Three thoughts after IEEC 2017

IEEC marks the beginning of the academic year for many enterprise educators and this year’s conference, hosted by Glasgow Caledonian University and organised by EEUK and NCEE, was a great start. My highlight (of this, and perhaps every IEEC so far), was the session from Babson College’s Heidi Neck. From enthralling the conference with a bar trick, to opening the door on her entrepreneurial classroom, and concluding with a serious point about the need for a scholarship of teaching and learning in entrepreneurship, she was warm, wise, entertaining. She packed the conference hall (on Friday morning, the last day of a three-day conference, the night after a Glasgow Ceilidh). So, thank you Heidi for your energy and generosity, and congratulations IEEC 2017 hosts and organisers for that genius scheduling. There was much to love across the rest of the workshops, keynotes, and conversations over coffee. Here’s three thoughts that kept me occupied on the drive home

  1. The Emperor’s New Clothes

The first workshop I attended on Wednesday was a provocative session run by Young Enterprise Scotland where they challenged the audience to consider the extent to which ‘sales’ and ‘sales training’ were a part of enterprise education provision. Delegates reflected that in the start-up process, interacting with real humans (potential customers with whom you might actually talk in person or on the phone), is a difficult step for many students to make. Students might have an idea, they might even have completed a Business Model Canvas or started to make a plan, but the work of validating their ideas with potential customers is out of their comfort zone (initially, at least). I wondered to what extent this reticence may be supported by the ways in which they have previously come into contact with ‘enterprise.’ The Evaluation of Enterprise Education in England (Mclarty et al, 2010), identified that ‘enterprise challenges’ were the most frequent and favoured ways of delivering enterprise education to pupils (favoured by 90% of surveyed schools). Such activities are often characterised by groups of pupils spending a day, or half a day in the school hall, working in teams to respond to a challenge. Typically, the climax of such activities is pupils presenting their ideas and one team being judged the winner on the day. A side effect of such a format is to divorce the idea development process from the most crucial element of the reality of start-up – the customer. Steve Blank describes how ‘customer development’ is a key activity for founders – talking to potential customers in order to test, improve or change ideas. But the ‘compete and pitch’ format, structured as it is around a final ‘judgement’, might lead students who take part in such activities to believe that the idea alone, if it’s good enough, is going to be a winner. The Young Enterprise Scotland presenters asked – are we encouraging students to think more about ‘selling out’ than selling to customers? Have a look at the Kauffman Sketchbook video which describes how what they call the ‘plan and pitch’ narrative characterises less than 1% of start-up journeys in the US. The takeaway – the success of elite entrepreneurs might be an exciting and understandable format, but it is not a reflection of the reality of 99% of start-ups.

2. We need to talk about enterprise education

Offering an alternative to ‘compete and pitch’ was one of the aims of the EEUK research project which I and Professor Nigel Culkin from the University of Hertfordshire completed this year. We shared the results and draft outputs from our project – The Bootleg Benchmarks – which aims to underscore the role that teachers can play in the development of enterprise, and offer alternative ways for them to conceive and practice it (through the curriculum).

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Some delegates I spoke to were aware of the national programme for careers and enterprise in secondary schools, special schools and colleges in England. It is underpinned by research by the Gatsby Foundation, which identifies eight ‘Gatsby Benchmarks’ –which schools can review and address to improve careers guidance in schools. In my work with schools, careers and enterprise coordinators have said they appreciate the practical approach of the Gatsby Benchmarks, and the focus on identifying pragmatic actions to support improvements. The Bootleg Benchmarks project aims to emulate that spirit – but at teacher level, rather than whole school.

Key policy and guidance were reviewed to clarify a picture of ‘what’s being asked of teachers?’, then related practices or actions were identified. Where there were potential gaps between the policy ambition (for example the aim for students to become more entrepreneurial), and the practice recommended (short term challenges and long-term enterprise competitions), research was undertaken to explain the potential pitfalls and alternative practices suggested. Our workshop sparked fascinating reactions, including:

  • Reflections that the compete and pitch format was provided, accepted and replicated with little or no questioning of its underpinning assumptions or identification of aims and outcomes.
  • Curiosity about why the ‘compete and pitch’ format is so prevalent.
  • Comparisons between perverse effects of competitive approaches in enterprise education and those observed in fields such as sport, where research has shown that a focus on winning is not as effective as a focus on performance and process.
  • Anecdotes about the pitfalls of competitions – winners who had an over-inflated sense of their simulated ideas, and losers who were discouraged by failure in a competitive process.

Of course, there were examples where people reported that competitions were useful and a relevant tool, for example identifying participants in business accelerators, or gaining publicity and prize money for teams and business development. The interesting question is whether a format which has a very specific purpose in the world of business (selecting a small number of entrepreneurs or a team for investment or reward), is a good model for developing the entrepreneurial skills, mindset and interest of children and young people. Perhaps this is where the role of teachers is crucial – they know their own students and are in a good position to decide for whom, and when, different interventions and pedagogies might be relevant and why. Heidi Neck’s keynote drove this point home; her conclusion: ‘The time is now’ for entrepreneurship scholarship to promote, value and reward a scholarship of entrepreneurial teaching and learning, not just research (thank you @dr_charlottew for capturing Professor Neck’s point!).

