Knowing What You Are Fighting For

There is suffering in life, and there are defeats. No one can avoid them. But it’s better to lose some of the battles in the struggles for your dreams than to be defeated without ever knowing what you’re fighting for.

Paulo Coelho

I’ll Name That JSC in….

Leeds City Council is inviting residents in Harehills and Chapeltown to enter a competition to name the new Joint Service Centres that are being built in their respective communities.

One of the criteria is that name should appeal to all local residents.  Good luck with that!

My vote would go for The Hayfield as the name for Chapeltown as it is built on the site of a notorious pub.

You can access the competition details and entry forms here.

Entrepreneurship or Rockin’ Da Vote?

There are a number of competitions out there designed to ‘promote enterprise’.   In some of them the key arbiter of success is the ability of the would be entrepreneur to turn out a vote.  Whether it is about getting your pals to turn up at a dinner and vote (old skool) or winning support on the web as in Barclay’s One Small Step Competition this is a puzzling phenomenon.

Prizes are awarded in part on the ‘quality’ of your business idea, as established by judges, and on the number of people who you can persuade to ‘click or tick’.  Kind of Dragon’s Den meets Britain’s Got Talent.  A popularity contest with business plans.

I would rather see bankers, and others with cash to spare, investing in businesses rather than giving prizes through competitions.  Competitions identify winners and losers. We should be identifying ‘investment ready’ and ‘not yet investment ready’ if we are really interested in supporting entrepreneurs.  And what happens if the winner is not yet investment ready?  Or they require investment at a different time or level to the prize?  What if it is not cash that they need?

Competitions work well for the publicists and the marketeers.  But I am not sure who else they really serve.  Let’s put our time and money into proving real support on the journey to investment readiness.

Let’s get back to the work of making informed investment decisions instead of awarding prizes in swirls of publicity.  Of helping entrepreneurs on the long journey toward investment readiness that rarely fits neatly with competition deadlines.   This way more entrepreneurs might get the right level of investment at the right time rather than a few ‘lucky’ prize winners.  I remember hearing one ‘prize winner’ wondering how to spend the £10k she had just won and making some quick and bad investment decisions to fit in with competition timescales.  Her business is no longer trading.  Another asked me whether I thought the cheque made out in his name was for him or for his business?  The last I heard he was splitting it 50:50.

I also believe that the ability of the entrepreneur to raise clicks and votes is a poor indicator of success.  Let’s face it on this basis Paris Hilton is going to give Warren Buffet a beating.  Ashton Kutcher would be a nailed on winner.  Unless of course the other finalist was Steven Fry.  The best connected and most socially networked do not have a monopoly of good ideas.  Nor, in general are they the ones for whom the investment might make the biggest difference.  Such voting mechanisms are surely discriminating unfairly?

As it says on the One Small Step website

‘it’s worth getting supporters on board now, so you’ve got plenty of local backing in time for voting’

And this perpetuates another myth.  That business ideas are in competition with each other.   That we have to choose winners and losers, when the market will do this much more effectively in its own time. In fact we should be looking to help everyone with passion, talent, commitment and a viable business idea.  There is always room for another good idea.  Investors will back propositions that meet their  criteria for risk and reward.  I am not convinced that creating winners and losers in very public competition really helps.

It is not about the competition for first place but about the development of an entrepreneurial ecosystem in which players collaborate and support each other as much, if not more than they compete.  I have seen how competition based on popularity can damage local entrepreneurial ecosystems as the community fragments into ‘camps’.

So, if you are about to sponsor yet another ‘enterprise competition’ please just pause for thought.  Could your money be better used to create a sustainable and enterprising society?

Anger Does Pay – Big Time

They usually write a lot of sense over at management issues, which is why I was a little surprised to read an article called Anger Doesn’t Pay.

In my book it is perhaps the most important driver for change and innovation. Anger serves a  surprising purpose .  It gives us a clue, a sign that there is something here that we can have the energy and creativity to make better.  Anger pays much more than indifference which at time seems ubiquitous.

What does not pay of course is losing your temper.  Shouting and displaying your anger in ways that alienate people rather than recruit them to your cause.

So value your anger, cultivate it, harness it and make progress.  Just don’t let it ignite your temper!

