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!

kat-pen-and-me-crop

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…