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3. Realism can set you free

Which brings me to a final thought, related to the perennial issue of assessment and impact measurement, which came up in the Track Chairs’ takeaways and across a number of workshops and conversations. I appreciated the sentiment of Heidi’s liberating response to a question about the assessment of her course. She cautioned against over-obsessing with measurement, quoting Professor Jeffery Timmons advice to her: “Stepping on the scales won’t help you lose or gain weight.’ One of the problems is that in an age of constrained resources, short term projects and competition for funding, the pressure to prove impact and justify ones’ existence can feel irresistible. The ‘What works?’ agenda, and the limited methodological tools which support it (such as Randomised Control Trials and systematic review) contribute to this, by leading policy makers, commissioners and practitioners to conclude that it is interventions that ‘work’, and therefore our goal should be about identifying and scaling the most effective of those. Our research harnessed an alternative philosophy and methodology – utilising the principles of Realist Evaluation. This approach has been developed by health and medical evaluators who are dissatisfied with the incomplete knowledge generated by RCTs and systematic reviews. The underpinning principles of Realist Evaluation (as described by Pawson and Tilley here, and Pawson here, and utilised and developed by a community of researchers here), provide an alternative way of conceiving how we explore and analyse complex, socially contingent programmes. One of the assumptions of realist evaluation is that programmes will always have different effects, for different participants, in different circumstances. Such an assumption can set policy makers, commissioners, providers and practitioners free – it enables us to extend the ‘evidence based policy conversation’ beyond ‘What works?’ and towards ‘What works, for whom, in what circumstances and why?’ A practical example of this could be observed at the end of Mick Jackson’s passionate and impressive keynote about Wild Hearts and his programme Micro Tyco. The last question he took from delegates was ‘What would your one takeaway for us be?’ and he reflected on his experience at a recent competition where two teams, one of conscripts and one of volunteers, were having different experiences (his takeaway was: the volunteers were getting more out of it). Such honesty is both refreshing, and necessary, for the field to come to a more sophisticated understanding of how to best target interventions and limited resources. Our second paper identified potentially important contextual factors and mechanisms which may contribute to different outcomes patterns; whether or not you wanted to do the activity was one of these factors. The following were identified as potentially important contributing factors to different outcome patterns in competitive enterprise learning:

  • Are you competitively inclined?
  • Did you volunteer?
  • If you lost, did someone help you co-construct a positive meaning from the experience?
  • If you won, did someone help you to stay grounded?
  • Are you well-resourced – personally in terms of your capabilities and confidence, institutionally in terms of the educators and/or mentors supporting you, socio-economically in terms of your relative position to your competitors?

Paying heed to such factors can help policy makers and programme providers refine the design, targeting, promotion of (and claims made for), competitive interventions. As well as explaining the potential pitfalls of assuming competitive approaches will always benefit pupils, the EEUK project assets help set out alternative ways for educators to conceive enterprise education. The Bootleg Benchmarks tool and accompanying guide re-frame enterprise, aiming to introduce ‘entrepreneurship as practice’ and ‘value creation’ into the consciousness and pedagogical tool kit of secondary school and college teachers who want to infuse enterprise into subject teaching. Apart from the potential risks related to compulsory ‘compete and pitch’ through the curriculum, there are rewards in developing alternative approaches: Martin Lackéus demonstrates that ‘school subject knowledge’ is supported by value creation pedagogy, offering a way to bridge unhelpful skills vs knowledge dualisms which curse enterprise education debate. I’ve been lucky enough to get a PhD scholarship to explore competition in enterprise education, so if you have any reactions or thoughts about the research, or, if you’ve got any ideas about (or want to get hold of a hard copy of) The Bootleg Benchmarks tool and guide, get in touch with me at catherine@readyunlimited.com

Thanks again IEEC. It was great to see Glasgow Caledonian pass the baton to Leeds Beckett University for the 2018 conference. The dates (Sept 5th to 7th 2018), are already in the diary.

Three thoughts after 3E

This week I experienced my first 3E, the ‘unplugged’ conference where the entrepreneurship education and research community did three days of (almost) PowerPoint-free sharing, talking and thinking. The hosts this year, Cork Institute of Technology, were warm, welcoming and facilitated great entertainment – a square dance – as well as a great conference. Big thanks to them, and to all the people who sparked the thoughts below….

An image is worth a thousand words…

Day 1 of the conference is reserved for ‘Practitioner Development Workshops’ – more practical workshops where you will pick up ideas to use in the classroom/with students. I loved Katarina Ellborg’s session on image based methods. She shared how she uses photo elicitation to explore students’ perceptions of entrepreneurship. Recreating this approach with session participants, she asked us to look at a series of photographs and pick one which represented ‘what entrepreneurship means to you’. Interesting themes could be observed in the connections people described: a photograph of a circle of hands represented collaboration; a photograph of people talking and problem solving represented the dialogic element and dependence on others; a photograph of a child climbing a fence represented the learning element. I related to someone’s interpretation of a photograph of the open road: ‘You’re not sure what’s in front of you, or what’s round the corner…it could be blue sky and sunshine…it could be a crash.’ I have used images in my work with teachers, asking them to draw what an entrepreneur is to them (or, even less threatening, what they think a colleague might perceive). Such drawings (example below from a primary school teacher), help surface existing perceptions and provide a starting point for exploring similarities and differences in values and concerns.

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On day two, when I was presenting the research I, Ivan Diego and Nigel Culkin are developing on competitions in EE, I subjected the audience to my unskilled cartoonery to try to communicate one of the underpinning principles of realism, the paradigm for our research. The brand of realism we’re harnessing is Scientific Realism (as described by Ray Pawson and Nick Tilley), a philosophy and method which is increasingly being harnessed by researchers who want to evaluate complex, socially contingent programmes. In medicine and health care, the role model for ‘evidenced based practice’, realist review is taking hold as a method to fill in the blanks which remain when research is purely quantitative (or qualitative). As the authors of this paper on realist review suggest, the method does not provide simple answers to complex questions. It will not tell policy makers whether something ‘works’, but will provide the policy and practice community with richer, more detailed and practical information which is of use when planning, targeting and implementing programmes.

