Whether it is more ‘civic enterprise’, community engagement or ‘Big Society’, people with power, but increasingly little money, are looking for new ways to get things done.
The large capital infrastructure projects have not given us more inclusive communities and now we can’t afford them any way, so in some quarters at least interest is shifting from old school top down strategy to a more emergent process of bottom up development. To processes where large numbers of people can shape their own futures and as a result the futures of the communities that they live in.
But making the shift from top down to bottom up is far from easy….
Over the last few years I have been developing low and no cost approaches to economic, personal and community development leading to new projects such as:
- Progress Schools
- Community Conversations
- Local Community Enterprise Accelerators (‘Elsies’)
- Innovation Labs and
- Results Factories
These are my best efforts to provide an infrastructure that allows the private, public, third sector and those of ‘no sector’ to give and get the help that they need to develop enterprising projects and people, and for the development of ‘community’ by building relationships and networks around local activists.
To bring ‘bottom up’ development to life.
Enterprise, community and complexity. Slippery words. But behind the slippery words are concepts that offer the possibility of progress.
Lets start with ‘enterprise‘. First, empty your mind of all those misconceptions that I must be talking about ‘business starts’, ‘cash flow forecasts’, ‘profits’ and ‘Dragons’.
I am not.
I am talking about enterprise as a measure of ‘agency’ in one’s own life. The extent to which an individual is able to recognise what ‘progress’ (another slippery word) means for them and to take action in its pursuit. This is what I mean by enterprise. It is the product of clear self-interest (I know what I want) and power (I have the confidence, skills and knowledge to take organised action in its pursuit). An enterprising person is one who is clear on what they want from their life and actively pursues it. An enterprising community is one which has many such people – because they are valued and supported.
Being enterprising does not make you a good person. It just makes you someone who is acting in, what you believe to be, your own self-interest. If self-interest is ‘enlightened’ then it is likely that the resulting ‘enterprise’ will make a positive contribution to community.
If we are serious about developing ‘enterprise’, rather than managing the outputs that most enterprise funders are looking for, we need to concern ourselves with the development of self-interest and power. We are in the realms of person centred facilitation and education. Not business planning. This is an enormous shift both in what we do, and how we do it. Helping people to clarify their self-interest and find the power to pursue it requires very different structures and processes to a typical business start-up programme.
It is worth noting that if you have money, there is a fair chance that at some time you will have hired a coach to help you with the difficult and personal work of clarifying self-interest and gaining the power you need to pursue it. And if they were a good coach they would not have manipulated you towards their preferred outputs – but would let you work on your own personal agenda. If you have little or no money the chances of you ever having access to such a potentially transformational relationship are slim to none. The relationship that you have with various ‘helpers’ is likely to be one where they try to manipulate you ‘back to work’, towards a ‘healthy diet’ or some such policy goal of funded output.
Over the last few years I have spoken with many enterprise educators, policy makers and practitioners and they have all accepted that this conception of enterprise has merit. Not only will it help us to get more business start-ups, but it will also help us to get large numbers of people acting in pursuit of their own wellbeing – however they define it. But, this is not the work that gets commissioned, at least not by enterprise funders.
How does this concept of enterprise fit with ‘community’?
I choose to think of ‘community’ as a property that emerges when people and groups learn to negotiate their self-interest with the self-interests of others. Community is what the world of complexity science would call an emergent property. If this is correct then it raises serious questions about approaches which attempt to offer short cuts to community (building community centres and one stop shops for example) without addressing the preconditions necessary in a complex adaptive system (such as society) for its emergence, namely, lots of folk whose self-interest is properly understood and who have the knowledge and skill to use networks, associations, mutuality, reciprocity and generosity to pursue it.
Community emerges when people learn how to associate and collaborate in pursuit of mutual self-interest. When they recognise that the best way to achieve their own self-interest is to help others to achieve theirs.
A beautiful by-product of this is a raised awareness of the importance of difference.
If I learn how to associate and collaborate with someone who has different skills and knowledge, or a different cultural heritage to my own I am likely to gain more opportunities than if I associate with people who are pretty much the same as me. Associations across race, gender, age and so on often provide the key to opportunity and are a precondition that will allow strong communities to emerge.
With difference comes both opportunity and resilience.
Shaa Wasmund is a renowned enteprise guru whose own achievements both as an entrepreneur and as a provider of enterprise support have massively outweighed my own. Shaa asserts that…
Every athlete once had a dream to stand on an Olympic stage. But, they didn’t just talk about their dreams, they put in the hours, hard work and dedication to make them a reality. They gave all they had for one moment in time.
In my experience many who achieve excellence entered their field because they loved it rather than because they wanted to stand on an Olympic podium or to be a millionaire before they reach 30. Sometimes it IS the big dream that allows you to put in the hours of dedicated effort. But much more frequently it is the hours of dedicated effort that eventually allow you to dare to believe in the big dream. Most of us, to begin with at least, were not motivated by thoughts of winning on the big stage, but by pursuing our interests and exploring possibilities….
Our progress is driven by the dedicated development and exploration of passion and identity. A journey that often begins with no real clarity over where it might lead, or how far it might go.
I think this openness to journeys that start in different places with different intensities and ambitions is absolutely critical to make the most of all potential, whether it is in sport, business or any field.
And where should we invest our time and money? In helping people to navigate the ealry stages of their journeys. Because late stage development is, relatively speaking, child’s play.