is about the power of education and the development and realisation of potential in whatever Ken Robinson refers to as your ‘Element’.  And the point of engagement for that, indeed the vehicle for the fulfillment of that, might not be ‘business’.

So it is time for a broader conception of the enterprising student.  It is not about the next generation of entrepreneurs but about the next generation of cellists, authors, policemen and women, nurses, gardeners, mathematicians, politicians and bankers.  About the next generation full stop.

Everyone should have the opportunity to become ‘business literate’ by the time they leave full time education.  But primarily, fundamentally and at their very heart they need to be enterprising, creative, innovative, bold and self confident – and this might have little or nothing to do with entrepreneurship and business literacy.

As I write this sat at my kitchen table I am looking out the door at my beetroot plant in its brightly hand painted pot.  There is a part of me wondering about their costings and worrying that, like so many social enterprises, they have missed or chosen to hide, some of their real costs of production.

But there is a much, much larger part of me that hopes and prays that the young ‘sales executive’ has learned much more than just how to spot opportunities to turn a profit.  That she has learned more about herself and what she could become.  About her self interest and her power to realise her potential and how she might really be able to make the difference that she wants to see in the world.

It is these lessons that we enterprise educators should be teaching.

I am a freelance trainer, consultant, thinker, speaker and writer on the subjects of enterprise, entrepreneurship, management and leadership If you would like to work with Mike then please get in touch.  mikeatmichaelchittydotcodotuk

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E-mail to an Enterprise Professional

If I said enterprise not entrepreneurship then I was too strong.

It is just that we can help people to develop their enterprising soul in so many more and varied arenas – many of which are more intrinsically attractive and powerful media than ‘business’ – especially to young people.  Musicianship, sports, art, food, writing, wildlife, gardening, web 2.0 etc etc.  Why nail ‘enterprise’ to ‘business’ so much of the time?  It just serves to alienate lots of people for whom the world of business seems phoney, vain, self serving, venal and corrupt.

Azjen’s stuff is interesting.  My problem with it is that it presupposes a set of behaviours that we are trying to move people towards.  ie an officially sanctioned version of what constitutes the enterprise curriculum.  I know that these exist – but I question their value.  I believe that the way in which each of us is enterprising is distinctly personal and probably neither transferable nor generic. It is an expression of our personality, culture and our experience as much as of our aspiration.  Enterprise education is therefore about drawing out what is within rather than grafting on what is (according to a gap analysis against our framework) ‘missing’.  It is about helping people to become fully themselves, not to fit our template for enterprise/entrepreneurship.

The fact that you might find enterprise conceived this way hard to measure is not a major concern of mine.  However I KNOW FOR CERTAIN that if we engage more people in this process of self discovery and emergence, a massively high proportion of them will go on to do enterprising and very possibly entrepreneurial things.  Invest in this and you will get increased wellbeing – and there is plenty of cash being spent on that!  Hint towards strategic repositioning, broadening income streams and increasing impact for your organisation.

From a more enterprising community will come more entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, actors, writers, intrapreneurs, political activists and entrepreneurs.  It is this idea of what constitutes an enterprising community that we should develop. Hint – it is not one where the measure of TEA =6%.

To develop a more enterprising community we need to help community activists and gatekeepers, to develop much more benign and open attitudes to the potential of enterprise as a tool for community and personal development.  All the time it looks like a thinly veiled government plot to reduce benefits and increase tax take we can not expect to be welcomed with open arms – especially when the cash runs out – as it will.

Listening to the Millionaire MBA was really insightful for me on this idea of the personalisation of enterprise where, even in the narrow field of high growth entrepreneurship, successful entrepreneurs accredited their success to a vast and often conflicting range of different behaviours, models, ideas and values.  Kalms and Roddick both had very different takes on the politics and practice of branding – yet they both exploited the practice wonderfully.  Similar examples are legion.

Success in business, success in life depends fundamentally on becoming YOU – not conforming to the policy makers aspiration of the ideal citizen.  Enterprise is about the emergence of identity not its manipulation by the Treasury.  So come on enterprise educators.  Let’s drop the obsession with ‘business’ and get on with the real work of educating more enterprising souls.

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