The Power of Collaboration

It seems to me that there is little more important to the quality of community than the ability to collaborate.  I think it was Kevin Kelly who first said that

Access is better than ownership.

Collaboration has the potential to allow us to access skills, ideas, money, labour, resources and allows us to achieve things that would be impossible if we did not learn how to collaborate.

  • So what can we do that helps to build our ability to collaborate across the city?
  • What can we do to collaborate over consumption and ownership?
  • What can we do to collaborate over creativity and production?

Today a small group is meeting in Leeds to explore some of the se questions and see just what if anything can be done to make Leeds a more collaborative city.

I look forward to seeing what comes from it.

Milun Consultation Day

Friends at the Milun Women’s Centre in Chapeltown are at it again.

Planning great things.

And they want to hear your ideas!

Milun Consultation Day

The Alternative LEP and Micro-enterprise

Our alternative LEP will have a board stuffed full of owner managers of micro enterprises.

Don’t get me wrong we will have ‘token’ small and medium sized board members too – but will draw the line at Big Business. They have enough lobbying clout and influence to fight their own battles.

So what type of policies would our board look at developing?

  1. Programmes to promote local supply chains and sourcing from micro-enteprise wherever practical
  2. Conduct a major overhaul of commissioning and procurement processes in the public sector (local authorities and NHS as primary targets) and where possible big businesses to ensure that they are as micro-enterprise friendsly as possible
  3. Divert training and learning budgets away from FE colleges and pay owner managers to take on apprenctices and teach them current, commercial practices.  Move the locus for learning from the class room into the workplace.
  4. Develop ways to enable micro-enterprises to co-operate and collaborate so they they can punch above their weight. Promote collaborative consumption and production.
  5. Promote local economy arguments and the importance of keeping cash in local peoples hands rather than handing it over to multi-nationals

What other policy areas would an alt-LEP that understood micro enterprise seek to develop?

Towards the Enterprising Community

No-one can agree on a community.  Is it defined by political geography? Physical geography? Economic geography?  Interest, practice, culture?  So how do we use such an elusive, slippery yet, for some of us, attractive and powerful concept?

Well, personally I have given up worrying about how ‘communities’ are defined by outsiders (politicians, funders, missionaries of various kinds, what Paul Theroux calls the Dark Angels of Virtue).  The only thing that matters for me is the individual, or the usually small group sat in front of me, and their perception of their community, defined their way.  Any other attempt to work with the concept for me is just hot air.  We all define community personally and, very probably, uniquely.

But that does not make the concept useless.  Quite the opposite.

I spend a lot of time helping people to look at the relationships and contexts that they are a part of and the extent to which they help or hinder them to become the kind of person that they wish to become, accomplishing the things that they most wish to accomplish.  And I will spend time working with them on how they can get more of the support that they need from their ‘community’.  I spend a lot of time and energy building networks of people who just love to ‘help’.  Many of these networks are a blend of face to face and online – mediated through blogs and social networks as well as through a range of meetings, gatherings and parties.  And I try to connect individuals from one network into individuals from another, so that help can start to flow across and between different groups.

So first we have to find self interest.  That which really matters personally.  That which shapes who we are.  That on which our identity is based and through which it can be constructively shaped.

Then we have to find common cause and build networks and relationships where we can successfully negotiate our self interest.  We then forge connections between these networks to build a diverse, resourceful ‘community’ of individuals who are helping and being helped as part of their daily practice.  Surely this puts us firmly on the trail of the enterprising community?

And for great things to happen people have to learn to help each other.   The stereotype of the selfish backstabbing ‘Apprentice’ does not thrive in an enterprising community – though they may do well in The City.  Successful citizens in the enterprising community learn to associate, collaborate, cooperate and mutualise.  To find those with whom there is a common cause.  And they understand that giving hep to others is as important as getting help themselves.  The have theGo-Giver mindset and they express it through their actions.  They live it.

So, as those who attended Enterprising Community: Big Conversation explored, enterprising community is not a place or a neighbourhood but a philosophy, that can be summed up as ‘Concentrate on yourself and helping your neighbour’.

And where does entrepreneurship fit into this practice?  How does this help the start up rate?  Well the more powerful and enterprising individuals we have, embedded in enterprising communities the more great start-ups we will have, borne into a context where they may well enjoy the support of a wide web of community.  We are truly building a community where enterprise and entrepreneurship may thrive.