I help accidental managers become outstanding managers – if I can help you give me a call – 0113 815 3765 (UK)

Living the ‘Vida Loca’ in Leeds?

Interesting things have been happening down at Granary Wharf in Leeds over the last few years.  It is a part of town I did know well. Some 25 years ago, when I was doing my Certificate in Education, I surveyed the site for its field trip and educational potential for teaching geography, history, science, environmental studies, design and biology.

But these days the area is hosting a very different crowd to my Fifth Formers with clipboards and quadrants.

With the development of City Inn, Candle House and a car park under the once vibrant dark arches the area is becoming another beautified waterfront development where those with access to cash can choose whether to invest or spend.  Both City Inn and Candle House offer spectacular views and the latter at least is a genuinely interesting piece of architecture (not that I am qualified to comment beyond my own personal aesthetic).

Once the enormous ‘wem‘ that is the Southern Entrance to Leeds Station gets built I am sure that we will have yet another riverside development to be proud of.  The perfect infrastructure in which the magical process of regeneration can happen.  New life breathed into a barren wasteland by a consortium of socially aware developers, architects and planners with low carbon credentials and a commitment to community consultation.

What is not to like?

Let’s assume that things go well.  Retail spaces around the dark arches fill (once again) with quirky, well capitalised, independent retail and hospitality businesses.  The ticket barriers in the new southern entrance are a delight to use and lead to a train system that is clean, efficient and reliable.  The new apartment blocks fill up with resident’s who sustain sufficient incomes to pay their rents and mortgages. Dozens of jobs are created for residents of the ‘southern rim’ with ‘high grade concierge’ and similar skills. Taxes are paid and redistributed.  Surely everyone is a winner?  And no doubt this development will be presented as phenomenal example of regeneration in Leeds at MIPIM further fuelling the cycle of regeneration.

But even in this optimistic scenario who benefits from the development of the city?  Who makes money?  Who has access to opportunities to broaden their capabilities and develop successful careers?  Who gets to play in the new waterside development? And who doesn’t?

Perhaps this video offers some clues?


‘at least they’re honest about their vision of Leeds, and the intended beneficiaries’

Remarkable the control software gives over building surfaces, colours and textures yet public places are only populated (apparently) by shiny, happy and skinny Caucasians.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I am not anti development. Nor am I anti business.  And some of my best friends are architects, planners and property developers.  They are ‘good’ people, using their talents to the best of their abilities to build a better city. Just like most of us.  They play an important role.

But I do see a pattern of investment in regeneration that prioritises physical development and pursues shortcuts to increased GDP based on the importation of ‘talent’ rather than a genuinely inclusive investment in ‘proper’ education.  For me regeneration starts between the ears of the people who live in a community.  Not between the ears of a well meaning planner.  And it is not about engaging locals in the visions of the anointed – but rather finding ways to engage the anointed in the many, disparate and personal visions of local people.

(I know we are investing lots in re-developing our schools.  We now have academies in yet more new buildings.  We are getting more young people than ever 5 grades A-C that educationalists and politicians promise will provide some kind of magic key to the kingdom. But our schools and colleges continue to fail large swathes of the community.)

I don’t know what gets me more fired up – watching Sports Relief portray as some kind of failure of morality and civilisation children in developing countries both going to work and school, or the fact that we, here in the UK, now have millions of people NOT in education, training or employment.  Physician heal thyself.  It’s not as if we have magic solutions to export!

I do think we have got the balance of our regeneration investments badly wrong.

That we rely too much on ‘placemakers’ and imported talent to make our city work.  That we spend too much on strategic planning and not enough on responding to the real barriers that prevent people from developing their capabilities.  We may not be Mother Glasgow but perhaps we too are clipping wings?

In the second city of the Empire
Mother Glasgow watches all her weans
Trying hard to feed her little starlings
Unconsciously she clips their little wings
Among the flightless birds and sightless starlings
Father Glasgow knows his starlings well
He wont make his own way up to heaven
By waltzing all his charges in to hell
Perhaps it is time for a more inclusive, person centred and responsive approach to development.  Where development is not so tightly wedded to GDP but instead to a freedom to develop our capabilities.  To develop our abilities to live the kinds of lives that we want to lead.
Or perhaps we should just keep on ‘living the vida loca’ and hoping  that we can make it last.

