Development as Freedom – Enterprise as a Key

Last night Nobel prize winning Economist and philosopher Amartya Sen gave an address with Demos and the Indian High Commission.  Sen has spent a lifetime studying poverty, its causes and how it may be alleviated.  His writing is dense, often supported with mathematical arguments.  He is not an easy read.  By his own admission he is a theorist and a researcher.  It is up to others to put his research into practice.

So what does Sen have to say?  How is it relevant to enterprise?  Well here is my interpretation and, no doubt, gross simplification – tentatively offered….

  • Poverty is fundamentally rooted in injustice – the problem 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
  • Development is a measure of the extent to which individuals have the capabilities to live the life that they choose.  It had 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

Clearly Sen is not arguing that everyone should start their own business.  Entrepreneurship is on the agenda but not at the top of it.

He is arguing for enterprising individuals and challenging us to develop our society in a way that encourages and supports them.

Anyone for enterprise?

Development as Freedom – Enterprise as a Key?

Last night Nobel prize winning Economist and philosopher Amartya Sen gave an address with Demos and the Indian High Commission.  Sen has spent a lifetime studying poverty, its causes and how it may be alleviated.  His writing is dense, often supported with mathematical arguments.  He is not an easy read.  By his own admission he is a theorist and a researcher.  It is up to others to put his research into practice.

So what does Sen have to say?  How is it relevant to enterprise?  Well here is my interpretation and, no doubt, gross simplification – tentatively offered….

  • Poverty is fundamentally rooted in injustice – the problem 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
  • Development is a measure of the extent to which individuals have the capabilities to live the life that they choose.  It had 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

Clearly Sen is not arguing that everyone should start their own business.  Entrepreneurship is on the agenda but not at the top of it.

He is arguing for enterprising individuals and challenging us to develop our society in a way that encourages and supports them.

Anyone for enterprise?

Entrepreneur – Or Entrepreneurial Seizure?

More often than not ‘entrepreneur’ is used to describe both a passing phase of ‘start up’ and a lasting role of ‘business management and development’.    The two roles overlap to some degree but demand different dispositions and skills.

In the start up phase the entrepreneur is frequently working alone developing a personal vision and finding ways to make it work, in theory.  They are finding investors and developing plans.  They are researching and shaping their still very malleable ideas until finally they have something on paper that ‘works’.  They talk with advisers and potential customers.  But the business is just an idea.  It is not yet a demanding child; a long term commitment.

Sooner rather than later the infant business develops different needs; sales, management (especially financial management) and systems.  The emphasis shifts from the energy and drive of start up to a different vibe of business development.  Energy and drive are still required but so too is discipline and routine.  The business is no longer on paper where numbers can be changed at the stroke of a key.  It is now a real thing where to ‘change a number’ takes real work and often hard cash.  And the business is there, demanding, all day and every day.

Instead of a single person driving a personal vision it now may require teamwork and people management.  The entrepreneur has to morph into a cocktail that includes some or all of; sales, management, bookkeeper, product/service development, operations management and leadership.  A very few make this transition with relish. But for most it proves difficult.

Many entrepreneurs learn to move on with grace.  The passion, skills and energy that help them bring the businesses into life are not well suited to the more methodical and disciplined demands of business development.  Having been responsible for conception they leave the parenting to others.  They bring in professional ‘management’  while they move on.  This IS the entrepreneur.

But for the majority, who are venturing into entrepreneurship for the first time, this early exit to business ownership is not seriously considered.  The business is set up from the start as a vehicle in which the ‘entrepreneur’ can pursue their trade (social media guru, web designer, window cleaner, whatever).  There is no exit.  They have had what Gerber calls the ‘entrepreneurial seizure’.

Gerber recognised that most people who choose to start a business aren’t really ‘entrepreneurs’ as described above. Instead, they are technicians, craftsmen or artisans who have had what he called “an entrepreneurial seizure“. They have become fed-up with their boss, disillusioned by their employer, made redundant, or increasingly have never been employed and decide to start out on their own ‘Enterprise Fairytale’.

This is the entrepreneurial seizure, and critical decisions must now be taken.  Get them right and the transition to ‘entrepreneur’, and ‘business owner’ may be made.  Get them wrong and the entrepreneurial seizure may be prolonged, expensive and painful.  Society may still label you ‘an entrepreneur’ but you will be both boss and labourer, technician, craftsman or artisan.  What once felt like tremendous progress may soon turn into a trap.