The cartoon refers back to our first paper, snappily titled, ‘Who wins when you try to convince a mouse her best friend is a cat? The value of competitions in entrepreneurship education.’ Realists would accept, or rather, presume, that if you put a cat and a mouse together, there are going to be different outcome patterns.

who wins mouse and cat

For example, in some cases, a cat and a mouse might play together, as if they are best friends, and the result might be a cute YouTube video. But sometimes….the mouse gets eaten. For realists, the focus is less on what happened, or the frequency with which it happened, the main area of interest is uncovering why it happened by identifying the Context and Mechanisms at play and how they interact to lead to different Outcome patterns (identifying CMO configurations). For example, a domesticated cat, used to other house pets and who is well fed and who hears encouraging play talk from its owner is more likely to lead to a cute YouTube video with the mouse than an undomesticated cat, unused to other animals, unsupervised and hungry. This way of thinking helps extend the ‘evidence based practice’ conversation beyond ‘what works?’ to ‘what works for whom, in what circumstances?’ For those interested in the philosophy and method, there is a research community you can join (Rameses), and a summer school in London run by Justin Jagosh from the University of Liverpool’s Centre for the Advancement of Realist Evaluation (CARES).

When good skills go bad….

Realists, presuming as they do that there are different outcome patterns for different people in different contexts, will appreciate the implications of a workshop on Dark Triad characteristics in entrepreneurship education. Schippers, Rauch & Hulsink have been researching links between dark triad characteristics and how these affect intentions to start a business. A point they made which really struck me is: we spend a lot of time in EE discussing all the positive character traits we aim to develop, and little time considering the ‘negative ones’ which may exist already, or which may predict attraction to, or be amplified by, EE activities. A crucial takeaway from their research was that entrepreneurship education appears to increase the entrepreneurial intentions of those subjects with dark triad traits. A colleague and I continued to think through the educational applications and societal implications of this over lunch. Scan some images of life skills frameworks…consider the new EU EntreComp Framework…. Many of these tools aim to support understanding of, reflection upon (and via this), the development of, entrepreneurial competencies…but the way they are presented presumes positive outcomes of EE activity, and positive framing of entrepreneurial characteristics. But talk to any practitioner about skills development and team dynamics, and they can give a bunch of real life examples of behaviours, attitudes and characteristics they have observed which are unhelpful for task completion and team mate-ship.  In the Dark Triad workshop the discussion on educational application focussed on the possibility of using contrasting items on different ends of a scale to facilitate reflection – for example, confidence might be contrasted with arrogance, assertiveness contrasted with aggression. But I loved Peter Harrington’s idea, cooked up over lunch, that rather than different ends of a scale, an extension of existing frameworks (often envisaged as circles which end at the most positive manifestation of the skill), could also work. For example a reflection tool which ends at ‘10’ (meaning ‘great’, ‘fantastic’), could extend to ‘15,’ with the last five numbers on the scale indicating ‘when good skills go bad’ – for example:

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Which got me thinking about my final, recurring reflection, during and after the conference….

Side Effects.

3E participants frame their research by first addressing ‘Questions we care about…’ For me, some of the most interesting questions to explore were related to unintended consequences of programmes and pedagogies. Yong Zhao has written about side effects in education, and the importance of studying and reporting their effects. And there were many interesting lines of enquiry thrown up during the conference. For example, a workshop about Enactus asked: Who really gains? Authors Bhrádaigh and Dunne observed benefits for students, the university and graduate recruiters, but in some cases, failure in the competition might lead to students curtailing their social action, and disengaging with intended beneficiaries and communities. Some of the issues discussed in this workshop- for example, whether such programmes reinforce stereotypical discourses about who needs help, and who is capable of helping – reminded me of critique of Teach First. It has been argued that this graduate recruitment programme supports the process of middle class reproduction and working class deficit, without acknowledging the invisible power and social capital which underpins achievement and mobility in society. I was also interested to hear about the anecdotes and perceptions of colleagues attending the workshop where I shared our competitions research. Of course, there were examples of how competitions were a fun and easy-to-implement model, they support students to achieve funding and PR and can set young entrepreneurs on a business path. But there was also an observation of the side effects of this process: those teams that lose in a competition may drop out of developing their idea; competitions focus attention on the ‘idea’ and ‘start-up’ rather than customer development and the reality of survival; the model can create ‘competition junkies’ focussed on competing rather than creating value for others.

Our paper concluded by reflecting on Fayolle’s comment (2013), that the ultimate client of entrepreneurship education is the society within which it is embedded. With regards to competitions then, entrepreneurship education policy makers, promoters and practitioners might consider whether they want to create a more competitive future, or a more collaborative future, and how the design of tasks and activities (and the side effects of such interventions) will serve these different objectives and shape individuals and society.