Towards Enterprising Communities…

No-one can agree on a community.  Is it defined by political geography? Physical geography? Economic geography?  Interest, practice, culture?  So how do we use such an elusive, slippery yet, for some of us, attractive and powerful concept.

Well, personally I have given up worrying about how ‘communities’ are defined by outsiders (politicians, funders, missionaries of various kinds, what Paul Theroux calls the Dark Angels of Virtue).  The only thing that matters for me is the individual, or the usually small group sat in front of me, and their perception of their community, defined their way.  Any other attempt to work with the concept for me is just hot air.  We all define community personally and, very probably, uniquely.

But that does not make the concept useless.  Quite the opposite.

I spend a lot of time helping people to look at the relationships and contexts that they are a part of and the extent to which they help or hinder them to become the kind of person that they wish to become, accomplishing the things that they most wish to accomplish.  And I will spend time working with them on how they can get more of the support that they need from their ‘community’.  I spend a lot of time and energy building networks of people who just love to ‘help’.  Many of these networks are a blend of face to face and online – mediated through blogs and social networks as well as through a range of meetings, gatherings and parties.  And I try to connect individuals from one network into individuals from another, so that help can start to flow across and between different groups.

So first we have to find self interest.  That which really matters personally.  That which shapes who we are.  That on which our identity is based and through which it can be constructively shaped.

Then we have to find common cause and build networks and relationships where we can successfully negotiate our self interest.  We then forge connections between these networks to build a diverse, resourceful ‘community’ of individuals who are helping and being helped as part of their daily practice.  Surely this puts us firmly on the trail of the enterprising community?

And for great things to happen people have to learn to help each other.   The stereotype of the selfish backstabbing ‘Apprentice’ does not thrive in an enterprising community – though they may do well in The City.  Successful citizens in the enterprising community learn to associate, collaborate, cooperate and mutualise.  To find those with whom there is a common cause.  And they understand that giving hep to others is as important as getting help themselves.  The have the Go-Giver mindset and they express it through their actions.  They live it.

So, as those who attended Enterprising Community: Big Conversation explored, enterprising community is not a place or a neighbourhood but a philosophy, that can be summed up as ‘Concentrate on yourself and helping your neighbour’.

Enterprising Communities – Missing a trick?

One of my favourite frameworks for thinking about team work was published in a book called Dialogue by Bill Isaacs.

The model suggests that if a group is to make progress it needs to have 4 distinct roles handled effectively.

Firstly it need Movers.  These are people who float ideas, lead initiatives and generally make things happen. Spontaneous, action orientated and often extrovert – happy to put their ideas out there. In a community I often think that these Movers are akin to entrepreneurs.

But a productive group also needs skilled Followers.  These are people who can take the energy and ideas of the Movers and build on them, add to them, take of the rough edges, put in the hard work and generally get the job done.  They are close to what Mike Southon calls cornerstones.  People who help turn the vision into reality.

But in addition to Movers and Followers a productive group also needs effective Opposers.  These are people who are going to check the facts, collect the evidence and if there is an objection to be raised, they will raise it.  Constructively, powerfully and effectively.  They will skilfully play the role of the Devil’s Advocate and if there is a weakness or a fault-line in the thinking they WILL find it.

And finally a productive group, or I would argue and enterprising community, needs Bystanders.   They stand back from the cut and thrust of the idea and its development but will instead provide perspective, an overview and perhaps some historical context.  They also help to manage the group process, ensure that deadlines are met and that resources are available when they are needed most.  They may well ‘chair’ the conversations.

People can play more than one role in the model, but in an effective group or community all 4 roles are played well.

Yet we seem to be obsessed really with just one of them.  The Movers.  The Entrepreneurs.  We spend a lot of time and money developing the entrepreneur, but very little time developing people to play the other three roles.

One of the marks of the enterprising community for me is that it knows how to engage its Movers and Entrepreneurs and equip them with the Followers, Opposers and Bystanders that they need to really build a successful project, whether it is business start-up, a community project or a campaign.

We often rely on advisers or mentors to play these roles.  But when an entrepreneur works with a group of their peers, drawn from their communities and markets who know how to follow, oppose and bystand skillfully, I can guarantee that they will get much more value.

And they will also win lots of advocates for them and their work.

Enterprise Hub or Duck Farm?