If you learn your entrepreneurial skills at one of the worlds leading business schools you will be taught the skills of starting and owning a business.  You will be taught to avoid the entrepreneurial seizure.  If you learn your entrepreneurial skills in more prosaic settings this lesson may not be taught.  Indeed the working assumption may be that helping you into an entrepreneurial seizure  could be as good as it gets.

It might be perfect for you – but it is not really entrepreneurship.

And when the policy makers lament our ability in the UK to start businesses that consistently achieve global scale, I believe it is because we trap so many of our ‘could be’ entrepreneurs in their own entrepreneurial seizures.

Watch Out for the Vision…

The point about Visions of the Anointed is that, whether they are co-produced or not, they will always be problematical. They will always create winners and losers. They will always consume vast amounts of time, energy, cash and other resources. And they will always be, at best, contemporary. They never successfully anticipate, and therefore can never be built well for the future.

They provide a damaging diversion, a displacement activity, that allows individuals to continue to blame the planners, the builders and their fellow citizens instead of doing the long hard work of climbing their own personal mountains and seeing how they can help fellow climbers along the way.

Co-production in the Vision of the Anointed is perhaps an impoverished and futile version of ‘active citizenship’?

By ‘engaging’ us in polishing their visions they disengage us from our own.

Communities are the product of citizens leading active and engaged lives in pursuit of progress. Not by getting the spatial infrastructure right.  By shaping plans that we then expect others to deliver.

And if ‘citizens’ can start to set the parameters for Placemaking then we are just replacing one group of the anointed (a professional elite) with another (the proletariat). Sowells’ point in Vision of the Anointed, IF I have understood it properly, is that it does not matter how we choose the anointed, the product of their deliberations WILL be flawed.

I think Drucker was also onto this in his work on meta-economics where he argued that planners can NEVER keep up with the process of enterprise and entrepreneurship as a force for driving social change.

So let’s be careful in our collusion with the anointed in trying to build the perfect cathedral. Let’s take ourselves instead into the bazaar and work on more personal, small scale pursuit of progress.

Anyone for ‘enterprise’ (rightly understood)?

Challenges for Community Development – Dreaming the Unreasonable Dream

One of challenges facing us is what should we do when the people we are helping have aspirations that are just so… well…unreasonable.   Everybody wants to win the x-factor, be a model/professional footballer or bag millions on the national lottery.

What is the best response to such dreamers?  Options include…

  1. Share with them a liberal dose of ‘reality’ based on our knowledge of probabilities in the real world and encourage them to develop plan B
  2. Wish them the best of luck – but reserve our energies and ambitions for the more practically minded
  3. Roll our sleeves up and help

There is of course only one answer if we are really interested in ‘development’ , the process of people exploring their potential and how it can be fulfilled in the world; rather than ‘envelopment’ the process of engaging people in well worn ‘pathways to success’ usually developed by an employer skills board of some description.

If we are interested in development then our role is to help people in the pursuit of their dreams and aspirations and to help them (if necessary) develop their dreams and aspirations in the light of feedback and experience.

But we should discredit their dreams at our peril.

Over the years I have collected a number of business ideas that ‘should never have worked’.  Any ‘practical and rational’ adviser would have ‘persuaded’ the potential entrepreneur to think again, to try something more sensible.  Yet all of these ideas worked – both economically and socially.

Here are some of my favourites…

Challenges in Community Development – The Vision of the Anointed

I spent yesterday afternoon working with a group of students on an MA in Social Activism and Change.  I had been invited to speak to the group because of my work on facilitating ‘social change’ using person centred and responsive methodologies.

We contrasted top down, strategic approaches for social change with bottom up, responsive approaches – and explored the detrimental impact on civic participation of relying on the ‘Vision of the Anointed’ to frame our change processes.  A little explanation.  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:

  1. They identify a crisis – a situation that, if not addressed, will lead to disaster
  2. They propose policies and intervention to ‘solve’ the crisis that they believe will lead to a positive set of results.
  3. The policies are implemented and the results are usually mixed.  There will be both benefits and detriments associated with the implementation of policy
  4. 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 do, 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 will see us right.  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.  They 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 traders to promote their ideas and  form allegiances for progress.  They value a culture of enterprise over compliance.  They are 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.