Next year’s 3E is at Twente University in Enschade, The Netherlands with a focus on engaged scholarship, and I already look forward to continuing the discussions there…

 

Four thoughts after IEEC 2016…

Just over a week has passed since the brilliant and thought provoking three days that was IEEC 2016. I’ve really enjoyed reading round-ups and reflections from Gups Jagpal and Dave Jarman about the event.  So, in response to NCEE’s Ceri Nursaw, who encouraged delegates to ‘communicate more’, here’s four initial thoughts prompted by the conference…

  1. ‘The Law According to Hero Entrepreneurs’

Maggie O’Carroll, the opening keynote, had some solid advice for delegates at the start of their conference: pursue diverse opinions; don’t take things at face value; don’t just talk to people like you; seek new knowledge and networks which will challenge and develop your thinking and practice. The phrase that most stuck in my mind most from her talk though, was ‘The Law According to Hero Entrepreneurs.’ That is, Maggie was describing how the field of enterprise and entrepreneurship education somewhat succumbs to being told what to do by successful business people, on the basis that they have been successful themselves. The problem is, their ideas and opinions about what is required for, or fuels, success is informed by their personal experiences and inclinations, rather than a full examination of the evidence and the structural barriers experienced by others, especially those in less fortunate social, financial, cultural and emotional circumstances. Later on, we heard from Kaz Karwowski about the incredible programmes and curriculum at RCEL. It turned out, perhaps not surprisingly, that those on the leadership development course had more successful start-ups, but: ‘Those who aren’t robust enough to make it need to go back to the classroom.’ But does ‘robustness’ accurately cover all the antecedents which oil the wheels of success in business? Benedict Dellot at the RSA has been looking at data from the national lifestyle survey and identified that affluence comes before entrepreneurship, as well as following it, see his blog on how ‘wealth is a key predictor of whether or not people can survive in self-employment’. Home owners and the highly qualified are more likely to be successful in business, pointing to the type of existing capital that is helpful to succeed. Psychologists observe that people tend to attribute their success to internal factors such as skill and persistence, rather than recognising the external factors which may have influenced outcomes, and maybe Hero Entrepreneurs are an amplified version of this. Perhaps their own experience of pursuing and achieving success, the grit and will they are able to summon and develop, leads to a type of context-blindness resulting in thinking everyone else just isn’t trying hard enough? I wondered how many of the successful RCEL graduates were also the ones who could afford to contribute to the plane ticket and stay in Silicon Valley, or the ones who had parents who could financially underwrite a period of test trading. A recognition of the pervasive nature and influences of class and inequality is well underway in mainstream education, and (from the conversations in the coffee queue, over lunch and at dinner), would be welcome in enterprise education too.

2) Student involvement

Linked to this in some way, was the significant strand of talk about students and their sometime disengagement with enterprise, their lack of understanding of how it might help them, and the way in which delivery and programmes seemed to lack resonance with their values and aspirations. At ISBE last year, Prof Laura Galloway produced fascinating research – ‘The Entrepreneurship Education Experience in HE – Does a decade make a difference?‘ The paper provides two snapshots comparing entrepreneurial competencies and ambitions from two student cohorts, one in 2005 and one in 2015. The 2015 cohort were more likely to have had enterprise education prior to HE and more likely to have access to entrepreneurial role models, but were less likely to want to run or own their own business. In 2015 they were more likely to want to work in the charity and public sector. Whilst the country as a whole just voted to leave the EU, it’s estimated that about 70% of young people voted to remain, and this recent youth parliament report gives an insight into the kind of societies they want to build and be part of: sustainable, compassionate and focussed on delivering social justice. And those aren’t just the views of a select few youth parliament types; check out the Twitter hashtag #HowToConfuseAMillenial for a regular tragi-comic update on the ways the generations are grating against each other. Perhaps the most visible elements of enterprise – the business contest, the Hero Entrepreneur – are simply out of step with these values. EEUK members’ workshops were full of brilliant insights and practice on how they were involving students: focussing on the human element – relationship building – from the very start; working with students to co-produce enterprise activities and programmes; seeing students as partners – not recipients – in the process of course design, teaching and learning. Which brings me to…

3) Concerns Change…

In the same way that enterprise education needs to align with the values of students, enterprise educators want to feel the field aligns with their own concerns. In my workshop on Enterprise Education and Initial Teacher Training I shared Fuller’s model on the Concerns of Teachers. Fuller’s work has been around for more than forty years and so, unsurprisingly, has become the subject of debate and reconceptualisation. Nevertheless, it’s a useful model to explore the importance of the personal element of ‘Becoming a Teacher.’ Fuller’s work describes the different concerns teachers have, including: concerns about self (will the students like me, can I do this?); concerns about task (what do I do?); and concerns about impact (what difference is it making?). The first two concerns are more about ‘survival’. I know when I started in enterprise education ten years ago, I didn’t have much time for critical analysis, I was too busy trying to do the job, engage the teacher, develop the training etc. I completed a Masters during this time, and if I look back on my concerns and the focus of my study, it was primarily about improving the practical elements of my work rather than critically exploring the philosophical elements. I worked on creating and evaluating training models, exploring the role of school liaison in the teacher development process, co-designing and testing an enterprise passport with teachers. Though this development has not, by any means, been a linear process, I can see that overall, I was initially more concerned with what works. Over time, this evolved into what might work for whom and in what circumstances. Increasingly, I feel I’m concerned with, as Biesta argues, what it works for, and who gets to decide that.

