Improving Employability…

Businesses reading the future of the labour market and feeding employment needs back in to the education system sounds like a great plan. Except we haven't yet found a way to do it. We do not know enough about how the labour market will shape up with enough 'notice' to make any real difference to the educational process at all. And then there is the small matter that education is not all about employability and entrepreneurship. Few teachers join the education system as a kind of prep school for employers and have an innate suspicion of employers looking for ready made employment 'fodder'. The vision for education is larger than slotting people into jobs. It is about the realisation of potential. In the heads of many education professionals the two goals of realising potential and developing employability make uncomfortable bed-fellows. I have been involved in Vocational Education and Training, both on the policy side and in practice for over 25 years. Not one of those 25 years has gone by without similar diagnoses and prescriptions: A stronger role for employers, more business in the curriculum, better specifications of what it means to be employable (whole careers can be developed in this … [Read more...]

Bonsai People in a Bonsai Culture?

Bonsai = An ornamental tree or shrub grown in a pot and artificially prevented from reaching its normal size The bonsai is not a genetic variant but has within it the potential to become a fully grown tree.  However it is carefully cultivated to meet the demanding requirements of the gardener.  It is fed few nutrients, kept in shallow soil, not allowed to form deep roots, continually pruned and kept 'in proportion'; shaped to the precise requirements of the gardener and the specifications of their profession. Bonsai People Bonsai people have had their development limited, distorted and shaped by the influence of their environment rather more than it has been driven by their own potential and aspirations.  To an extent we are all Bonsai People.  But some people have been more bonsaid than others. And some seem to be very content with their bonsai nature.  While others are frustrated at the sensation that there must be something more in them than this. Yesterday I was on the phone with Rich Huxley and we were talking about developing musicians. I told him of a mentor in Leeds who had boasted to me about how they had worked with a 14 year old boy whose ambition was 'to be the best bass guitarist in the world' … [Read more...]

The West Yorkshire Water Feature Arms Race … [Read more...]

A Way Forward for Communities?

There is no doubt in my mind that community based and bottom up approaches to enterprise support like those pioneered by Ernesto Sirolli and subsequently developed and transformed by projects like Bizz Fizz and on a much more modest scale Elsie, provide significant clues to the emergence of truly sustainable and enterprising communities. But instead we get celebrity entrepreneurs and academics delivering masterclass after masterclass after enterprise competition on a seemingly endless treadmill driven by incoherent policy and the increasingly desperate search for those Holy Grails of 'narrow'  economic development - the quick win and the high-growth start-up. It must be time for us to develop a focus on long term, community building  approaches to sustainable development that embraces the economy, culture and social cohesion as an inseparable trinity.  These things cannot be pursued successfully as separate entities managed by different silos. They are all part of the same process of 'development'. We need to develop affordable processes that engage the whole community in nurturing the development of those willing to act boldly and helping more of its members to see that bold action will often reap its reward, … [Read more...]

Some forgotten truths about enterprise…

Poverty is not about scarcity – it 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 Markets will always have a place in our society but not everything can be bought and sold.  Care for example is an emotional relationship that cannot be bought and sold. Development is a measure of the extent to which individuals have the capabilities to live the life that they choose.  It has 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; … [Read more...]

Management and the Start Up

I work with businesses and organisations at all stages of the life-cycle. Pre-starts, start-ups and mature businesses. I often see management DNA develop in the start-up phase and it is seldom a pretty site. Habits and relationships are set early and become very difficult to shake off. This is largely because of the mindset of the original founder of the business: This is their baby; They know how they want it to develop; They have exacting standards. Consequently their management style can be brusque, directive, bruising and ultimately damaging to the long term growth of the business. Ideally I get to work with a business pre-start and ensure that the entrepreneurs builds their management team BEFORE the business plan is developed. This way all members of the team can own the plan and a more open and collaborative management DNA can be established from the start. However this is pretty rare. More usually I am working with an owner manager who has already established a pretty controlling management style. Helping them to see a different way of running the business is tough enough. Coaching them to make it happen is even tougher. Often it takes a real shock to the business and the entrepreneur … [Read more...]