Craft, Motivation and Wasted Talent

Richard Sennett’s ‘The Craftsman‘ is well worth the considerable effort it has taken me to read it.  Although very well written many of the ideas it tackles are not easy!

He makes the point that we have used tests of intelligence and education to smear citizens along a bell-shaped curve of distribution that is in fact very flat and very wide.  As a result we have come to believe that ‘ability’ is not anywhere near uniformly spread through society.  And this belief has been used to justify the increased public investment in the education of the most able and the relative paucity of opportunity offered to those who, in the tests, appear to be ‘less able than average’.

Sennett then argues that this is a social construction with little basis in facts, outside of educational IQ tests such as the Stanford Binet.  These tests rely on questions to which there is an answer – either right or wrong.  They cannot deal with questions where the answer is a matter of opinion or insight.  Where the answer is contestable.  This especially, argues Sennett, serves to discriminate against those whose talents might lie in developing real craft skills.  Sennet is at great pains to point out that these are not just about traditional crafts but anything where learning happens over a long period of application through experience, reflection and adjustment.   This includes many roles that are incredibly relevant in modern society.  People who are capable of this craft type learning may do poorly on the Stanford Binet and its equivalents (SATS) and from that point on they are socialised as ‘low ability’.  Or those that thrive on the assessment regime they are socialised as ‘Gifted and Talented’.  It is hard to know which is more damaging!

This socialisation has little to do with true potential or inherent capability and more to do with what we choose as a society to recognise, label and invest in.

Sennett’s argument (again assuming that yours truly has understood it) is that capability is MUCH more evenly distributed – we just might need to search for it with a much more open and creative mind.  Many more of us are capable of doing ‘good work’.  This insight would have enormous implications for how we organise education.  Sennett says;

“Motivation is a more important issue than talent in consummating craftsmanship”

Socialisation serves to disconnect many of us from our talents as they are neither recognised not valued.  The capabilities remain, but our motivation is eroded.  Re-establishing motivation then becomes more important than extant talent.  Indeed the key motivation required to renew the search for potential and to enter into a period of ‘craft type’ learning action, reflection and adjustment, often over a period of years until the capability becomes a craft.

Another leading academic Nobel prize wining Amartya Sen also talks about capability, its recognition and development as a central tool in poverty reduction.  He also recognises the structural processes that serve to justify the enormous gaps between the haves and the have nots on a global scale.

Perhaps one of the vital roles of the enterprise coach is to help people to challenge the way that society has shaped them and to renew the search for ‘capability’ – the potential of those who use our services that has often been suppressed by societies warped, distorted and narrow perceptions of ability.

This is the Craft of the Enterprise Coach.  And it may have nothing to do with starting a business.

Plans Unveiled for Tower Works – Curb Your Enthusiasm?

Yorkshire Forward have recently unveiled plans (again) for the regeneration of the tiny, but very well positioned Tower Works site in Leeds.  A quick search of the YF site shows that this has been rumbling on since the land was acquired in 2006.

The usual PR froth is being spewed out – ‘mixed use development’,  ‘Italianate Towers’, ‘Giotto’, ‘supporting creative and digital industries’, ‘Leeds as a major business centre’….’vibrant community’ etc.  But haven’t we been fed this line somewhere before?

Original plans for some 145 000 square feet of office space have been reduced to 18000 square feet in the ‘first phase’.  But this will put still more pressure on Holbeck Urban Village where, at a casual glance, occupancy (outside of The Round Foundry) is poor.

The re-development of Tower Works will be financed by a mix of public and private finance. The public element coming from Yorkshire Forward seems to be just shy of £20 million.  The private investment will mean that only those aspects of the development that are most likely to provide a good return are likely to happen quickly.  With Holbeck Estates going into administration it is not yet at all clear how any developer will make their returns.

Perhaps it is a time for a change of tack?