4) Put on your dancing shoes…

I enjoyed the entertainment and challenge of the final keynote, a two-hander from Penaluna and Gibson, which described their early experiences of enterprise education conferences when the narrowly focussed business agenda didn’t align with their experience and interests (‘Are we deranged?’ they asked themselves). They shared their ‘Walking Boots’ metaphor (if you’ve got your boots on, down in the long grass, looking up, you’ve got a different view)…and they challenged the audience to take the metaphor to inspire thinking and reflection. Over the course of the conference, there were a fair few enterprise education-related metaphors: references to elite sport; to eco-systems; to creatures… and I’d like to add another, somewhat frivolous analogy – dance. Leadership types reckon dance provides important lessons on innovation, adaptability and audience, and marketers suggest customers would be better served if they were conceived of as ‘dance partners’ a company moves with to a shared melody, and a shared purpose. The EEUK dance floor certainly rocked with shared purpose this year. It was an inspiring night in an incredible venue; Liverpool Cathedral providing the backdrop for the official launch of the Richard Beresford Memorial Bursaries, a really fitting tribute to someone described by his wife as curious, compassionate and committed to, and nourished by, the EEUK network. After awards were bestowed, Fellows made, sponsors thanked and speeches applauded, many headed over to the dance floor, encouraged by this year’s fantastic and energising live band. So, back to that metaphor; maybe good enterprise education is like a great dance in the way that it facilitates a creative act, is a vehicle for connection and enables self-expression.  Dance also has very different styles, with different sub-cultures – my usual dance (Modern Jive) is a far cry from Tango. So, in a complementary counter-point to Maggie’s starting advice, my conference was concluded with these sage thoughts: it’s OK not to dance to the same tune in enterprise education, instead ‘make your own gang’ (as Penaluna and Gibson suggested, and as @KatPen was describing to me below), and work on the things that compel you. With that in mind, I’m looking forward to ISBE next month, when the working paper I’ve co-authored with Nigel Culkin from the University of Hertfordshire and Ivan Diego from Valnalon, which questions the value of competitive pedagogy in entrepreneurship education, gets a wider audience. We’ve recently seen that there are very different ideologies available in the name of improving social mobility. Entrepreneurship education is often claimed to have positive spill-over effects in terms of social justice, but not all research supports this. I get the feeling, from this week’s conference, and the continued conversations on Twitter, that there’s much appetite for a critical exploration of enterprise/entrepreneurship education and wider issues influencing its impact. Sure, it’s happening, but it’s not centre stage. It’s time for social and economic influences to get more of the spotlight. Finally, for those to whom I was evangelising about Ceroc: here’s a class that coincides with ISBE in Paris. Let’s Dance!

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Four thoughts after Global Entrepreneurship Week (and ISBE and the National Enterprise Education Conference).

It’s that time of year again. Another Global Entrepreneurship Week has passed, and enterprise educators are reflecting on the 1589 activities that took place across the country (and the world). The GEW brand celebrates entrepreneurship through a week of ‘unleashing ideas’, ‘start up battles’ and changing the world.  Some will already be planning their programme for next year and some may be scratching their heads and asking: ‘What was that all about?’ Whatever your position, it’s undeniable that such sharp focus on entrepreneurship throws up all kinds of questions, possibilities and challenges. As well as GEW, the last three weeks included a National Enterprise Education Conference run by Enterprise Village and the 38th annual conference for the Institute of Small Business and Entrepreneurship in Glasgow. Though the conferences stood 400 miles apart and accommodated educators from different phases and diverging terminology, common ground could be heard during the intense conversation of delegates from the two events. It’s a fitting tribute to both to try and round up some takeaways whilst a spotlight shines on enterprise and entrepreneurship in the wake of Global Entrepreneurship Week.

  1. Who wants to be an entrepreneur? Part 1…

Ivor Tiefenbrun started his keynote to an audience of academics at ISBE, an entrepreneurship conference, with the declaration: ‘I don’t like the word entrepreneur.’ This is despite the fact that Ivor is the founder and chairman of Linn Products, a business he started in 1972 and which is recognised as an industry benchmark in terms of high quality audio. His journey at Linn began when (dissatisfied with his stereo, and, with an unfinished mechanical engineering course behind him), he set about creating a top quality record player. What made Linn unique was the control over every aspect of production, and an obsessive attention to quality. So it was curious that someone with such a track record in product and company building rejected, or at least felt unease about, the label of entrepreneur. When I ask teachers what they think of when they hear the word ‘entrepreneur’ the initial response, 9.99 times out of ten, is: ‘Alan Sugar’. This sort of stereotype might be a reason why someone as entrepreneurial as Ivor rejects the label. Ivor’s take on company management (a pretty flat structure, working in ‘family size’ teams, putting people first) seems at odds with the on-tap egos, arguments and ‘you’re fired!’ shenanigans of the TV show. Maybe, ten series of The Apprentice later, the label ‘entrepreneur’ needs a detox.

2) Who wants to be an entrepreneur? Part 2…

Interestingly, and perhaps linked in some way, in the Enterprise Education track at ISBE, Professor Laura Galloway shared longitudinal research where she and colleagues revisited students who had been surveyed ten years previously. Given that a criticism of entrepreneurship education research is the dearth of empirical and longitudinal research, the idea was simple but effective: use the same survey given to a cohort of students in 2005 to survey a cohort in 2015 and compare the results. Result: two snapshots of entrepreneurial perceptions and ambitions, a decade apart. Interestingly, though students reported a perceived increase in their entrepreneurial skills, their entrepreneurial ambitions went down. They wanted to be employed in the public sector and charities more than they wanted to run a business. The study was a quantitative snapshot and, as Prof Galloway pointed out, participant’s experiences may have been shaped by graduating in a recession and being burdened with massive student debt as much as any courses which they might have experienced. But she also acknowledged that over the last ten years, the profile of entrepreneurs has never been so high. Responses to survey questions around ‘enterprise culture’ reflected that growth. Participants were more likely to say they had a family member, friend or partner running a business, and were significantly more likely to have experienced enterprise education before university. Prof Galloway concluded that the findings have important implications for research (What’s the real driver of entrepreneurship? What’s the value of entrepreneurship in other employment contexts), and teaching (What are we trying to achieve? What are the implications for pedagogy?).

3) The winner takes it all, the loser standing small?