I visited a really great community centre recently.  Busy, friendly, homespun, clearly doing great work in and with the community. We were using several rooms, one of which was called the ‘Enterprise Hub’.  It was spotlessly clean, airy, spacious and well furnished, just like every other room in the building.  But for the life of me I could not work out what made it an ‘Enterprise Hub’.  It was not set up for hot desking, there were no PCs, no mail boxes, none of the usual paraphernalia…

So I asked the centre manager about the Enterprise Hub.  The answer surprised me – but it shouldn’t have done.  They were looking for cash to modernise and re-decorate the room and in conversation with the local authority it become clear that the only budget with cash available was in ‘Enterprise’.

‘They said if we called it an Enterprise Hub we could have the cash.’

I love the way this demonstrates the inherent enterprise of the community centre management team in tracking down the cash that they need to ‘get the job done’.  I am less impressed  by what it says about some investments in ‘enterprise’.  I can just imagine the report to the councillors about the new enterprise hub…

I remember a colleague saying to me at the launch of a major enterprise initiative,

‘The problem is that many of the people in this room don’t really understand enterprise.  They don’t live it and breathe it.  If the Government was announcing a major initiative to invest in duck farming, because an economist had said THAT is the future of the UK economy, many of these same people would be in the room, nodding sagely, and would run home to invent new policies to encourage duck farming’.

Breaking the Stranglehold on Enterprise

For a few years now I seem to have been living in Groundhog Day.

Not everyday, but enough to be disconcerting.

I will be chatting with an enterprise professional, perhaps a lecturer in a University, an enterprise coach in a ‘deprived’ community, a start-up business adviser or a bureaucrat managing an enterprise project. In our conversations about enterprise we will recognise how it is not all about business. How enterprise can be expressed in a seemingly infinite number of ways.

Sure, for a significant and important minority, it is about commercial endeavour.  Business, profit, and social impact in some combination. In order to express their enterprising soul a minority have to start a business.

But for the majority being enterprising, being proactive in pursuit of a better future, does not mean starting up a business. It may mean making a phone call, having a conversation, calling a meeting or writing a letter. Taking some action that increases agency and power in pursuing a preferred future. It may be taking the opportunity to reflect on ‘The direction in which progress lies’, or ‘What are the next steps that I can take to make progress?’ or ‘What options have I got?’

We will reflect on how some of the most enterprising people we know may work in the Council, or the University, or organise festivals and campaigns in the community. That the enterprising soul finds its expressions in many forms and not just in entrepreneurship.

We will agree that the real point of leverage in our communities lies not in providing start-up advice with those who are already minded to start a business, although of course this IS important. The real leverage lies in helping more people to establish the direction in which progress lies for them and their loved ones and helping them to plan and execute actions designed to move them in that direction.

If we can significantly increase the stock of enterprising people then, as sure as eggs is eggs, we will also increase the stock of entrepreneurial people. And we will not lose so many who are completely turned off by enterprise because of the Gordon Gecko or Victorian perceptions of enterprise nurtured by the reality TV shows and newspaper headlines.

We will also increase the survival rate of new businesses as people make natural progress into entrepreneurship instead of being persuaded to start a business (‘all you need is the idea and the determination to succeed’) when they have not yet gained the real skills or capital that they will need to succeed.

In our conversations we will agree on these things. And then almost invariably they will head off to run another course on ‘Marketing and Sales’ or ‘Business Planning’ or to look at monitoring returns that count bums on seats and business start-up rates. If ever there was an industry that needed to innovate and re-invent itself and its role in modern Britain it is the enterprise industry. If we really want to build a much more enterprising Britain then we need to break the stranglehold that the business start-up industry has on enterprise policy.

Now of course there are a lot of people who like things the just the way that they are.  There are a whole army of ‘enterprise professionals’ out there with ‘start up workshops’, business planning sessions and assorted ‘enterprise = business’ paraphernalia all telling the policy makers that ‘This is the way’.

Yet in decades of trying to increase the business start-up rates things have not changed significantly. Indeed according to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor in the last decade the ‘nascent entrepreneur rate’ (the percentage of 16-64 year olds actively involved in setting up a business in the UK) has dropped from 3.3% in 2001 to 3.1% in 2010.  And this in spite of enterprise and entrepreneurship climbing the policy agenda and attracting significant investment.

Time for the community to reclaim the enterprise agenda from the suits perhaps?