Archives for March 2010
Now here IS an enterprise ambassador!
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.
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?
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!