Which brings me to a third thought, which may be a bit off message in the afterglow of GEW. It’s hard to start challenging widely held views about established enterprise education models, but I’d argue that we don’t know nearly enough about the effects that different approaches have on how young people think and do.  The last three weeks will have seen students of all ages undertake a blizzard of business competitions and challenges. It’s the ubiquitous enterprise education model – relatively easy to understand and deliver, plenty of off-the-shelf resources for educators, and participants apparently having to use and develop their enterprise skills through the process. But do we really know what the effect is? Imagine learning anything else through a model where you do a day-long challenge (or maybe longer if you’re lucky) and at the end of it 90-95% of the room or teams end up as (implicitly) losers. How do we know that what young people aren’t actually learning is that there’s no point in thinking about running a business because they won’t be successful at it? There’s a big difference between reporting you’ve used your team work skills, or thought of a business idea, or had fun, and then what meaning you take from the whole experience. There is an argument that it’s good to weed out over-optimism and put off those who wouldn’t have the skills to lead and grow a business. Perhaps that would be a tolerable view if business competitions were designed and delivered only to identify and support these unicorns of business. But they’re not. Business competitions and challenges are delivered in all phases of education now, from primary upwards, and this is likely to grow with recent moves to develop ‘Enterprise for All.’ Many young people, unicorns or otherwise, will have to make work for themselves at some point if they want to have a job, or if they want to have some job satisfaction. Learning that business ‘isn’t for them’ by repeatedly losing in enterprise challenges might have the same effect that competitive sport can have on pupils who don’t excel – they don’t want to, or think they should, take part.

4) Conscripts, mercenaries or volunteers…

It was great to see, after a few years of dwindling interest in enterprise education nationally, a good and enthusiastic turnout to the Enterprise Village conference at BIS in London. Amongst the sense of buoyancy and hopefulness, there was a theme in side discussions with teachers who described the struggle they can have ‘selling’ enterprise education to senior leadership and colleagues back at school. There were some teachers, tasked as ‘Enterprise Champions’, feeling as if they were at the base camp of Everest. Yes it feels exciting, but not a little lonely and dangerous. Having to ‘get colleagues on board’ always comes up in ‘embedding enterprise’ discussions, dependent as it is on wide buy in that crosses subjects and topics. Such an endeavour requires commitment and loyalty, and is achieved over time. In my experience, the best advocates in the early days are volunteers, the early adopters who help develop and test practice and have techniques and good news to share. Nothing will scupper the development of enterprise culture like forcing people into a role and then not giving them the resources to undertake it. Ivor Tiefenbrun had a nugget in this department – when everything is going great it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a conscript, mercenary or volunteer….but if things get difficult, you’ll know the difference. Interestingly, he attributed the success of Linn not to technology and innovation, but to people. ‘Anyone can spot a problem or an opportunity,’ he said. ‘I wanted my company to look after suppliers, customers and its people.’ He called the way people worked together the only source of sustainable competitive advantage: ‘We had great people who want to work together to build something more than they could alone, or by working with other people.’ No hard sell there, just the incredible pull of an important, shared endeavour. Sounds like a good strategy…

Four (initial) reflections after IEEC 2015…..

It took the appointment of an Entrepreneurship Tsar to prompt my first blog. It took three brilliant and thought provoking days at IEEC 2015 to inspire my second.

The International Entrepreneurship Educators Conference, held at Anglia Ruskin University last week, was a gathering of 200+ Enterprise Educators from across the UK and abroad. The keynote speeches, workshops and quick fire PechaKucha sessions provided rich food for thought and inspiration, as well as demonstrating an exciting range of entrepreneurial programmes and practice in Higher Education.

The long drive home from Essex provided a great opportunity for the sort of relaxed cognition Andy Penaluna described during one session. While sitting in my car, my neurons were a metaphorical oak tree, or a fir tree (I’m not sure which)…a tree at least, with squirrels running amok on the branches. I’m sure Andy and colleagues can better clarify what was going on at brain level, but below is a first attempt to organise my own initial thoughts after the conference…

  1. How we talk about our work matters…

Entrepreneurship Education is a field laden with technical language, theory and concept. Yamini Naidu’s  practical demonstration of ‘the curse of knowledge’ (how did I not guess that knuckle rendition of Happy Birthday?), showed that too much knowledge can thwart the ability to communicate in a way that engages, inspires and connects. Her inspiring talk was both a practical demonstration of the power of story-telling, and an education. Contrasting approaches to influencing (telling vs engaging, microwave vs casserole, push vs pull), she pointed out that when you are trying to get someone to do something they might not have to do, ‘hard power’ has its limitations. You don’t just want people to turn up, you want them to turn on. ‘Soft power’ rules, but it does take time and trust. The ability to connect with people through relatable story telling is crucial. Being able to describe what you do clearly was also a theme in Lyn Batchelor’s brilliant workshop. Those that were there enjoyed practising their verbal business card for the rest of the conference. As Lyn identified when she introduced the concept; it’s much more engaging (and easily understandable) to say ‘I help students become more employable or employ themselves’ rather than give a job title (or titles, in Lyn’s case). The verbal business card was an enjoyable activity with a serious message. Quickly communicating your work and its impact is important; we need to make it easier for people to immediately understand the difference we make, in our roles and as a field. Which brings me to my second thought….

2) It’s more than skills….