Here’s to the compliant ones…or why bolting on enterprise won’t work

Another afternoon talking NEETS and another bunch of folk who think that a few more entrepreneurs going in to schools to raise aspirations will make things better. It wont. Because for the vast majority of the time our cultures, in schools, councils and other machine bureaucracies actually teach a very different lesson. The celebration of compliance and subjugation to the system.  So.... Here's to the compliant ones The submissives The 'OK' folk The shapeshifters occupying the shape shifting roles The ones who see the reason of others They are fond of rules and the security of routine They can quote you, agree with you, glorify, and support you And, when you need to, you can ignore them. Because they challenge nothing, They don't push the boundaries And, while some may see them as automatons, we see them as gun fodder The people who will threaten nothing and will work for little more. … [Read more...]

The business of human endeavour…

For a long time now I have had real concerns about the focus of policy makers, and the projects that they spawn, on 'enterprise' and 'entrepreneurship' as being just too business oriented.  It is as if the only fields of human endeavour that matter are commerce of some kind.  Making money or fixing societies ills. This is especially un-nerving when you see it played out in our primary schools as 6 year olds are encouraged to wear badges that proclaim them be a 'Sales Director', an 'Operations Manager' or a 'Brand Executive'. Yuk! What about all of those other great fields of human endeavour? Climbing mountains, making art, having fun, playing sport, writing, cooking and so on. What if we encouraged our 6 year olds to wear badges that proclaimed them to be 'Footballer in Training', 'Ballet Dancer under Construction', 'Surgeon to Be' or 'The Next Michael McIntyre'?  OK, so perhaps we don't need another Michael McIntyre.... but you get my point? Because what really matters is not exposing more people to the world of business and entrepreneurship.  It is to get them imagining possible futures, and learning how best to navigate towards them.  It is about developing people with a sense of agency and influence over their … [Read more...]

Stating the Bleedin’ Obvious…(unless you are policy wonk or their lackey…)

Not every small business or micro-enterprise owner needs a mentor. Mentoring is NOT the only helping relationship. Good mentors are rarely trained in 'mentoring', nor are they picked from a register. Successful mentors are usually selected from within the pre-existing network of the mentee.  They are spotted and developed as someone from  whom the mentee really wants to learn. Mentoring is an intermittent rather than a continuous relationship. Access to good mentors is usually restricted and respectful rather than a tradeable commodity. The success of the mentorship is usually down to the mentee rather than the mentor.  Good mentees know how to choose a mentor and manage the relationship with them to get the learning and the introductions that they need. The commoditisation of mentoring is not a good thing. Mentors are not coaches, advisers, consultants, counsellors or facilitators.  People looking to learn and develop themselves and/or their organisations should think carefully about the kind of 'help' they need. We should help people explore what they want to learn and how they are going to learn it - rather than prescribe yet another 'cure-all' that happens to be 'affordable'. We should focus our efforts on … [Read more...]

High Growth and High Start Up Rates: Why We Shouldn’t Chase Them

Colin Bell over at Winning Moves picks over this old chestnut in his latest post. Should we throw our limited resources at businesses that we believe have high growth potential or should we just go for lots of start-ups knowing that a minority of them will experience high growth anyway? The plain truth is that both are equally foolish policy goals. We simply can't pick winners/high growth businesses.  So how do we know which to resource? And as Drucker said 'you can't have the mountain top without the mountain' .  High growth businesses emerge from a strong and vibrant enterprise ecology.  An ecology that is diverse, tightly knit and well connected (bridging and bonding, social and cultural capital). Focus on building the mountain and the top will look after itself. But please don't build the mountain by rushing to increase the start up rate. When we do this we just increase the failure rate too and that undermines aspiration and confidence.  So start fewer businesses, but make sure they are good ones, team starts, well thought through and researched.  Get survival rates into the 90%s after three years.  Not just survival, but successful.  Allow these small but significant success show the way to others. So set up … [Read more...]


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