Next Generation Leadership Talent

The fine and august City of Leeds hosted an NCVO curry club dinner last night in troubled Clarence Dock.  The Y&H Region managed a splendid turnout of 7 to explore the leadership challenges facing civic society as part of Leadership2020.  Perhaps there is a message here about the power of the existing leadership to convene conversations that matter?  Or perhaps as a region we just don’t really know how to play our part as effective followers?

Conversation was varied and interesting and here are my key takeways:

  1. We need to avoid conceiving of leadership as the province of the anointed.  Leadership is a participation sport, a social process, in which all stakeholders must be encourages to play a role.   The challenge is not to recruit, retain and develop the few in a leadership elite, but to find ways of engaging all who wish to be engaged in co-creating the future.
  2. Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy
  3. We should not ape the ‘talent management’ processes of the private and public sector.  Our sector has distinct values and these must be reflected in our leadership constructs and processes
  4. We need to find ways in which leadership can unite more diverse voices and opinions in common cause.  Leadership processes that emphasise opportunities for mutuality and association rather than competition
  5. Leadership processes must work for those whom we purport to serve – not just for the state to exploit the third sector as a low cost route to market
  6. Managing processes of dialogue (barriers being time and knowhow) should be high on the agenda for the development of effective leadership processes
  7. We must learn to engage volunteers in a cause rather than a ‘career’ stepping stone
  8. We must drop an infatuation with leadership ‘skills’.  There always other keys to the kingdom. We should instead major on self managed learning process, reflective practice and above all awareness of impact in relation to intentions.

Any of that make sense to you?

Enterprise for All – Wednesday 31st March 2010 Free Conference

Unleashing Enterprise is creating a partnership for all enterprise educators to pioneer a culture of enterprise across the East Midlands. The partnership is managed by the East Midlands Development Agency (emda) and developed in close partnership with educators, employers, enterprise agencies, policy makers and funding organisations. The programme is helping to facilitate a more cohesive and planned approach to the development and delivery of the enterprise offer in the East Midlands. It is also helping to promote opportunities for all people, but mainly young people, to take up the enterprise skills offer in their schools, communities or places of work.

The annual Unleashing Enterprise conference takes place on the 31st March at the East Midlands Conference Centre. Entitled “Enterprise for All?”, the conference comes at an exciting time for those working in the field of enterprise capabilities with the enterprise skills agenda shortly to be included within the Regional Skills Strategy. With entrepreneurs heralded in popular media as much as in business journals these days, it is easy to assume that enterprise activity is readily understood and accessible to all. But is it? Or should it be?

2010 is a good time to take stock of activity that is being developed along the “golden thread of enterprise” and Enterprise for All will do just that.

Keynote speakers lined up for the conference confirmed thus far include:

  • Mike Chitty, Author of the BLOG, “Enterprise & Entrepreneurship in the Community”
  • Andrew Morgan, Skills and Communities Director at emda
  • Toby Reid, Nottingham based entrepreneur and ex-graduate of NTU’s the Hive and founder of business reality website http://www.inafishbowl.com/

There will also be an enterprise market place showcasing the best of enterprise in the East Midlands. Attendance at the conference is free for delegates and agencies that want to participate in the market place.

If you wish to register for this event please complete the online booking form

Chance for those outside the East Midlands to see what’s going on.

Influencing Policy, Driving Change Conference 25th March

Thursday 25 March
10am-4pm
The Octagon, Hull

A one-day regional conference jointly organised by Yorkshire and the Humber Regional Forum and the NCVO Forum for Change.

We would like to invite you to attend Influencing Policy, Driving Change, a conference for anyone involved in campaigning and influencing in the voluntary and community sector.

This free event will help you make sense of the external policy environment and focus on the skills and expertise needed to get your voice heard where it matters – locally, regionally and nationally.

During the day we will explore:

  • Key trends in the external policy and campaigning environment
  • How to engage with regional and sub-regional decision making structures
  • The ‘rules of engagement’ with Westminster & how to get your voice heard
  • The principles for effective collaboration in your campaigning & policy work

Full details of the speakers and workshop choices can be seen by visiting our website at: www.ncvo-vol.org.uk/influencingpolicyconference.

You can book online, or contact Sue Beckett on 020 7520 2440 or by emailing susan.beckett@ncvo-vol.org.uk.