I’ve previously blogged here about the challenges of working to develop enterprise education in schools when there is no agreed curriculum. Repetition of activity, inconsistent progression and gaps in knowledge are rife. Donna Miller’s fascinating keynote demonstrated the problem which job-hunting students with an incomplete idea of what it means to be enterprising will face. As the Talent Acquisition Manager for Enterprise Rent-a-car, she gave a global-business-eye-view of what employers are looking for when they recruit young people. Donna shared some ‘must have’ qualities, and at the top of one list was commercial awareness. She discussed what recruiters might look for and when they might be looking for it. An interest and knowledge about current affairs and business, a clear idea of the recruiting business and its competitors, thoughts about where the recruiting company and its industry might be heading and trends in society and the economy that might be opportunities or risks for the recruiting company. Recruiters would be looking for evidence of this in answers at interview, in assessments, and even in chit chat over lunch. So in all the talk of transferable entrepreneurial skills and competencies, Donna’s presentation demonstrated that background knowledge and economic and business understanding is crucial (interestingly, this area – economic and business understanding – is identified by Ofsted as a persistent weakness in school provision too). A quick look at a KMPG’s ‘behavioural competencies’ demonstrates this prioritisation. ‘Career motivation’ is the number one competency, and is about demonstrating how much you know and understand about KPMG and the work you’d do there. The data I collect from schools at the beginning of our programmes reinforces a picture of this area as a gap. I’ve worked with Elena Ruskovaara at the University of Lappeenranta in Finland and adapted her pedagogical surveys to help teachers I work with reflect on the concrete practices that are included in entrepreneurial/enterprising learning. The surveys give teachers practical ideas of things they can do (‘use stories about entrepreneurs as teaching material’), but also identifies the frequency they perceive they deploy these pedagogies (daily/weekly/monthly/less often/never). Interestingly, results are relatively consistent across the country, and from different phases of education. Teachers generally identify that they already use pedagogies that increase learners’ independence, their team working, their problem solving skills. But they don’t often invite entrepreneurs into the classroom, tell stories about entrepreneurs or businesses, and (mostly) never take into account local and regional industry strategies when they plan enterprise education.  It feels wrong that young people in schools experience enterprise education as a practical activity (make and sell/bake and sell), that is entirely disconnected from the real economic opportunities that are out there. We’ve been developing ‘Industry Related Enterprise Learning’ with our schools to work on this area.

3) What unites us?

Which brings me to the request made during and after the last workshop I attended, led (heutagogically speaking) by Jones, Penaluna and Gibson. It included exploring differences in entrepreneurship activities and practice across universities, and then similarities in what unites entrepreneurship educators. Helping prepare students to find and make work and developing transformational learning which changed how students thought were initial inputs around ‘what unites us.’ It illuminated that despite differences in entrepreneurial programmes between institutions, entrepreneurial educators want them to achieve some of the same things. But differences in how to get there, what the programme of learning should be and how it should be taught was variable. Do you cover Schumpeter? Do you use a particular text book? Do you write your own? Are there elements of teaching and curricula that unite everyone? The workshop concluded with a request – feed-in to what a ‘scholarship of entrepreneurial learning’ should include. What should be taught and how should it be taught? This request was reiterated by Jones in the closing remarks: next year, he suggested, instead of sharing everything that’s different, why doesn’t the network look at what unites it?

4) Hang together and hang together for a long time…

My last thought comes from Simon Bond’s talk-through of the success story that is SetSquared, the number 1 high-tech start-up/accelerator in Europe, number 2 globally. He didn’t gloss over the time and effort it took to achieve this. In a master stroke of story-telling, he likened the journey to the Wizard of Oz – ‘We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.’ Like the Wizard of Oz, everyone is on a different journey. The five universities, and all the researchers, students and entrepreneurs involved have different motivations and different needs. What was Simon’s answer to this? ‘Hang together, and hang together for a long time.’ It’s good advice – simple, but deep. It’s something (as a relative newbie to the conference – 3rd year as a delegate, 1st as an exhibiter), I feel is evident at IEEC. As outgoing chair of EEUK, Sheila Quairney said in her opening address, attendance and interest is holding. It’s not been the same journey in the schools sector; the lack of policy and the lack of resources has impacted on involvement and innovation. Until very recent changes in policy, the message to schools with regards to enterprise education could be summarised as this – ‘Yes, of course it’s a good thing, but you don’t have to do it, and you won’t be asked about it.’ New statutory guidance on careers inspiration and the latest iteration of the Ofsted schools inspection framework  (go to page 52 for the magic words ‘employment and self-employment’) does at least give some pointers to schools. Helping prepare young people find and make work and have the skills and knowledge to become productive, financially independent adults should be part of young people’s education. The documents above are start, but I’ve written here why they won’t lead to ‘Enterprise for All.’  A theme from the panel discussion, track chairs and from the closing remarks was that people are doing really good work. Elin McCallum’s background as a policy maker in Europe gives her extensive experience and examples to contrast with, so it’s heartening to hear that although policy hasn’t been as robust as European colleagues, she sees the UK as ahead of the game practice-wise. But as Keith Burnley, CEO of NCEE, said – there has been a disconnect between business and education policy. In my work, the priorities of schools are more influenced by the Department for Education and Ofsted than BiS, and even more so by the obvious and necessary pressure of ensuring pupil progress and attainment. Unless the conversation about entrepreneurial learning in schools mobilises around supporting and accelerating pupil progress through better quality teaching and learning, it won’t go very far. My ‘Steve Blank’ chats with conference attendees demonstrated this well to me (thanks for your time and experiences). With a couple of exceptions, everyone I talked to (if their university had an education/teacher training department), was either not working with them, or had been knocked back. There is opportunity on the horizon with the roll out of the Enterprise Advisor pilot and the advent of the Careers and Enterprise Company. Universities could use their knowledge and skills in entrepreneurial, enterprising and careers learning to develop or extend their valuable work in school outreach and make an impact in communities. But getting engagement with schools now depends on getting the story right and doing what works (scroll down for my previous blog which included some comment on the unintended consequences of some enterprise interventions). I enjoyed the concluding comments from the track chairs and the conference organisers which warmly appreciated the quality and passion of enterprise educators. It struck me what incredible expertise and brain power existed in that conference hall. I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference, which will be hosted at Liverpool John Moores University. Following on from the creative and entertaining genius of Jones, Penaluna and Gibson, there could be an extension to their request. Perhaps, as well as listen and learn and show and tell, there could be a ‘Do’ track, or a ‘Hack’ track, where interested parties could work on something tangible whilst they were at the conference. Unconferences, Innovation Camps and Hackathons use this method to good effect, leveraging the talent and time of attendees to create as well as learn. Whatever the plan though, without a doubt, I’m already looking forward to hanging together at IEEC 2016.