Currently we invest enormous sums of public cash in developers to sweeten deals sufficiently to enable them to provide an infrastructure that will attract the creative classes to Leeds.  Tower Works, the new southern entrance to the station, Neville St refurbishment, Latitude, Wellington St, I could go on.  Once we have got things just right, and our 15 year plans have come to fruition, then surely things will come good?  Well, if it all works out well, perhaps, yes.  Those with the skills and the finance to use the infrastructure might be able to accrue more wealth.   And, if you still believe in ‘trickle down’ (probably Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy as well), then the economic benefits will also flow out to the poorer communities enabling the ‘gap’ to be maintained rather than widened.  Perhaps the enterprise fairytale will have a happy ending this time. Perhaps…if we combine best case scenario with that holy grail of trickle down.  Now I am all for optimism, confidence and positive thinking – but the realist in me says ‘Perhaps not’.

Worst case scenario?  Developers, architects, public servants and planners get paid their fees and salaries and we get left with yet more low occupancy real estate.  And I am not talking schools and GP practices.  I am talking office space.  Leeds is already awash with infrastructure – yet we intend to create more.

What would happen if we used that £20m to provide a serious programme of enterprise outreach education?  (And before anyone says isn’t that what LEGI did, no they did not.  They too put the money primarily into infrastructure at Shine and  Hillside offering expensive premium office space).

What would happen if we provided high quality, sustained, long term and person centred community development work?

What if we taught local people the importance of bootstrapping, skill development and building social networks that pursued sustainable communities?

What if we helped them to create their own futures rather than enveloping them in the vision of the anointed?

Would our faith in the creativity, hard work and application of the people of Leeds be rewarded?

Of course.

Master Class for Creative Entrepreneurs

Last night I found myself in the very wonderful boardroom at Broadcasting Place in Leeds running a masterclass for students on the MA in Creative Enterprise at Leeds Met.

In essence I told them not to worry about being too focussed (See Norman Perrin’s excellent post on Obliquity).  I introduced them to the ‘baited hook’ strategy, where you cast out lots of juicy baits and see which ones get a bite.  This seems perfect for ‘creatives’ who on the evidence of last night seem incapable of not innovating.  They always have new ideas, skills and visions to bring to market.  My advice….don’t fight it just find a way to get product to market quickly, and if the bites don’t come, then fail cheaply and quickly.  We explored this against a backdrop of ’10 000 hours theory’ that suggests you never have a really tasty bait until you have served your time and really mastered a craft!  You pay your money and you take your chance….

I also did some stuff with them on the importance of building balanced management teams with people who can look after great product, great marketing and sales and wonderful financial management.  A quick dissection of a few businesses in the room showed them to be packed full of creatives – but certainly short, if not completely absent, of real passion for marketing, sales and financial management.  This, to say the least, is a problem.  I hope they recognised that perhaps as well as hanging out with other creatives (who provide validation and yet more ideas) they might need to hang out with a few ‘suits’ in order to get the diversity of passion and skill that their businesses need.  The course tutor said that she could see a look of relief pass across faces when I said that they should not be expected to be great at everything themselves.  That it was OK to build teams, to ask for help.  That someone else should be doing the bits in the business that they hate.  We explored how proper mentoring and coaching could help fill this gaps and that skills could be begged, borrowed and bartered.  The inadequacies of some mentoring programmes designed to help where described by entrepreneurs who had been on the receiving end.  So much mentoring is more about CSR and professional development for the mentor than it is about really helping the entrepreneur.  We also spent much of the evening talking about the merits of ‘kissing frogs’ and seeing which ones turned into to Princes/Princesses!  Don’t just accept the mentor you have been sent.  Go and search for the right one yourself!

The 90 minute masterclass (for me at least) flew by – ending with a riff on the importance of managing your own learning, along with a few insights into how to do this, and keeping yourself on track with your own personal vision for the kind of person you need to be. Staying true to yourself.   Following your muse.

At the end, as has happened several times before when I have done this kind of gig, participants told  me that ‘I really understood the way that artists think and work’.  This reaction initially puzzled me.  I have a degree in Physics and a schooling in enterprise and entrepreneurship.  I did once read Gombrich’s History of Art and I do know what I like….but how could I have developed any real insight into the psyche of the artist?

The truth is of course that artists are people too.  The same ideals of psychology, personal growth, honesty in work, and staying true to a personal vision and values apply whether you are an artists, physicist, engineer or nurse.  The real secret of my work here is connecting with people about their personal visions – and not getting sucked into the nitty gritty of the business.

I’d love to do more of this kind of short masterclass – so if there are any opportunities out there do get in touch!