Five tips for the government’s new entrepreneurship tsar

I’m coming to blogging fashionably late, like when I bought a trilby hat four years after they’d had a moment. But I was inspired to write after last week’s government announcement of a new review into how to turn Britain into ‘a nation of shopkeepers’. This one is led by Michelle Mone, the lingerie entrepreneur, who is qualified by her achievements in rising up from her East End of Glasgow roots and building a business empire. As anyone doing it will tell you, running a business may be challenging and adventurous but it’s not easy, so a big trilby tip to Michelle for managing to create an empire. It’s not within the experience of most people. Whether her outlier perspective is a hindrance or a help on the path to wisdom is yet to be seen. I’d be fascinated if Lisa McKenzie, a researcher living in the sort of community Michelle left behind, was appointed as an associate reviewer and they could compare and contrast their findings.

Michelle’s review is focussed on barriers to entrepreneurship in deprived communities, and I’ll eat my trilby if the debate doesn’t eventually come round to education, and more specifically, how it could be adapted, or include experiences that could help young people be more entrepreneurial.

This happened with the APPG group on Micro Business, which went on to publish An Education System Fit for an Entrepreneur, and it happened with Lord Young’s small business review which published Enterprise for All, an exploration of the relevance of enterprise in education.

I was involved in the review that led to Enterprise for All, and think that Distilled Ginger Wisdom captured it neatly when he said that the recommendations and final document, though practical, didn’t reflect the nuanced solutions reviewers said would make a difference. So I could understand why #ented colleagues might roll their eyes at this latest announcement. The optimist in me hopes things will be different.

Michelle said in her BBC interview that she wants to learn about the barriers to entrepreneurship and what changes are needed, so I’ve got five tips to inform her thinking when the debate gets round to entrepreneurial learning in education.

  1. Brush up on the basics: Have a read of this background paper by Swedish researcher Martin Lackéus for a grounding in the why, what, when and how of entrepreneurial learning. His research helps conceptualise why entrepreneurial learning is an effective way of developing academic mind-sets and non-cognitive skills. But design is everything, students need to interact with the outside world, deal with uncertainty and ambiguity and have a team working experience if they are to develop entrepreneurial competencies.
  2. Recognise that mind-set gets fixed early. People’s ambitions, mind-set and imagination about what the future can hold for them can get fixed at a young age. The research that originally informed my work, Learning to Succeed, illustrated that some young people have made their minds up about the future when they’re still in primary school. That means, in terms of entrepreneurial learning in education, a few collapsed timetable days at secondary school and an annual Global Entrepreneurship Week is too little, too late.
  3. Don’t assume that an enterprise competition is the answer for young people from deprived backgrounds. I would argue that too many young people’s experiences in entrepreneurial learning are through ‘winners and losers’ type activity, which could have the unintended consequences of putting them off further exploration or involvement. Recent research explores the potential adverse impact for some students of the ubiquitous competitive, high stakes, win-or-lose business contest. Heilbrunn and Almor (2014), found that the design of entrepreneurial learning can reproduce social inequalities, rather than unlock every young person’s entrepreneurial spirit. The researchers investigated the impact of taking part in a competitive business contest and found that for middle and higher socio-economic students there was a very positive impact. However, for lower socio-economic students (the ones that Michelle is interested in), their self-efficacy and the desire and feasibility to be an entrepreneur went in the wrong direction. Post analysis interviews showed a complex mix of interacting factors, from less parental support, to less time spent on task, and interestingly the feeling at regional meetings and competitions of being ‘under privileged, backward and less capable.’
  4. Take a critical look at the system, not just the people. Have a read of Van Galan and Stahl and recognise what structural barriers young people face, as well as individual ones. Young people growing up in deprived communities aren’t protected in the same way that middle class children are. They don’t have the same access to knowledge, the support building confidence and skills, and the role models and networks that show them the diverse ways people make employment in a global economy. Recommendations that don’t propose some sort of entitlement to this, which kicks in as soon as young people start school, won’t have the impact Michelle seems enthusiastic about making.
  5. Move the conversation on from schools ‘doing’ entrepreneurship activities to entrepreneurial teaching methods impacting on motivation, learning and achievement. There are so many business and enterprise activities out there that even if an educator lived five lifetimes they still wouldn’t be able to take part in every competition, develop every challenge, link with every ambassador or download every lesson plan. In terms of reach though it’s like this: it’s the converted who are being preached to. Because for most schools, entrepreneurship is just a bit-part on their agenda, if it’s there at all. The game in town in schools is improving pupil achievement through better quality teaching and learning, so unless you can bring the movement together around that, then entrepreneurial learning will always be a fringe activity in education. Head Teachers involved in developing entrepreneurial learning as a vehicle for school improvement praise the energising effect on school culture and expectations, the innovation in curricula and pedagogy and the motivation of teachers and pupils. Put the focus on that and Michelle, you might just start a conversation more schools want to have.